Doing business in the United Kingdom

The UK is one of the world’s leading economies and many of the global brands have its headquarters in London. However, as George Bernard Shaw has said ‘America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language’; so if you’ve learned your English from American movies, you’d be in for a shock on your first visit…

In our ‘Doing Business in…’ blog posts we usually address the UK’s population with tips on doing business overseas. However, this time round, we’d like to address our overseas readers and provide few tips on doing business in the UK.

First of all, England is only part of the UK and not everyone born in the UK is English. The United Kingdom has four distinct constituent parts including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For more information on the British Isles check this diagram out (

With regards to the language, there are many dialects, actents and varieties of ‘the Queen’s English’, but the language has had an enormous influence on many languages spoken around the world. Some estimates have that there are over 340,000,000 native English speakers in the world, so not surprisingly it’s the third language on the top ten languages covering over half the population.

In addition, there are millions of people who speak English as a second language. However, within the UK there are many different accents including Cockney, Scouse, Geordie, and many more. This may be quite daunting at the first arrival in the country, but most British understand that foreigners might struggle with their accents and try to be accommodating as possible.

With regards to business, the British can be seen as very time oriented, they are anxious about deadlines and results. Therefore, it is important to be punctual for your meeting and if you’re meeting in London it is prudent to allow extra time as you can often encounter travel delays on the way.

The best way to make initial contact is through third party introduction, however, should anything go wrong, the introducer should not be involved in the problem solving.

Also, it is very common that British are self-critical about their country’s issues and may often share their complaints with you. However, try not to participate and avoid joining in this sort of criticism. The still feel proud about their country and don’t like the outsiders pointing out their mistakes.

It is interesting to note that gifts are not part of doing business in the UK. Your business partners don’t really expect any gifts from you; instead, it is more preferable to invite your host out for a meal. Also, it is inappropriate to touch others in public and even putting an arm around someone’s shoulders would make them feel uncomfortable. In addition, British maintain quite wide physical space during conversation, so try not to ‘invade’ their space.

I hope this article provided some good tips for doing business in the UK, and for all the British readers – don’t hesitate to post your comments if you agree or disagree with any of the above.

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