If you’re a seasoned international business traveller, you may have already encountered situations where your interpretation of “on-time” is clearly different from your international business partners’ interpretation of “on-time”. What you consider to be “on-time” can sometimes be late or super early, depending on what country you’re going to.
From my experience living in France, “on-time” can often mean 15 minutes late. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve been thanked for arriving for a 2pm business meeting at, believe it or not, 2pm! In social situations, cultural differences in punctuality is generally not such a problem, but when you’re a busy professional and you have a strict schedule to maintain, the punctuality gap can send your whole day or week’s agenda into a chaotic mess.
To help raise your awareness of punctuality gaps around the world, I’ve created a mini-guide for you below.
Punctuality in Japan and China
Business runs on a very strict schedule in Japan and China. It’s imperative that you arrive to business meetings at the exact time scheduled, or preferably a few minutes earlier. Arriving early is an important part of conveying respect. When to arrive? If you have a business meeting that begins at 10am in Japan or China, you should arrive at the reception desk and announce your arrival somewhere between 9:50am and 9:55am (no later). When you walk into the meeting room, the other invitees will probably already be waiting for you.
Punctuality in India
In India, the approach to time is a little more relaxed. Although I still recommend you arrive at the scheduled time for your business meetings, don’t be surprised if the other attendees are still entering the room a 10-15 minutes after. When to arrive? If you have a business meeting scheduled for 10am in India, aim to arrive at 9:55am, but expect a few late comers.
Punctuality in Australia, the US, and the UK
In all three zones, to be “on-time” in business means you should arrive on or just before the scheduled time. Punctuality has a huge impact on your overall professional image, so I recommend you arrive for business meetings in these zones 5-10 minutes in advance. When to arrive? If you have a business meeting scheduled for 2pm in Australia, the US, or the UK, arrive at the venue somewhere between 1:50pm and 1:55pm.
Punctuality in France
In social situations, such as when you invite somebody to your house for dinner, it’s not uncommon for your guests to arrive 15 minutes after the scheduled time. Although in business situations people tend to be more punctual, you may still come across other professionals who are more relaxed with their arrival time. When to arrive? If you have a business meeting scheduled for 3pm in France (12pm-2pm is generally reserved for lunch), arrive at 2:55pm. Any earlier and you may rush the other person, which will not help you make a good first impression.
Punctuality in Switzerland and Germany
In Switzerland and Germany, punctuality is highly valued. In business situations, you should arrive at the designated venue about 10 minutes before the scheduled time. Remember Switzerland is the home to precision watches and this strict notion of time does flow on to business and social situations. When to arrive? If you have a business meeting scheduled for 2pm in Switzerland or Germany, arrive at the reception desk at 1:50pm.
Punctuality in Spain and Mexico
In Spain and Mexico, the attitude toward time is a little more flexible. Scheduled times are used as more of a guide than a strict agenda. It’s perhaps a little more culturally accepted to arrive after the scheduled time. Sometimes you may see people arrive up to 30 minutes after the starting time for meetings. Having said this, it’s still important that you arrive on-time for your business meetings. When to arrive? If you have a business meeting scheduled for 2pm in Mexico or Spain, arrive at 2pm, or a couple of minutes early. Expect others to arrive later.
Is there a General Rule for Punctuality in Business?
You should arrive for business meetings somewhere between 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time regardless of the country you will be visiting. Keep in mind though, in some cultures, it’s not frowned upon to arrive at a business meeting after the scheduled time. So don’t misinterpret this as a lack of interest or respect for you or the company which you represent.
If you often travel internationally for business, or even if you stay in your home country, you might like to read one of my previous blog posts titled “Professional Punctuality”, where I talk about why punctuality is important for your professional image and offer some tips on being punctual for job interviews and business meetings in various cultures.
[Image used in header courtesy of: SalvatoreVuono/FreeDigitalPhotos.net, graphics created by Kara Ronin].