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The People

Bolivians are very proud of being one of the few countries that have successfully promoted multicultural integration. Vice President Víctor Hugo Cárdenas, elected in 1993, was the first indigenous person elected to this high office in South America. Bolivians are kind, gentle people, who are concerned for each other's welfare. Friendship is a very important value. The family is the central unit in the social system. Education is valued, but still not achievable for all people. Although it is legally compulsory for ages six to 14, fewer than half of all children finish primary education.

Meeting and Greeting

  • The customary greeting is a handshake. Shake hands when meeting and departing.
  • Close male friends may embrace. Female friends embrace and touch cheeks.

Body Language

  • Bolivians stand very close when conversing.
  • You will be viewed as untrustworthy if you do not maintain direct eye contact.
  • Correct posture while sitting and standing will be noticed. A slumping posture is rude.
  • The “so-so” gesture (rocking your palm-down open hand from side to side) means “no” in Bolivia.

Corporate Culture

  • Although punctuality is not a high priority in Bolivia, visitors should be punctual for business meetings. However, meetings rarely start on time.
  • Take the time to get to know your Bolivian customers and colleagues. Personal relationships are vital to corporate success.
  • Deadlines are not considered important.
  • More than one meeting may be necessary to negotiate and close a deal. Plan on making several trips to complete business transaction, since face-to-face communication is preferred over phone calls, faxes and e-mail.
  • The pace of business negotiations is generally much slower than in the United States. Never attempt to rush a deal. Applying pressure may cause a deal to fail. Remain low key.
  • Hire a local contact to assist you in the Bolivian business community. Third-party contacts will be vital to your success.
  • A contract is not finished until an agreement is reached on all parts. Each part is subject to re-negotiation until the entire contract is signed.

Dining and Entertainment

  • It is impolite to show up on time to a social occasion. Guests are expected to be 15 to 30 minutes late for dinner or parties.
  • Decline the first offer of food; wait until your host insists.
  • Never touch food or eat anything with your fingers. Even fruit is eaten with a fruit knife and fork.
  • It is polite to eat everything on your plate. Complimenting the food will be viewed as a request for more food. Wait until the dinner is over if you don't want more.
  • Stay at least 30 minutes to one hour after dinner is finished.
  • The host usually insists on paying for the meal in a restaurant.


  • Men: In La Paz, a dark, three-piece suit is best. A lightweight suit is more common in Santa Cruz. Follow your Bolivian colleague's lead with regard to wearing ties and removing jackets in the summer.
  • Women: suits, dresses, skirts and blouses.
  • Do not wear shorts in cities.


  • A gift given sincerely will be appreciated regardless of the value. The intention is what counts.
  • The recipient may not open gifts until after the giver has left.
  • Gifts from the United States, particularly from your region, are appreciated.
  • Give your hostess flowers, wine, whiskey and high quality chocolates. Don't give yellow or purple flowers. Bring a bag of assorted American candy (Tootsie Pops, candy bars, etc.) for the children. It will be very well received.
  • Give your colleagues high quality pen and pencil sets, office organizers, books and art from the United States and your home region. If your company logo is on a gift, it should be small and understated.

Helpful Hints

  • Know something about Bolivian sports. It will be appreciated.
  • Don't talk about poverty, religion, drugs or the United States' drug policy. The United States' military activity in Bolivia is a sore spot with many citizens.
  • Do not give political opinions on Bolivia.
  • Never praise Chile, Brazil or Paraguay. Bolivia has lost wars with and land to all its neighbors.
  • Make an effort to use Spanish in conversation. It will be appreciated.
  • Bolivians appreciate people who are warm and friendly.

Especially for Women

  • Machismo is very strong in Bolivia, and women are considered subordinate. This puts severe restrictions on women's social and work behavior.
  • When doing business with Bolivian men, emphasize your credentials and experience.
Adapted from material compiled by Window on the World, a cross-cultural training and consulting firm. Originally based on material contained in the "Put Your Best Foot Forward" series of books by Mary Murray Bosrock.
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