How To Do Business in Spain


When traveling to Spain for business, keep in mind that things you might ordinarily do in your workplace, with your boss, or with coworkers may not necessarily be accepted in another country. It's essential for business travelers venturing to any part of Spain to brush up on the customs and cultural behaviors and manners in the workplace. Doing so helps to prevent awkward moments, embarrassment, or unintentional gestures, comments, or behaviors that may insult your hosts.

Spanish Business Etiquette and Behaviors

Businessmen and women visiting Spain on business are likely to see many beautiful cities, taste exotic foods, and enjoy the immense hospitality and friendliness of Spanish people. The busiest centers in Spain are clustered in its major cities including Madrid, Barcelona, and Andalusia. However, keep in mind that different areas of Spain offer different business behaviors, cultures, and expectations.

For example, in the region of Catalonia (and most especially Barcelona), business travelers may find that business people they deal with in that region are rather abrupt and direct. They tend to say what they mean. They are not rude, but on the other hand, they're not delicate either. As a matter of fact, in other parts of Spain, even Spaniards consider the people of Catalonia and Barcelona to be frugal, lacking in humor, distant, and, though without a doubt, hardworking.

It's not surprising that the people from Catalonia feel that the Spaniards from Madrid are showoffs, boastful, and arrogant, and rather extravagant. If that doesn't confuse you, consider that Andalusians are considered to be quite relaxed and laid back, taking long lunch breaks, letting things wait until the last minute, and even doing quite a bit of business outside of the office environment.

Regardless to which area of Spain you travel, do your best to brush up on the customs and culture of that region. Your interactions with Spaniards may be quite different than what you're used to in your town or business. Regardless of which region of Spain you visit, developing positive personal relationships is a common goal. In Spain, personal relationships between businessmen and women are vital for the completion of just about any type of business endeavor. Without attempting to foster personal relationships, you may find every one of your business efforts stonewalled.

Many business people traveling to Spain may soon realize that Spaniards often tend to leave things until the last minute. You may need to remind them and follow up on issues. Deadlines may be missed if contact is not maintained throughout your business processes.

Business Hours

As mentioned above, business hours and work habits depend on the area of Spain you're visiting. In general, business offices in Spain are open between nine o'clock A.M. and one o'clock in the afternoon. The offices are typically closed for one hour (or three) and are then again open from anywhere from two o'clock or three o'clock until six o'clock or seven o'clock in the evening.

Most Spaniards work a 40-hour week. Throughout Spain, be prepared to do business outside of the office environment. Spaniards in the southern regions are much more likely to take longer lunch breaks and make deals over lunch or dinner. Later on in the day, the office staff prepares documents and details of contracts and arranges to meet later that evening in the office.

When it comes to public holidays, be prepared for people taking four-day weekends. The summer months, most especially July and August, are popular vacation times, and offices often change their working hours, utilizing only skeleton staff, during these months. In some locations, whole office buildings may close down for the entire month of August.

Business Management Styles

In Spain, management styles work from the top down. That means that all important decisions are made by the boss. This traditional and established method of hierarchy has existed in Spain for centuries. Presidents of companies generally have complete power over decisions. Underlings and subordinate positions are often held by family members.

Before engaging in business with any company in Spain, determine whether the business owner, manager, or boss knows English. Many Spaniards may speak French as a business language, and you may require the services of an interpreter. In many situations. Older bosses, managers, or chairpersons have underlings within the business environment who are able to translate.

Doing business in Spain can be an eye-opening experience for anyone. Spanish bosses and managers approach giving orders and instructions or directions to employees in a warm, personable manner. In Spain, bosses and managers know not only the professional lives of their employees, but their families as well.

It can be said that in Spain, the "human touch" or very personable approach to employees is extremely prevalent. Spanish employees who have problems, personally or professionally, are encouraged to see their managers, who are expected to help them deal with problems. In the Spanish business environment, personal issues take precedence over deadlines, fulfillment orders, and so forth.

Consider the most important factors regarding qualification for advancement in a Spanish business environment. Yes, education is important, but take a look at the order of requirements that a Spanish businessman or woman is expected to offer:

  • Loyalty.
  • Friendship.
  • Ability.

In Spain, personal character and attitude is as important, if not more so than education, skills, and ability.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Spanish Culture course?

When dealing with Spanish business owners, formal introductions quickly grow informal, and it's important from the get-go to develop a relationship built on trust. In Spain, avoid being over assertive when it comes to promoting yourself, your business, or contracts, since being over assertive is viewed as impinging on personal pride.

Spaniards take a lot of pride in their personal character and qualities. Honor is the utmost quality. The personal or human touch is the most important aspect of their daily goals, and leaving the office for outside visits, lunches, and dinners with co-workers, clients, and peers are an expected part of any job. Also keep in mind that in Spanish culture, the person who extends a lunch or dinner invitation is expected to pay.

In many Spanish business environments, you'll also find that top level management mingles with even the lowliest employee. When it comes to dealing with business women in Spain, offer them the professional attitude that they expect and deserve. In many situations, a woman at the head of a Spanish company is likely to be a relative, daughter or granddaughter of the company's founder.

Getting Down to Business

When it comes to doing business in Spain, keep in mind that you must first take the time and be patient enough to establish a level of trust with your Spanish host or hostess. It is expected of you to establish a personal relationship before business is discussed.

Your Spanish hosts will be friendly and hospitable and more than likely invite you along for some social wining and dining. This is not the time to talk about business. It's the time to talk about your personal life. Yes, talking about your family, your wife, your children and your life is expected at this point of the relationship. Be prepared to have photographs of your family to help you build this trust relationship with your Spanish counterpart.

