Expats doing business in Canada are likely to find that the customs and practices are influenced by a blend of American, British and French business culture. These diverse influences result in a unique Canadian business culture with a number of noteworthy nuances to speak of.
Canada has a large and thriving free-market economy, and though there is more government intervention here than in the USA, there is far less than in many European countries. Locals tend to be open minded and tolerant, and expat businesspeople can look forward to a welcoming working environment.
As a testament to its solid infrastructure and transparent policies, Canada was ranked 23rd (out of 190 countries) in the World Bank's 2020 Ease of Doing Business Survey. Specific business criteria that Canada ranked highly for include starting a business (3rd), protecting minority investors (7th) and getting credit (15th). Areas where Canada scored relatively poorly were those of getting electricity (124th) and enforcing contracts (100th).
The workweek in Canada is Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, although longer hours are common.
English is generally spoken in business circles but it is very useful to speak some French, especially if doing business in Quebec.
A handshake is the usual greeting but business associates in Quebec may greet one another with a kiss on the cheek. Business etiquette in Canada dictates the use of formal titles of "Mr" and "Ms" on introductions, but Canadian businesspeople usually switch to a first-name basis fairly quickly.
Presentation is important in Canada, and expats should ensure they appear neat and well groomed at all times. For corporate meetings, a suit and tie are appropriate.
Gifts are not generally expected, but a small token upon conclusion of a business deal is acceptable. Gifts are opened when received.
Women have the same rights as men and are increasingly occupying more and more top-level positions.
Business culture in Canada
Canada is a massive country that claims an impressive multicultural make-up. Despite its size and diversity, expats can nevertheless count on a few consistencies in the country's business culture.
Canadians value punctuality, and it is rude to be more than a few minutes late. However, it is also not appropriate to arrive too early and disrupt another person's schedule. Therefore, meticulous time-keeping is very important.
Canadian management style tends to be less formal than in Europe, with managers preferring to be seen more as part of the team and less as aloof authority figures. Decisions ultimately rest with 'the boss', but input across all levels is highly valued.
Canadian businesspeople often like to start business relationships in a reserved and professional manner. Meetings usually begin with a minimal amount of small talk, although one can expect to spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries.
Meetings are generally well-organised affairs and schedules are adhered to. Canadians appreciate politeness and expect others to adhere to the correct protocols of a given situation. It is common to exchange business cards, so it's good to carry a few to every business meeting. In Quebec, business cards should have one side in English and the other in French.
When presenting information to business associates in Canada, it is important to be fully prepared with facts, figures and documents to substantiate claims and promises. Canadians tend to be rational and logical in business and thus won't be convinced by the overuse of emotion and passion.
As in the US, Canadians prefer a direct style of communication, though they tend to be more reserved and less open in terms of showing emotion. Confrontation is studiously avoided, and aggression is looked down upon. But saying what one means in a tactful and forthright manner is respected.
Dos and don’ts of business in Canada
Don't assume everything is the same as in the US
Do be prepared with facts and figures for presentation
Don't use aggressive sales tactics
Do learn some French if doing business in Quebec
Do avoid personal discussions at business meetings