Should You Be Fashionably Early, On Time, or Late for Invitation Times?

Couple greeting their guests | Photo by MonkeyBusiness, Depositphotos

Americans for the most part are reasonably punctual. They value being on time but are okay with someone being a little fashionably late for social gatherings. Generally in the US, being fashionably late gives you a 15-minute grace period. But in other countries, it is more respectful to be fashionably early or arrive much later.  Regardless of country or culture, there will be extra nuances. But it is universal that you let the other party know once you realize you are going to be late. Informed tardiness is the most respectful action you can take to minimize frustration caused by your delay. But don’t overextend people’s patience or expect forgiveness each time. Take it from me, a reformed procrastinator who pushed the limits way more than I should have.

When I was younger I used to be consistently 15-30 minutes late no matter where I went. Partly it was cultural, but mostly I just had poor time management. Eventually I learned to be more conscious of other people’s time. These days I take time management and consideration for others to the next level. Not only do I plan ahead for travel but I also assess what time is appropriate to arrive. Punctuality after all can vary between different countries. For clues on timing, I consider the type of event, location, and host culture(s).  When in doubt, especially when it is a multi-cultural and/or multi-national event, I ask the host.  I also take that opportunity to ask if there is something they would like me to bring (See “Gifts for Your Host” for more ideas). If I can’t ask the host directly (or I am too shy), I seek out the opinion of other guests.

To make it easier for you, I have listed my notes below on what is timely for each country. This is just an informal guide for entertainment and convenience. But if anything is wrong or if you have more to add to the list, please leave a comment below or Contact Us. Thanks in advance for your feedback.

UNIVERSALLY EARLY OR ON TIME

Official Business & Time Based Events

Child with carryon roller
Our son loves to wheel around a carryon at the airport, even if it is taller than him | Photo by Jacyln

Social gatherings usually have some level of tolerance for tardiness so long as it is not habitual or extended.  Appointment, reservation, business, and other time-based events on the other hand are universally more punctual.  If you are late you risk missing an event, being viewed as disrespectful, or being turned away without any commitment to be re-accommodated. 

Strive to be early for these types of events.  You are expected to be on time even if they may be delayed:

  • • Official business (government, military, medical, dental, and legal appointments)
  • • Business meetings, interviews, presentations, and work
  • • Appointments & reservations
  • • Transportation schedules (flights, trains, buses, ferries, etc)
  • • Theater, play, and musical performances
  • • Ticketed and timed events 
  • • Classes
  • • Romantic Dates
  • • Surprise parties
  • • Graduations
  • • Weddings
  • • Funerals
  • • Other religious events

If you are ever running late, always call or text the other party right away.  When you arrive it is best to apologize for your tardiness.  

FASHIONABLY EARLY

China (-30 to 60 minutes)

Chinese Proverb:

寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴

(Cùn guāngyīn yīcùn jīn, cùn jīn nán mǎi cùn guāngyīn)

Time is as precious as gold, but gold cannot buy time

Dragon teapot
Dragon teapot on display at the Macau Tea Culture House | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally Chinese guests ARRIVE MUCH EARLIER than the invitation time

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  People’s time is a valuable commodity.  You should always arrive early to show respect.
  • • Social Gatherings: Arrive 30-60 minutes early to be polite and informally mingle.  Don’t be surprised if someone arrives even earlier.  During this time guests usually chat over tea and snacks while preparations continue. 
  • • Waiting Tolerance: If you are going to be late always call or text; arrive no later than 10-minutes past.
  • • Business Meetings: Always arrive early to show signs of respect and build trust.  Arriving late is a serious offense.  

Germany (-10 minutes)

“Deutsche 5 Minuten vor der Zeit”

German punctuality means being 5-minutes early 

Black Forest Cuckoo Clock
Giant cuckoo clock with 21 moving figures at the House of Black Forest Clocks in Hornberg, Germany | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally Germans guests ARRIVE EARLIER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  You should always arrive early to show you are polite and prepared.  
  • Social Gatherings: Arrive at least 10-min early.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: You are already considered late if you are not there 5-minutes early.  If you are going to be delayed always call or text.  Never be tardy more than 5-minutes.
  • • Business Meetings: Always arrive at least 10-minutes early to show signs of respect.  Arriving on time or later is considered extremely rude and disrespectful.

