Business etiquette in Thailand

Hello everybody,

As you know, professional habits may differ from one country to another. In order to help newly arrived expats better understand their new professional environment in Thailand, we warmly encourage you to share information and insights about the do’s and don’ts in the workplace.

For instance, are there office manners? How do you greet your co-workers? Do you greet your management differently? Is there a dress code? Particular rules to observe? Maybe a professional body language?

On another level, what is key for a successful professional meeting? Are there any steps to follow? How do you a start a negotiation?

In other words, what are the most important things to know for a successful professional integration in Thailand?

Thank you in advance for sharing your experience!


In my experience Thais have a tendency of 'pulling the wool' to put off/not achieving all the specified tasks on time & over budget. My response after allowing my Thai wife to take the lead (she can be to kind at times), funny how stuff gets done immediately when money is involved or on the line. End of the story is the various defects were sorted the day after (our meeting) when these people had been notified 2 weeks prior. I let my wife take charge of the meeting but also observed their (managements) certain body language, so after sitting outside the particular office I entered - let them know there was not way out if they wanted the sale finalised, in 2 days.
I literally hit the roof, I don't think this pair had ever encountered a westerner intent on getting the task achieved (especially with project management experience) on time to reasonable level of finalised tasks/competency. Oh yeah I'm 6'5" and about 120Kg then so they took notice. the project went 3 months over due. But was realistically never going to be done on time - my set up for an argument for "why have you cost me money"?
Do not allow these people to continuously bullshit, they thrive on it and also make money on it or it's just blatant ignorance, stupidity and incompetence. Either way if you're paying for something get your pound of flesh, no questions strait down the line. No equivocation of the old 'Thainess' which I find flat out annoying.
Finally be belligerent as they don't mind behaving in such fashion at all, raise you voice to the point of shouting so they get it into their thick heads - get the f#*king job done. Many minor stuff ups with my place but majors next door - cracked slabs and alike.
They know all to well when they've stuffed up - so they can fix it (NOW)!!!
The whole building site (village) has been built the same way, my place is alright though. But they've been through 3 teams of Cambodians who I find are lovely hard working people. Always have an excuse to save face.

-NEVER lose or even show your temper, just never.
-Many Thai answer you with no answer at all.  Submit a proposal to your boss, if he does not like it, you will hear NO response.... just a vacuum.
-Never bring two workers together to solve their disliking each other.
-Work thru a Thai intermediary;  do not announce stuff or orders yourself.
Good luck.

I wouldn't want to say anything Negative about the Thai workers. Or anything in Thailand.

Interesting thoughts, how much business have you done in Thailand? What you state is common thought process, facts are different. Thais are no different to anyone else; if you piss me off, you are going to find out. Facts are if you try and take the piss, and get away with it - this becomes learned behaviour: I guarantee you it f%#king stopped with me. I live in one of the best finished of homes in 'our' village with a free complete split air-con thrown in; I didn't mention nobody lost face but they were definitely told - they learned that farang will not go quietly and not get their pound of flesh. Give me what I'm paying for (get it right) & finish it on time. I still say hello to these people often, you must learn the fine line.

I haven't done any business, only remodeling are condo, and I can't say anything nice about that experence, I don't dare go into detail, as I just got off of a suspension, for being to negative about thailand.

Please do, see the thing is 'we' as westerners are brought up (raised) to believe SE Asians lie all the time (it's crap); this is the first misnomer - they don't. My Thai wife is pretty straight down the line; every once in a while she turns it on, no body including me is perfect. Don't pay till the work is TOTALLY DONE: every single bit, if it's not right tell them to pull it apart and start again. Take no prisoners - they don't procrastinate further and will respect you more for it. Go on what have you got to loose tell me more about the condo. Always pay later, money is king 'here'

Mike, they don't show up for work, there must be more holidays in Thailand than any other country in the world, when they do show, they are late & they leave early. They don't do any clean up, they do there cutting right in the rooms, not taping or hanging plastic. They come with different crew members everyday, some of them are good workers, some of them are not. Im starting to believe this is the Norm for Thailand. Our condo swimming pool is be repaired the 2nd time in 3 years, they drain the pool repair & fill it up with out any consideration for knowing that we are in a severe drought. I enjoying swimming everyday, but it concerns me how easy it is to waste water without a thought.

