Thailand Business Etiquette

ยินดีต้อนรับสู่ประเทศไทย (“Welcome to Thailand” in Thai)

Many people still refer to Thailand by its antiquated name, Siam. This is, after all, the etymology of many popular linguistic terms such as “Siamese twins.” The original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, were conjoined twins who hailed from the country formerly known as Siam. Because of this, “Siamese twins” has become a common colloquialism used to refer to conjoined twins.     

But Thailand is more than just the home of famous Siamese twins. Thailand is a stronghold of Buddhism, and is a newly industrialized country; its major sectors are agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism. 

Before you jet off to Thailand, let’s first learn about the dos and don’ts of Thai business etiquette.

The Lowdown

  • The capital of Thailand is Bangkok, which is also its largest city.
  • Thailand is a constitutional monarch under military junta, which is akin to a dictatorship. The ruling monarch is Bhumibol Adulyadej.
  • About 75-85% of Thailand identifies ethnically as Thai, and some citizens are Thai Chinese.
  • The official language of Thailand is Thai.
  • About 95% of Thai people are Buddhists.
  • Fun fact: Thailand was known as Siam until 1939. Siamese cats are native to Siam/Thailand, which is how they got their name.

Dressing Sharp

  • Clothing is conservative in Thailand, but your Thai party will expect you to have fine, presentable accessories.
  • Men should wear: a conservative, dark suit or jacket.
  • Women should wear: a modest, dark suit, dress, or skirt. Because it is a warm climate, stockings are not necessary.
  • Check with your Thai host to see if they have a different business dress code than expected.
  • When entering a Thai household, check to see if they are wearing shoes. If not, it is customary to remove your own shoes as well upon entering the household.

Make or Break Meetings

  • Punctuality is important – be on time and keep meetings!
  • Meetings are usually made a month in advance.
  • The Thai respect their elders, so greet the oldest person in the room first.
  • Greet Thai business contacts with proper titles and names.
  • Business cards are exchanged at the initial meeting. It is wise to have one side of your card printed in English and the other side printed in Thai. Present cards to the most senior individuals in the room first, and comment on the quality of the Thai party’s cards. Treat business cards with respect – they are very symbolic.
  • Stand until you are told when and where to sit.
  • Respect and courtesy and big tenets of Thai business culture.

Dining Decorum

  • Business meals may be eaten in a restaurant or in a Thai’s home. Meals are usually buffet-style.
  • Punctuality is important for social gatherings, just as in business gatherings. Arrive on time to dinner.
  • You may eat as soon as your plate is full.
  • Leave some food on your plate to indicate you are no longer hungry, but do not leave rice. This is considered wasteful as rice is a Thai staple.
  • This should probably go without saying, but don’t lick your fingers.
  • The main eating utensils are fork and spoon, but it will be useful to learn how to use chopsticks as some foods are eaten with these.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gift giving is not necessary, but is appreciated if you are invited to a Thai’s home.
  • Acceptable gifts include: chocolate, fruit, or flowers.
  • Gift appearance is very important in Thailand. Festivity is appreciated! However, it is a good idea to stick to gold and yellow wrapping paper so as not to invoke the wrong connotation with coloring.
  • Gifts are not typically opened upon receipt. 

Down to Business

  • Thailand is not a direct culture. You may have to look for body language clues to see if the real negotiation answer is going to be “no.”
  • Thai communication is very formal and the Thai will analyze your body language to see how you are feeling about the meetings.
  • Provide an agenda and a factual presentation to give your Thai business connections. They may need sufficient time to digest the numbers before making a decision.
  • The Thai prefer to do business with people they know and respect, so it may take several meetings to establish a stable relationship.
  • Business in Thailand is hierarchical, so presentations should be given to top executives and decisions, in turn, will ultimately be made by top executives. The Thai also respect rank and revere the eldest in the room.

Now that you're well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Thailand, don't forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! 

ลา ("Goodbye" in Thai)