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Are you currently doing business in Thailand, or planning to in the near future? Consider this…

* Thailand’s GDP increased by 7.8 percent in 2010, and it was the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia.

* Thailand has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world. The unemployment rate was less than 1 percent in 2011.

* Major industries are tourism (6 percent of GDP), agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, textiles and garments, cement, electrical appliances, computers and parts, automobiles and automotive parts manufacturing.

* Thailand is one of the top motor vehicle-producing countries in the world. They produced 1.6 million vehicles and ranked 13th in the world in this industry in 2010. In addition, they are the world’s top 3 tungsten and tin producer.

* Thailand is one of the world’s top rice and shrimp exporters.

* The official language here is Thai, but Chinese, Lao, Khmer, and Malay are also spoken. Ethnic groups consist of 75 percent Thai, 14 percent Chinese origin, and 3 percent Malay.

* Ninety-five percent of the population is Buddhist, and this influences basic perceptions and behaviors among Thai.

With an expanding economy and interesting culture, Thailand is attractive to foreign businesses. However, Thailand has many social and cultural differences compared to the United States. Here are some pointers for successful business relationships!

Important tips

  • Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and the royal family is extremely respected for providing strong leadership. Never gossip about or criticize the royal family. Businesspeople should use the most respectable terminologies when they talk about the king.
  • The traditional and common Thai greeting is to say wai. Put your palms together and keep your arms and elbows near your body. Bow your head until your head touches your fingers. The height of your hands shows the level of your respect to your counterpart. Do not wai children.
  • Do not shake hands when you meet a monk; give a verbal greeting instead. Do not touch monks of the opposite gender. If a monk is a male and you are a female, you are not supposed to give something to that monk directly. Put an object in front of him or ask a male to give him the object directly instead.
  • Job title and rank are important for Thai. Address people with their title and their last names. “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” or “Miss” in Thai is Khun, so, if you don’t know a specific title, you should address Chatichai Akkarat as Khun Akkarat.
  • If close friends are the same gender, they may touch or hold hands with one another. However, it is not allowed for those of the opposite sex to show their affection in public.
  • Do not touch people’s heads, because the head is considered to be a sacred part. In addition, do not pat people on the back or shoulders.
  • Pointing your foot toward people is extremely rude. In addition, don’t cross your legs in front of your elders.
  • Don’t open gifts in front of the giver. If you are invited to someone’s house, don’t bring carnations or marigolds because these flowers are related to funerals.


  • Bangkok has serious traffic with heavy rain. This prevents people from making more than two business appointments per day. Many businesspeople conduct business using their cell phones or laptops while they are on the move.
  • Thai are usually on vacations during April and May. The best time to visit is between November and March.
  • When going to a business meeting, be on time and be prepared to wait patiently.
  • When you set up a meeting, try to write a letter first and use a contact who can refer you to your counterpart.


  • Thai often have the first meeting over lunch or drinks. Do not discuss topics related to your business at this time.
  • The country’s society is based on hierarchy; negotiation processes are slow because it takes time to reach the top management. Also, Thai have more relaxed schedules than other countries. Be patient about meeting your goal.
  • Thai never say “no” directly. If they make excuses or they tell you that they need time to confer with their executive levels, that means “no.” In addition, do not be too opinionated; such directness is rude.
  • If a Thai starts laughing without any reason during a meeting, it means the person wants to change the topic.
  • Having a business card printed in Thai on the opposite side is a plus.


  • Take a small group to a fancy restaurant in an outstanding hotel. For a large group, buffet-style settings are preferred. Always invite the spouses of your Thai counterparts.
  • Thai meals usually consist of rice (khao in Thai) served with complementary dishes. Thai are accustomed to ordering more dishes than the numbers of guests at the table. The food is shared with all of the guests.
  • Eat meals with both your spoon and fork. Do not cut food with forks; use the side of your spoon instead. Keep your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left.
  • Having the last bit of food is an honor. Do not take the last portion until it is offered to you. It is polite to refuse the first offer and then accept.
  • Drink tea or beer with food. Only drink water that you have seen poured directly from a freshly opened bottle.
  • It is customary to smoke after dinner, but do not start lighting up. Always pass tobacco to men around your table. Traditionally Thai women do not smoke or drink alcoholic beverages in public, but Western women will not cause a fuss if they do so.

For your business document translation needs in Thailand, contact McElroy Translation. Visit our website to learn more about how we can help you and your company become successful in your international business ventures.

Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation.

Published - July 2012

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