It’s a simple 3.37 x 2.13-inch card and you probably have plenty of them, either properly classified in a book or roughly piled up on your desk. But while exchanging business cards can be a very formal affair in some parts of the world, this isn’t the case in others.

Business cards are so ubiquitous today that in some countries they are traded without formality, serving as nothing more than an internationally recognized way to exchange contact information, or a handy piece of paper on which to write a note.

In other nations, particularly in Asia, business cards are regarded as an extension of the individual, so they need to be treated with honour and respect. The exchange of cards takes place with great ritual, and a breach of protocol can give serious offence.

But before reminding you about business card etiquette in some countries, let’s look back at the evolution of these small cards. According to some sources they may actually have originated in China in the 15th century. 


General Tips

Here are some general guidelines that cover a range of countries:

  • Ensure you have a plentiful supply of cards, and that they are in good condition.
  • Business cards are generally exchanged at the beginning or end of an initial meeting.
  • Treat business cards with respect, and place cards you receive in a business card holder.
  • Make a point of studying any business card, commenting on it, and clarifying the information before putting it away (more specific to Italian market).
  • If you can, have your card translated into the local language on the back of your card.
  • Never write on someone else’s business card.
  • Include your title on your card; it helps others to understand your organisational structure.


    Business Cards Etiquette in China

  • Gold and red are considered lucky in China, so consider incorporating these colours into your business card design.
  • Ensure the translation is in the appropriate Chinese dialect, i.e. Cantonese or Mandarin.
  • Your business card should include your title. If your company is the oldest or largest in your country, that fact should be highlighted on your card.
  • Hold the card in both hands when offering it. Accept cards with both hands too. 


Business Cards Etiquette in India

  • If you have a university degree or any honour, put it on your business card.
  • Always use your right hand to give and receive business cards.
  • Business cards do not need to be translated into local languages as English is widely spoken within the business community.  


Business Cards Etiquette in Japan

  • Business cards are exchanged with great ceremony; they are always received with two hands but may be given with only one.
  • During a meeting, business cards are placed on the table in front of you in the order people are seated. When the meeting is over, put the business cards in a business card case or a portfolio.
  • Treat the business cards you receive with the same respect you would give the person.
    Invest in quality cards.
  • Always keep your business cards in pristine condition.
  • Make sure your business card includes your title; the Japanese place emphasis on status and hierarchy.


Business Cards Etiquette in the UK  

  • Business card etiquette is relaxed in the UK and involves little ceremony.
  • It is not considered bad etiquette to keep cards in a pocket.
  • Business cards should be clean and presentable.
  • Do not feel obliged to hand out a business card to everyone you meet, as it is not expected


Business Cards Etiquette in France

  • Business cards are exchanged after the initial introduction without any formal ritual.
  • Have one side of your business card translated into French. Although not a business necessity, it demonstrates an attention to detail that will be appreciated.
  • As in India, include any advanced academic degrees on your business card.
  • French business cards are often a bit larger than in many other countries.