Hi everybody,

Maybe we can discuss more about the dress code in Thailande ( if any ) or share our opinion about what is key for a successful professional meeting and the steps to follow as well. :)

Thank you,

Priscilla  :cheers:

Sorry I got off the Question. I was only answering his questions.

Yep, I hearing you. The only advice I can give you is don't talk (or give direction) to the 'workers' as such, you must go to the principle and throw down (make him look a bit second rate as required). I've heard all the horror stories here and do not take a backward step generally the people of any education understand English far better than they'll let on. Do not accept shit jobs, late for work, not showing up and all the rest of the crap they pull (walking around in circles) - I'm assure you I hit the f#*king roof; and they all took two steps back then put their heads down and went and completed the set tasks immediately. Don't be taken for a fool - if you can't get Thais to work for you, perhaps you are doing something drastically wrong? One of my best mates runs a big project management firm out of BKK working with Siam Cement and alike (yes this culture can be infuriating but these tasks can be completed) who experienced similar problems; I guarantee you there are ways and means around everything. No completed task = no money - strait up no equivocations. And buy them a box of beer of Friday (positive reinforcement) < no big deal. Treat others as you like to be treated yourself, in amongst all this you'll find a positive answer. The workers on the building site near me do things for me without even being asked, I treat everyone well say hello each time I see them (generally walking the dog - who are Cambodian's + Thais ) in Thai/English and am generally pleasant - it goes a long way. Happy medium. Stay positive - Chok dee

Depends on the task, your role and your area of expertise, I find pretty much everything here to be the same as the west; If I'm a customer I'll show up in shorts and a tee shirt, I've got nothing to prove except pay money and take away the goods I payed for, for example cars, houses. no one to impress??
A different scenario would be an office environment, of business deal - exactly the same as the west; pants, jacket and tie would be appropriate.
I don't really understand your question to be realistic. Perhaps common sense prevails - nothing common about that here?

Mike, Good advice.  Thanks.

Eleven yrs here............ Thai standard response to a tight situation is to lie or shade truth;  with a lax situation, Thai standard response is to lie or make up something, correct or not.

This is a cultural norm;  it is not a negative against Thai.  It just happens.  Be ready and never lose your temper.

Just be polite at all times. It will be observed and appreciated and somebody that is Thai will be happy to guide you. Though just being polite (&humble) will work very well. Bon voyage.

Yes and no, depends on who you are dealing with perhaps a concrete guarantee (you speak of)& once you've or they've left the concrete:- I don't entirely agree with your view. But in the same breath I have witnessed this type of behaviour. I'm trying to show my belief that all Thais are not that way inclined and have had many instances where your generalisations are false. There is a happy medium it must be said; but the old situation is: bad experience tell 10 people, good experience tell 2. Thai or Westerner, just human beings who aren't that different the truth be known, some are dishonest some are not. Chok Dee 'my friend'

Ok Mike have it your way. It's always easy to be right. I will do what I have to get the job finished, then sell the condo & am out of this country.  Good Luck to You.

I mean no smart arse/condescending remarks to you; where is the condo you speak of? If you want it finished, I maybe able to assist you (but costs to me will be incurred). I have weekly conversations with mates how infuriating this place can be, make no mistake. I'm not sure where you are from originally, facts are I live in Thailand permanently (in a new home of 12 months 'now') and I still have ongoing issues fixed free of charge - here and there, which have been very few.
I just get the job done, no bullshit, no f&#king around; but I also understand the culture well (MY WAY WORKS) - these people can see through your sole. So if you think you are better, they'll sort you right out quick smart, is what I've learned over a decade or so. Thais will take great pride in making your life difficult as well as fleecing - if you behave 'inappropriately' which I might add I've never experienced here (my current location). Half the place knows me by name, I've no idea but it comes down to behaviour.
My wife is also a government employee = statice.
Furthermore I got A's in accounting and every single business I've researched, comes back with exactly the same profit margins (it's truly scary) - so if you think you'll make bulk money in Thailand good luck. I did know a bloke in Pattaya doing he condo thing, who was strange to say the least, and wouldn't trust anything he said.
I think your learning curve is about to steepen - good luck & may the force be with you.

