Brazilian Business Culture: Do’s and Don’ts

Whether flying into Brazil on business or connecting digitally, the single most important thing you need to know is:

Brazilians negotiate and make business with people, not companies. Brazilians would also do almost anything for close friends. They even have a saying for that: “For friends – everything. For enemies – the law.”

Brazil’s culture is a thriving blend of Portuguese, indigenous Indian and African influences, resulting in a rich, distinct culture.  It is known for its hospitality, openness and colorful and rhythmic events such as the celebration of Carnival. 

Learn more about Brazilian business culture and etiquette and successfully make your way around the largest economy in Latin America.

1. Time

Take your time when greeting and make sure that you exchange business cards with everyone present at a meeting. Always have a sufficient amount on you as you never know when they may come in handy during business meetings and networking events.

2. Appearance

Brazilians pay attention to their appearance. Be safe and opt for formal wear in neutral colors for formal meetings in conservative industries. On the other hand for casual meetings or creative industries, it’s acceptable to dress more casually but avoid showing up in colors of the Brazilian flag. 

The “O.K.” sign (finger and thumb touching) is considered very rude and vulgar; the “thumbs up” gesture is used for approval.

When Brazilians wipe their hands together, it means that something doesn’t matter or is irrelevant at that moment.

When they make a sound with their tongue and shake their heads, it means they disagree or disapprove of something.

Physical contact, like touching arms or tapping backs, is very common and acceptable. Brazilians also tend to sit and stand very close to one another – closer than what may be customary in your country.

3. Meetings

It is a great idea to have your business cards translated so that one side shows your contact details in Brazilian Portuguese and the other side in English respectively.

While giving a business card to your potential business partners, always hand it to them with the Portuguese writing facing the recipient.

Make sure that you plan your business appointments and book them even 3 weeks in advance.

Always try to arrive on time for business meetings in Brasilia and Sao Paulo. In Rio de Janeiro and other cities,  it is more acceptable to arrive a few minutes late.

Don’t show your impatience if kept waiting. To Brazilians, time is something they cannot control and the struggles of daily life are taken very seriously, meaning that private life occurrences can and will impact the punctuality of your Brazilian counterpart.

Don’t get right down to business. Business meetings are rather informal, which you will notice straight away. It’s common to start a meeting discussing something that is not directly related to the meeting.

You can expect to be interrupted while you are speaking or making a presentation. If the meeting is not going as expected, maintain positive body language to avoid being considered impolite.

You will most probably experience honest interest in and questions about your business. As mentioned above, Brazilians feel comfortable doing business with people and companies they feel they know.

It should be your Brazilian counterpart that raises the subject of business. Wait for this to happen and allow the time to do so.  At first, it is all about building an honest business relationship.

Brazilians won’t end a business meeting just because it’s getting late. Be prepared to go over the scheduled time.

3. Communication

Communication is often informal and does not rely on strict rules of protocol. Anyone who feels they have something to say will generally add their opinion.

Make sure to speak clearly and slowly as not everyone you come across will be proficient in English. Consider learning a few Brazillian Portuguese phrases. This will make a good impression and shows that you respect the local language and culture.

Face-to-face communication always trumps written communication. However, when it comes to business, Brazilians insist on very detailed legal contracts.

If your Brazillian Portuguese is not as fluent as you would wish it to be, it might be a good idea to hire a local translator to support you during your business negotiations.

4. Negotiations and Business Relationships

Brazil is a so-called ‘group culture’, which means that the standing of an individual within the social group is extremely important.

Avoid criticizing a person during a meeting with several other people present, as this represents individual loss of face and subsequently the person expressing criticism may also lose face, as it is common knowledge that this is not good etiquette.

It is very common to have a layered process for negotiations,  where representatives at first meetings will then get approval from their superiors for details initially discussed. So don’t expect decisions to be made in the initial meeting; this is the norm in Brazilian business culture. 

Brazilian business people often do not accept foreign legal experts during negotiations hence it is always better to work with local lawyers, advisors, etc.

Brazilian companies have a strictly hierarchical structure, which is an important ‘detail’, especially when you need to address a particular issue or solve a problem.

5. The Working Day

In most Brazilian cities, the working hours are 8.30 am to 5.00 pm with an hour or two in the middle for lunch.  Businesses are usually open from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm, Monday to Friday, and 9.00 to 1.00 pm on Saturday.  Larger businesses and most in Sao Paulo may be open longer hours.

Adjust to the pace of Brazilian business and remember to be sociable and approachable. Learn the local language of Brazil with our online Brazilian courses.

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