Business Card Etiquette Around the World

Business cards may appear to be a relic of a bygone era. What is the purpose of carrying business cards and learning business card etiquette in this age of LinkedIn and other online networking tools? Sharing business cards has long been one of the simplest and most convenient ways for people all over the world to exchange contact information.

When it comes to making the best first impression on a new lead, the design of your business card matters. The way you hand it over matters too. Did you know that there are different rules and etiquette for sharing business cards depending on where you are in the world?  

Keeping these tips in mind will help you network successfully when traveling abroad, without making any social faux pas:

Asian Business Card Etiquette 

Business Card Etiquette in Japan Asia is a very large and diverse part of the world, so there is no one rule to follow that applies in every Asian country. That said, there are some basic principles it is a good idea to stick to when meeting people in any Asian country. You should always offer a dual-sided card with a translation into the local language on one side. Providing a business card printed only in your own language can be seen as rude or disrespectful.

On the subject of disrespect, exchanging business cards in Asia is a bit like shaking hands in the West. You are expected to do it whenever you meet someone new, even if you have already given your card to the ‘right’ people in their company. That means you should carry plenty on you in any situation where you might be introduced to people. Being unable to give someone a card can be as rude as refusing to shake their hand when you meet.

Business cards are seen as a representation of the person they belong to and their status. So treat other people’s cards – and your own – with respect. Never give someone a creased, dog-eared, or otherwise marked card, and never do anything to someone else’s card that could be seen as dismissive, such as folding it, using it to write a note, or putting it away without looking at it. Instead, give out and accept cards using both hands, and take a moment to study any card you are given before putting it down.

Business Card Etiquette in Japan 

Business card etiquette is seen as particularly important in Japan. In addition to following all of the above rules, here are a few more tips to make the best first impression:

  • Present your card with a bow, just like you would shake hands at home
  • Hold your card out in the right hand, making sure not to obscure any text or logo on the card
  • Make sure the card is presented with the Japanese side up and facing the person you are giving it to
  • Make sure to read and understand everything on the cards people give you, as you don’t want to later ask about something that was on the card. If you don’t know how to pronounce the name on the card, it is not rude to ask the person who gave it to you how to say it
  • Never put a business card into your pocket or wallet, as this can also be seen as dismissive. You should definitely carry a cardholder to keep the cards people give you pristine when traveling in Japan.

Chinese Business Card Etiquette

Most of the rules that apply in other Asian countries also apply in China when it comes to exchanging business cards. In most parts of the country, the translated side of your card should use simplified Chinese characters, although in some parts of Hong Kong people prefer to use the traditional character set. Simplified and traditional Chinese are different enough that someone who can read one character set may not be able to read the other, so it matters which one you use. Providing cards in the right character set is an important part of making the right impression.

On a related note, it may also be better to stick with the traditional character set if you are meeting business contacts in Taiwan. There, simplified characters are often seen as being appropriate only for informal scribbling and private notes, while formal and official writing is in traditional characters. 

While many people in Taiwan don’t really care which character set you use, there are also plenty who associate simplified Chinese characters with the mainland China government, and strongly prefer not to use it at all. Presenting anything in simplified Chinese might be seen as a political statement, or simply ignorant of Taiwan’s situation. 

And much like in Hong Kong, there are also many people who can’t read simplified Chinese. It is better to avoid the potential faux pas and get a stack printed in traditional characters if you are taking a trip to Taiwan.


Business Cards in Korea

Chinese Business Card Etiquette When in Korea, always stand up when exchanging business cards. It is a sign of respect to give and receive items with both hands, or to hand out cards with your right hand. Never give or receive a card or anything else using your left hand, which can be impolite. Always exchange cards on an individual basis. Never invite people to take cards for themselves from a stack, or collect cards from multiple people at the same time.

In a formal setting, place the business card you are given face up on the table and refer to it when you address them. Korea is a little more relaxed about business card etiquette than China and Japan, however, and it is okay to write on your own card if you want to leave a note for your contact. Don’t write on someone else’s though, as all the information they want to give you is already on the card.

Business Cards in India 

Business card etiquette in India is not as strict as in many other Asian countries, although the rules can differ depending on which part of the country you are in. Exchanging business cards is still very common even outside of business situations, however, so bring plenty wherever you go and always be ready to present them. 

English is widely used through the Indian business community, and printing your business cards in English is often easier than working out which of India’s 60+ languages to print your cards in for your trip.

Always greet and exchange cards with people in order of their seniority, as to do otherwise can be disrespectful. Similarly, never address someone with their first name unless they invite you to do so. It can be normal to carry out an entire business interaction addressing someone only as Mr. or Ms. Lastname, or even Sir or Madame. 

Shaking hands when exchanging business cards is fairly common, especially when meeting with people who frequently connect with westerners. However, it is less common in some parts of India for men and women to shake hands, and it is considered polite for men to let the woman decide whether to initiate the gesture.

Middle East Business Card Etiquette 

Exchanging business cards in the Middle East is a generally much less ceremonial affair than in Asia, although not quite as casual as in North America and Europe. This depends on the country you are in, however; as some places prefer more formal business conduct and people may expect you to handle their card with care and respect. Never give or receive anything with your left hand regardless of the formality of the situation. 

It is considered polite to exchange business cards freely with everyone you meet in a business setting. This is often the first step in building a personal relationship with a new contact, so although business cards can be exchanged more casually, it still pays to make a good impression if you want to network successfully.

Your business card should be printed on both sides, one in English and the other in the local language. The most commonly spoken languages for business in the Middle East are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, Russian and English.

European Business Card Etiquette 

In European countries, exchanging business cards is generally very casual, with little strict etiquette to observe. It is perfectly fine to hand out business cards at any point in a conversation or meeting. 

However, you are not expected to give business cards out to everyone you meet. In Europe, your business card is primarily a way to exchange personal contact details, rather than to introduce your business and represent your professionalism. You only need to give them to people who need direct access to you. Handing them out to everyone you meet might be seen as a little pushy. 

Rather than being exchanged at the beginning of a meeting, it is more common in the UK for the exchange of business cards to be used as a way of closing the conversation. And when you want to give someone your card, always ask to be given theirs first.

Translating your business cards into the local language is generally not necessary, but always appreciated. Presenting your business card only in English can be seen as a little rude or presumptuous in some countries; even if you know your contact speaks it fluently.

Business Card Exchange Rules in North America 

Giving out or exchanging business cards in North America is generally even less bound by rules and etiquette than in Europe. Much like in Europe, you shouldn’t hand it out to everyone you meet, although it is fine to offer it unprompted in a business setting. It is normal for business cards to be exchanged at the beginning of a meeting to help everyone learn each other’s names and roles.

It is usually also fine to treat your own cards casually, handing them out from a stack or inviting people to take notes on them, although you should still treat other people with a bit of respect. They probably put a lot of time and effort into designing their card, so it is polite to take a moment to look at it and compliment the design.

In more formal situations or when meeting more senior people, giving your card to the person directly, accompanied by a firm handshake, may be the more appropriate way to show respect.

Need Business Cards For Your Next Trip?

A business card that shows you are a professional and reliable individual is a vital part of meeting business contacts in every part of the world. That’s why you can only afford to have the best designs and high-quality business cards printing. Wherever your next business trip takes you, we can help you create the perfect business cards for the occasion. Get in touch to discuss your needs and get a free quote.


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