Your guide to expat life in Thailand

Working in Thailand

Thailand’s working environment is defined by its bustling capital and savvy business culture. The economy has continued to grow despite political unrest, attracting countless expats from all over the world.

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Doing business

If you want to succeed in business, you have to gain the respect of your Thai superiors and peers. The business environment is formal and sets great store on relationships, traditional national values and a willingness to invest.

Expats with funds to invest are welcomed with open arms. Also in demand are English teachers and people in the automotive, finance, agriculture, electronics and tourism industries.

You can’t work in Thailand without a valid work permit – and these are only issued to people who have secured a job on the current ‘permitted’ list, which should be available from your nearest Thai embassy or consulate. Thai companies are legally obliged to employ four Thai nationals for each expat. These requirements may limit your options.

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Business culture

You may find Thai businesspeople reserved at first, but you’ll quickly realise that working relationships are based on formality and mutual respect. Colleagues will assess your behaviour, no matter what your level of competence and expertise – and everything from the way you dress to your body language is important if you’re to be accepted.

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It’s vital to show respect to your superiors in rank and age. You should always be polite – your Thai colleagues won’t appreciate deprecatory remarks about the boss or an older staff member. You’ll also win respect if you’re humble when someone gives you a compliment.


Lateness, no matter how valid the excuse, isn’t tolerated by Thais in business. Meetings are set weeks in advance and appointments are kept to the minute.

Management style

Thais are deferential and polite to their managers and will never overtly confront or disagree with them. Thailand has a hierarchical society and managers usually focus more on the role of an individual employee rather than their personal problems. They also tend to be averse to change – so subtlety is key if you want to criticise or alter anything.

Fast facts

Business language

Thai is the official language, but English is widely spoken, especially in Bangkok. An interpreter may be needed in certain circumstances.

Hours of business

Usually from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, with an hour for lunch.

Business dress

Men wear conservative dark suits and ties in corporate environments, while a shirt, tie and trousers will do for more casual workplaces. Women can wear suits, dresses or blouses and skirts as long as they’re modest. Skirts and dresses should be at least knee length and shoulders should stay covered.


Handshakes are accepted, but the traditional Thai greeting is the wai. Press your palms together at chest height, fingers extended upwards, and give a slight bow. The wai is usually initiated by a person of lower status to a person of higher status and shouldn’t be used with secretaries and lowly clerks. Exchanging business cards at initial meetings is very important in Thai business culture. It’s polite to have a card with Thai on one side and English on the other. Use your right hand to present a card, with the appropriate side facing up.


While gifts aren’t expected, small tokens go a long way to building good relationships. Don’t open gifts in front of the giver unless you’re invited to do so.

Gender equality

Women are equal but underrepresented in the business world.

Expat salaries

Skilled expats can expect high salaries comparable to those back home. For unskilled positions, the pay is considerably lower than in countries like the USA or UK.

It can allow you to become more family centred. Enjoy the outdoor lifestyle. You'll find you're healthier, more privileged, more financially independent, and there'll be exciting personal business challenges ahead.

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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in October 2020. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

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