Mike we are in Nonthaburi, we will be selling the condo to my wife's sister, the floors are finished, the painting & stone work needs to be finished. The workers have not come back to work since the water festival, we are now talking to another company to finish the job. It will get done, it's just my Patience is all but gone. We are both in are 60's my wife was a ICU Nurse for 40 years in San Francisco, I was a chef, had my own business. We are use to having people show up on time, do 8 hours of work or more, come back the next day on time, & continue till the job is done.  We had a home for 24 years & we never had any problems with workers. The Thai way of working is just not for us. We are returning to Oregon in 2017 to live out are retirement days, when it snows we will do some traveling in other parts of the world, & when we get to old to travel we will move somewhere else. This is are plan for now. There just isn't any Quality of life here for us. Take Care & Thank You for your offer.  Patrick

Calif4you.......  Glad to hear u are leaving Thailand.  Tell everyone of your bad experiences and do whatever you can to prevent/discourage Westerners, especially Americans, from even thinking of LIVING here.   Visit, definitely.   Reside, never.

Why are you being so mean? I would never tell stories about Thailand, I still have a Love for Thailand, but I don't want to live here 12 months out of the year. To each his own.

Funny how this discussion has went, more about problems with Thai construction contractors than business environment issues in Thailand.  Back to a bit more about the original question, though.  It seems to assume that there is one standard that applies to both Thai people and Westerners, one consistent context, although it doesn't say that.  Thais wouldn't necessarily expect a foreigner to observe all their cultural practices, but then they also might not be familiar with all the differences, which leads back to the point, their expectations.

Authority is different in Thailand; people defer to it more.  Communication is different in Thailand; it's a bit less open, so that just saying exactly what you  think in a lot of circumstances would seem strange, never mind getting upset about something, or blaming someone directly, which isn't as touchy as showing a temper but not good form either.  It's not like Japan where people are going to be ultra reserved, and only say exactly what people expect them to say, in a lot of circumstances, based on fairly rigid culture-defined roles, but it's in between a more open and direct Western approach and that.  It's hard to explain what the degree of restriction is, and which aspects it relates most to, but best to err on the side of being cautious in terms of what is communicated until one gets a feel for how it would normally go.

Timetables and deadlines are seen differently.  It's normal to be late for everything, and normal for deadlines to not be met.  Planning is often such that something planned for weeks away isn't started until days before a deadline, which is part of that timing slippage issue. 

Office dress varies by the specific context.  In general it's not different, dress pants and dress shirts are normal, but as in Western countries in different companies that tends to be relaxed.  For whatever reason in my own experience ties seemed to go by the wayside a few years ago, although for upper management or sales people jackets didn't.  I work in a certain type of company though, doing IT work, and in something like government circles they might not be so "trendy" as to have followed that.

There isn't much to know in terms of giving gifts, or other restrictions or observances, nothing unusual about meals, or drinking alcohol (or not).  Thais are generally flexible, although it might sound like I'm saying the opposite, and they get it that foreigners are foreign so unless someone was way off some norm it wouldn't seem unusual to them.  They have an odd way of mixing business and social circumstances, to me, so they appreciate it when someone seems to enjoy a business outing in a more social context.  In a different sense that would be equally true in the West, just in a different sense.  It's not like China, where they might expect you to get drunk, or else something went wrong, but passing on a meal or outing could seem more like a slight.

About wai-ing, the sort of bow they do, like the Indians do when they say "namaste," really a hands-only gesture that looks a little like the Christian prayer hand gesture, foreigners don't have to do that.  If you want to they don't see that as odd, or odd if you don't.  Getting it wrong if you do want to try it would seem odd to them, but the rules are simple.  You only wai to people that are senior to you first, not junior.  This is where the whole thing might break down a little because they won't expect it from a foreigner.  You don't wai to people like waitresses or taxi drivers, at all, although if they wai to you then you can wai back.  You don't do it more than once, like the way Japanese people might bow and bow; one quick go and it's over.  It might seem odd or symbolic the way people hold their hands at slightly different heights but it's as well to not read into that too much.  It does mean something to them but it's no big deal, just below the chin is fine in general.

