With one of the world’s largest economies, India presents plenty of potential opportunities for businesses considering expansion in Asia. India is the second most populous country in the world,after China, and its growing middle class is ripe for companies to tap into, and more and more companies are looking to do business in India.

If a business is considering any type of global expansion, India has to be one of its priorities. However, as a market India can be challenging and doing business here is significantly different from doing so in the west. Yet if companies prepare for this, they stand to make a success of their expansion abroad.

UK Trade & Investment provides plenty of information and guidance on doing business in India, whether that’s exporting to the country or securing manufacturing links there. This is a good place to start and get advice on the technicalities of doing business in India. The group notes that commercial opportunities are no longer limited to the largest cities like Delhi and Mumbai, but have extended to metropolises like Pune, Jaipur and Nagpur.

However, there is more to consider than simply India’s economic policy and potential when doing business there. Further factors to think about are language, culture and etiquette, as all of these will affect how you come across when you meet with potential partners, clients and customers.


There are hundreds of languages spoken across India, but the country itself does not have an official language. However, English is a widely-used language in business.

Despite this, it is worth having your business cards translated into Hindi. It shows you have made an extra effort and your actions will be appreciated by your hosts. Exchanging cards is a standard part of doing business in India and you should give yours with your right hand and be certain to treat the card you receive back with care – don’t fold it!


Don’t attempt to schedule a meeting on any of the Indian national holidays as this is a country where religion and family come first, so people are unlikely to make an exception to meet with you. Once you have secured an audience with a potential investor or client in India, do your research. The caste system is a long established part of life here, and you should always greet the most senior person in the room first, which means finding out who that person is.

When meeting a potential partner or client in India for the first time, women should avoid shaking hands with the men they meet. Typically, men there will not make any physical contact with the women they speak with on business. Both men and women should respect the personal space of everyone at the meeting.

Men may shake hands with each other. However, to really make a positive impression they could greet their hosts by saying “Namaste” and bowing slightly with the palms of their hands placed together. This demonstrates their respect and interest in Indian culture. Another sign of respect is to refer to someone with their title and surname and avoid using their first name, which is considered too informal for a first meeting.


While a custom of meetings in the west might be to ‘get down to business’ straight away, this is not the case in the east. Instead, it will be appreciated if you enquire as to your hosts’ families or ask them about their favourite sport, place to eat, the local business news or something else not related to the reason you are visiting. Let your host guide your conversation and wait for them to be the first to talk business. Meetings in India can take longer than western professionals are used to, but by not rushing and taking the time to build a good relationship there is a greater chance of securing the outcome you want.

You may come away believing you have secured the outcome you were after, but that might not be the case – it’s just that people in India have something of an aversion to the word “no”. Instead they have a tendency to use terms like “we’ll see” as this is deemed more diplomatic. Avoid using the word yourself in negotiations, or you may cause offence.

Doing your research prior to turning up for your meeting can give you a head start on your competitors and ensure you instil yourself in the minds of those you meet for all the right reasons. This is much like localization: the process by which you translate and tailor your business materials for your target market.

Before heading to India, make sure you not only research the trade laws, tax regime and GDP, but also the local dialect, etiquette and culture so that you are able to connect better with the people you meet. They will certainly appreciate it and it could make the difference between getting them to sign on the dotted line and coming away empty handed.