The life of an international business traveler may sound glamorous, especially when these road warriors return from their travels and describe trips to famous or exotic destinations many people have only heard of in books or movies. 

But those same business professionals will readily admit that there’s more work and responsibility involved when it comes to a work-related trip to another nation compared to a business trip in their home country. 


A businessman looks at his phone while walking out of an office building.


Business travelers engage in boardroom meetings, luncheons, small- and large-group presentations, receptions, and more. At each step and in each country, workplace etiquette can vary significantly. What business travelers say during work-related engagements is important, including the tone and manner of their discourse. 

But non-verbal communication is equally vital. Body cues, eye contact, and hand gestures are not universal in their meaning and could make a seemingly innocent wink, thumbs up, or folding of your arms potentially misconstrued as negative or offensive. Company representatives must grasp and abide by cultural differences during business transactions, and if challenges occur then they need to be clearly and delicately handled. 

For business travelers going abroad, it is essential to understand and demonstrate what is acceptable and valued in a culture. “Cultural intelligence is paramount in managing and maintaining a global network of business travel agencies, particularly in relationship-building among diverse international partners,” said Raf Gonzalez, vice president at Corporate Travel Management.

In the U.S., domestic business travelers are quite familiar with the importance of punctuality, firm handshakes, and meetings that are direct and to the point. 

But if an executive is headed to another country, they need to be briefed about cultural differences and taboos in advance. If they are not clued into these realities, their behavior could garner disrespect from the locals on the ground and put them at a greater risk. 

For example, a thumbs-up in West Africa is offensive. Wiggling your index finger with your palm up in the U.S. is a signal for asking someone to step forward. Not so in the Philippines where it is only used to beckon dogs and is considered very rude if aimed at a person. 

Are you adjusting your contact lens in front of business acquaintances in France? Be careful, because touching your face below the eye with your index finger indicates you don’t believe the person with whom you’re speaking. Business card exchanges in countries like Korea, Japan and China can be quite formal. Business cards are given at the start of a meeting with both hands, the writing facing the recipient, and a bow. The recipient uses both hands, focuses on the card, gives a neutral comment and never puts the card in their pocket.


[Related Reading: Better Awareness, Safer Travel] 


If business travelers don’t understand the cultural differences of their destinations, they could be in for some awkward – even dangerous – moments, and those risks will increase as international business travel increases. 

Nearly a third (31%) of Global Rescue survey respondents travel for work and more than three-quarters are working remotely, full- or part-time. More importantly, more than half (59%) revealed that working remotely, some or all ofall the time, encourages them, their friends and family, to travel more. 

A GBTA’s 2024 Business Travel Outlook Poll reported nearly two-thirds of travel buyers (59%) expect their company will increase the number of business trips in 2024 compared to the year before. 

As business travel continues to increase, virtual meetings are losing dominance as a replacement for work-related travel. According to the Global Rescue Winter Traveler Sentiment and Safety Survey, respondents traveling for business jumped 37% compared to survey results nearly a year ago. And more than half (56%) of respondents who travel for work said virtual meetings are not replacing in-person business travel to a significant extent. 


Two multicultural women talk in an office building in front of a window.


“In-person meetings are more effective at establishing and maintaining relationships. It’s no surprise that work-related travel is rising,” said Dan Richards, CEO of The Global Rescue Companies, the world’s leading provider of medical, security, evacuation and travel risk management services. 

More work-related travel abroad and fewer virtual meetings mean more foreign business visitors to more international destinations. 

The cultural complexities of today’s world are vast, and if you’re a business traveler, thorough preparation and awareness on the ground are vital to a safe and enjoyable trip. Part of that preparation is reviewing the Global Rescue destination report of the country to which you’re traveling. Global Rescue members can obtain detailed destination reports from more than 200 countries and territories. Non-members can get a one-time, free destination report here. These detailed reports will inform and help you prepare for potential cultural, religious or legal issues you may face. 

Let Global Rescue – the world’s leader in travel protection – help you plan a safe trip and support you while you’re on the ground. Our deep-dive destination reports help you get a lay of the land before arrival, and our world-class medical and evacuation services are there for you in a crisis.