With an extensive network of Free Trading Agreements and a diversified global market for its produce, Chile has developed a business culture that reflects this position. The country is an important player among the world’s emerging economies, and Santiago being its capital and biggest city, is a modern and competitive financial centre that attracts thousands of investors every year.
▪ Santiaguinos dress quite conservatively for work, choosing modesty over ostentation. Excessive concern for the appearance could sometimes strike as lack of seriousness. Although Santiago can become quite hot between October and March, men and women are expected to wear a full suit at important meetings, and you will be no exception.
▪ Chileans hold a firm believe that the nation’s timekeeping habits are poor, but in practice they are just as fallible as the rest of humanity. In general you’ll experience little in the way of appalling lateness, and most events such as conferences, meetings and the sort run more or less on schedule. There is a visibly laxer approach for non-formal arrangements, and locals are on the forefront of fashionable lateness when it comes to home dinners, parties, barbecues, etc. If you desire punctuality at all cost, letting slip a hint that you’re running on a tight timetable should do the trick.
▪ Although Chilean attitudes to business are broadly similar to those of Americans, British or Europeans, there is a marked tendency to woo partners into making a deal. Locals are often genuinely courteous and will bend over backwards to keep potential investors happy. Be sure to avoid uncomfortable situations if you feel unsatisfied with the way a business deal is shaping up, as a last minute pull-out could be seen as a gesture of ingratitude.
▪ Entrepreneurs have long urged authorities to take action to reduce the official administrative burden, but to be fair, this is a difficult target to achieve in a nation that believes in signed documents, not handshakes. Nevertheless, good legal advice and the help of a notary public will eventually yield results, plus there’s always the comfort that in the event of a commercial dispute, Chile – unlike much of Latin America – has a judiciary system that actually works.
▪ Straightforwardness is not a Chilean quality. Smalltalk is fundamental at the start of business meetings and a touch of ironic humour is valued as a sign of dynamism at work. At times when you sense progress is slow, your potential partners may actually regard an unrushed start as paving the way for more substantial commitment. Also, Chileans typically blend life and work relations to a much higher degree than, say, North Americans. Don’t be surprised if the Sunday barbecue you were invited to turns up to be a decisive stage in your negotiation.
▪ Chile is obsessed with its image as a nation, and your comments on your experiences in the country will be sought with interest. Notice that whilst they are frequently critical and even self-deprecatory when it comes to describing their homeland, Chileans have a strong sense of national identity and consider themselves to be quite different from the rest of Latin America. Compliment their distinctiveness and you’ll be all the more esteemed.
Chileans have comparatively long working days, with normal office hours being between 9.00 and 18.30. Banks open between 9.00 and 14.00, although staff tends to work through till 17.00. Shop business hours are relatively late, with most places opening at 11.00 and closing at around 19.00 in central Santiago, and at 21.00 – 22.00 in suburban shopping centres. Most pharmacies, convenience stores and petrol stations are open all hours.
A number national holidays have been modified by new government guidelines effective from 2007. Note that banks, museums and government offices remain closed during these days, but many shops and convenience stores remain open.
The holiday calendar is as follows: New Year’s Day, Good Friday (but not Easter Monday), 1 May (Labour day), 21 May (Naval Glories), Monday nearest to 29 June (San Pedro & San Pablo), 16 July (Virgen del Carmen), 15 August (Asunción de la Virgen), 18 September (National Day), 19 September (Day of the Armed Forces), Monday nearest to 12 October (Columbus Day), 1 November (All Saint’s Day), 8 December (Immaculate Conception), Christmas Day.