Unlike China and Japan, where it can take years to learn the business customs, Cebuano business culture is fairly similar to the norms of the West. You'll fit right in and find yourself wheeling and dealing in no time at all.


Banks are open 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, but most other businesses open earlier. Most offices open early, between 7:00 and 8:30. Except the party set, people go to bed early and wake up early, probably due to the heat. Cebu is a great place to party, but the partying stops at 2:00 AM.

Construction crews work from 7:00 AM through 5:00 PM. If you hire manual labor, such as construction workers, you will be expected to provide drinking water and something called "snacks." The standard is a few pieces of bread - such as a pan de sal, cheese bread, coco bread, etc. - plus one soft drink. The soft drink typically comes in a bottle and costs 6 - 8 pesos. The bread costs 1 - 2 pesos per piece. So a typical "snacks" is about 10 - 15 pesos per worker.


Construction workers are paid every Saturday. Most employees in other industries are paid on the 15th and the last day of every month. Regular employees - those with more than six months of tenure - are entitled to a 13th month of pay at Christmas, plus overtime and double pay on holidays. Most small businesses do not adhere to these rules, but workers have to be told in advance what the house rules are. Regular employees are also entitled to social security - the SSS is paid both by the employer, who shoulders half the burden, and the rest is deducted from the employee's paycheck. Since workers start getting entitlements after six months of service, many contracts only run up to six months.


Business meetings are commonly held at coffee shops, such as Bo's Coffee Club. Except at the highest echelons of business - which are usually found in Manila anyway - it is not necessary for men to wear a suit and tie; Cebuanos consider a polo shirt and slacks pretty formal business attire.

It is acceptable to be up late; perhaps up to 45 minutes or so. However, you should inform whomever you are meeting that you will be a bit delayed via a text message. Since many Cebuanos don't show up when they are supposed to, even if you have a firmly arranged meeting, the other party may call or text you in advance - the day before, early in the morning, or a few hours prior to the agreed time - to inquire whether the meeting will push through. This is not rude and you should do it yourself.

Many Cebuano business persons forego calling cards. Contacts, usually gained via an introduction through a mutual acquaintance, are stored in the cellphone. Indeed, it is impossible to do business without a cellphone. When meeting at Bo's, Cebuano business persons will all put their cellphones on the table while discussing the issues at hand. If you are serious about investing or doing business in Cebu, better get a decent cellphone if you don't want to be embarrassed.

Here's a word of advice for the foreigner: Cebuano business persons will often meet in groups, but you'd better limit your meetings to one person at a time. This is because the Cebuanos will start yakking with each other in Cebuano and you'll be left out of the loop. Cebuano business persons all speak fluent English, but the local dialect is less tiring than English, and they'll quickly lapse into it given half a chance.


In China and Japan, verbal agreements are often considered good enough, but in the Philippines, it is not considered rude to put everything into a contract, as is done in the US. Contracts are signed in triplicate and witnesses sign along the margins of each page. You'd better read any contract carefully, because, while the party you are entering into a contract with may be honest, his or her lawyers may often try to pull one over on you by inserting some ridiculous clause, such as that you have to pay his or her legal expenses in the event of a disagreement.


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