Chapter 16: Business Travel Abroad


  • Documents you need to travel internationally
  • Tips for travel and business meetings in your destination country
  • Cultural factors to take into account

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It is important to visit overseas markets—before any transaction occurs. Many foreign markets differ greatly from the domestic market, and by visiting another country you can familiarize yourself with cultural nuances that may affect the design, packaging, or advertising of your product. Traveling abroad can also generate new customers. As in the United States, clients and customers overseas often prefer to postpone concluding a transaction until they have conducted business in person with a foreign counterpart.

All overseas travelers are required to have proper documentation before leaving the United States. Businesses should allow 6 to 8 weeks to acquire all the necessary documents. Here are some preparations you’ll need to make before you leave.

  • Carnets: The ATA carnet is a standardized international customs document used to obtain duty-free temporary admission of certain goods. It allows commercial and professional travelers to temporarily take commercial samples, tools of the trade, advertising material, and professional equipment into member countries without paying customs duties and taxes or posting a bond at the border of each country to be visited.
  • Passports: All travel outside the United States and its possessions requires a valid U.S. passport. Information is available from the nearest local passport office.
  • Vaccinations: Requirements for vaccinations differ by country. Although there may not be any restrictions on direct travel to and from the United States, there may be restrictions if you travel indirectly and stop over in another country before reaching your final destination.
  • Customs issues: Because foreign customs regulations vary by country, you are advised to learn in advance the regulations that apply to each country you plan to visit. If allowances for cigarettes, liquor, currency, and certain other items are not taken into account, those items can be impounded at national borders.
  • Itinerary: A well-planned itinerary enables you to make the best use of your time abroad. As a rule, you should keep your schedule flexible enough to allow for both unexpected problems (such as transportation delays) and unexpected opportunities. You should confirm the normal workdays and business hours in the countries being visited.

Obtaining Assistance from U.S. Embassies and Consulates
As you plan your trip, you can discuss your needs and the services available at particular embassies with the staff of your local U.S. Commercial Service office. Commercial and economic officers in U.S. embassies and consulates abroad also assist U.S. exporters by providing in-depth briefings and arranging introductions to appropriate companies, individuals, or foreign government officials.

Considering Cultural Factors
Businesspeople who hope to profit from their travel should learn about the history, culture, and customs of the countries they wish to visit. Flexibility and cultural adaptation should be the guiding principles for traveling abroad on business. To succeed overseas, Americans must pay close attention to different styles of doing business and the degree of importance placed on developing business relationships.

For example, attitudes toward punctuality vary greatly from one culture to another, and misunderstanding those attitudes may cause confusion. In fact, when cultural lines are being crossed, something as simple as a greeting can be misunderstood. Misunderstandings over gestures are also common occurrences in intercultural communication and can lead to business complications and social embarrassment. Proper use of names and titles is often a source of confusion in international business relations as well.

Understanding gift-giving customs is similarly important. In some cultures, gifts are expected, and failure to present them is considered an insult. In other countries, the presentation of a gift is viewed as an offense. Customs concerning the exchange of business cards also vary. Although this point may seem of minor importance, card giving is a key part of business protocol.

Attention to detail can go a long way in making you stand out among the competition.

Negotiating is a complex process even between parties from the same nation. It is even more complicated in international transactions because of the potential for misunderstandings that stem from cultural differences. It is essential to understand the importance of rank in the other country and to know who the decision makers are. It is important to be familiar with the business style of the foreign company, to understand the nature of agreements there, and to know the significance of gestures and negotiating etiquette.

Through research or training, you can acquire a working knowledge of the business culture, management attitudes, business methods, and consumer habits before you travel abroad. This knowledge is very likely to have a positive effect on your overseas travel. Your local U.S. Commercial Service office can provide what you need to make a strong first impression.

This chapter’s Success Story is Lightning Eliminators, a company that supplies hardware and related services to protect oil drilling rigs, storage tanks, airports, schools, prisons, and other kinds of infrastructure from damage by lightning strikes. Lightning Eliminators has made sales in about 70 countries and boasts over 3,000 installations. The U.S. Commercial Service has helped it cope with legal, payment, and new business development challenges. International sales comprise 63 percent of revenue and have led to 200 percent growth over the past 4 years.

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  If the page does not appear in 5 seconds, please click this: outside web site is managed by the International Trade Administration and external links are covered by its website  disclaimer statement.

  Notice to Visitors!

  The link you have chosen will take you to a non-U.S. Government website.

  If the page does not appear in 5 seconds, please click this: outside web site is managed by the International Trade Administration and external links are covered by its website disclaimer statement.