Business etiquette in Laos

Hello everybody,

As you know, professional habits may differ from one country to another. In order to help newly arrived expats better understand their new professional environment in Laos, we warmly encourage you to share information and insights about the do’s and don’ts in the workplace.

For instance, are there office manners? How do you greet your co-workers? Do you greet your management differently? Is there a dress code? Particular rules to observe? Maybe a professional body language?

On another level, what is key for a successful professional meeting? Are there any steps to follow? How do you a start a negotiation?

In other words, what are the most important things to know for a successful professional integration in Laos?

Thank you in advance for sharing your experience!


Julien.  Nothing is really out of place, given that you are a foreigner.  But Lao do not do as the French and bonjour and handshake everybody first thing in the morning.  Some may say nothing to you at all.  No snub is intended.  If you want to greet everybody with 'good morning', all will soon adapt to your quaint ways.  Not that everybody rushes to get down to work.  If they are in on time or not, they might well have coffee and batang-ko sent in from the cafe opposite ~ and gradually ease into some sort of work routine.  That's one reason for having meetings (with coffee and tea and biscuits) at a fairly early time.

There is of course a hierarchy.  If you are at the top of it, fine.  If not, observe it and expect those above you to keep you waiting and to come late for a meeting.  That does not mean you can do the same.  There is also likely to be a dress code.  If no uniform is provided (and banks and so on often do provide it), women are mostly expected to wear Lao 'sin', and men to dress neatly.  If you are a woman, particularly if four times the size of the average Lao, no need to follow this code, but polite dress is usual in most air-con places.  Open neck is usually okay, but keep a tie in the desk for that meeting with the big boss.

The most successful 'negotiations' do not involve 'off the cuff' statements.  Meetings should have agenda.  If introducing something new, make sure everybody has a simply-presented outline of your proposals, preferably in advance of the meeting.  When you present them, don't expect immediate feedback, repeat the important bits several times (that's how staff know what's important to you).  For 'round the table' type stuff expect either a formal report or nothing ~ although if you have managed to build up a small and close team there can be exchanges (but then you probably don't need a meeting to get them).  Always allow your staff to see you personally with a point of view or a complaint against other staff, never tell them to raise it at a staff meeting.  And listen.

Even if in a comparatively formal situation where you are outside the common pool of staff,  be aware that staff often eat together and in many places either stay on in the premises or go together to an agreed cafe for a drink and snack on Friday and on pay days.  You are not excluded unless you exclude yourself.  Staff will often club together or take it in turns to pay the bill, unless you do.  Such times are for joking and letting the hair down not for discussing the latest memo from the Ministry, so  formality can to a large measure be dropped.  If your staff see you as both a friend and a boss and both enjoy and respect you, you have made it!

Hello Julien,

Kind regards from Changchun China. My name is William and likewise; I too am a very experienced traveler, 26 years up to date. I have been teaching in China for 10 years which 9 has been for a leading College as an ESL teacher. I have just recently taken up my post again in the North of China after spending one year in Guangzhou working as a certified etiquette consultant.

I have firsthand experienced the great need for this etiquette and protocol needs in China and especially in the hotel and business sector. I was very fortunate to have worked with top clients such as HSBC, Chartered bank, Novotel, Hilton Hotel, British Council and several countries chambers, to mention a few.

Julien, I am very happy to read your message and would like to be in contact with you regarding obtaining some info about the etiquette needs in Laos. I will be looking into making that part of the world my last resting place and perhaps joining hands with someone already there. Etiquette coaching and senior level teaching is my specialty. Could you please share a little of your thought on this with me.



FYI Julien is the creator / owner of this forum and has written this thread for information   on the subject so that other members can perhaps benefit from it.

I suggest you contact robert cooper (post#2) using the forum PM system as he has been in Laos for many years.

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