It’s easy to assume that most things will be the same as back home when you first touch down in the massive capital city of London for the first time. What many first time travelers to the United Kingdom’s largest city don’t realize is how unique it is with respect to culture.

City of London
photo credit: jev55 / Flickr

When it comes to business travel, it’s important to brush up on the standard local business customs ahead of time, to make sure everything goes as seamlessly as possible.

Always follow these 5 simple rules when traveling to London for business:

1. Transportation

Heathrow Terminal 4 Train Station
photo credit: Jaggers / Flickr

From the minute you touch down at the redesigned Heathrow Airport, you want to have your transportation situation plotted as perfectly as you can. Hotels in London are located strategically in the heart of London, but you still need to plan your travel well, due to traffic. If you’re hiring a car, make sure it’s reserved well in advance so there aren’t any hiccups preventing you from getting checked into your hotel, and to your meetings on time.

If you have a lot of stops to make, consider purchasing an Oyster Travelcard rather than hiring a car or hailing taxis. When traveling to multiple locations and/or across great distances, there’s no cheaper way to get around London and the card gives you access to all forms of public transportation too.

2. Punctuality

Punctual British businessman

This rule is simple. Don’t be late, but also not too early. Showing up 5 minutes early to a business meeting in London or anywhere else in the United Kingdom is considered punctual. If you absolutely must be late, it’s important to call one or two attendees as early as you can, to let them know you’ll be late and an approximate time you can be expected.

3. Dress Code

Businessman reading a newspaper standing on the platform of a train station

Business meeting dress code is different in London than anywhere else in the UK. London men, in particular, love to dress in expensive suits that are perfectly tailored (ie., not the kind you buy at Macy’s). Flashy colors aren’t considered appropriate however, so avoid anything overly flamboyant.

Sharp navy blues, dark blacks and pinstripes are all the norm. Likely the only foreigner that can get away with not wearing a suit in London is the world’s most casual business dresser, Mark Zuckerberg!

4. Meeting Etiquette

Business meeting in London office

When you’re doing business with the Brits, there’s a great deal of etiquette to be mindful of. It’s expected that you understand the important nuances that exist here:

  • A proper introduction in UK business requires you to introduce yourself using both your first and last name (ie., “Hello, I’m Brad Lakehurst. And you are?”) Same goes for when you’re introducing any of your partners or coworkers.
  • Don’t jump right into business. There’s a certain amount of obligatory small talk needed to help everyone connect in a harmonious manner. Allow them to make the transition to business talk if you’re unsure.
  • Keep the conversation relaxed, yet professional. It’s not appropriate in most cases to try to become too familiar (friendly) with people whom you don’t know.
  • Also avoid trying to be British with respect to using their slang or other words that you wouldn’t use back home. This will make you appear desperate, condescending and/or fake.
  • Keep your back straight and posture upright. This goes along with the culture’s preference for formality.
  • Eye contact is of supreme importance in the UK. Failure to maintain regular eye contact will make most Brits uncomfortable and suspicious of your intentions and level of honesty.
  • Just because your UK counterparts seem more abrupt and to the point doesn’t mean it’s okay to end a meeting that way. Allow them to end the meeting naturally as they see fit or you’ll come off as rude.
  • Don’t fall into the trap of assuming you can read the people you’re speaking with. Strong British business folk are born with a poker face that would give Dan Bilzerian a run for his money on any given night! Same goes for speaking in the non-factual; Brits like facts and abhor presumptions of any kind in a formal business meeting.
  • If a meal or snack is served, never begin to eat until everyone has been served. Brits eat continental style, using the left hand for a fork and right hand for knife.

5. Don’t Entice the Pickpockets!

Beware of pickpocket

Pickpockets are all about the city in London. They’re very good at what they do and chances are slim they’ll be caught after absconding with your laptop, phone, wallet, purse, etc. Imagine losing your laptop or tablet containing the proposal of your career, or your wallet when you’re 20 miles from where the biggest meeting of your life is set to take place in 40 minutes time.

Keep all valuables tucked away and make sure you have a firm grasp on your briefcase, handbag, or purse to avoid this problem. Also avoid venturing away from public areas while carrying valuables, as robbery is one of the main reasons assaults take place in the city. And no, you don’t have to bring your pocket knife for self-defense purpose (although you can if you want to!)

Traveling to London in the Near Future?

London is a city unlike any other, with plenty of promising opportunities for profitable cross-cultural partnerships. Make sure to live by the rules listed above when visiting “The Big Smoke” and you’ll do just fine.