Hey Pat,
No stress at all; it's a shame you rubbed shoulders with ill natured folk of Thailand - I've seen their style before too, I guarantee there are good people here too - generally with the task you required Cambodians/Myanmarians, who would have done better jobs in finishing the project; I've seen it first hand with the village I live in. Just like anywhere I guess, fact of the matter is as westerners 'farang' we are different and behave differently such as openly show our dissatisfaction and disrespect towards something/someone for obvious poor effort/experience. And are certainly treated differently by Thais who I find to be extremely xenophobic, which comes from the current Prime Ministers behaviour - and the Thainess 'positive' reinforcement; although the educated kind of Thais do not partake in this sort of behaviour at all.
I do hope you get the project completed to a satisfactory conclusion (at least reclaim some money's spent) don't let them beat you, but in some ways I certainly understand your frustration and being totally feed up with the whole race (IT'S NORMAL), I use to think 'they were just different' but now I believe its stupidity + manipulation and incapable of listening at all. All brought about from this crap called Thainess which is purely an excuse to do as little as possible using a dialect which cannot be understood by the client > use Thai, Essan/Cambodian, Khmer. There is no justifiable reason why else for change although they mostly know 0 English, but even if they can due to laziness they will not, with absurd justification why its your fault! Where I live the building crews show up early before 8 and work till around 5 - in my opinion thats a good days work especially in this heat. dumping the problematic company is the best thing you've done, when it suits them to come back for more work I suggest not taking the phone call period (if it happens): This SongKran crap is just a big excuse for prolonged Thai holiday, while pouring water down the drain and getting excessively pissed in the process; I don't like it and we actually left the country this year, it's very dangerous. I'm sorry to hear the Thai retirement plan attempt did not work out for you and your wife - they can be extremely selfish (which don't worry, shits me to death also).
On the other hand, I'm generally happy here and my funds go much further than my home country of Australia, being disable from 20 years ago TBI (+ epilepsy) unprovoked assault gives you a different perspective on the world. I recovered well (retrained Mech Engineer), then relapsed with the migraine issues - I believe involving epileptic auras?
My mother was a nurse in Australia: ICU,Dialysis,Coronary care,Diabetes Educator & the list continues; So I understand your wives role in the US. I'm sure between you, it was a well put together plan; all but for the x factor. Not all is lost yet. There could be also a possible opportunity for business restaurant ownership - for purely R&R, over there for visa? This could be a blessing in disguise.
If you are both (still) set on an SE Asian retirement spot; before you expend bulk cash returning home (US) spend a few weeks over the boarder in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I go there to get pain relief drugs (4 monthly) and really enjoy myself plus Cambodia actually like having westerners in their country (and speak English) it will be the next holiday hot spot - Thailand is nearly stuffed (I have it on good authority) holidayer wise/taxation/economy/political unrest +++ - I hate immigration here, in fact will not go without my wife. China won't care for them at all, which the alignment isn't far away now. I really enjoy it over there and before you both fully crack the shits with SE Asia, perhaps just go over to Siem Reap for some down time after your unfortunate stressful situation in Thailand. I can guarantee you'll both very much enjoy yourselves - they truly are lovely people. You'll enjoy their food - you've got nothing to loose mate; work out the bus thing for cheap transport, 1000B return visa re-entry into Thailand (Ask if you'd like a full run down + driver to meet you). The behaviour you've described can be extremely draining and stressful, go and recharge your batteries fella. Chill out have a mojito or 3.
Best of luck & I wish you both well.

Mike, I really enjoyed your letter, Thank You for taking the time to write such a detailed response. I haven't given up on SE Asia yet, I was thinking about Chiang Rai, I found another Expat that has lived & worked in Thailand for 13 years, he is from the UK but he lived & worked in LA. California for 10 years, so he knows about the American Culture. He said he moved to Chiang Rai, because it is more peaceful place to live, but he works in Pattaya. I will take your advice & try out Cambodia. Who knows perhaps that will give me the escape am looking for.  It is going to be very expensive to live in California again. If we rent it will be 15-2000 dollars a month, & people are not really that nice, but we have a lot of friends there that will help us out. This is where I was born so it will be easy to live there. But I can't forget about my wife's family & how she feels about this move. I plan to keep my Retirement Visa active, because I don't know what the future will hold for us. And I expect to return to visit for 4 months a year. My wife's mom just passed away a few days ago she was 103 but not healthy, it was a Blesssing. Health care here is very scary, even if you go to a private hospital. My wife's brother is a General Surgeon, so we have a lot of connections, but it still scares the Shit out of me to think about getting sick & having to go to a hospital here, for me it's a death warrant, you can easily go for one thing & end up getting something else that kills you. Another reason to get back to the US. I would like to stay in touch with you, can we exchange E-Mails?    xxx   Take Care, Patrick

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Patrick, if you get sick here, run on over to Bumrungrad Hospital in BKK.  World class medicine.  No kidding.  The doctors there have kept me alive for a dozen years.

