Published June 25, 1999

Business Card Etiquette Tips

When doing business in an Islamic country -- and many parts of Africa and Asia -- you should always offer a business card with your right hand: The left is considered unclean.

That's just one of the many rules of handling business cards around the world. When traveling, take time to study the proper etiquette of business cards, lest you are considered a boorish American.

Business cards play a very important role in trade. They serve as a means of introduction and as a way to ensure that your acquaintance can at a glance glean -- and later refer to -- your professional details. Given the fact that most companies spend a great deal of time and money designing their business cards, it makes sense to treat them as an effective business tool.

Take your time while handing your card to people. It is impossible to convey respect if you simply toss your card at someone -- you will come across as being brash and rude. In many countries, it is considered an insult for a guest to be the first to proffer a business card.

If at all possible, have your card translated into the local language. One side of the card should be in English and the opposite side in the local language. This conveys that you are considerate, polite and most importantly, that you are aware of -- and sensitive to -- the nuances of conducting business internationally.

In Japan, presenting a card with two hands conveys respect. When using both hands, hold your card by the two upper corners.

Make sure you are carrying more cards than you will need. In some countries, you will need two for each one-to-one visit, as it is customary for the secretary to keep one card. Ideally, you should carry your business cards in a small, discreet case. If you don't have a card case with you, put your cards in a front or side pocket.

When you receive a business card from someone else, pause and take time to read it. Use the opportunity to repeat the person's name out loud, especially if it is in a language you're not familiar with -- you will be corrected if your pronunciation is off the mark.

While it is acceptable for you to write on your own card, never write on someone else's business card -- it shows a lack of respect for the owner of the card.