In a country that is 6,000 kilometers long and with over 18 million inhabitants, it is inevitable to find a great diversity of customs. Here we discuss some general cultural aspects that many will find useful when doing business in Chile.
Chile has one of the most solid economies in Latin America, with a gross domestic product (GDP) value of $247 billion in 2016 and free trade agreements with markets that represent almost two thirds of the world's population. The country was the first in South America to join the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) and is also an associate member of MERCOSUR, a member of APEC and a founding member of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
According to the ranking on the business environment prepared by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Chile is among the top 20 best countries to do business, being the first Latin American country on the list.
Regarding cultural aspects, Chile has a strong national identity. However, the country's geographical diversity - covering some 6,000 kilometers throughout South America - has generated a great variety of customs.
It is important to evaluate in advance what dates may or may not be suitable for doing business in Chile.
For example, most Chileans tend to take vacations in February, affecting the availability of executives to meet with visitors. Also, during Holy Week (between March and April, depending on the year), which is commonly celebrated throughout Latin America, companies close for at least two days. Subsequently, between September 17 and 20 (again, according to the year), Chile celebrates Independence Day and Patriotic Days, also affecting the normal operations of companies.
In general terms, Chileans are characterized by being supportive, welcoming and friendly. They also tend to be formal in dealing with people, especially when doing business, so it is advisable to address your host and colleagues formally and greet them with just a handshake.
Punctuality and formality
Punctuality is key for every person doing business in Chile. It is important to prepare and comply with the agreed time for the meeting, also considering that large cities in Chile are not exempt from heavy traffic problems.
It is common to start a meeting with the exchange of business cards and a lighter, more personal conversation, before discussing business matters.
Chile has a low level of corruption and the business community firmly believes in transparency. When doing business with a new partner, it is common to carry out due diligence to corroborate the credentials and authenticity of the company in question, through processes such as Know Your Customer (KYC). For this reason, it is not advisable to intervene or try to alter or expedite the business processes locally, as it can be interpreted as an attempt at corruption.
The business contracts in Chile are fulfilled as established and no changes and negotiations are allowed once signed, unlike some countries where the signing of the contract marks the beginning of the negotiation process.
Souvenirs, office items such as pens or USB devices are gifts that can commonly be received as a token of appreciation from the visitor or the host. As in many other countries, offering gifts, activities or expensive trips is seen in Chile as an attempt at bribery and is prohibited according to the policies of most companies.
The ability to communicate effectively in Spanish can be of great value to foreigners doing business in Chile. While most local executives are bilingual and accustomed to doing business in English, people attending restaurants, hotels, taxis and stores in the country may have little or no knowledge of the language.
Unlike some countries, like the United States, for example, where there may be a 24/7 work culture and receiving an email late at night is common, Chileans tend to comply with their obligations within the established work schedule.
Contact our local experts
TMF Group has the local knowledge to help you identify the relevant cultural aspects in Chile, and face any challenge or opportunity they may pose for your business. Whether you want to establish a new company in Chile or simply want to optimize your operations locally, talk to us.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.