Serious business

Etiquette Advisor: Tips for doing business in Indonesia

DESMOND SO, founder of the East-West Institute of Applied Etiquette, gives his top tips for getting along in Indonesia. Illustrations by A YIP

Business Etiquette in Indonesia


For the first meeting, conservative suits are mandatory. Given Indonesia’s climate, more informal attire is accepted rather quickly for men. Women should wear muted or dark colours. It’s a Muslim country, so despite the hot weather, women stay covered from the neck and shoulders down to the ankles. 

Business Etiquette in Indonesia


Indonesians greet one another with selamat, meaning ‘peace’. Muslims might choose not to shake hands with people of the opposite sex; they might greet you with palms pressed together in front of their chest and a slight bow. Reciprocate. Titles and honorifics should always be used, with given names instead of surnames.

Business Etiquette in Indonesia


Initial meetings are for relationship building. Read between the lines, as this is a society that values harmony and people never want to say no to you directly; there are at least a dozen words in Bahasa that translate as yes but really mean no. Enter a meeting room according to rank, with the top boss going in first.

Business Etiquette in Indonesia

Business cards 

Carry a generous supply of bilingual business cards. In Indonesia, this means English/Bahasa as well as English/Chinese. Make sure you give people the correct card. Give and receive cards with both hands or the right hand, never the left. Make sure it is right side up with the pertinent language facing the recipient.

Business Etiquette in Indonesia

Faux Pax 

Keep in mind that Indonesia is a melting pot of Muslim, Hindu and Chinese cultures. When giving gifts, avoid alcohol, perfume (which contains alcohol) and leather (which could be pig or cow skin). Don’t touch people’s heads or point with your feet.


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