It’s important to appreciate local customs when traveling to India. Tips for tourists often include advice on how to dress conservatively, how to show the right table manners, and how to stay safe. However, the professional visiting India on a cheap first-class flight can benefit from further advice on local customs and business etiquette. In India, there are many unique rituals around doing business; keep them in mind so that you and your team can make a good first impression. Here, we’ve listed some of our top India travel tips for professionals visiting this amazing country.
The major cities for doing business in India are Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, and Bangalore.
Emergencies and Safety
There isn’t a nation-wide phone number for emergencies that would be analogous to 911, so check the emergency numbers and embassy contact information of the city you’ll be in. Most states have adopted the 108 emergency phone number.
A universal adapter works best in India, as several kinds of outlets may be found in the country. They will have either ungrounded 2-pin connections or grounded 3-pin connections (both are at approximately 230 Volts).
The currency in India is the Indian Rupee (INR), which most often comes in the form of banknotes (paper bills). One U.S. Dollar is equivalent to about 65 rupees (although conversions fluctuate).
Tipping is more often practiced in India than in many other parts of the world, but that’s mostly due to globalization. Tipping is expected at hotels (about 10%), train stations, airports, and restaurants. Tipping taxi drivers is typically not expected, but dedicated, multiple-day drivers often do expect a tip. While at hotels, use the central tip box, rather than tipping individually.
Due to the ubiquity of spices in local cuisine, stomach issues are common for westerners visiting India. Travel tips often suggest sticking to fresh fruit, boiled foods, fried foods, and bottled water. Staying away from street vendors is a good way to play it safe. Always remember your table manners. If you are in a dinning situation where you need to eat with your hands, only use the first three fingers and thumb of your right hand.
Business Etiquette in India
India is a huge and very culturally diverse country. Many different religions are observed and languages are used there. While it is culturally open, it can also be hierarchical, especially in business environments. It’s very important to be cognizant of not only the customs of India as a whole, but the customs of the particular region of India you’re doing business in. Use these tips to make a good impression:
- Punctuality – Punctuality is not as much of a concern as it is in other countries. Being somewhere within ten minutes of an agreed-upon time is expected for business. Sometimes, Indian counterparts may not even be able to show up for meetings, so be prepared to reschedule. If you’re invited to a dinner party, arrive about fifteen minutes late. However, meetings must be arranged well in advance and confirmed a few days ahead of time.
- Greetings – Here are some tips for starting your meeting off well:
- Greet the most senior member of a team first.
- Shaking hands is not the norm in India, however many locals know that it is common for Westerners. Use the right hand only when shaking hands. Men should only shake hands with other men. Women may shake hands with other women, but should not shake hands with non-westernized men.
- If you are in a northern part of India, greeting someone in a traditional way can show respect for local customs. Place your hands together, make a slight bow, and say the normal greeting: “Namaste.”
- Always present business cards with English on them when introduced. Treat any business cards given to you with respect.
- It’s rude to dive right into business. Attempt polite small talk first.
- Always use the formal title (professor, doctor, and etc.) when addressing someone.
- Gifts are not often given upon first meeting, but are given once a relationship has developed. They are not normally opened in front of the giver.
- Communication – As in Japan, “maybe” is sometimes a more polite way of saying “no.” Note that shaking one’s head, which means “no” in western cultures, looks somewhat like the figure-eight head shaking sign in India, which means “yes.”
- Negotiating – Negotiations may be slow in India. Hierarchy is important in Indian corporate culture; try to negotiate with the senior decision-maker directly. Plan on several visits before a decision is reached. Indians often use intuition and trust to guide their decisions.
- Faux Pas:
- Public displays of affection are frowned upon. Invading personal space in general is a bad idea.
- The left hand is considered to be unclean. Don’t use it to pass money or touch someone.
- Feet are also considered unclean, so be sure to cover them. Apologize immediately if you accidentally touch someone with your feet. When taking off shoes inside of a home, make sure you’re wearing clean socks.
- What Americans might see as friendly waving, moving the hand from side to side, is actually interpreted by Indians as “go away.”
- Don’t point. Use your whole hand or thumb to point.
- Don’t touch anyone’s head.
- Women should dress modestly and not show a lot of skin.
- Refusing a drink or food offered to you is considered rude. Once your glass or plate is empty, it will often be refilled, so be sure to leave a little on your plate if you truly don’t want more.
- Don’t flatly refuse when invited to a home, dinner, or evening out with a business associate. Find a plausible excuse if necessary. Note that you should bring gifts for the host and the host’s children, and plan to reciprocate the evening with a meal of similar value.
- Indians often avoid direct confrontation, and causing someone to “lose face” is very inappropriate. Shows of anger or frustration are definitely not appropriate.
Simple Hindi Phrases for Professionals
There are many different languages and dialects spoken in India. One of them is English, so communicating is not a problem for most Westerners traveling to India. Tips for travelers often suggest not bothering to learn Hindi. Knowing a few key phrases, however, is often a good idea, especially if you are in the northern part of the country.
- Aapka swagat hai: Welcome
- Namaste/Namaskar: Hello
- Suno/Suniye: Hi
- Shubh Prabhat: Good morning
- Shubh Sandhya: Good evening
- Main samajh gaya: I understand. (For men)
- Main samajh gayi: I understand. (For women)
- Main nahin samajhta: I don’t understand. (For men)
- Main nahin samajhti: I don’t understand. (For women)
- Kya aap angrezi bolte hain?: Do you speak English?
All U.S. citizens, including tourists, must apply for a visa when visiting India. A business visa is expected for those who are making sales, establishing contracts, or otherwise doing business there. The period of stay is limited to six months.
Popular Activities for Your Day Off
There are huge and amazing tourist attractions all over India, but your travels will often be dictated by where you’re doing business. For instance, a few hours south of New Delhi is the Taj Mahal. Other popular attractions in India include the spiritual city of Varanasi, the Ajanta Ellora Caves, Virupaksha Temple, and the Golden Temple (also known as Harmandir Sahib).
We hope that your business meetings will run successfully in India! Note that while you’re planning your trip, you can find business-class tickets to India at a discount with Executive Class Travel!