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The United Kingdom is a popular choice amongst business owners who are looking to expand internationally. We wanted to explore the experiences of foreign entrepreneurs and professionals in the country who may struggle with differences in cultural norms. People often say that networking is paramount in business; this is understandably daunting for those with non-British origins.

From polite conversation to social hierarchies, this article will give readers aiming to enter the British market a better understanding of cultural nuances and differences. After all, most of business success boils down to making connections.

What Are the Perks of Doing Business In the UK?

If you are considering Great Britain as your next business destination, you chose well. The World Bank’s Ease of doing business ranking, with 1 equivalent to having the “most business-friendly regulations,” scores the UK at 8. By comparison, France holds a score of 33, the United Arab Emirates a 16, the USA a 6, Germany a 22, and Singapore a 2. Britain enjoys high ranking on this chart, while its neighbors like France and Germany are significantly lower.

London England Big Ben Parliament

The UK is known as one of the best places in the world to do business according to The World Bank.

On a more obvious note, English is the national language and thus makes it easier for the world’s roughly two billion Anglophones to seek opportunity in the UK. As a foreign professional, you also will enjoy a diverse population of expatriates. As per the Migration Observatory at Oxford, about 14.5% of the British population in 2021 was foreign-born.

GOV.UK, the official website for all British government services, outlines the procedures to setting up different types of business. Additionally, there are various support helplines that offer immediate answers to any questions you have. Easy access to such information and to applying for an entrepreneurship-based visa makes the UK’s streamlined services highly admirable.

Keeping these facts in mind, the next step is to understand how to navigate business relationships. Depending on your own cultural background, you will either find this a simple task or a jarring culture shock.

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British Cultural Norms To Be Cognizant Of

Regarding our country of focus, Britain holds an infamous and controversial history of global trade. Due to atrocities like colonialism and slavery, regions once linked to the UK have inherited British bureaucratic, political, and institutional practices. In turn, Britain has had former colonies influence its own systems and culture. Even so, their cultural differences will be explored in more depth later.

Most notably, British business culture is built upon a tradition of economic liberalism, not just from centuries of capitalism but also Thatcherite policy of laissez-faire in the 1980s. As a result, Britons surpass continental Europe in working hours and have the least vacation days. Interestingly, this cultural gap positions the UK adjacent to the “live-to-work” hustle culture in the States.

On a more micro level, business culture in Britain entails an often brash sense of humor and a less-than-clear display of emotion. While this does sound stereotypical, the truth is plain. The key to understanding British people is learning to not take their jokes personally, since they can be self-effacing also.

Doing business in the United Kingdom, The Underground

The British are famous for their sense of humor. There may be a joke hiding under the plain surface meaning of words.

Like the Financial Times writes on British business etiquette, friendly distance is better than getting too close to someone. Boundaries are everything. Moreover, promptness is appreciated over lateness. Good banter, however, is more favorable than being tight-lipped. In other words, be warm enough to trade innocent jibes but not so much that you expect a heart-to-heart moment. This last part most likely will never happen.

Now that this section has given a brief overview of social and professional culture in the UK, we can compare it to other cultures found around the world. The similarities may be as surprising as the contrasts.

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Cultural Differences Between the UK and Other Parts of the World

This section examines British culture contrasted against other regions so as to understand the UK better. As all business relationships are a two-way street, the below analyses will help foreigners and Brits alike learn to work with one another. North America, the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia serve as examples here, thanks to their relevance in the global economy. Additionally, they have maintained close political and institutional relations to Britain in both the past and present.

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UK versus North America

British and American work cultures are similar in that high levels of productivity are cause to celebrate. As said before, they share parallel “hustle cultures.” Even so, the USA snags the crown for who, stereotypically, is more outspoken and self-advocating. While some think it is necessary to advertise one’s strengths, many Brits will find it self-aggrandizing.

British Isles countryside

The culture of the British Isles profoundly shaped the culture of the United States as thousands of immigrants left the “Old World” for the “New World.”

One major point: Americans are not as obsessed with the sport of soccer as Brits, alongside many other countries, are. Whether you are in a pub, riding the tube, or on a lunch break with co-workers, soccer (they call it football) will find its way into the conversation. Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal … for your own sake, start familiarizing yourself ASAP.

There are other similarities between the two countries, the most glaring points being a shared language and history. From my experience as an American in England, I see one main distinction found in the job market. Compared to the US, Britain offers fewer money-making opportunities and prioritizes tradition over innovation. Social mobility is less in the UK, but top industries to find prolonged success in will be banking or finance, law, education, and hospitality.

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UK versus the Arab World

The Arab world in the Middle East has a long, tumultuous history with the West in the context of both politics and trade. Regardless, both British and Arab businesspeople enjoy working in each other’s countries. This is thanks to the media glamorizing both places and encouraging expat migration both ways. No wonder, then, that the cities of London and Dubai hold ritzy and even opulent connotations for foreigners.

Arab culture, not just in business, is more community-oriented than British culture is. The community is placed above the individual, so Brits may be unaccustomed to such generosity or even integrating business relationships into their personal or family lives. British people are often welcoming, but they do not hold codified rules of generosity like Arabs do in the Islamic religion.

With regards to business etiquette, men and women refrain from making any physical contact (another religious teaching) and reneging on your word is a deep stain on one’s honor. In the UK, there is much less emphasis on the concept of “honor,” but keeping to your word is still always the logical way to build a trustworthy reputation. Gender relations are also much more progressive in the UK, so Arab expats might be taken aback at first.

