Monochronic and Polychronic Cultures

Posted on Oct 28, 2013 | 3 comments

By Meaghan Wallace, Social Media Manager, Passport Career

In general, the way that different cultures view time can be described as a timezonesspectrum with monochronic or polychronic at either end.  While there are cultures that fall in between, when planning a transition abroad it is a good idea to understand which end of the spectrum your native culture falls closest to and which end your destination culture falls closest to.

Monochronic Cultures

In a monochronic culture, people tend to place a high value on timeliness and schedules.  They focus on the value of time, and therefore tend to have a very rigid interpretation of how to organize their schedules.  Monochronic people generally prefer to do one thing at a time and to devote their full concentration to the task at hand, whether it be completing an assignment for work or school or having coffee with a friend.  Cultures typically described as monochronic can be found in North America, Northern Europe, and parts of Asia.

Polychronic Cultures

In a polychronic culture, people tend to focus more on what they are doing than the timeframe in which it is happening.  They thrive at multitasking and are not bothered by phone calls or interruptions.  They tend to build strong personal relationships, and often see the development of this relationship as their end goal rather than the task at hand.  Cultures typically described as polychronic can be found in Latin America, Southern Europe and the Middle East.

What to Expect

In business meetings with international colleagues, it is good to have a clear understanding of the perception of time of both the host and the attendees.  When attending a meeting run by a monochronic person, it is best to arrive early and be prepared to start exactly on time.  On the other hand, in a meeting run by a polychronic person, it is possible that the meeting will be delayed and will start with the attendees catching up on each other’s personal lives in order to strengthen their interpersonal ties.  It is important when working as an expat or with expats to ensure that everyone has a clear perception of the timeline and agenda expected from the meeting so that no one leaves feeling frustrated or left out.

Quick Tips!

When you schedule a one-on-one meeting with an international colleague or have an interview in a new country, it is important to consider your perception of time and consider the time perception of the others who will be at the interview.  While it is always a good idea to show up on time for an interview, if you are planning to meet with a polychronic person, be prepared to wait or to make conversation with others around the office.  Remember, you aren’t being ignored or put off!  What may seem to be meaningless conversation to you is the first step toward building the all-important personal relationships that will help you success in a polychronic culture.


The opposite is true for a meeting or interview scheduled with a monochronic person.  They will likely be annoyed if you arrive late, or answer your phone during the meeting or interview.  This behavior, perceived as rude or irresponsible by the monochronic person, could prevent you from getting the job or completing an important deal.


As part of your pre-transition planning, it is key to determine your personal perception of time as well as that of your destination culture.  It is also important to remember that these distinctions are a general guideline and not a rule.  Speak with expats who have worked at your company or students who have attended your university before as well as those who have lived in the neighborhood and meet the locals.  You can’t know for sure the individual perception of time of those you will meet, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare!



Passport Career provides more detailed career and cultural information and extensive resources about finding a job, internship, or alternative career opportunity in over 80 countries. If your organization, embassy, university/college, library, or other institution would like access to our country portfolios (15,000+ pages of expert content for 80+ countries and 250+ cities) to share with your students, employees, spouses/partners, and others managing a national or international career transition, please click here to contact us (or send email regarding a free, live, online demo and details on how to obtain a license to access Passport Career.



Photo Credit: iStock Photos


  1. Hey guys….how about putting in an option for following this blog…say twitter

    • Fatema,

      Thanks for the feedback! We are testing out new follow and share buttons, let us know what you think!

      Passport Career

  2. Good post Meaghan. I agree with you and the most difficult situation comes when a monochronic meet polychronic or vice-versa. Their habits and way of working makes it difficult sometimes to work together.

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