Business In Thailand – Understanding Thai Culture



The customs of Thai people appear to be quite conservative that may not be very easy going for the westerners, but in the general sense, the people of Thailand are very friendly and are relaxed. If a foreigner fails to show up etiquette, the people of Thailand will not accept it wholeheartedly.

Therefore, if you are thinking of setting up a business in Thailand, make sure that you are aware of their culture and traditions. Since most of the business is predominantly done in Bangkok, which is a vast city, and with the prevailing traffic conditions, it is almost certain that anyone would not be able to squeeze in more than 2-3 meetings in a day. Of course, nowadays people are not so reluctant to having virtual meetings online.

Thailand is a Buddhist country but one can also find Muslims in the southern part of the nation. People over here enjoy holidays in April and May. This is the time when most of the businessmen go on for vacations. So the best time that we would recommend for opening a business in Thailand would be either June to November or Jan to March.

What are the Things to Avoid?

  • Do not pass any remark or any negative comments about the King and the country. You will not be able to build any business or friendly relations with the Thai people if you insult their country and the king. It may also lead to legal action. Therefore, try to respect all the images of the royal family. You should be extremely respectful of Buddhism. You might be a Hindu, Christian, or Muslim, but when you are doing business here or you have come to settle in Thailand, make sure you show your respect for Buddhism. Do not point the soles of your shoes towards any monk or Buddhist portraits and statues.
  • In Thailand, the head is considered very sacred. Therefore passing anything on top of their head is considered a disrespectful attitude. However, the feet are not considered as pure or sacred. Do not point with one finger and use your right hand only for passing things.
  • One of the main things that the Thai people consider is the way you show your respect. It is important to be soft-spoken and respectful towards others in order to build healthy relations with your employees and others. Negative responses and open criticisms are considered a disrespectful attitude. If you want to pass any negative remark, make sure to do that indirectly. Try to avoid PDA (Public Display of Affection) as much as possible. It is an appropriate behavior.

What to Expect in the First Meeting?

Thai society is a hierarchical society and it is observed that the people of Thailand might ask you several questions when meeting for the first time. These questions are asked to understand their level in the hierarchy. The foreigners who come here for opening a business in Thailand may not like these questions but the best thing will be to accept them in a friendly manner. Doing business in Thailand will give you different perspectives on Thai culture. Thais are easy-going, friendly, and relaxed. The Business contacts will remain unaffected if you maintain a social etiquette. Knowing more about Thai culture can help a lot when making first impressions.

As mentioned earlier, do not get offended if they ask you too many questions. They just want to confirm your position in their social hierarchy.  You should make use of business cards because it helps a lot in showing your work title clearly.

Building Business Relations

Setting up a business in Thailand is not an easy job. Before you even think of doing business, the first thing that you need to do is to find potential clients with whom you can do your business. Usually, the first meetings revolve around entertainment and lunch. But now the question is how can you make meaningful relations with others? Smile is considered a great way and it can make a huge difference. Stay positive and relaxed. Be sincere with your work. Hugs and Public displays of affection are not at all common and therefore, a smile will do the job. The people of Thailand prefer building friendly relations before discussing business. Before reaching a final decision, the issues need to be addressed at different levels. This is because Thailand has a pro-business attitude. The first meetings take place over entertainment, lunch or drinks. This is one of the important parts of building mutual relations with your potential clients. Another important criterion in Thai communication is the way you use your body language. Always communicate with others with respect. Indirect responses and delicate body language help in preventing any kind of misunderstanding and confusion.

Meeting schedules and appointments have to be made beforehand. Before making arrangements for business, it is important to decide on the date, time, and venue of the meeting.  You can show your respect by proving your punctuality. Thais are highly punctual and conscious about time. You have to be punctual during important meetings and discussions.

Business Attires – What is best!

Before opening a business in Thailand, it is important to know the dress etiquette of the Thai people. The work attire is conservative and formal. Avoid any bold or dark colors. Try to go for light colors. Remember! Do not wear any complete black attire to the office. The black attire is used for funerals only. Here are few tips for men that they can wear on office days- Dark suits, ties, white and light-colored shirts (probably long sleeve shirts). Choose light materials that are breathable like silk and cotton. White or cream shirts with Black trousers are best worn in Banks and Financial organizations. However, it is apt for other meetings too. When strolling outdoors, you can put on your black jacket because that is highly acceptable.

The dressing choices are flexible for women as compared to men. They can wear colorful clothes except for bright red. You can stick to knee-length skirts, business suits with pants, gray-white-or dark-colored outfits, formal blouses that will cover your neckline and shoulders completely. There is a general thumb rule for both men and women i.e. they need to check their socks properly. There shouldn’t be any holes or mismatches when removing your shoes.

Titles and Business Cards

Titles play a very important role in business etiquette. The people of Thailand are very polite and soft-spoken. They address the foreigners with their first names. However, if you are addressing Thai people, use the term ‘Khun’.

As far as the business cards are concerned, they are usually given with the right hand after greeting and handshaking. You should give the card to the most senior person. One side of your card should be written in Thai so that it becomes easier for them to understand. In some of the Asian countries, it is considered as a respectful gesture to give comments after seeing the card.

Meetings and Negotiations

Here mentioned are few tips for meetings and negotiations when opening a business in Thailand.

  • The meeting has to be scheduled one month in advance
  • A list of the names of those attending the meeting has to be sent so that the Thais get to know who will be attending and what their status is and they can manage accordingly
  • Arriving at the meeting destination on time is highly appreciated
  • Remain standing until and unless you are being asked to sit. The social hierarchical culture in Thailand is very much conservative and strict. They are very much concerned about ranks and positions
  • The written presentations have to be done both in English and Thai
  • Be patient…your patience would be tested surely as things move in its own pace
  • Thais are calm and expect you to be so as well

As far as the negotiations are concerned, here are few things to do:

  • When you are negotiating with Thai counterparts while conducting business, it is essential to be mindful of the importance of personal relations.
  • Take time to build relations with your potential clients and do not settle for a premature business topic. Allow others to understand what your company is all about. Give them in writing about your products, services, and your business goals.
  • Keep in mind about the communication style which means you have to be careful about the indirect nature of communication that the Thais prefer.
  • Discussions can be a prolonged affair.

How Thai Culture Influences Management Aspects?

Now we will discuss the management aspect of a business. The first interaction usually serves the purpose of building relations and rapport. The final decision is made only after a lot of debates and discussions at different levels. A small conversation is highly appreciated before directly jumping into negotiations. The connection, status, and power play the primary role than the subject matter in discussions. The Thais willingly accept offers from foreign business owners because of their strong business network and connections. Thais are extremely courteous and they do not reject offers directly. They try to remain courteous by giving vague answers. Therefore, if you are setting up a business in Thailandyou have to be polite and maintain a subtle attitude especially when they give you negative responses.  The delicate discussions are usually held by senior managers. Do not interrupt the Thais when they are speaking. Do not put your hands inside the pocket and do not wave your hand when talking to the Thais. Waving hand is a sign that you are angry.

The Thai culture, food, and traditions are quite different from western countries. Therefore, if you are opening a business in Thailand, make sure that you are completely aware of their culture, religion, and their beliefs so that you can initiate good relations with the people of Thailand and attract a huge client base for your business.

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Andy Aditya

As Business Startup Specialist, Andy is often hired as a Virtual Director/Consultant to assist Business Owners in Thailand. For total business information and consulting for doing business in Thailand - Pls check - startupinthailand.com
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