India Business Etiquette

Posted by Lindsay Geoffroy



Bhārata mēṁ āpakā svāgata hai! (‘‘Welcome to India!“ in Hindi)

India is home to a diverse population – several languages, religions, and customs are represented. India has a diverse ecology and economy and a booming tourist market (who doesn’t want to visit the lovely Taj Mahal?), as well as customer service and tech markets. As the seventh-largest country by area and second-largest by population, India has a lot to offer visitors, especially those wishing to conduct business. Before you decide to visit, take a second to learn about the do’s anddon’ts of Indian business etiquette.


The Lowdown

  • The official language of the central government in India is Hindi; however, when conducting international business, English is typically the only language used. Other languages spoken in India include: Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, and Urdu.
  • The vast majority of Indian residents are Hindu; however, there are other religions present in India such as Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Christianity.
  • India has one of the longest histories of corporate social responsibility (CSR) of any nation. Large corporations are invested in serving the country and its people through charities, and have been doing so for over 100 years.

Dressing Sharp

  • Men should generally wear a business suit and tie to business functions.
  • In a casual setting, men are preferred to wear long pants and short-sleeved shirts.
  • For women, pantsuits or conservative dresses are expected in the business setting. Women must keep their upper arms, chest, back, and legs covered at all times.
  • Do not wear leather as the Hindus consider cows to be sacred.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Meeting etiquette requires a handshake at the outset. Indian individuals will greet each other with a namaste, wherein the hands are brought together at the chest and the head is bowed.
  • Exchanging business cards at the first meeting is expected. It is good etiquette to have one sign printed in English and the other in Hindi, out of respect for the Indian party.
  • Punctuality is expected, although being late to meeting is not as frowned upon as in other cultures. Indians are more flexible and expect flexibility in return.
  • If you know the title of the other party (ie, Doctor, Professor, etc.) use this to address them. If not, use “Sir” or “Madam.”

Dining Decorum

  • Business lunches are preferred to dinners as dinners are typically spent with family.
  • It is important to remember that Hindus to do eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork.
  • Do not directly touch food being served to others, as this makes the food “impure.”
  • Neighbors will pour each other’s drinks – do not pour or refill your own.
  • Business meals are not generally a good time to discuss business; rather, meals are used as a way to build business relationships between associates.
  • Do not thank the host at the end of a meal, as this is considered insulting in India. However, tipping the server is required, just as in America.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift giving in India is a customary way to start or cement a business relationship.
  • Indian people are conservative and therefore do not appreciate expensive gifts. Jewelry is also not accepted as this is seen as an intimate gift.
  • Avoid giving alcohol or leather goods.
  • Good gifts include small items representative of your own culture, flowers, or sweets.
  • When wrapping the gift, wrap in bright colors.
  • Gift giving will occur at the meal, but gift opening will not be done in front of the giver.

Down to Business

  • Do not be confrontational or aggressive in business negotiations – this is not appreciated in India.
  • Indians may use diplomatic language to refuse an offer instead of saying a hard “no.” So, if you hear a “maybe,” it could potentially mean the deal is not going through.
  • India operates by a caste system wherein those deemed more respectable in society are of a higher rank. This is no different in business. Decisions are made hierarchically from the top down.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to India, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! Alavidā! (“Goodbye” in Hindi).