1. Start Early.

    Reserve booth space 12 to 18 months in advance to get the best options. Reserve a booth large enough to offer seating and refreshments: in-booth hospitality is common outside of the United States. Allow time for booth-building and shipping of materials. Consider a country-specific (turnkey) pavilion when exhibiting for the first time.

  2. Avoid Budget Surprises.

    Add 20 percent to your budget to cover unexpected costs, tipping, and exchange rate fluctuations. While a Value Added Tax (VAT) is included in products and services costs in most countries, treat it as an expense when paid and a bonus if you succeed in recovering it after the event.

  3. Get the Word Out.

    Your international exhibiting success greatly depends on the intensity of your pre-show promotions to potential buyers. Read the show's exhibitor manual and speak with the trade-show organizer's marketing and PR teams directly to capitalize on all available promotional tools.

  4. Know the Union Rules.

    Strong unions exist in the United States, U.K., France, and Italy. Understand and respect union rules. In the majority of countries, union labor is not involved, making logistics less expensive and easier, but you must order everything in advance from the fair organizer.

  5. Get Help with Shipping.

    The most common hassle at trade shows is shipments stuck at customs. Work with a reputable shipping company that has experience with exhibit materials and knows the intricacies of customs regulations. Your best bet: Use the fair organizer's official freight forwarder. Some shows use an ATA Carnet system, the customs document that allows the duty-free and tax-free temporary import of goods. Contact the organizers to find out if the system applies to your show.

  6. Know whether or not your Product Meets International Standards.

    You must have your product(s) compliance-tested. Formal certification to legally sell is required in most countries. Equally important is that your packaging follow country-specific labeling and packaging requirements. Local consultants can assist with this effort.

  7. Decide Who's in the Booth.

    At European and Asian shows, serious business is conducted, focusing on sales. These are order-taking shows and top management is present, sometimes for the entire show. Have knowledgeable technical staff in-booth to demonstrate and explain your product. Hire native-speaking booth personnel to assist. Ideally, your top executives will be available.

  8. Consider Negotiation Styles.

    Negotiating in international business is extremely complex. Socializing is often considered essential to the process. Learn the cultural rules, especially as they relate to timing and how business is conducted. Know government regulations covering foreign business (i.e., U.S. Foreign Corruption Practices Act). Non-U.S. events require more socializing and face-to-face interaction, which is why conversational areas in your booth are important to successfully doing business.

These tips are adapted from a guide to international exhibiting produced by CEP International Inc., an exhibit-booth builder with experience in 55 countries. The guide, which is packed with country-specific information, is available at www.cepexhibits.com.