How to Master Business Etiquette in Zambia

Thanks in part to free and fair elections in 2006 and greater adoption of free market economic policies, Zambia has taken advantage of its strong metals market, which has led to intensified foreign investment.

The regulatory reforms that make doing business a lot easier also mean that it is even more important to educate yourself about the unique Zambian business etiquette in order to have a fruitful experience:


Zambia enjoys more than 70 different languages, though a lot of them are believed to be dialects. The official language of Zambia is English, but only less than two percent of the country speaks it. The most popular languages include Bembe, Nyanja, Tonga, Chewa, Lozi and many, many others.

Zambians maintain a reputation of being some of the politest people in the world today. Not only are residents considered to be indirect in their conversational style, they almost never say the word no. Also, people tend to avoid complete honesty and instead use subtle approaches to sensitive topics, such as using third person or metaphors.

Overall, an arm’s length is enough space when meeting individuals for the first time or acquaintances – the more you know someone the less space there is. When two people of the same gender are good friends, it is quite normal to touch one another. For instance, men will hold each other’s hands, while women will do the same thing. It isn’t anything intimate or sexual, but rather a sign of friendship.

Most people tend to avoid kissing or hugging in public because it is frowned upon by society as they consider it to be sexually explicit.

In general, it is best to avoid direct eye contact with others, especially if you’re young and you’re speaking with someone older than you. However, if a woman makes eye contact with a man then it is believed to be flirting.

Dress Code

The way someone dresses is important. Zambians view clean, well-pressed clothing as respectful, and if another person is wearing dirty, wrinkled clothing then they may be treated quite differently.

Most people wear conservative attire. A man will sport pants and a button down shirt, while a woman will wear conventional chitenje suits – foreign women can wear a blouse and a knee-length skirt. Overall, conservative clothing is important in most social situations.


A handshake is the common protocol when meeting someone for the first time regardless of gender. However, it should be noted that a handshake varies on the region. In the east, for instance, an individual must shake with their right hand and place their left hand on their right elbow because it signifies a level of respect.

Professional Titles & Business Cards

A professional title is very important in Zambia, particularly if you’re a member of government. In most situations, it is best to address someone as Mr. or Mrs. followed by their last name.

There is a very specific method when giving and receiving business cards: hand your business card with your right hand while holding your forearm with your left hand.


A Zambian’s view of time is different in business and social settings. It’s crucial to be on time in business, but it’s often lax in personal functions. Although punctuality is viewed as imperative in business, many deadlines are often not met and scheduled meetings usually take place one or two hours after the start time.

Zambia is a conservative country, but its people aren’t necessarily restrained. The southeastern African country is gradually prospering and it looks set to continue. When you’re in Zambia, be aware of your surroundings and how you behave and you should have a successful business trip.

Have you previously conducted business in Zambia? Let us know in the comment section.


Image: istock