Denmark (-3 to 5 minutes)

“The first rule of being invited to dinner is that you must be punctual…

It is acceptable to be a few minutes early, but late is never acceptable.”

FYIDenmark.com on Danish Etiquette

Colorful buildings in Copenhagen
Colorful buildings of Nyhavn in Copenhagen, Denmark | Photo by Scanrail, Depositphotos

To be punctual, generally Danish guests ARRIVE EARLIER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  Do not waste anyone’s time.  Always arrive early to show you are polite and respectful.
  • • Social Gatherings: Arrive 10-20 minutes early, walk around nearby but out of sight, and ring the doorbell 3-5 minutes early. 
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Being late is extremely rude.  Try not to be tardy more than 5-minutes.  Never be late more than 10-minutes.  If you are going to be delayed always call or text ahead.
  • • Business Meetings: Always arrive at least 5-minutes early to show signs of respect.  Arriving on time or later is considered rude and disrespectful.

Switzerland (-5 minutes)

“A punctual person is a considerate one. By showing up on time – for everything – a Swiss person is saying, in effect, “I value your time and, by extension, I value you.””

–Eric Weiner (BBC) on his appreciation of Swiss punctuality

Kapellbrücke wooden footbridge in Lucerne
Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) wooden footbridge in Lucerne, Switzerland | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally Swiss guests ARRIVE EARLIER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  Always arrive early to show you are polite and value someone’s time.
  • • Social Gatherings: Arrive early and ring the doorbell 5-minutes early. 
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Try not to be late more than 5-minutes.  Never be tardy more than 10-minutes.  If you are going to be delayed always call or text ahead.
  • • Business Meetings: Always arrive at least 5-minutes early to show signs of respect.  Arriving on time or later is considered rude and disrespectful.

Japan (-5 minutes)

The average delay of the shinkansen (“bullet train”) between Tokyo and Osaka is 30-seconds.  “But punctuality is not restricted to trains. The Japanese are also very punctual.”

–Professor Masashi Abe of Waseda Institute for Advanced Studies (WIAS) on the relationship of Japanese people & time.  

Seats on the shinkansen
Seating on a Japan Railways shinkansen “bullet train” | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally Japanese guests ARRIVE EARLIER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  Always arrive early to show you are respectful, trustworthy, and ready to start on time.
  • • Social Gatherings: Arrive 5-minutes early and be ready to start on time.
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Do not be late more than 5-minutes.  If you are going to be delayed always call or text ahead.
  • • Business Meetings: Always arrive 10-15 minutes early to show signs of respect and be ready to start on time.  Arriving late is disrespectful.  At the very least, arrive 5-minutes early.

ON TIME

Sweden

Swedish Proverb:

“Den som väntar på något gott han väntar aldrig för länge” 

He who waits for something good never waits too long

People sitting on benches in Stockholm in front of colorful buildings
Stock image of Old Town in Stockholm, Sweden | Photo by Maugli, Depositphotos

To be punctual, generally Swedish guests ARRIVE EARLIER than the invitation time but ENTER ON TIME.

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  Always arrive a little early to show up right on time.  This demonstrates you are respectful, trustworthy, and efficient.
  • • Social Gatherings: Arrive a little early and wait outside until just before the invitation time; then a designated person rings the doorbell right on time.
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Never arrive more than 5-minutes late.  If you are going to be delayed always call or text ahead.
  • • Business Meetings: Always arrive a few minutes early or on time to show signs of respect and trustworthiness.  Arriving late is disrespectful.

South Korea

Korean Idiom:

눈코 뜰 새 없다

(nun ko tteul sae eobsda)

I don’t have time to open my eyes and nose

Korean woman tending to clay pots
Woman wearing traditional hanbok tending to clay pots at the Minsok Korean Folk Village in Yongin, South Korea | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally South Korean guests ARRIVE ON TIME for invitation times.

  • • Time Culture: Reasonably Tight.  Punctuality is valued as a sign of respect.  Time is precious; Koreans are so busy they have no time to lose.
  • • For Social Gatherings: Arrive early or reasonably on time.  Some Koreans may be 10-15 minutes early.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Try not to be late more than 5-minutes.  Never be late more than 15-minutes.  When it comes to food though, do not be late more than 5-minutes.  Note, between close friends Koreans are known to be more flexible.  They give vague times to meet (“around” or “about” a specific hour).  On “Korean Time,” close friends may be 15-60 minutes late with each other.  But it is best not to default to that habit; only be late if you are close and they say you can be late.  Always call or text ahead of time if you will be delayed.   
  • • For Business Meetings: Always arrive a few minutes early to show signs of respect.  Arriving late is disrespectful.  But don’t be surprised if top Korean executives are late a few minutes.

