Business Etiquette in Laos

Meeting and Greeting

Lao names can be confusing for foreigners. Surnames come before given names, eg. Prime Minister Khamtay Siphandon would be referred to as Mr Khamtay or Prime Minister Khamtay.

The traditional Lao gesture of greeting is the “phanom” or “wai”, where the palms are placed together in a prayer-like gesture in front of the face or chest. Nowadays, however, the handshake is becoming increasingly common for both men and women, particularly during the conduct of business.

Business Dressing

Like other countries in Indochina, Laos has a subequatorial/tropical-monsoonal climate. Temperatures are high all year round and the wet season lasts from May to October. It is therefore preferable for both men and women to wear lightweight tropical suits when conducting business in Laos.

For informal occasions a smart, casual shirt or blouse with a collar may suffice. Laos is a particularly conservative country and it is best to dress that way when in public.

In late 1994 the government banned mobile telephones, mini-skirts and earrings on men as “counter-revolutionary” activities. Although the current status of this prohibition remains unknown, discretion in terms of attire and appearance is advisable.

Gift Giving Etiquette

As in most Buddhist cultures, the foot is the least sacred part of the body. Shoes and socks make inappropriate gifts in Laos. Green and red are the most suitable colours for wrapping paper in Laos. Avoid the colour white, which is considered unlucky.

Business Cards

Always distribute and receive business cards with both hands as a sign of respect to the person you are dealing with.

When receiving another person’s card, always study the card for a few seconds in their presence and never place it immediately into your pocket or wallet.

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