Doing Business in India

India’s professional landscape has changed drastically in the last two decades due in part to the technology boom, the film industry, and tourism. Though the decision-making process for many businesses has sped up, traditional in-person meetings, networking events, and taking the time to develop relationships continue to boast higher levels of success.

Doing business in India now, or planning to in the near future? Consider this…

  • India has the second largest population, with the second largest labor force.
  • Educated Indian’s have strong opinions regarding politics and socioeconomic climates in India. They enjoy debating multiple topics regarding their country. When entering into such a discussion, be sure to have an open mind and steer clear of criticisms regarding faith, politics, poverty, and the caste system.
  • India has one of the fastest growing IT markets in the world; the second largest mobile phone users in the world, and the third largest Internet users in the world. Other major industries include agriculture, textiles, telecommunications, chemicals, food processing, steel, transport equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, and software.
  • Hindi is the most widely spoken language and English is used for business and political communications. However, India has 14 official languages.
  • India is famous for its religious diversity; Hinduism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Jainism are the nation’s major religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are native to India.
  • India is a hierarchical society. Even though the official caste system was repealed, castes still influence the politics and business.
  • Leave your leather behind! Don’t forget that many in India are Hindu and consider cows to be sacred. Wearing leather belts or shoes is considered offensive to them.

India has a long history with an intermingling of various dynamic cultures. Nowadays, India’s economic growth has produced the fastest and most significant socioeconomic changes to their traditions. However, they still retain their conservative values, and these are different from standards in the United States. You must prepare for these cultural and social differences before pursuing business relationships in India.


Important tips

  • Managers usually give direct and specific instructions to their subordinates or assistants. Subordinates are expected to follow the instructions without question.
  • A handshake is acceptable in a business setting, but not common between opposite genders. The traditional greeting “Namaste” is used for various meetings. To perform the Namaste, put your palms together in front of your chest and bow slightly.
  • Titles are important. Always call people by professional titles. Do not call them by their first names.
  • Never touch the head of an Indian person; it is believed that the head stores the soul.
  • Pointing or wagging one finger is rude. If you want to point at something, use your chin.
  • Do not wrap presents in black or white and do not give money in even numbers. All of these things are considered bad luck.


  • Major decisions are made at executive levels. Try to contact a higher level directly. Middle managers may not be decision makers, but they are an excellent route to have your proposal heard or to reach the executive level decision makers. Having a middle manager on your side will increase the likelihood of getting a meeting.
  • Be prompt, but be patient if your Indian counterpart is late. Also, you should be flexible if your Indian business partner reschedules a meeting at the last minute.
  • Indians will meet at any time of the day and will even request to meet at night.
  • Indians respect and value the use of technology in presentations. They are also likely to contact a counterpart using multiple communication tools, wireless devices, or telecom tools.
  • Local time is ten and a half hours ahead of U.S. EST; the best time for a business meeting is between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Indians do not conduct business during religious holidays, and the dates vary. The best months for visiting are from October to March.


  • Refreshments will be provided at a scheduled meeting. It is polite to refuse the first offer and then accept when asked again. It can be considered rude if you do not partake in the refreshments after the second or third time they have been offered to you.
  • Prepare your business card for all of the business meetings.
  • The decision process for Indian professionals can be slower than that of North Americans; bargaining is a way of life in India, so multiple iterations of a contract should be expected.
  • Indians do not make business decisions only based on statistics or official documents. They are more focused on intuition, truths, and feelings. So keep your emotions in check.
  • Indians are family oriented, so sometimes business meetings start with small talk such as asking about family. Do not push the subject to business topics right away.
  • Providing current technology and technical support can be key to a successful relationship.
  • Indians avoid saying no directly. “We will try” is the most common way to refuse a request.


  • Business lunches are more common than dinners.
  • Even though businesswomen may host a meal at a restaurant, businessmen may offer to pay at the end of meal. If a businesswoman would like to pay, she should make arrangements with a server before the meal starts.
  • If you are invited for dinner at an Indian’s home, you should come fifteen or thirty minutes late.
  • It is polite to eat using only your right hand. Indians use the left hand for hygienic purposes. Using your hand without any eating utensils is permissible.
  • Do not give food from your dish to another person. Indians think if food is placed on a person’s dish, the food is “used.”
  • Hindus do not eat beef, and Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol. Many vegetarian or other meat dishes are available.
  • Do not say thank you to your host after your meal. Indians think such an expression is a form of payment and feel insulted. Inviting your host for a reciprocal dinner is a good way to show your appreciation.

One final consideration when traveling on business in India is the vast poverty within the country. It is important that you do not make eye contact with or give money to beggars, as you could quickly become inundated with them. When traveling through busy areas or near temples, make sure to keep your hands in your pocket; it is commonplace for someone to grab an individual’s free hand and place a bracelet on the arm, expecting payment in return. If you are making a purchase at a market, often your money will be taken and change placed in your hand, without your knowing the actual price or how the vendor came to decide how much change you would receive; if leave your hand outstretched long enough, the vendor will give you more change. And lastly, make sure that you have change on you at all time; often merchants and taxi drivers will claim to not have any.


Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams.