Doing Business in Italy

Currently doing business in Italy, or plan to in the near future? Consider this…

  • Italy is the world’s 10th largest economy, yet it has the third largest bond market!
  • Italy’s major industries include tourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing,textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, and ceramics.
  • With almost 40 million visitors and more hotel rooms than any other nation in Europe, Italy is the fourth most visited country in the world.
  • New York City is farther south than Rome, with the same latitude as Naples. However, it only snows briefly once every several years in Rome and Naples, while in New York it frequently snows in the winter.

Long a world-renowned destination for tourists, Italy also holds abundant opportunities for business travelers. However, it also has many social and workplace customs that are quite different than what you find in the United States. By highlighting some of these key differences, let’s look at ways to prepare you for your next Italian business trip.

Important tips

  • Do not give gifts that are obviously a vehicle for you company’s logo. Instead, items such as liquor, delicacies, or crafts from your country are appreciated. It also doesn’t hurt to bring flowers or chocolates to your Italian associate’s secretary/assistant!
  • Italians consider wine as a food to be sipped, not as a form of relaxation. Drinking too much in public can be considered rude.
  • Everyone tends to speak at once at Italian gatherings. It is possible to conduct a more orderly meeting, but do not be offended if you are interrupted.
  • Corporations have a horizontal chain of authority, called a cordata, which can be confusing to North Americans. This parallel channel is based on levels of personal, reciprocal concern, and should never be taken lightly.


  • Be prompt and expect business to be conducted with pressure and efficiency, especially in the industrial north. High-ranking businesspeople may be late, but typically people are quite punctual.
  • Italians prefer to deal with people they know, even if they are only mildly acquainted. Find a way to be introduced to your prospect, be it at an event or through a mutual acquaintance.
  • When making an appointment, it is best to write an e-mail request in Italian, and then follow up with a phone call. Your will receive a response much more quickly if the request is in their native language.
  • The best time for a business meeting is between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m. or after 3 p.m. Be aware of summer vacation periods and public holidays; most firms are closed during the month of August.


  • Understanding the chain of command within the business is crucial to success. Decisions are made only by the highest level of authority, but it may not be clear who that is by title alone. When looking for someone to facilitate business, use a contact who is knowledgeable about the internal company structure.
  •  Refrain from showing a sense of urgency in the negotiation process; this is thought to weaken your bargaining power.
  • As a bargaining tactic, your Italian counterpart may make dramatic changes to the contract at the 11th hour.
  •  Business cards are to be exchanged at business functions only; not social events. You will find that the more important the person is, the less information he or she will have on a card.


  • Hospitality is important in the business culture; turning down an invitation to dine is considered rude.
  • Do not extend an invitation to your Italian host without some help. Business dinners should include a small number of people, and you will likely not know the intricacies of who should and should not be invited. Your client’s secretary/assistant should be able to help you with this, as well as choosing a location.
  • Picking up the check is considered a sign of prestige. At times, Italians will go so far as to provide the waitstaff with a generous tip prior to dinner, to ensure that you do not get the bill. Female executives may find it extremely difficult to pay.
  • Keep the receipt for the restaurant bill; “tax police” occasionally check restaurant bills outside for adherence to tax laws.


Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.

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