Tips for International Gift Giving

Posted by on May 9, 2013

Hi Deanne, 

© Deyan Georgiev -

© Deyan Georgiev –

I have a question about gift giving. I am going to Manila and I am meeting with potential book buyers, distributors and publishers and I am also meeting with some government officials. I want to give the coordinator a gift – but what?


Rebecca K., Albuquerque, NM 



Great question, and congratulations on your opportunity! How exciting!

When visiting a foreign land, it’s always a good idea to do a little research on area customs for etiquette and gift giving. Plus, there are the practical aspects to consider, such as packing and presenting the gifts.

A rule of thumb I like to follow, no matter where I’m going, is to give specialties from my locale, or souvenirs from where I live. Things like locally-made foodstuffs and candy, souvenir pens, postcards and keychains are easy to transport and won’t break the bank. As a businessperson, small promotional products with your company logo could also work.

I did some research on gift giving and business etiquette in the Philippines and it seems like my rule of thumb will apply—in particular, it sounds like candy is usually a big hit in the Filipino culture.  In fact, there is a word in the Filipino language for such souvenirs: pasalubong, which means “homecoming treat.” The best advice I found is to stick to candy, as any other type of food might be construed as an insult that the recipient is too poor to properly provide for the household.

With this in mind, look for locally-produced confections, such as something from Señor Murphy in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. (The chile pistachio bark looks yummy!) Additional items might include a photography book of the Sandia Mountains or Sante Fe, or Native American pottery. Look for something that highlights and showcases your area. Souvenir items like this will give your recipient something to remember you by, long after the candy is consumed!

If you are lucky enough to be invited to someone’s home for dinner, flowers are the perfect hostess gift, but avoid chrysanthemums and lilies.

Two more things to remember about gift giving in the Philippines: presentation counts, and gifts are opened in private. To the first point, use brightly-colored wrapping paper—there are no restrictions on color—and lots of festive ribbons, even a special embellishment. (Note: The TSA has the right to unwrap your gifts if, when scanned, the gifts if they set off alarms or need further inquiry. Consider traveling with the items unwrapped and wrap them at your hotel.)

To the second point, if you receive a gift, it is a major faux pas to unwrap it in front of the giver. Likewise, do not expect your recipient to open her gifts in front of you.

Finally, because you’re meeting with government officials in an effort to secure business, it’s important to keep in mind the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Essentially, it prohibits giving a thing of value to any foreign government official for the purpose of improperly influencing that official in order to obtain or renew a business opportunity. In other words, no bribes. The Department of Justice offers the following guidance in its free Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (download it here):

“A small gift or token of esteem or gratitude is often an appropriate way for business people to display respect for each other. Some hallmarks of appropriate gift-giving are when the gift is given openly and transparently, properly recorded in the giver’s books and records, provided only to reflect esteem or gratitude, and permitted under local law.”

So, keep the gift items nominal in value (no luxury cars!) and keep a record of the gifts. The Department of Justice doesn’t pursue small gifts unless they are part of a pattern of giving with an intent to influence. Consult the Guide for more information.

Good luck, and have a great trip!!