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Excerpted from the Guatemala Career Guide

Daily Life

With more than 15 million residents, Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country. Guatemala is just a few hours away by plane from the United States and Mexico, as well as just minutes away by plane from other Central American and Caribbean countries.


Guatemala was a Spanish colony for nearly 300 years until its independence in 1821. It belonged for a short time to the Mexican Empire but eventually some provinces joined together to become the United Provinces of Central America. During the 20th century, Guatemala experienced many dictatorships, a revolution in 1944 and a civil war between 1960 and 1996. From 1986 onwards, democratic governments have led Guatemala.


Guatemalan cuisine is very unique and rich, sometimes similar to the cuisine of Mexico’s southern region. The country possesses a great variety of tropical fruits, vegetables and herbs that are used in native cooking. Guatemala’s typical food varies widely, with corn as a staple. Because of Guatemala’s ethnic and cultural diversity, Guatemalan cuisine ranges from the familiar to the ultra-exotic. Common ingredients besides corn are plantains, beans, chicken, pork and seafood.

Acting Like a Local

In a professional environment, expats are recommended to go out every now and then to drink coffee with co-workers, or to attend an after-work event just to visit in an informal way. This helps to reinforce personal and professional relationships.

Office Protocol

Generally speaking, Guatemalan people are very formal. It is better to abstain from using informal address forms (vos or ) upon a first meeting or introduction. It is highly recommended to use those forms only upon request from the other party, which is usual in Guatemala. Even in that case, if one feels it is too soon to do so, a more formal approach (usted) is recommended.

Management Styles

The typical business management style in Guatemala is paternalistic, in which almost all decisions are made by the manager. This is related to the fact that a good number of enterprises are family businesses and the managers are acquaintances of the owner. Many Guatemalan businesspeople also lead multiple family businesses. Thus, it is common to receive business cards showing the individual’s different positions in various family firms.

Conducting a Meeting

Telephones remain useful tools for meetings or interview appointments. Faxes are also used, although not as often. New communication means such as email, Skype, Twitter (for younger people) or MSN can be used (in that order), but especially email. Printed letters are seldom used. In every case, it is highly recommended to confirm appointments a few days (or at least some hours) before the appointed time to avoid useless trips. Postponing meetings and appointments is still common, at least more frequently than in non-Latin cultures.

Written Correspondence

Guatemalan people in general are very formal in written correspondence, and people will mostly use the formal address form to communicate (usted). Written correspondence in Guatemala is usually more descriptive and indirect than in other countries. Guatemalans tend to be very polite and indirect when requesting or asking for support.

This is just a sample of what you'll find in the complete Guatemala guide.

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