Etiquette is important in business relationships. A proper handshake, a friendly phone demeanor and exemplary table manners can go a long way in developing important connections. Even something as simple as exchanging business cards comes with a set of social expectations – some of which may not be obvious.

Be Respectful

The first rule of business card etiquette is: Look at it before stuffing it in your wallet! If someone hands you a business card, that means he or she wants to make a connection with you. So read the card and put it away carefully, as if you intend to use it at some point in the future.

Other tips for exchanging business cards include:

  • Never toss, flip or slide your business card to a person; hand it to the recipient
  • If someone hands you a business card, be prepared to offer yours in exchange
  • In the United States, it’s OK to write a note on the back of someone’s business card to help you remember something specific about a person, but that may not be proper business etiquette in other countries
  • Keep your cards handy, in a carrying case that keeps them presentable
  • Try to exchange cards at the beginning of meetings
  • Never force your business card into someone’s hand

Understand other Cultures

When traveling abroad for business, the expectations about business cards may be entirely different. For example, if you’re heading to Japan, you should have business cards printed in English on one side and in Japanese on the other side.

To follow proper business card etiquette in Japan:

  • Never write notes on a Japanese business card
  • Accept and present business cards with both hands
  • Don’t fidget with a Japanese business card
  • At the end of a meeting, make sure you don’t forget someone’s business card – that’s considered extremely rude in Japanese business culture

Some other cultural norms about business card etiquette include:

  • Put your university degree or honor on your business card (India)
  • Present the business card to the receptionist when you arrive for your meeting (Spain and Turkey)
  • When someone hands you a business card, don’t look at it too long (Korea)
  • Use only your right hand to exchange business cards (India, and in Islamic countries)

Start Off on the Right Foot

It’s hard to recover from a poor first impression in business, so no matter where you’re going, make sure you understand proper business card etiquette.