Growing your business is exciting, and it often requires traveling for business meetings in new places. Especially when traveling internationally for business, though, the stress of deadlines and meetings can ramp up the pressure.
As the global economy continues to grow in 2018, many businesses are turning to Latin America to expand their reach. According to the International Monetary Fund, Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing stable growth in the GDP (projected at +2.6% for 2019, up from -0.7% in 2016), moving away from the recessions of years past.
If your company isn’t yet established in this rapidly growing region, there’s a good chance you’ll need to travel there to establish business relationships, attend trade shows, and deliver sales pitches. We’ve got you covered with advice on how to make sure you—and your shipped goods—make the most out of your next Latin America business trip.
Latin America in a Nutshell
Before you start plotting out business opportunities in the region, it’s important to understand what we mean when we say Latin America.
Latin America encompasses a huge area, comprised of nearly 25 countries ranging from Mexico to the southernmost tip of Argentina. The predominant languages of the area are Spanish and Portuguese (Brazil’s official language). In the Caribbean, which is typically considered part of Latin America, English is commonly the national language, but colonial influences mean French, Spanish, and Portuguese are also spoken throughout.
Although these countries get grouped together when we talk about economics, the reality of doing business in Latin America means you’ll need to understand the unique culture, business etiquette, and travel challenges of each country.
Take Latin America’s capital cities: these destinations alone are incredibly diverse. When doing business in Mexico City, for example, you’ll be in the most populous city in North America—surpassing New York by several million inhabitants (get ready for crowds). When you land in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, on the other hand, you’ll be over 9,000 feet above sea level (give your body time to acclimate).
If you’re planning on traveling for business anywhere in the region, do your homework on the countries and cities you’ll be visiting to learn about local customs, languages, and climates so you can pack and plan accordingly.
Take the Worry Out of Your Next Latin American Trade Show or Pitch
When traveling for business abroad, the odds are that you won’t be flying empty handed. As companies from the U.S. and Latin America begin to tap into the Latin American markets, they’ll need to travel with their products down to the region for pitches and trade shows. According to Exhibitor Online, one of the biggest decisions you can make when attending a trade show is how you’ll get your wares to the location. You don’t want to have your exhibits and samples stuck on a ship or in customs when you need them on the trade show floor.
We’ve broken down the basics of international shipping before, but here’s a quick refresher on what you need to consider before sending your goods abroad.
Make sure the goods you’re sending aren’t subject to extra regulations or embargoes, as this can cause delays from customs or add unexpected costs. Even items being sent abroad temporarily are subject to taxes and duties.
Create a commercial invoice documenting everything you’re shipping to avoid delays in customs.
Fill out international documentation for customs.
Estimate the duties and taxes by declaring the value of your shipped goods.
Pick the appropriate shipping method based on your budget and how quickly you need your goods to arrive.
Whether you ship via overnight air or overseas freight, be sure to consider the time needed to clear customs and to choose the right shipping partner for accurate final mile delivery.
Tips for Traveling for Business in Latin America
Now that you have your shipped goods under control, let’s focus on how to make the rest of your business trip a success. With the understanding that countries throughout Latin America all have their own unique cultures, there are some general things to keep in mind when doing business in the region.
Before you Travel for Business
Check the U.S. State Department’s Website: If you’re a U.S. citizen, check out the U.S. State Department’s website for a comprehensive overview of travelling abroad. You’ll find helpful facts about visa requirements, information about local laws and customs that may impact your travel, and other advice that will give you a baseline of knowledge before you travel.
Make a Copy of Your Passport: In the event that you lose your passport, having a copy of it on hand makes it much easier when you go to the U.S. Embassy to request another one. Make sure to carry a copy of your passport with you at all times while traveling.
Plan for Seasonal Differences: Katie German, avid business traveler and Human Resources Partner at MWH Global, reminds travelers that the southern hemisphere has different seasons than the northern hemisphere. If it’s winter in New York, expect warm and wet weather in Brazil.
Pack a Plug Converter: Keeping your devices charged is critical when you’re trying to stay connected while traveling for business. Unfortunately, the electrical plug types vary throughout Latin America. Avoid the overpriced airport versions by purchasing an adapter ahead of time.
