Getting lost or into a dispute with somebody are annoyances when you’re on vacation; they can derail your entire agenda if you’re on a business trip. Since South Africa is a place of unique customs and etiquette, business travelers to the area can experience a higher ease of doing business if they’re briefed on South African etiquette.
Foreign exchange regulations dictate that nobody should use foreign currency in South Africa, Africa.com tells us. So do not try to pay for anything with U.S. dollars. Even if for some reason somebody does accept your money, they won’t be able to exchange it to their own currency. As for exchanging money yourself, you’ll get the best rate at a bank, but there will be plenty of foreign exchange kiosks to tempt you.
You’ll be more successful in business in South Africa if you develop a personal relationship with others, according to USAToday. Meeting face-to-face, as opposed to doing business over email or the telephone, will usually earn you better results. Always maintain eye contact when you shake hands with a new business acquaintance.
If the person or company you are meant to do business with has never heard of you or your business before you reach out and isn’t expecting to hear from you, reputation can get you in the door. USAToday recommends having a trusted third party write a letter of recommendation, or meet the party you’d like to do business with to tell them about you before you reach out yourself.
While in some cultures it might be expected to be a half hour late for meetings, in South Africa punctuality is a virtue, says USAToday. It’s customary to make business appointments at least a month prior to the actual meeting, and you’re expected to call and confirm the day before. No matter the setting—whether it is an office or casual restaurant—be on time.
You might see South Africans at meetings dressed casually, but you’re not to follow suit, at least not at your first meeting with a new business contact. Men should wear a dark, conservative business suit and women should wear the same, or a modest dress. After the first meeting, you can dress slightly more casually.
USAToday says that it’s standard for negotiations to take a while in South Africa, so don’t try to rush or pressure the other party. There isn’t the air of trying to “win” in negotiations, as there often is in the U.S. Rather, you should approach negotiations making it clear you’d like everyone to get the best deal. It’s smart to state a deadline, but don’t get aggravated if you need to change it.
Like in the U.S., it’s customary to bring a gift to the host or hostess if you’re invited to a home in South Africa. Bringing a gift to a business meeting at an office or restaurant is not customary. Something in the price range of a bottle of wine, chocolates or flowers is appropriate.
South African society greatly values its elders. If there is an elderly person at your business meeting, even if he or she is not highly ranked in the company or is not a crucial part of the discussion, treat him or her with the utmost respect, as if he or she were a superior.
Luckily English is the main business language in South Africa. It’s perfectly normal to greet a business contact in English right away—don’t feel the need to learn phrases in other languages.
According to culturecrossing.net, you should not address a business contact by his or her first name unless invited to do so. Until then, use professional titles or Mr./Mrs., and the person’s last name.