Business etiquette

India Flag - indian business etiquette pageThe culture of a country represents their people’s ethics, morals, attitude and values. This evolving culture helps the country to develop more and more. Although, cultural influence and ethics may vary from one part to another part of country but it provides a bridge to connect all the people within the country. This guide provides all of the essential information about Indian business etiquette.

Golden Temple, India

It is important not to involve humour while doing business with Indian counterparts. Business is a serious thing in India so make sure your behaviour does not affect your business relationships. Indians can sometimes seem argumentative, emotional and expressive – to a certain level they are but this is normal so should not always be seen in any negative way.

They like to share their opinions in very flamboyant way, which means they use expressive body language, facial and hand gestures while sharing their opinions. If you encounter this type of situation in a meeting, try to remain cool and composed, let people express their opinions. After finishing the debate, people will come back to business.

It is important therefore to be mindful of India’s culture, customs and history to be successful when visiting India. Cultural adaptation and flexibility should be the directing ideologies to do business in India. Variation in business styles, attitude towards growth of business relations and regularity, gift giving customs, significance of things and negotiation styles are the major cultural discrepancies that people face while doing business in India. This guide therefore will be an asset and it is worth considering it when you are dealing with Indian people and in particular business people.  Business behaviours and methods, religious customs and the importance of family are all covered in the following sub-sections.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

The Indian government takes social and economic issues very seriously and this is an important thing to bear in mind for Indian business etiquette. It is the main reason that India is the first country in the world to make Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandatory. Another motive for insertion of CSR is to involve the businesses in national development agenda. In which businesses have to invest their profits in areas such as poverty, education, infrastructure and rural development.

In this rule companies with a net profit of US$732,654 (Rs 50 million) or more during a fiscal year, shall allocate 2% of average net profit of three years towards CSR. There are several issues that currently represent sensitive topics for Indian society. Economic issues such as tax avoidance, political scams are the most notable concerns. Out of 1.25 billion people in India only around 19 million people pay taxes. This number significantly increased after introduction of Goods and Service Tax (GST) in 2017.

The Indian government is also concerned about environmental issues. Concerns such as cleaning of the deteriorated holy river Ganga, forest degradation, waste management, soil and air pollution by chemical factories are seen as of great importance. Therefore, Indian government launched projects like National mission for clean Ganga (NMCG) and policies regarding environment. Furthermore, Indian government encourages and provides subsidies to the users of renewable energies such as solar power and wind power.

There is a rise therefore in the use of solar power and wind power but there is still it’s a long way to go. Strict regulations and advancement are still missing from the Indian government. In the matter of environmental laws and policies, India is reluctant to introduce laws like in some European countries such as Denmark and Netherlands. Moreover, current environmental problems are not due to a lack of legislation, but there are other factors as well which are contributing to the current situation.

Although, the main challenge for CSR in India is to ensure steady employment, job security and environmental safety. Environmental issues also present some challenges as water, air and soil pollution is high in India. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) global air pollution database released in Geneva, India has 14 out of 15 polluted cities in 2018. To resolve these issues, Government, organizations and NGO’s are actively participating and contributing to make environment healthier.


In general, time-keeping is significant for Indian in business arrangements. If you have a meeting at one o’clock, your counterparts may arrive on time or little early. It is very ill-mannered if you arrive late for a business meeting unless you have a valid reason to be late. If you are running late more than 15 minutes, it is advisable to call the person and apologise for the delay. Moreover, you should give suggestion to postpone the meeting to a new time or day in case of a long delay.

Generally, Indian people do not mind if you are running a little late but it also depends on the situation as well. If people are busier, they have less time occupancy for the meeting. So it is better to call and explain the situation if you are running late. Make sure you consider various reasons to be late including India’s scowling traffic jams, because sometimes it can leave cars crawling at under 5 kilometers an hour -making it almost faster to walk than drive.