USA

“Remember that time is money”

–Benjamin Franklin on his 1748 essay “Advice to a Young Tradesman

Benjamin Franklin Bill and Clock
Time is Money | Photo by Levkro, Depositphotos

To be punctual, generally American guests ARRIVE NO EARLIER THAN the invitation time

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  Strive to arrive on time.  Those who save time save money.
  • Social Gatherings: Arrive on time.  Never enter earlier than the invitation time as the host may still be getting ready.
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Be fashionably late by no more than 15-minutes. 
  • • Business Meetings: Arrive a few minutes early or on time.  Social gatherings may be no earlier than what was agreed but business appointments are always early or right on time.  Arriving more than 5-minutes late is disrespectful and wastes a person’s of time.

France (On Time to +15 minutes)

“L’exactitude est la politesse des rois”

Punctuality is the politeness of kings

–Louis XVIII of France

Chateau de Fontainebleau
Chateau de Fontainebleau 55 km southeast from Paris in Fontainebleau, France | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally French guests ARRIVE ON TIME; but for DINNER PARTIES THEY ARRIVE LATER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Reasonably tight.  Punctuality is valued and appreciated.  
  • • Social Gatherings: For most occasions arrive on time.  But for dinner invitations at someone’s home, arrive no earlier than 15-minutes past the designated time.  The French have the concept of “quart d’heure de politesse” or 15-minutes of politeness.  Arriving earlier would be considered rude as hosts are still preparing.  For larger house parties, aim closer to arriving 20 minutes later.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Never be more than 10 minutes late.  For dinner parties, you are expected to enter 15-minutes past the invitation time but never more than 30-minutes.  If you will be delayed call or text ahead of time.  
  • • Business Meetings: Arrive on time.  French counterparts are usually on time but may be up to 5-minutes late. 5-10 minutes of tardiness is tolerated if informed ahead of time.    

FASHIONABLY LATE

Northern & Northwestern Europe (+5 minutes)

Closeup of Big Ben
Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben) at the Palace of Westminster in London, England, United Kingdom | Photo by Jacyln

To be punctual, generally Northern and Northwestern European guests ARRIVE EARLY but ENTER A LITTLE LATER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Tight.  Punctuality is expected and demonstrates you are reliable. 
  • • Social Gatherings: Arrive early but at someone’s home politely ring the doorbell no earlier than 5-minutes past.  This gives your host extra time to finish their preparations.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Never be more than 15-minutes late.  If you are going to be delayed call or text ahead of time. 
  • • Business Meetings: Arrive on time but don’t expect your Northern European counterparts to be on time.  They may be a few minutes late.

Italy (+15 minutes)

Aerial view of Milan cityscape at sunset
Aerial view of Milan cityscape at sunset | Fedevphoto, Depositphotos

Generally Italian guests ARRIVE LATER than the invitation time.

  • • Time Culture: Flexible.  Punctuality is not mandatory except for business, appointments, and train schedules.
  • • Social Gatherings: You have a 15-min window to arrive (sometimes even up to 30-min for parties).  Generally for dinner parties, you should arrive 15-min later than the invitation time.  Once you are there, wait for everyone before eating.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Never be more than 15-minutes late.  If you are going to be delayed call or text ahead of time.  The window of tolerance may be more stringent the further north you travel in Italy.
  • • Business Meetings: You should arrive on time, but the actual meeting may start a few minutes later after greetings.  In academia, there is a saying, “Il quorto d’ora accademico.”  15-min of academics, where you have to be there on time but actual class lectures don’t start until 15-min later.

Greece (+30 minutes)

“Nobody wants to be the first one to arrive…because then he is a fool…the people who come first, even if they are late, may leave again and come back when someone else is there, which means that unless 2 people show up at the same time the meeting will never happen. So if you are meeting someone and they are not there yet, sit down and wait for them and they will show up, most of the time.”

