Top Tips: Business Culture in the USA and Canada

USA business culture

Sheelagh Mahoney, head of intercultural training, Farnham Castle Intercultural Training

More than three centuries after English and Welsh merchants sent ships to trade with North America, the country – fondly referred to as ‘the land of opportunity’ – continues to offer businesses a wealth of opportunities.

Comprising 23 countries, the USA and Canada is a critical export and import partner with whom the UK has achieved great success in exporting agricultural products, consumer goods and vehicle parts.

To prosper in the region, companies dealing in international trade are wise to remember that although the language remains (mostly) the same, there are many cultural differences.

Follow these top tips to reap the wealth of trade benefits and better understand business culture…

Top Tips

1. Hard, honest work is rewarded
The U.S was founded on the grounds that good, hard, honest work is rewarded. Therefore be aware time is money, and punctuality is highly regarded.

2. Difference between USA and Canada
Do not treat the USA and Canada as one entity, and above all, do not mistake or refer to (native English-speaking) Canadians as Americans.

3. Have a specific business idea
Before your trip – ensure you bring a robust proposition with you. North Americans are invariably not interested in discussions ‘in principle’. Succeeding depends on both parties having a specific business idea, and presenting this idea effectively.

4. Equip yourself with authority
If travelling to North America to negotiate an agreement, equip yourself with full authority to conclude that agreement; your counterpart there will expect it.

5. Be direct
If presenting – get straight to the point. There is no need to “hype” your proposal, but do not down-play or understate (in true British style) your offering.

6. Language
Although US business language may sometimes come across as aggressive or abrasive – it should not be taken personally. It is important to be aware that Americans are also uncomfortable with the use of emotion in negotiations.

7. A positive first impression
In the US business environment making a positive first impression is vital as people do judge by appearance. If in doubt, dress smart and conservatively.

8. Business hospitality
Most business hospitality in the USA and Canada will be conducted as marketing events – don’t expect to do much business over lunch or a drink.

9. Be politically correct
In Northern America, you are far more likely to meet a woman in a senior management position than in Europe. With this in mind, in written and oral statements, use “his/her” and “he/she” to let it be known that you are not “excluding” women.

10. Understanding each other
When making conversation with business counterparts, be friendly, however the British dry, ironic, and understated sense of humour may be lost on many Americans.

11. Networking
Be prepared to network beyond the usual events such as trade shows and industry events. Maximise Chambers of Commerce, service organisations of which you are a member such as Rotary, or US/Canadian clubs with which the UK may have reciprocal arrangements.

12. Gifts
Giving gifts is deemed to be a marketing tactic.  After forging a solid relationship with a North American partner, small gifts of British origin and character are appropriate, though not essential, as goodwill gestures.

Although there are many aspects to consider, if you are informed, focussed, and (appear) confident you will make the right impression on Americans and Canadians.

With many close ties, and similarities to British culture – there are potential major inroads to be made.

For more information call +44 (0)1252 720419 or visit

Countries: Canada, North America, and United States
Topics: Export Planning
Export Action Plan