APU Business

International Business: Considerations for Working Abroad

By Susan Hoffman

With the ever-increasing expansion of the Web, many businesses are able to reach new markets in many countries. To aid in global expansion, some of these companies often send their own employees to work in a foreign country for months or even years.

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However, working in another country requires the ability to deftly navigate one’s way through that country’s business culture and society. There are several factors you should consider in order to avoid accidentally offending your international business colleagues, such as business culture, language and social norms.

International Business Culture

Each country has its own type of business culture, and the ways that people are expected to behave differ from country to country. For instance, Luxembourgian companies often have a strict hierarchy and demand proper attention to protocol. In Turkey, a country with a sizeable Muslim population, some business owners might not want to hold meetings during the holy month of Ramadan.

As a result, it is wise to spend time studying the country and the organization where you plan to work. Be sure to adapt to others’ business culture, rather than automatically assuming that your affairs will be conducted in the same way as they are in the United States.

As business leader Parimal K. Shah commented in Entrepreneur, “Many businessmen bring in their own culture while working in a foreign land and try to impose their values on the local workforce. This style of conducting business inevitably leads to stagnation and/or failure of the foreign entity. Successful multi-nationals, therefore, make it a point to imbibe and adopt the values and culture of the country where they operate.”


Knowing another country’s language and idioms is an important business asset when you’re communicating with foreign coworkers and customers. Becoming proficient in a foreign language can take several months or years, depending upon your willingness to learn, the amount of time you spend on learning, and the difficulty of the language.

However, living in a foreign country shortens the time you’ll need to learn the local language, since you’ll use it on a daily basis at home and at an international business office. In time, you will develop an automatic sense of what is right and wrong to say in a foreign language, an instinct known as “Sprachgefühl” (literal translation: “language feeling”) in German.

Also, slang expressions that are common in the U.S. might need some explanation to foreign listeners. If you’re giving a speech at an international conference, for instance, you’ll need to bear in mind that foreign listeners may not understand common U.S. idioms and adapt your speech accordingly.

Social Norms

Paying attention to social norms in another country is also prudent. For instance, the color blue in many Middle Eastern countries is associated with safety, protection and religion, while orange is associated with mourning in countries such as Egypt. These color preferences could impact business elements such as marketing.

Body language and hand gestures need attention, too. In some countries, people might stand much closer to you than in other countries. Similarly, common Western hand gestures such as the thumbs-up sign or the “OK” sign created by touching the index finger to the thumb have very different meanings in other countries.

A Willingness to Adapt to an International Business Is Key

If you dream of finding a job in an international business and living abroad, it is key to be willing to adapt to the country in which you live and work. Taking the time to learn about what is considered normal in another country and using both tact and a friendly attitude can make a strong difference to your career success.

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Susan Hoffman is a Managing Editor at Edge, whose articles have appeared in multiple publications. Susan is known for her expertise in blogging, social media, SEO, and content analytics, and she is also a book reviewer for Military History magazine. She has a B.A. cum laude in English from James Madison University and an undergraduate certificate in electronic commerce from American Public University.

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