London at night

British people may be surprised by and unsure of how to reciprocate the generosity of Arab people as British culture tends to promote individualism and self-reliance.

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UK versus Sub-Saharan Africa

African cultures share some hallmarks of Middle Eastern culture that we discussed just now. Generosity, communal responsibility, and a thinner boundary between home and work pretty much sum up the overall African experience. Because a lot of the continent still deals with political instability and harsh wealth inequality, among other ills, it will be hard for a British professional to always find timely results or straightforward processes.

Corruption is a major public crisis in most sub-Saharan African nations. While corruption and graft also exist in British society, as any other, Brits are not used to using payoffs for access to simple government services or shirk the legal system. Now, this is not to repeat the stereotype that all of Africa battles this issue, but it definitely is a regional sore spot.

Bluntly put, African expats might find British business culture somewhat stiff. The majority of, if not all, African cultures are extremely friendly and place the community’s needs above the individual’s. The clash between British and African cultures surrounds the former’s reservedness and the latter’s boisterousness. African society also puts its elders in high regard, translating into the conservative tendency to not challenge authority on the job, whether it be based on age or rank.

Parallel to this conservatism, African work culture extends its formality even to businesswear and self-expression. In Britain, casual dress is increasingly the norm, but African professionals are much stricter. Britain itself as a monarchy emphasizes hierarchy and traditionalism to an extent, as well. Many Africans should be knowledgeable of British norms, since the UK did colonize a number of countries on the continent, an unfortunate but still relevant bond.

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UK versus East Asia

Eastern Asian nations like China, Korea, and Japan pride themselves on what are arguably unmatched rates of productivity. The Chinese 996 system, where workers stay in the office from 9 am to 9 pm six days every week, made Western headlines not too long ago in a shocking cultural exposé. Research already shows that overworking causes physical illness, mental health crises, sleep deprivation, alcoholism, and other harms.

Such culture is, in simple terms, problematic for most Brits. British work culture has done a commendable job in the last couple of years with providing work-life balance and prioritizing mental health awareness. Seven to eight hour workdays over five days a week are standard, while there is now a big push to wind down and completely avoid work duties when off the job.

East Asian business culture, by contrast, is also more formal and classist. The UK has its entry-level, managerial, and executive roles, but people usually mingle and form friendships regardless of position. In Hong Kong, for example, superiors are less approachable and avoid mingling with their inferiors.

Cab in the United Kingdom

In the UK class lines are less pronounced than in some other cultures. It’s normal for employees and supervisors to socialize together.

South Korea also has similar cultural clashes with Britain. Vice Media dubbed South Korea as Asia’s most overworked country in 2023 for 52-hour work weeks and a rising rate of death by overworking. If you follow the K-pop industry at all, you might also remember stories of singers in bootcamp-like training sessions, their extremely restrictive diets, and record companies overregulating their personal and dating lives.

On the complete opposite of the spectrum, British workers show a preference for having sufficient personal time outside work over higher wages. A Hays report found that over 50% of the labor force would take a pay cut in exchange for less hours in the office. If you come from a work-centric environment like in certain countries, one major etiquette point would be to not pull your British counterparts away from their leisure time when the working day is over.

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The Political Climate for Foreign Workers In Britain

As said, Great Britain has contrasting political views over how much acceptance should be granted to work migrants. Before packing your bags, you should know the general mindset towards foreigners, not just in the world of business.

The British government is signaling that current levels of legal migration is too high for their states. If you are planning to do business on a short-term basis, this might not affect you too much. Even so, such views affect how much opportunity is available and if businesses will prefer to look inward for talent.

Do Expat Professionals Still Feel Welcome In the UK Nowadays?

What are British attitudes regarding foreigners? A 2023 report from the Migration Observatory found that 52% of Brits thought “immigration numbers should be reduced” and 32% saw immigration as “a bad or very bad thing.” While, again, these opinions do not greatly affect visitors merely passing through the country, those staying longer will see these sentiments more pronounced.

Regardless, the UK ranks as one of the friendliest countries in the world for expatriate workers, even despite xenophobic petitions submitted to the British Parliament for review. During the Brexit debate, however, educated European professionals increasingly spoke out on feeling less and less appreciated in British society. After the UK officially left the European Union, business investment in the island country has lagged behind its continental counterparts, notably in the industries of finance, technology, and transport, among others.

This goes against a backdrop of the government still attempting to prioritize higher-earning and professional migrants. The current Conservative leadership touts attracting foreign talent even though foreign investment in Britain is lower than all other G7 nations. Thus, despite rumblings of unwelcoming attitudes, you will still be embraced for your economic contributions as a business professional.


This article provides a rundown of what Great Britain has to offer for international workers. Its culture enjoys vibrant diversity but still clashes with others in many ways.

British people often shy away from a sense of formality yet they value many traditions. Their most appealing characteristic is being unafraid of a self-effacing and at times shocking sense of humor. Their down-to-earth personality does seem to contradict the popular images of a stiff upper lip and rigid royal traditions. This is not to say that the latter are not present in British culture; it all depends on who you socialize with.

When observing Britain’s work cultures compared to others around the world, a few themes come up. One is valuing a work-life balance, now cemented in modern British labor legislation. Another is taking a casual approach to hierarchy, where work interactions are more relaxed and less rigid than other cultures, like in certain parts of Asia. In addition, British workplaces are less formal in terms of dress and behavior, which is a culture shock for some.

We also had to consider how immigration laws and public sentiment will impact your experience in the UK, whether your time there is long or short. Even though there is some pushback within government against high levels of migration, doing business in the UK is still relatively accessible for many around the world.