Philippines Business Etiquette

August 29, 2014 | Sharon Cheong

The Philippines has been greatly influenced by its colonizers and settlers.  Its culture and general way of life were greatly influenced by the Spanish, Americans, Japanese, Chinese and Malay.  If you come from a culture where it is customary to conduct important business transactions and quick decision-making through phone or email communication, it is best to adopt the Filipino way of doing business.  If you are a newcomer to the Philippine business scene, it will help you a lot to learn the many subtleties and nuances of Filipinos when it comes to their business etiquette.

Filipino Business Culture

Filipino (Tagalog) and English are the two main spoken and written languages in the Philippines. If you are addressing a new business partner, it is best to address him/ her by family name with the customary  Mister, Ms or Mrs. Filipinos are conscious of their status so address them using formal titles i.e. doctor, attorney and so on.

Most Filipinos have two or more names, e.g.  Rodson Jacob, Ethan David and Maria Salome. It is wise to ask what they prefer to be called as in most cases, they prefer to be called by their nicknames once you two are on a more personal level.

Filipinos are family-oriented. It is a fact that most businesses in the Philippines are family--owned and “run” as a “family” with the head of the family acting as patriarch of all the company employees.  Do not be offended or insulted if a Filipino businessman asks you about you (age, salary, college degree, and so on), your family, your favorite food and such.  Topics relating to religion and politics are best avoided.

Filipinos are friendly and hospitable, extending to the business environment.  Much emphasis is directed on gentle conversation and polite language. Filipinos “speak” using hand gestures and facial expressions. Pursing the mouth is an acceptable form of pointing to another person. Wagging a finger at someone and curling a finger to call someone are unacceptable.

Filipinos avoid using the word “No”. They might say “not this time” or “ let's see” to mean No. A “Yes” is not always a yes.

Prolonged direct eye contact is considered rude. Staring is also unacceptable.

Filipinos are proud. “Loss of face” in the event of disrespect to his rank, public display of anger or outright criticism are deemed as major concerns as Filipinos believe in the preservation of self-esteem.

Business Etiquette of Filipinos

Business Introductions - If you are a guest, you should offer your business card first.  In some cases, you might not be afforded the same courtesy of you are not at least equal in rank to the Filipino businessman. You should present the business card face up. If you receive a card in return, take a moment to look at it before pocketing it. When in the company of other businessmen, greet the highest-ranking or the oldest one first.

Business Appointments and Meetings

“Filipino time” meant an hour or two late for the appointed time. Not anymore,  as Filipino businessmen value time so they come on time and expect their visitors to come on time too.  Business hours are generally from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. including an hour break for lunch. Business offices are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.  It is a standard practice to call for an appointment or schedule a meeting. It is also customary to confirm the appointment by phone at least three days prior, provide copies of materials needed in the meeting. If it is your first time to meet with the business group in person, expect to be treated like a newcomer even if you have had dealings with them in the past.

Business Attire

Filipinos prefer formal clothes for business. Men wear suits or any other formal office wear. There are males who prefer to wear the Filipino barong tagalong. Women usually wear office dresses or pantsuits. Most business offices require their rank and file employees to wear uniforms or long-sleeved polo shirts with tie for men and smart casuals for women.


Expect light snacks to be served at any business meetings. Do not decline the refreshment as that is deemed disrespectful, even if you have just eaten. If it is a luncheon or dinner meeting, prepare for a feast as Filipinos love to eat. Always follow the lead of your Filipino businessman host pertaining to where you should sit or when to help yourself with food if it is a buffet. Your Filipino host will take it as a compliment if you finish all the food on your plate. It is considered good manners to write a thank you  note.

Business Gifts

In Filipino business culture, gift-giving is highly observed. It is a very popular practice after contract signing, birthdays and Christmas. It is advisable not to be too extravagant with gifts. Acceptable gift items are perfume, candies, wines, flowers, books and small electronic gadgets. Filipino males and females are  considered equal. Giving a lesser gift to a female business associate is considered an insult.

Though the Philippines is a highly progressive country, business transactions and negotiations take longer to finish. Filipinos love to talk and in most instances, it takes a lot of gearing up to get to a point in a business meeting. It is best to go along with the seemingly endless conversation as this could lead into a signed contract.

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