Hidden Etiquettes Behind Business Cards Revealed

There’s more than meets the eye to why some countries still use business cards. Here’s an interesting insight into some of the lesser known pieces of etiquette and communication that can sometimes be involved with them.

Business cards can be used for a variety of reasons – to collect important contact information, to market a business or to make a creative impact being a few. But you might not know that there are sometimes hidden etiquettes behind them when created or given in countries like Japan, South Korea and the USA. These traditions are often regarded in the same level of importance as the style and content featured on a business card itself, so if you are planning to visit any of these countries this year or in the future, it might be useful to know how you can respect their business card etiquette!

Meishi Koukan (Japan)

A formal introduction before exchanging a business card in Japan is as important as the swap itself. In order not to offend a new potential business acquaintance, people foreign to the country (known as Gaijins) are expected to follow a strict process called the ‘Meishi Koukan’. This introduction and eventual exchange of business cards starts with the highest ranking person (in job title or in wealth) exchanging their business card first. When being handed over, cards must be given and received with two hands and must be face down too.

Meishi Koukan

It is expected for each person’s card to remain visible throughout the length of the conversation and make sure that your card is kept crisp and clean – it’s considered that you might be a poorly kept person or are showing a lack of respect if it is dirty or damaged in some way. Be careful when storing the other person’s card too – putting it away roughly or attempting to fit it into a small pocket is also considered a sign of disrespect and could ruin a networking opportunity!

Bon-gwan (South Korea)

Your reputation holds huge importance in South Korea. There are roughly only 300 family names which are used across the country, with the four most popular of these being Kim, Park, Lee and Choi. To correctly follow tradition and pay respect to the ‘Bon-gwan’, new potential business contacts or customers in South Korea don’t like to be addressed by their first name. It is considered an honour that only family and close friends will address each other by these, so instead, it’s preferred for them to be called by their surname with the appropriate professional/marital prefix (e.g. Mr Kim, Ms. Choi).


In the actual business card exchange process itself, it is considered respectful to follow a set of unwritten rules much like those used in Japan. Cards should again be exchanged with both hands and it is considered another good piece of etiquette to take a short moment to read the name on the person’s card once exchanged. You should never place a stack of cards on a table and ask someone to take one – this is considered completely disrespectful and thoughtless.

Right Hand Swap (USA)

Finally, exchanging a business card in the USA doesn’t contain as many strict hidden etiquettes as it would in both Japan and South Korea, but there are still some interesting facets to showing the correct respect when handing over a business card. To begin with, your card should be created in an appropriate style (the sizing standard generally used is 3.5 x 2 inches), should be clean and neat and should contain up-to date and correct contact details. Also, ensure to keep business cards in a holder or case and in an easy accessible location as any potential business contacts aren’t likely to take kindly to time wasted trying to retrieve them.

Right Hand Swap

Make sure to look at, and if appropriate, compliment any received business cards as it’s likely that they will have attempted to put as much time and effort into creating a dynamic design as you will have. The most important part of the business card exchange? Handing over your card using your right hand and holding out for a handshake with your left hand. This is considered the best way to show appreciation and a friendly attitude towards your recipient.

If you get into the habit of following these hidden etiquettes the next time you wish to exchange your business card with someone, you’re more likely to create a better impression – so take note!

Sam Rose