Plan Ahead (and Have Backups): According to the Global Business Travel Association, the top challenges identified by business travelers in Latin America include changing a hotel reservation, transportation time, and “the work environment while traveling.”
Don’t let travel get in the way of your productivity. Look up backup hotels in the area, invest in business lounge access to stay focused—or rested—during layovers, and splurge for the in-flight Wi-Fi.
While You’re There
Time Works Differently: Dean Foster, founder of DFA Intercultural Global Solutions, offers great advice concerning the unique cultural quirks of Latin America. His most pertinent suggestion to business travelers concerns the way time works.
For business meetings, he suggests that you “arrive on time…. but be prepared to wait. Schedule the meetings for the morning, whenever possible, as once the day gets rolling, schedules can go out the window.”
While we may be obsessed with punctuality in the U.S., the personable and flexible nature of Latin American countries makes rigid schedules difficult. Go with the flow and follow your host’s lead.
That said, take into account that major cities like Sao Paulo, Bueno Aires, Bogota, and Mexico City have major traffic challenges. Don’t plan too many meetings in the same day; you won’t make it to all of them. And make sure to give yourself extra time to get to each meeting.
Minimize Language Differences through a Local Interpreter/Translator: While Spanish is spoken in most Latin American countries, the intricacies of business and legal agreements require precise translation and interpretation capabilities. According to Evelyn Paredes of MultiLing Co., regional dialects present problems for translators and interpreters who aren’t familiar with the country’s customs and history.
If you’re negotiating business deals, we suggest hiring an interpreter (providing oral translation of spoken dialogue) or translator (providing written translation of documents) who is from the host country to ensure the most accurate business interactions possible.
Don’t try to rely on your high school Spanish to get by. And don’t expect your Latin American peers to speak English, because spoken English is not as common as you might think. As the 2017 report English Language Learning in Latin America from TheDialogue.org notes, in Mexico 80% of job listings require proficiency in the English language, but only 20% of workers have mastered the language.
Be Personable: Latin America is a very friendly place, and if you’re from the U.S. this may be taken as an invasion of your personal space.
Greetings in Latin America are extremely friendly. Men may share handshakes or hugs, while men and women may greet each other by a peck on the cheek or a handshake. The more you get to know someone, the more intimate the greetings are likely to become.
In general, according to KCBA.org, Latin Americans stay close during conversations and expect consistent eye contact while speaking. In order to avoid offending someone, accept friendly touches like elbow-holding and walking arm-in-arm.
Use Local Currencies and Exact Change: Whenever you travel, it’s always advisable to have a mix of credit and cash at your disposal. This is especially the case in Latin America. Keep in mind that credit cards aren’t as widely accepted throughout the region as they are in the U.S. and Europe.
Not only that, the expectation from businesses is that you’ll provide correct change for your purchases. Large bills won’t work for small purchases. So make sure you keep some change on hand for any purchases that can’t be completed with a card.
Find the Right Partners: Once you’ve closed the deal and you’re ready to line up logistics for business in your new market, finding the right partners is critical. Locating, negotiating, and developing relationships with logistics providers in Latin America can be a real challenge for companies based in the U.S. and Europe. Don’t be too quick to opt for the supposed convenience of USPS or DHL’s recognizable brands; these companies don’t always offer the best alternative for your specific needs when it comes to shipping to the region. SkyPostal provides local knowledge and couriers to deliver efficient, cost-effective logistics services throughout Latin America. Not only do we know the market and the customs requirements, but we’ve navigated these challenges for years. We’re pleased to offer our clients an entire logistics network to plug into, ensuring that your new business expansion gets started off on the right foot.
Traveling for Business with SkyPostal
This isn’t a comprehensive list of tips for traveling for business in Latin America, but it will get you started off on the right foot. By preparing ahead of time, smoothly navigating cultural customs, and setting yourself up with the right logistics partners, you’ll be closer than ever to successfully breaking into a new Latin American market. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your logistics needs in Latin America.