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Assignment Mexico: The Cultural Impact on Business Expectations

CompassPOINTS - June 2007

By Diana Matwichuk, Manager Assignment Planning Services

Understanding the Mexican culture is a critical first step in the process of establishing a business presence in Mexico. Setting expectations based on cultural knowledge can help in the navigation of Mexican business logistics, and maximize efficient use of time spent on reconnaissance trips to Mexico.

The Mexican People

As a culture, the Mexican people place a high value on family, children and personal relationships, and this is interwoven into everything that they do – including business. In Mexico, it is often who you know and the referrals that you get which can lead to success. For instance, most deals with the government-owned oil giant Pemex are arranged through Mexican agent companies. And it is common for multiple generations and various extended family members to be working in the same company. Referrals are paramount.

Mexicans place less emphasis on timeliness than we do in Canada, and this exhibits even more so in the more southern regions. Build lots of buffer time into your business and travel agendas, take delays in stride, and consider the effort to be a long term investment.

The Impact of the Church

Religion plays a big part in the lives of Mexican people. Roman Catholic holidays and celebrations can turn Mexico City into somewhat of a void, despite a population of about 20 million. It is best to avoid religious holidays if you are counting on business colleagues in Mexico to be in their offices during your visit.

Effect on Contract Negotiation

Relationship-building is so ingrained in the Mexican culture that it is common for numerous trips to Mexico to transpire before a contract is actually signed. Canadians and Americans have a tendency to focus on the technicalities of a contract, and on trying to come up with a “win-win” solution, whereas the Mexicans are more intent on building the relationship. This difference is important to recognize, as a Canadian “let’s wrap this one up” approach could be at odds with the more time-consuming Mexican “explore how we work together” approach.

Mexicans typically do not like to say “no”, and prefer to send a customer or potential business affiliate away feeling positive about their interaction. This harkens to the relationship-building emphasis.


Canadian corporations negotiating contracts in Mexico are advised to adopt a relationship-building approach as well, attempt to understand the Mexican culture, lower expectations over the length of time required for the process and accept bureaucracy as an inevitability.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Mexico City offers opportunities for networking with local companies and initiating business relationships. The Alberta Trade Office of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City also facilitates relationship-building by initiating connections with appropriate agent companies.

Executives planning to visit Mexico on business reconnaissance can benefit from cultural preparation offered by Don Rutherford of CultureConnect. Don provides group presentations and one-on-one coaching, in a single session or on an ongoing basis.

Facility in Spanish is key to effectively conducting business in Mexico, particularly since relationship-building is such an important factor in the equation. Carlos Ricardo, Director of the Calgary office of Berlitz Language Centre, tailors Spanish programs to the individual and their proficiency level.

Upcoming Articles

Part 2 in our CompassPOINTS Assignment Mexico series of articles will focus on harnessing business opportunities in the Mexico market.

In Summary

Canadian corporations considering establishing a business presence in Mexico and planning to enter into contract negotiations in Mexico, would benefit from taking the time to become familiarize themselves with the Mexican culture and adapt their approach accordingly.

At CompassGUIDES, we assist Canadian employers with the planning of international assignments, to ensure that they are launched with an organized approach and with the least amount of stress for the assigned employee.

Our assignment planning approach is comprehensive and includes a distinct focus on Canadian tax compliance, review the assignment planning process to ensure that critical gaps are filled, and connecting companies with the appropriate resources.

You can contact us at CompassGUIDES with assignment planning concerns at 403-531-2200 .

Don Rutherford can be reached at 403-444-0882 or

Carlos Ricardo can be reached at 403-265-3850 or


Tel: (403) 531-2200 
Fax: (403) 263-1826

Suite 600, 1333 8th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta Canada  T2R 1M6

Tel: (403) 531-2200 
Fax: (403) 263-1826

Suite 600, 1333 8th Street SW
Calgary, Alberta Canada  T2R 1M6