Meanwhile, attending social gatherings or non-business events is totally different. For social events, guest may arrive about twenty to thirty minutes after the specified time. While travelling in metro cities you need to be careful, as road traffic will cost you much more than the expected time. Public transport such as buses and trains may also get late due to bad weather conditions. It is recommended therefore to allow some extra time, especially travelling in metro cities like Delhi or Mumbai and in adverse weather conditions. Moreover, your host may take you on social gatherings or weddings to show some Indian traditions and customs such as Indian weddings or festival celebration.

Gift giving and indian business etiquette

It is not common to bring gifts and presents in first business meetings. In Indian business etiquette, gift giving is not a customary part. Gifts and presents are not usually given in first meeting. Once a relationship has flourished, gifts may be exchanged. Reciprocation is a respectable practice when gifts are received. In India, many organizations and government encourage their employees not to accept any form of gifts to prevent them from the legal consequences. However, it is essential to ensure that the gift is not expensive enough to be considered as bribe or inexpensive as to be considered as an insult.

It is rare to bring gifts to business meetings, but when you are invited to social gathering or functions, you should bring a bouquet or convenient gifts such as nice perfumes, sweets or jewelry items.  Make sure you give gift with either the both hands or either with right hand and not only with the left hand as left hand is considered as unclean. When giving money as gifts, make sure it is an odd number of money, such as 21 Rupees, 51 Rupees or 151 rupees instead of 20 or 50 rupees.

When giving gifts, avoid gifts wrapped in white or black paper as white is considered as a sign of mourning and black is considered as a sign of danger. Also, avoid gifts that are made from leather because cows are sacred for Hindus and it may hurt their religious sentiments.

Business Dress Code

Traditional clothing varies massively in different parts of India. Shirt and trousers are common for man and a sari is common for women. Meanwhile, it is common to see wrapped, graceful and modern outfits for everyone nowadays. Formal shirt, suit, tie and trouser are common business outfit for males whereas long skirt and covered outfit is for females. Many corporations have their own uniform with company style, logo and slogans to look corporate. It reflects the certain image of the company for Indian business etiquette. This uniform gives you a fine understanding of organization’s business environment and culture. New generation startups are adopting a smart dress code, which are comfortable to wear and also gives an expert image for the company. For example, T-shirts with company Logo and slogan with comfortable trousers are in trend for new startups. As India is a tropical country and has different weather, it is advisable to wear comfortable, yet formal clothes. And for females formal yet covering outfits are acceptable all over the country.

Jeans or denims for men and tank tops or revealing clothes for women are not acceptable in business meetings. Make sure your clothes are neat, clean and do not have any stains or wrinkles as it may create bad impression. There is variation in the clothes as per the ranks; employees wear formal clothes whereas senior manager wears a suit. Branded, designer suits and tuxedos are quite popular amongst high ranking officers. Overall, a well-dressed man always catches the eyes of people.

Bribery and Corruption

As per the report from, with a score of 40 out of 100, India is ranked 81st out of 176 countries according to the corruption perceptions index (CPI). Corruption is one of the prime issues that badly affect India’s economy. Flourishing corruption in the country has inhibited the country’s progress and held the economy from reaching new heights. India is suffering from a high level of political, social and managerial corruption. There is a huge list of participating entities in the corruption. List includes schools, universities, hospitals, politicians, police and many more.

Corruption is a result from the lack of transparent laws from government, less public involvement and poor public administration. Another causes for corruption includes complicated tax system, government monopoly on some sectors and excessive regulations. Meanwhile, explicit anti-corruption policies are in circulation especially in the government sector, which is the prime cause for corruption. Stricter rules are imposed which is reducing the participation level in illicit activities and corruption. Moreover, the Indian government is actively trying to reduce the corruption from all over the country. Still, bribery continues to be a hindrance to India’s development. However, people understand the dangers of bribery and the number of people, NGO’s and businesses that are ready to participate in anti-corruption activities is growing. Corruption is huge concern in public sector, these people may ask for extra money to get the work done. Visitors should be well aware of corruption that prevails in India and if somebody asks for the bribe, you can directly contact the relative anti-corruption bureau office.

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