Tips on Business in Thailand

It's daunting to even think about writing on this subject, as there's so much to write about, so many tips that I give people verbally but haven't yet made it into this website. Many applicable tips are spread around the website in the sections on working, but there are several tips which don't neatly fall anywhere else but are worth mentioning somewhere nonetheless.

  • Get good language support first. Take a look at

  • Quality is your biggest challenge. (Anywhere, actually.) Don't rely too much on educational credentials, and be prepared to mentor employees. Outside contractors are your biggest quality issue. When you first come to Thailand, choose highly skilled expats when you can (if the rates aren't too much higher), especially for mission critical parts of your business. You can waste a lot of money trying to save money. Productivity counts.

  • Be patient, polite and respectful. Keep your cool. Save face, be gentle and private.

  • Beware the seniority problems in Thailand -- "the pee-nong syndrome" in office politics.

  • Getting paid is often a problem in Thailand. Keep all your legal and accounting paperwork up to spec, as some clients will make any excuse not to pay. Get agreements in writing, because "a verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's printed on" with some kinds of clients, unfortunately, especially if these clients aren't in your business community and thus don't worry about their reputation in your circles.

  • Get a good auditor who is independent of your accountant. While Thais tend to be honest, especially auditors, I've heard of occasional cases of embezzlement by accountants.

These rules apply in any country, actually. Thailand tends to be worse as regards cultural sensitivities such as age-based seniority and losing face, but Thais are generally better in the honesty department.

Some people who have never started their own business or run a business as General Manager come to Thailand with big dreams, start their first business, and come out spending most of their time and effort trying to get that business off the ground. For many of these people, I suggest that they instead buy an existing business. There are many expats who have established businesses in Thailand but are leaving for some reason or another, and rather than shut down an existing business and lay off staff, they instead do the normal smart thing and sell the business to an associate or an incoming expat, turnkey with trained longterm staff, assets and all.

In these situations, instead of buying the company, it is better to create your own company and transfer the assets and staff over. The reason is you protect yourself against any possible undeclared debts and liabilities.

You may want to contact Thai Sunshine Business Advisors at (note: .info not .com) to browse their list of Thailand businesses to buy, and ask for Maurice, and Australian, using maurice@ their domain. I met Maurice once, and he seems a reasonable guy, talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There is one thing I would advise against:

Don't come to Thailand in an insensitive manner to those who have established themselves here. It is a good way to become persona nongrata with both the Thais and the network of established foreigners.

Several times, people have come to me for help in setting up their business, and in the course of things have revealed business methods I would consider underhanded, dishonest, or otherwise ill-intentioned towards others and questionable. I don't want to discuss all those methods here because I don't want to give anyone else any tips on bad things to do. Some were to blow away established competition, others were to lure consumers into giving money for goods or services they were not really ready to provide yet.

I will have nothing more to do with these kinds of people -- I don't need business that badly to stoop down to those levels of mentality and way of life. I think that most principled or smart people would steer clear of these people and their associates. Often, it is the foreigners you need to be careful about, much more than the local Thais, as Thailand attracts a lot of foreigners of questionable ways of life. Just because others do it, doesn't mean it's OK; you'd be hanging out with the wrong "This Is Thailand" crowd. There is no class in being a copy cat of questionable sorts of characters, or joining peer groups of huckster foreigners.

Generally and without going into specific tactics, some of these methods were in cohorts with some greedy and/or corrupt Thai associates. Other methods were industrial espionage, trying to hit competition with legal technicalities (which were essentially insignificant) such as soon before the due date of a contract bid, hassling competitors, libel, arranging a large order with a competitor and then nonpayment of a major bill, and so on.

I am all for winning in the marketplace by providing a better product or service, and I am also for the entity which cares more about the customer.

Competitors may be hard working and honest entities doing honest business, with families and dependent employees. By using bad methods, a lot of people can be affected -- not just the competitors and their employees, but also their customers and a network of business associates.

The victims have networks of contacts, too, and won't just be pushed over without a reaction.

When some greedy foreigner comes into Thailand and starts trying to throw money around to knock people around, they haven't considered the potential consequences. Thailand is a place where secrets aren't kept well, and when loose cannons don't consider the potential backlash and consequences, they usually learn the hard way. It can be a damning history, to say the least.

There are also a lot of people who will tell you that doing things the official, straightforward way is too difficult and time consuming, and you should instead hire them as an agent to pay bribes to officials to get things done. Often, much of that bribe money goes into their own pocket. You may be surprised to find out just how straightforward it is to do things the right way. You should also research whether you really save much money and worry in the long run doing things the wrong way.

When you come to Thailand, give yourself some time to explore different realms of society here, different kinds of people and groups, and generally learn how business is normally conducted in Thailand. Don't rush into something too quickly. Hear various sides of things. And read this website. :)

I suggest you read this: Protecting yourself against evil competitors

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