Spain Business Etiquette

Posted by Sophia Barnhart

¡Bienvenidos a España! (“Welcome to Spain” in Spanish)

Spain, despite its past economic troubles, is on the mend and on the hunt for new business opportunities. Known for their relaxed nature and atypical schedules, Spain is undergoing a shift in values following the restoration of a democracy and wants to secure its reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the business world.

That being said, Spain is going through a bit of an identity crisis; several of its main regions are seeking independence based on the inability to settle cultural, linguistic, and economic differences.  Not to mention, many businesses are leaving behind the stereotypical siesta and adopting a more Western business culture. It’s absolutely crucial to understand your audience in Spain—knowing how to specify your target audience within Spain’s population of 47 million—in order to avoid misinterpretation that could lead to a deal falling through.

The Lowdown

  • Traditional business hours are from 9am-2pm, and then 5-8pm; however, some businesses are transitioning towards a more Western 9-5 workday.
  • Spain has the highest number of public holidays in Europe; when holidays fall on Tuesdays or Thursdays Spaniards are known to take “puentes” (bridges), or 4-day weekends. Check local, regional, AND national calendars before scheduling a meeting!
  • Locals may arrive late (Spaniards are more relaxed with punctuality compared to their European neighbors), but visitors are expected to arrive punctually.

Dressing Sharp

  • Dark, subdued colors and fashion-forward designer business wear will make a good impression.
  • Men should wear white cotton designer shirts and tailored pants; silk ties and full suits are only necessary during formal events.
  • Women should wear well-cut suits or dresses of high-quality fabric;be dignified yet modest.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Schedule your meeting well in advance (avoiding holidays) and confirm by letter.
  • Upon arriving, present your business card to the receptionist—the card should be printed both in Spanish, on the side facing the receptionist, and in English, on the side facing down.
  • Initial introductions should include a firm handshake and direct eye contact. Spaniards will appreciate you trying your hand at some local Spanish; “Buenos días” (Good morning) and referring to your counterpart as Señor (Mr.) or Señora (Mrs.) are good phrases to start with.
  • Spaniards strongly value trustworthy and honest business partners; take the time to establish a personal relationship first by discussing your background and family life.
  • Spaniards are also very proud—keep in mind that loss of face is viewed negatively.
  • Bring a set agenda to use while discussing business matters—keep your initial approach in Spanish and bring copies in both Spanish and English as Spaniards do not know English as well as other Europeans do.

Dining Decorum

  • Spaniards have a very warm and outgoing nature and consider meals a social activity.
  • While it is more typical for negotiations to be done within an office, it is not uncommon to celebrate afterwards at a restaurant.
  • Meals could be extended over several hours; lunch starts around 1-2pm and dinner around 9-10pm.
  • Many meals are in the form of tapas, a variety of small dishes; seafood and especially paella are traditional local favorites.
  • It’s not unusual to have a cup of wine or sangria during a meal.
  • If you are not finished, cross your knife and fork on top of your plate; when you are finished, lay your fork and knife parallel facing up.
  • Be aware: the individual extends the invitation is the one to foot the bill!


Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Giving small gifts at the conclusion of successful negotiations is not uncommon; such gifts could include flowers, chocolates, or wine (nothing too personal or extravagant)
  • Companies do occasionally send gifts to valued partners around Christmastime
  • Upon receiving a gift, open it immediately and respond by saying “Gracias”
  • When giving a gift, take special care that the gift is of high quality and is well wrapped; do not give gifts at the first meeting.

Down to Business

  • Do not be offended if you are interrupted; interruptions show genuine interest.
  • Spaniards prefer to conduct business in person; negotiations will be concluded with an oral agreement followed by a written confirmation.
  • Hierarchy is an important value in Spanish business; try to schedule your meeting with someone of equivalent position and status.
  • A final decision will not be made immediately—not only are Spanish businesspeople are relaxed about time, but decisions are usually made by senior managers—so be patient and respectful.
  • After the meeting, follow up with a letter and be sure to maintain the relationship.

Public Behavior

  • Spain is home to nearly 20 dialects—the most commonly used are Castilian, Catalan, Basque, and Galician—so it is of utmost importance to take care to know which will be used during y our meeting.
  • In Spain, tipping is not normally customary but is appreciated when service is exemplary.
  • Keep in mind that smoking is much more publicly accepted in Spain; if you have issues with smoking, try to find a smoke-free restaurant or hotel to hold the meeting at.
  • The influence of “machismo” (male dominance) is still present in Spanish culture; that being said, women are slowly increasingly present at university and work and visiting businesswomen are treated respectfully and professionally.
  • While many Spaniards will meet each other with a kiss on both cheeks, this is not common in business relationships unless you know the other party well. It is wisest to offer a handshake, and if a kiss is appropriate, the Spanish party will initiate it.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Spain, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! 

¡Hasta luego! (“See you later!” in Spanish)