Argentina is a huge country; eighth largest in the world and second largest in Latin America. As the second largest economy in the region, it's a hive of industry and an attraction for tourism and trade alike.
Many of today's population are descended from the wave of European immigration in the 19th and 20th century, particularly from Spain and Italy. As a result, Spanish is the official language of Argentina and it is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Cultural traditions are many and varied – many of them European in origin. The arts scene is particularly vibrant, and Argentina is known for its energising dances, notably the tango.
A good understanding of the underlying values and beliefs of local culture, and how they can affect doing business in Argentina, is vital to the success of your ventures there. Local help and guidance can be invaluable, and some of the following tips should prove useful.
First impressions count
Be punctual for business appointments, but be prepared to wait, especially if you are meeting an important person. Decisions are made at the top so try to arrange meetings at the highest level, usually several weeks in advance. Face-to-face meetings are the crux of successful business in Argentina, where telephone discussion or written communication is viewed as overly impersonal. There are few titles in Argentina. In a formal situation, it's best to address individuals by their professional degree, such as 'Doctor' or 'Professor'. You can also use titles out of respect, according to gender, 'Señor' for men; 'Señora' for older or married women, 'Señorita' for a young or single woman.
Guests at a meeting are usually greeted and escorted to their chairs, with visitors seated in order of seniority opposite their Argentinian counterpart. Greeting in a formal context is usually with a handshape, maintaining eye contact. The oldest or most senior associate tends to be greeted first. Informally, Argentinians usually keep close physical contact when speaking to someone. Reaching over and touching someone's shoulder is a sign of friendship, and greeting with a kiss and brief hug, regardless of gender, is usual when meeting family or acquaintances. Be prepared for a certain amount of small talk before getting down to business. Jumping straight into business conversation is viewed as impolite. Good topics for discussion include sport, particularly football, or entertainment, such as films or music. Avoid politics and sensitive issues – particularly mention of The Falklands War ('Guerra de las Malvinas'). During meetings, stay relaxed, restrict the use of hand gestures, and don't take a hard sell approach. For business meetings, clothing is usually formal and conservative – suits for men and smart outfits for women. Looking stylish and presentable is recommended, as appearance is important to Argentinians.
Although Spanish is the official language, it is influenced by Italian and is slightly different to the Spanish spoken in Spain. However, a good grasp of European Spanish will still be an advantage as business is traditionally conducted in Spanish. The population is highly literate, and English is widely spoken in large cities, particularly the capital Buenos Aires.
The traditional working day is from 8/9am to 5/6pm, with a three or four-hour siesta in the middle of the day. However, whilst this might be found in the provinces, business life in the cities tends to stick to the more conventional 8am to 5pm working day. The pace of business can be slower than you're used to. A meeting that is going well could last much longer than intended, even if it means postponing the next appointment.
Argentinians like to discuss and negotiate, so it may take several meetings and extensive debate to finalise a deal. Contracts are lengthy and detailed; not finalised until all its elements are signed. It is important to get everything in writing. Bureaucracy can be intense, which is why good local support and guidance is strongly recommended.
Argentinians are generally family-orientated people, which translates into the way they conduct business. Close, personal relationships are highly valued, so it is important to nurture them. In difficult negotiations, good relationships with counterparts will speed up the process. Respect is given to older associates and more loyalty is shown to individuals rather than to companies per se. Honour is highly important, so it is usually frowned upon to publicly criticise or correct a business associate. Despite this, Argentinians can be quite direct, even blunt, but they are usually tactful. Gifts are not expected in a business setting until a close personal relationship is formed.
Local support and expert guidance
TMF Group's team of legal, accounting and HR professionals has been in Argentina since 2005. Our experienced staff includes members of the local fiduciary, accounting and tax bodies, and the company is an active member in the local business and commerce communities. Our clients include more than 400 local and multinational companies from a diverse range of sectors.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.