One of the unique aspects of Thailand’s business culture is the fact that it bears resemblances to those of many other countries across Southeast Asia even though it was never colonized. That said not being colonized means that it’s business culture has not been as influenced by Western Culture. Though some traits the business culture shares with nearby countries are honor, a strict hierarchy, courtesy, and collectivism.
The business culture uses what is called ‘Sanuk’, which is a name for the effort put into achieving satisfaction in what one does and to make the most out of any situation. ‘Mai Pen Rai’ means “never mind,” and is a local expression which characterizes the attention or focuses on life and the approach to business. Which means that when Thais are being hard-working and productive, they are also happy.
What Should be Avoided?
Generally, westerners doing business or seeking to do business in Thailand should avoid passing negative comments about the King or the country. Some times these comments can lead to legal action. Plus, all images of the royal family need to be respected.
Thais have great respect for Buddha, and so it should be respected. For instance, never point your feet towards a Buddha statue or deface any image or a statue for the matter.
A person’s head is sacred in Thailand. Passing things over a person’s head is considered offensive. Also because the feet are considered dirty, it shouldn’t be used to point at things.
All appointments for formal business meetings like in the west are made in advance with an invitation which is then followed up by a personal call. However, you should always reconfirm the meeting a day before it is due. Also, keep in mind that owing to the difficulty associated with traveling across most large cities, foreigners shouldn’t schedule more than two meetings in one day.
Ideally, the best time to schedule a meeting is anytime between June and March since most people in Thailand are on holiday in April and May which are designated Buddhist holidays.
Managing Your Time
Meetings are usually held on time and foreigners are expected to arrive on time. However, traffic delays can end up pushing the time back in most cases. So, if you are running late or think you might be late it is common courtesy to call and inform the person you’re meeting with in advance. Another thing to bear in mind is that meetings in Thailand’s business world are never timed and so they can run for a pretty long time or as long as needed.
Formal Dress Code
Business attire in Thailand isn’t strictly formal yet wearing a suitable outfit to show you are serious is essential. In most cases a suit and tie are appropriate. You can wear a jacket too especially for higher level meetings. Women should wear long trousers or a long skirt which covers their knees. In most offices like in homes shoes have to be taken off which is why it is best to wear slip-on shoes.
Finally, always make sure that all marketing and business materials are in Thai. If required hire a native Thai translator to make sure everything is culturally as well as linguistically aligned.