Basic Protocol for Hosting International Visitors

Protocol comes from the Greek meaning "the first glue." Protocol can be seen as the glue which holds official life together and makes it work. Protocol and etiquette, especially when dealing with international visitors, provide ground rules and a framework that all the participants understand 2.

It takes only some very simple steps to ensure that you "do the right thing" when it comes to hosting international visitors:

  • Properly prepare for your guests.

  • Know your guests' titles and ranks, so that you can greet them properly and make sure they are seated according to their rank or position for a meeting or meal.

  • In professional life, it is best to err on the side of formality. Titles should always be used when greeting people or introducing them.

  • The protocol behind proper introductions is logical and easy to remember: A junior or less important person is introduced to a senior or more important person.

    For example: "Mr. Chin, I want to present Tom Dooley, a trade specialist in our international division. Tom, this is Lo Te Chin, the Deputy Minister of Trade for the Xaanxi Province in China."

  • Know what your guests hope to accomplish with the meeting, and how their agenda may differ from your agenda or your supervisor's. Having the agenda for the meeting written out, accompanied by a list of all participants in the meeting, is a good idea.

  • Have any materials for the meeting prepared and in sufficient quantity for all of your guests. However, try not to load your international visitors down with paper, unless you can offer to ship it to your guests' country.

  • Be aware of any cultural differences, including issues such as dress or diet.

  • Determine before your guests arrive if a gift is necessary or appropriate. If you are unsure, it is acceptable to ask your visitors' staff in advance of the trip if they will be bringing any gifts, noting that if so, you (or your supervisor) would simply like to be able to reciprocate appropriately. If the gift is more than a small token, you should offer to ship it to your guests' final destination.

  • If your international visitors are not proficient in English, find out if a translator will accompany them, or if your agency will need to provide a translator to ensure that the meeting is successful.

  • Your local library or bookstore will have many books on international and business protocol and cultural differences. The websites listed on this site may also prove to have useful information when you are preparing for an international visitor.

1 Paraphrased from Roger Axtell's "Do's and Taboos of Hosting International Visitors, Wiley and Son's, New York, 1990.

2 Protocol, the Complete Handbook of Diplomatic Official and Social Usage, Mary Jane McCaffree and Pauline Innis, Prenitce-Hall, New York, 1977.