Business etiquette tips for your work trip to Delhi


Delhi or rather New Delhi is the sprawling capital city of India. Home to the Indian government machinery, New Delhi is also a hub for business and counts banking, financial services, and insurance, IT and information technology-enabled services along with real estate, agro-based industry, tourism and logistics as its key sectors of economic activity.

If you are scheduled to head to Delhi on a business travel trip and if it's your first time in India, our tips will help you navigate the business landscape in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.


Before your arrival in Delhi, you should communicate your travel plans to your local business counterpart. If the company you are dealing with is hosting you, it is likely that they will arrange accommodation for you. You can, however, ask to stay at a hotel close to meetings.

For safety and privacy reasons, many fine hotels in the city such as the Leela Palace, the Imperial, the ITC Maurya and the Taj group of hotels have women-only floors with restricted access.

At most luxury hotels in the city, you will receive the traditional Indian welcome, the aarti, wherein you will receive a garland of flowers and be anointed with a ‘tilak’/ ‘tika’ – a spot of vermillion on your forehead.

Arrival into Delhi and getting around

On your arrival in Delhi, your business associate will probably send you a car and a driver to fetch you and transport you to your hotel. If they don’t offer this service or if you have not arranged with your hotel for a pick-up, you can always book an Uber or the homegrown Indian e-hailing app Ola for transportation to your hotel. Aside from e-hailing rides, you can also use a pre-paid taxi available from a booth located just outside the arrivals gate, which is operated by the Delhi police. These cabs are much safer than cab services offered by numerous private taxi drivers who hang around outside the airport.

Tipping etiquette

Tipping is not mandatory, but tips are much appreciated. The driver who drives you to your hotel, the bellhop who guides you to your room or the wait staff who serves you at a restaurant do appreciate the tips they receive, but generally don’t get upset if they don’t get a tip.

As for the amount of tip, Rs.50 (0.68c) or Rs.100 ($1.36 October 2018 rates) should suffice as for wait staff at a restaurant if you are picking up the tab; a tip amounting to 10% of the total bill is acceptable.

As for currency exchange, the New Delhi International airport does have currency booths, which operate 24/7 but perhaps before you leave home, you could sign up for a card that doesn’t charge fees on foreign transactions.

You then can use your charge card at an automatic teller machine to withdraw rupees, and the interbank rates are usually the best. Automated teller machines are available all over the city. Additionally, when using your charge card to make a purchase, do ask the merchant to charge you in rupees rather than in US dollars for your bank’s conversion rate is usually better than the merchant’s rate.

Nature of business establishments

The Indian business landscape features various types of companies from outposts of multi-national companies and homegrown private companies to family businesses, and now increasingly start-ups. English is the language of business in India. Indian companies tend to follow a hierarchical system, and decision-making rests at the top level.

Meeting and greeting

When meeting your business partners its best to take your cues from them, a handshake is usually the norm, but in some cases, the initial greeting takes the form of the traditional Indian greeting, ‘the Namaste.’ An exchange of business cards is also customary.

Meetings usually commence at 10 am, and small talk usually precedes matters of business; safe topics include the weather, sports like cricket and even asking about family. Avoid discussing politics, religion and the glaringly obvious inequality in Indian society. The establishment of relationships is the key to fostering business in India.

Business attire

Western business attire is the norm for men. Your Indian female business counterparts may sport the traditional Indian sari or even the ‘salwar kameez’ (a long tunic with pants) however; western business wear is becoming popular for women too.

Delhi experiences extreme weather with intense heat in the summer months and frigid temperatures in the winters. Cotton, linen and other breathable fabrics work well in the Delhi summers, and woolen garments work well for the winters though if you are a female business traveler, you will do well to dress conservatively, long sleeve tops and skirts that hit below the knee.

Business dining and gifts

Indians are known for their hospitality, and your hosts are likely to take you out to a dinner or two during your visit. Indian food especially Indian pieces of bread warrant the use of your hands to eat so if you do use your hands like your hosts do make sure you use your right hand to eat your bread as using the left hand is considered unclean.

You may want to present your hosts with small gifts from home, a box of chocolates is always a safe bet for it meets most dietary restrictions as a majority of Indians follow the Hindu faith and a sizeable section of the population is vegetarian. Other acceptable gifts include trinkets representative of your home country.

Traveling to India can be an enjoyable if not bewildering experience for a first time visitor. However, with our tips as mentioned above on what to expect and how to successfully traverse the cultural and business scenarios, you should soon be an old hand at doing business in India.

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