With Australians being known for their laid-back nature, it’s easy to assume that business etiquette is equally relaxed, or to simply apply other Western conventions common in the US or Europe. And in many cases you’d be correct. Australian etiquette expert and founder of The Good Manners Company, Anna Musson, explains: “Because Australia was settled, after the indigenous Australians, by the British, we have adopted many of their customs as our own and humility is a big component. The essential overlaps are: Be humble, speak well of others, don’t speak ill of the company you work for or your family, play down personal accomplishments – it is better for others to mention these than to be ‘talking yourself up’ as we say here; take it as a compliment if you are teased – this is how Australians show they like you. A sense of humour is essential.”

At the same time, like every country, Australians have particular customs that are worth being aware of to avoid causing (or suffering!) any offence. Given that the country is a booming business destination, recently voted 10th in the world for “ease of doing business” and fourth for “starting a business” in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey, it might not be long before your company’s future business travel plans include a trip to Oz. Conveniently, standard business etiquette does not differ much between states and territories of this country/continent, or indeed between Australia and New Zealand. But generally speaking, the attitudes and attire are a little more relaxed further north in the topics.


A firm and strong handshake coupled with direct eye contact, for both men and women, is the best way to make a good first impression. Make sure it’s not a limp handshake, as more than 40 per cent of business people asked in an Australian School of Business survey said they would think less of someone professionally if they gave a weak handshake. Unlike in the US hugging is not acceptable unless you really know someone well.

Once you are introduced, it’s time to exchange business cards; there is no ceremony involved in this, and no right or wrong way to hand over your card. Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t offer you their card, they may simply not have one at the time; it is not a sign of disrespect.

Offering gifts is not part of Australian business culture; however, should you be invited to someone’s private residence for dinner or drinks, it is polite to take either a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, flowers or maybe a typical souvenir from your country.


Even the prime minister of Australia is referred to by first name, so it is generally accepted to call any business associate by his or her first name, even if you haven’t met them before. But Musson cautions: “Jump right in with first names here unless meeting someone senior by age. It’s always a worthwhile exercise to check with your host or meeting organiser, how your guest or host likes to be referred.”

In Australia, you treat everybody as an equal. You respect your boss, but you speak to him as an equal, as you do to your colleagues and new would-be business contacts.


In general, dark suits and ties are the norm for men in the capital cities, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. Light-coloured suits are often more associated with going to the races, weddings, and other more leisurely pursuits. Women either wear two-piece suits or smart dresses, preferably to just above the knee. However, in cities such as Brisbane and Darwin, the dress code is more relaxed, mostly due to the hotter climate, and short-sleeves and lighter colours are acceptable.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Australians are very modest and underplay their achievements rather than shout them from the rooftops. People who work hard and work their way up the ladder are appreciated and acknowledged. If you are asked to give a presentation, don’t oversell your company and its achievements. Avoid hype or making exaggerated claims, as giving yourself superior airs is generally not appreciated.


Despite their easygoing nature and relaxed attitude, Australians have a very strong work ethic and value punctuality. Being tardy would make a very bad first impression, be it for a meeting, coffee, or dinner. Meetings are usually scheduled well in advance to accommodate everybody being able to make it – on time.


During a business meeting, food and drink will almost always be included. These take the form of the meeting being held at a local coffee shop or restaurant, or within a meeting room at the office where refreshments will be offered. If you are out for a meal, expect to talk about business during the main meal or after, but take the lead from your host and don’t initiate the business talk. If arranging a meeting someone you haven’t previously encountered, it is common to meet at their workplace’s reception area and then proceed offsite for a coffee or go to a meeting room. When in a venue, give your guest the seat with the better view, and if there is table service, a thoughtful host will ensure their guest orders first. Generally, the person making the invitation pays the bill, if discreetly.

Appropriate drinks for the morning are: espresso coffee which will be ordered as a cappuccino (cap), flat white, latte, espresso, long black or macchiato; tea, or orange juice. Soft drinks are for teenagers and orange juice is only for the morning. Masson warns though: “If you are invited to lunch, it is likely there will be drinking (alcohol), often to excess. If you prefer not to drink, your hosts will respect that decision but may try to dissuade you as the lunch progresses.”

An easy way to opt out is to order a glass of wine and just sip it slowly. If you are out in a bar or pub, each person is expected to “shout”, i.e. pay for a round of drinks in turn.

Language in meetings

You are likely to come across some colourful language and banter that may sound rude to you. Australians use self-deprecating humour and language as a diffuser in meetings, and often skip the small talk. That said, if it’s a first meeting, there might be a few words about the weather or, more likely, the football – especially Australian Rules football if you are in Melbourne. Preferring to get right down to business, Australians tend to be very direct, and don’t take long to negotiate or bargain over decisions. Despite the relaxed language you might encounter, don’t try and equal it, as this will most likely come across as awkward, but if you need clarification on anything, don’t hesitate to ask, directness is appreciated to forego misunderstandings.