Matt Barrett’s Athens Survival Guide on Greek Time 

Oia Village on Santorini Island, Greece | Photo by Patryk_Kosmider, Depositphotos

Not fixated on punctuality, generally Greek guests ARRIVE LATER than the invitation time.  

  • • Time Culture: Relaxed.  Scheduled times are just guidelines.
  • • Social Gatherings: Invitation times are casual suggestions; arrive a little after then.  At someone’s home arrive no earlier than 30-minutes past the designated time.  It is considered punctual to be 30-minutes late on Greek Time.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Greece is very flexible with social gatherings.  On Greek Time you can be 30-minutes late.  If you are going to be later than that call or text ahead.  Note, a performance may be delayed if a government official that is expected to attend is running late; this is known as Aggravated Greek Time.
  • • Business Meetings: Arrive on time but don’t expect your Greek counterparts to be on time.  They may be up to 10-minutes late.  

Philippines (+60 minutes)

“Huli man daw at magaling, maihahabol din”

Better late than never

Pancit Palabok Noodles
Pancit palabok, my favorite garlic and shrimp noodle dish served at filipino gatherings | Photo by Jacyln

Not fixated on punctuality, except for official business, generally Filipino guests ARRIVE MUCH LATER than the invitation time. 

  • • For Social Gatherings: Arrive no earlier than 60-minutes past the designated time to be fashionably late.  Filipinos have a concept called “Filipino Time” where they anticipate everyone will arrive at least an hour later than the invitation time.  Culturally they do this to 1) not be the first people to arrive and 2) to give the hosts more time to cook and get ready.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Filipinos appreciate punctuality but do not demand it for social gatherings.  You can be 2-hours late to household gatherings. 
  • • For Business Meetings: Arrive early or on time.  Filipino counterparts try to be on time for official business.   

Mexico (+60 to 90 minutes)

“Ahorita”

A polysemic word in spanish with contradictory meanings.  It can mean right now, in a little bit, or an indeterminate amount of time.  Don’t take it literally.  It is more of an expression for spontaneity…they will get to it whenever they feel it is convenient for them.  That may mean minutes, hours, days, years, or never.

Mexican hot chocolate and molinillo
Mexican hot chocolate and molinillo on display at Restaurante El Cardenal in Mexico City, Mexico | Photo by Jacyln

Not fixated on punctuality, generally Mexican guests ARRIVE MUCH LATER than the invitation time. 

  • • For Social Gatherings: Arrive no earlier than 60-min past the designated time.  Aim for 90-minutes past to be fashionably late.  Mexicans have a concept called “Mexican Time” where they anticipate everyone will arrive 60-90 minutes later than the invitation time.  They value people’s spontaneous schedules over exact times.  
  • • Waiting Tolerance: Mexico is very flexible with social gatherings; you can be 2-hours late. 
  • • For Business Meetings: Arrive on time but don’t expect Mexican counterparts to be on time.  They may be up to 30-minutes late.  

    Brazil (+30 to 120 minutes)

    “Fique tranquilo”

    Don’t worry

    Ever the optimist, it is a Brazilian expression for a relaxed attitude to not stress.  If you miss the bus, there will be another one coming along.

    Copacabana
    Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil | Photo by rocharibeiro, Depositphotos

    Not fixated on punctuality, generally Brazilian guests ARRIVE MUCH LATER than the invitation time; but if specified as “ENGLISH TIME” THEN THEY ARRIVE ON TIME.

    • • For Social Gatherings: Arrive no earlier than 30-minutes past the designated time.  Aim for 1-hour later; in Rio de Janeiro 2-hours later is the norm.  If you arrive earlier Brazilians will think you are too eager.  But if they specify “English Time”, “British Punctuality”, or “Com pontualidade Britânica” then they do want you to be on time.
    • • Waiting Tolerance: Brazil is very flexible with social gatherings; you can be up to 2-hours late for house parties.  But keep in mind when planning a gathering of your own.  Brazilians do not like to disappoint others; as a result they have a hard time saying no directly.  This may lead to them overcommitting and running late from errands or saying yes at the time but not really committing their schedule.  
    • • For Business Meetings: Arrive on time but don’t expect Brazilian counterparts to be on time.  They may be up to 30-minutes late.  But they do try to be better about time for official events than social gatherings.

    Did this sound right for your country? Please let me know how your culture views punctuality for social gatherings and business.

    Last updated August 23, 2023 by Jacyln