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 cultures. These diverse influences result in a unique Canadian business culture with a number of nuances to speak of.
Canada has a large and thriving free-market economy, and though there is more government intervention here than in the US, 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.
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 largely French-speaking 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 the formal titles of ‘Mr’ and ‘Ms’ during 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 the conclusion of a business deal is acceptable. Gifts are opened when received.
Women have the same rights as men and are increasingly occupying top-level positions.
Business culture in Canada
Canada is a massive country with an impressive multicultural make-up. Despite Canada's size and diversity, expats can 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. It is also not appropriate to arrive too early and disrupt another person's schedule. Meticulous timekeeping is therefore important.
Canadian management style tends to be less formal than in Europe, with managers preferring to be seen as part of the team and less as aloof authority figures. Decisions ultimately rest with top executives, 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, including an exchange of pleasantries. Meetings are generally well organised and schedules are strictly adhered to. Canadians appreciate politeness and expect others to adhere to the correct social protocols. 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 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 carefully avoided, and aggression is spurned, while 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