A short guide to business etiquette in Spain

A short guide to business etiquette in Spain

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated September 8, 2023

Understanding business etiquette in Spain can prevent a social or cultural faux pas. Doing business in another country can be challenging due to the language barrier alone. The Spanish culture and lifestyle can also take some getting used to. Unwritten everyday etiquette rules often carry over into the Spanish workplace culture. Kisses on the cheek? Respecting siestas (afternoon nap breaks)? Will your Spanish colleagues arrive late for a meeting? 

There are plenty of unique and potentially confusing do’s and don’ts in Spain’s business culture. Not observing proper business meeting etiquette in Spain might simply result in some light embarrassment, but a more serious misstep could cost you a lucrative business deal. So, before you go kissing a Spanish CEO, here are the crucial things you need to know about business etiquette in Spain.

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Spanish business culture

 Let’s break down some of the features that will notably differ in a Spanish business environment.

Structure and leadership

According to a cultural comparison tool called Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, Spain scores much higher (57) on the power-distance dimension than the United States (40). This means that Spain’s business culture is generally more structured and hierarchical than that of the United States. Decisions will most likely be made at the highest levels, even if negotiations are conducted by lower-level management. 

Additionally, the lines between the various degrees of management are quite well-defined in Spain. What does this mean for you? If you come from the US, you may be more familiar with Silicon Valley startup culture, in which group dynamics can be fluid and titles don’t always signal a clear power hierarchy. You might find the decision-making process in Spain to be more consolidated and clearly demarcated than you’re accustomed to.


According to business etiquette in Spain, it is common and acceptable to arrive late. Most people in Spain endeavor to arrive on time for a business meeting, but you might still find yourself waiting for a colleague to show up. Our suggestion is to act accordingly:

  • 20 minutes late = acceptable without prior notice
  • 30 minutes late = a call to inform waiting colleagues is respectful
  • 45+ minutes late = consider rescheduling

Take estimates for arrival times with a grain of salt. If someone says, “I’ll arrive in five minutes,” expect to wait 15 or 20 minutes. Along the same lines, a colleague who is supposedly walking in “right now” could be as far as five to ten minutes away.

The art of conversation

Spanish people are known to talk quite loudly, which may explain why Madrid was recently ranked the fourth noisiest city in Europe. According to the business culture in Spain, if your Spanish colleagues are speaking in an elevated voice, they’re not necessarily angry. More likely, it’s just a cultural thing.

Normal topics to discuss in a business context include family, travel, sports, weather and regional customs. It’s best to avoid touchier topics such as terrorism, immigration, bullfighting and comparing Spanish regions (Madrid vs. Barcelona, etc.). These issues tend to be highly politicized in Spain.

Honesty and trust are also paramount in Spanish professional settings. Building strong interpersonal relationships and “shooting the breeze” with colleagues can be important parts of success in business.

Body language

If Spaniards are emphatic in the volume of their speech, they are equally animated in their body language. They may use a variety of hand gestures when speaking. Close contact, such as touching your arm or shoulder during conversation, may occur. Those from the US tend to have a much larger personal space bubble, so try your best not to recoil or show discomfort if you deem the touch appropriate.

Dress code

Dress code will depend on the company or sector. Young startups typically adopt a casual attitude towards dress, much like in the US.

With that said, Spain’s business etiquette does place a high value on appearances. Particularly strict are the traditional sectors, such as the government or law firms in large cities. Here, it’s advisable to wear business formal attire including suits, ties, dresses and dress shoes. No sneakers allowed.

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Business meeting etiquette in Spain


What does Spanish business etiquette recommend when greeting a colleague?

About 64% of Spanish people typically give two kisses (one on each cheek — but only on the cheek) as a standard greeting in work meetings. This is cultural, but it also has to do with unequal gender roles in the workplace. In fact, the exchanges typically change based on the gender(s) of those involved:

  • Man to man = handshake
  • Man to woman = two kisses
  • Woman to woman = handshake

Some 12% of Spanish workers in 2019 said that nowadays they feel “uncomfortable” using a kiss to greet coworkers. Imagine how COVID has affected these practices! 

With increasing globalization and new markets opening all the time, business meeting etiquette in Spain is becoming more flexible. Adhering to Spanish-only traditions is not necessary. Spaniards know full well that it’s inappropriate to force a Japanese executive into a cheek kiss or to grab a coworker and smooch them on the mouth.

To be safe, especially as a foreigner in Spain, it’s best to stick your hand out for a handshake. This is normal and expected behavior for international business dealings.

Names and titles

In Spain, everyone has two surnames. The first surname is the father’s, while the second is the mother’s. For example: Alejandra Rodriguez Ulloa. Alejandra is her first name, Rodriguez is her father’s last name and Ulloa is her mother’s last name. Use both surnames, unless instructed to drop one.

Plenty of Spaniards also have two first names. Colleagues named Juan Carlos and Maria Fernanda will typically use both names in spoken and written communications. Do not make the mistake of applying US or northern European norms by assuming the second name is a middle name that can be left out.

As for respectful titles, you might see señor (mister) or señorita (miss) — or don (sir) or doña (madam) — used together with the last name in written communications. We assure you that it’s common to use just first names without titles in face-to-face conversation, especially among those in equivalent positions.

Business meals

Business lunches and dinners are quite common in Spain. Expect a lengthy sobremesa. Sobremesa (table talk) refers to the chat that happens after the meal is over. Skipping or rushing the sobremesa would be considered rude. It will also be expected for the person or company who invited or coordinated the meeting to cover the entire bill for the table.

The siesta: fact or fiction?

Contrary to what you might expect, most Spanish people do not take a siesta (nap) in the middle of the day. A study found that 60% of Spanish people have never taken a siesta in their life! Instead of napping, they’re probably just on lunch break.

Typical work hours in Spain are the same as in most big cities — about 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lunch may be a bit later than some people are used to, however. Lunch starts around 2 p.m. and typically lasts one or two hours. Since some people choose to go home for lunch, the siesta break is still observed, even if no sleeping is involved.

Don’t sleep on business etiquette in Spain

Now you know that business etiquette in Spain does not include the stereotypical siesta, except perhaps as a midday break. It’s also important to know how to greet someone, how to introduce yourself and what topics to avoid during business meetings in Spain. Spanish people tend to be emphatic in their speaking and gestures, and they may make light physical contact during conversation. Don’t let these cultural behaviors startle you or distract you from closing any deals. 

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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