Fact Sheet

How to do business in the UK: A cultural guide

The United Kingdom is one of the largest, most competitive markets in the world. As a country with a high level of ethnic and cultural diversity, the UK is generally very open and welcoming to expats. However, when doing business in the UK, it is important to acquaint yourself with British cultural norms and business principles.

How to do business in the UK

Main economic attributes

The United Kingdom is a service-oriented economy, with the service industry accounting for 79% of the GDP. It is also a world leader in engineering and manufacturing, with a passion for innovative and creative solutions. The UK is home to an outstanding density of incubators, accelerators and innovation programmes, fostering the start-up culture boom not just in London, but across the country.

The so called ‘backbone’ of the British economy are small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which represent 99.3% of UK businesses and make up 60% of private sector employment.

The UK also has a large self-employment culture, and working freelance or as an individual consultant is increasingly common.

Working culture

  • Working hours in the UK are typically between 9-5, and working from home is common. For a list of UK bank holidays click here.
  • Business is often conducted outside of the office, with meetings taking place at restaurants, cafés, or private members clubs.
  • The majority of British companies are still characterised by distinct hierarchy. Nevertheless, the concept of teamwork is a crucial aspect of British work culture.
  • Social media in the UK is an indispensable way to converse with clients and partners.

Business etiquette

  • The use of first names is common, even right from the start. However, it never hurts to let your British business partner take initiative first.
  • Contrary to the custom in Switzerland, the salutation 'Doctor' is generally only used by medical doctors. It may come across as arrogant if you use it to introduce yourself in the wrong context.
  • Politeness is a key aspect of British business culture, and often a point of confusion for foreigners. Make sure that you never state dislike or disapproval directly or you could risk offending someone. Similarly, don't assume that your ideas are liked if you receive a positive response. For example, if your British colleague says “Perhaps…could be an interesting point,” it means they are probably not so keen on your idea. Reading between the lines is key.
  • The British are often open to discussion and willing to listen even when their level of interest is not high. Therefore, don't overestimate someone's interest in your ideas.

The art of conversation

  • Humour and understatements are often used in British business communication to break the ice or lighten the mood. Again, you will need to read between the lines. 
  • Pub culture is an integral part of British life and it is common for colleagues to gather at the pub after work. Foreigners are always welcome to join for this relationship-building activity. 
  • Networking events, trade shows, fairs and conferences are a highly effective way to gauge potential market interest, and the variety of events at your disposal is exceptional. Similarly, meet-up groups provide informal networking opportunities that must not be neglected.

Do you want learn more cultural facts about the UK? Get our factsheet in the download area below!

Interested in the UK as a business location?

We support you on your way to the British market: with specific information, competent consultation and a great network of experts. Our consultant for the UK + Ireland, Nadja Kolb, is happy to inform you about relevant developments in the British market, supply contacts and partners and highlight new business opportunities.