You may wonder why this is expected of you. However, keep in mind how the Spaniards view this introductory period. In the Spanish culture, showing that an individual has roots, including family and friends, ensures that you are serious about your business endeavors. It shows that you have a solid foundation in your social circle, and encourages the building of trust and helps develop a sense of competency and confidence in you.

The ability to offer favors to relatives or friends of your Spanish hosts are seen as exceedingly valuable in the building of such trust. The more positive your budding relationship with your Spanish host, the more likely you'll enjoy a good business relationship and success in your business endeavors.

Of course, Spanish men are known for their macho image. Much as it is in Asia, it's extremely important not to lose face or dignity. You will find that Spanish businessmen and women say what they mean and mean what they say. They're extremely loyal once you have established a relationship with them. You must also be careful not to do or say anything that will embarrass them or cause them to lose face in the eyes of their peers.

Spanish business people can function within a timetable, but they are also extremely flexible. You may have a time schedule for your business plans, but don't expect the Spanish businessman or woman to run according to your timetable. Spanish business environments encourage the development of both short-term and long-term plans and goals. They are big on networking. They can get an incredibly large amount of work done in a small amount of time because they have such large networks. They're great at multitasking and juggling. They're just not great at watching the clock or sticking to a schedule, until the last minute.

Communicating in the Business Environment

If you have an appointment with a Spanish businessman, don't be offended if you arrive on time for the appointment and you're kept waiting for up to a half an hour. It's just the way it goes in Spain. Before making appointments, research normal business working hours in the region you're visiting and then keep in mind that many offices close early. Many offices are closed over holiday periods, especially Easter and Christmas.

Business communication in Spain is friendly and relaxed. Again, remember that human touch or personality. When writing emails to Spaniards, it's always important to remember to be warm, personable, and friendly. Use a greeting and a salutation in your emails, and do the same when using the telephone.

When it comes to meetings in Spain, don't expect that which you're used to. In Spain, meetings are basically considered one of the best ways to get to know clients and to communicate or deliver instructions. Meetings generally offer a flow of conversation, but don't necessarily follow an agenda. Remember that final decisions are always made by the boss.

Meetings in Spain usually start with a long speech. You will then be invited to give your own speech. This is the time to establish status, qualifications, and goals. Remember not to contradict or in any other way insult a Spanish boss or manager in public. Even if you don't agree on discussions during the meeting, you may find that you'll gain greater ground dealing with official business in a relaxed environment such as a restaurant or hotel at lunch or dinnertime.

Unlike in the United States, a meeting is not the place to hash out ideas to reach common agreements. It's not the place to determine actions to take or follow up procedures to initiate. In Spain, the meeting is generally viewed as an opportunity to sway others to a specific point of view.

Don't be surprised when people speak over others, as it's not considered rude in Spain. Negotiations are based on fast thinking and intuition rather than careful step-by-step preparation, as is common in the United States and in countries like Germany and Switzerland.

Most importantly, be aware that Spaniards tend to stare at you when you're speaking. This makes many Americans rather uncomfortable, but Spaniards want to "see your eyes," which helps them to identify with you and understand you better.

When preparing materials for a meeting in Spain, keep in mind that gut instinct is the guiding force in Spanish business negotiations. Your financial business plan, strategic plan, and systematic data that includes schedules, budget, and forecasts will only be glanced at. In Spain, such documents are only used as a rough guideline. Any delivery dates you set should not be written in stone. Do be prepared to remind your Spanish counterparts regarding schedules, pick-up times, and delivery dates.

Wining and Dining

In Spanish culture, as mentioned before, it's popular to do business outside of the office. Spaniards often eat dinner as late as 10 o'clock in the evening, discuss business, and finish up at about two o'clock in the morning. Prepare yourself for even longer hours on the weekends.

Most business entertaining in Spain occurs in restaurants. However, you may be invited to someone's home for a drink before heading off to dinner at the restaurant, or you may be taken to a cafe or bar first.

Note: Business protocol in Spain dictates that you wait until coffee has been served at the end of the meal before bringing up any talk of business.

Again, the person who extended the invitation pays the bill. Be prepared to extend a similar invitation to your business contacts before you leave Spain. Don't mention 'repayment' dinners to your hosts, which is considered an insult. When choosing a restaurant, choose a good one, as by now, you'll have learned that Spaniards appreciate fine wine and good food.

Gift Giving

In Spain, gifts are not typically offered at a first meeting, but can be offered at the conclusion of negotiations. Gift giving at the first meeting however, does offer your host assurance that you're willing to establish a relationship with him or her. If you do happen to receive a gift, it's polite to open it immediately. Typical gifts include produce or a bottle or two of local wine.

When it comes to gift giving, keep it simple. An expensive gift may be misconstrued as a bribe. Chocolates and liquor are relatively safe bets. If you give Spanish wine, make it a special one. In addition, gifts from your own home country are often appreciated. These may range from local crafts to CDs to illustrated coffee table type books or other simple tokens of friendship.

If you happen to be invited to a Spanish home for a meal, bring along a box of nice chocolates or some type of dessert item, or even flowers. However, when it comes to flowers, avoid chrysanthemums or dahlias; as such flowers are associated with death. Count the flowers in any bouquet you offer, as 13 flowers are considered bad luck.


We hope that this article has offered you a brief glimpse into what you can expect when doing business in Spain. We encourage you to visit your local library or online resources to delve deeper into the business cultures and relationships of specific regions of Spain which you may be visiting.

Keep in mind that personal relationships are extremely important in all aspects of Spanish life. However, respect, honor, and dignity are perceived as extremely valuable and necessary for any trusted working relationship. Doing business in Spain can offer you great personal satisfaction and financial rewards for your business. Make sure you understand business etiquette, protocols, and processes for negotiation in Spain for a positive experience.