Regarding your idea of living here, and after reading several of your postings, I would say you are in a significant bind.  You have married a Thai woman (and her family of course).  That means that, in the very, very rare exception, you most likely have a woman who will grieve anytime away from her family, grieving that could unhinge her.   Taking an ordinary Thai woman away from her family even for half a year at a time, 99% likely seeds deep sadness or worst.  My opinion is that is actually cruel.  However, it is clear that you do not want to live here and apparently never will.

I wish, for your sake, you could fully and clearly articulate what you want--separate from wife--and then look honestly at that.  Running over to the most touristy place in Cambodia sounds silly, for example, so what do YOU want?  Then, what if that is fully at odds with what your wife can stand?

What a bind you have gotten yourself in.

Sorry, Patrick, I looked back and see your wife lived long time in America;  then why not just go live there?

Khnon, Thanks for your feedback, my wife is on board with the move, I would never hurt her by pulling her away from her family, I love her to much. However we will visit every year for 3-4 months. She is only close to 1 sister & 1 brother, out of 10 children. But one of her Nephews will be coming back to live with us & go to school for a few years. We would like to enjoy life while we are healthy, visit & travel with are friends.  But who knows what the future holds for us.  Take Care, Patrick

Good attitude...... good luck to Patrick and bride.

Hello everyone,

Just to point out that the topic here is "Business etiquette in Thailand".

Can we please get back to the topic now ?

Thank you in advance,

Reading through the etiquette on WAI the bow here in thailand I do that to anyone I think deserves it. Cleaners, taxis. If they do a good job if they get me from a 2 b fast with no fuss no "new routes" then I will wai to them, waiters chefs if they do a good job they get a WAI.  WAI not.

About waiing, it's not about someone deserving respect, it's about observing their tradition in the form they observe it.  What if you walked around shaking everyone's hand in a Western country, maids, taxi drivers, your waiter's, co-workers?  People would think you are crazy, not respectful.  In part it's a sign of respect, used as a greeting or in some capacities to express thanks, but as they use it only in limited circumstances for both.

Sounds like an odd system to me, taxi driver, CEO, Cleaner I would show gratitude where it's warranted not because someone is senior unless you mean older which of course it's a given, but I'm erring on the side which suggests senior means higher in authority in some way. I did read your post. If I'm in central London and a taxi driver uses the route I know is the quickest and the cheapest then I'm eternally grateful and will thank them. A waiter who makes your dining experience a pleasure is worthy of a handshake.

I was a waiter before and that shaking hands part didn't come up so often.  Thais are friendly, relatively flexible people and they really would take someone waiing to lots of the people they meet well, but they would see it as strange.  Their image of foreigners in general is a bit complex, largely positive in a lot of ways, but they also interpret lots of variations of culture as a bit "crazy" to them. 

They might not be completely aware of what seemed so odd if it was some expression located in context, but it's normal here for people to accept very different roles in society, and very clear levels of status, which simply doesn't exist in a similar form where I'm from originally, in the US.  That can take forms that seem quite odd or even inappropriate from an American perspective.  No one or even several examples would make it clear, but I'll mention a couple.  It's relatively normal for them to refer to service personnel as "boy" or "girl," of course in Thai, which Americans are really touchy about related to that same reference being connected to slavery in the past in the US.  In more formal settings--very formal settings--this can take the form of someone being positioned physically lower than others, which tends to come across oddly.  Related to taxi drivers, back to that example, it's normal to drop the respectful "krup" or "ka" sentence endings that don't really have a comparable meaning in English, closest to adding "sir," but not used in exactly the same way.

One might imagine how foreigners end up relating to these conventions; they stand outside them.  Foreigners aren't really expected to wai, unless they want to try it, or return it when someone wais to them.  It would make no sense to add "ka" or "krup" to English language sentences (ka used by women, krup by men).  Thais use smiling as a show of both friendliness and agreeableness, not just related to expressing happiness, so although it would seem normal to them if a foreigner seemed neutral, and even somewhat somber for expressing actual feelings, although it's normal for them to get used to smiling a lot. Thais never shake hands, unless they try to mimic Western customs, so it always comes across a little awkward when that comes up, but then that could be true in a different sense sometimes in the West.  The easiest way around all this would be to just use verbal expressions; if one feels thankful then just say thanks.

"No one or even several examples would make it clear, but I'll mention a couple.  It's relatively normal for them to refer to service personnel as "boy" or "girl," of course in Thai, which Americans are really touchy about related to that same reference being connected to slavery in the past in the US."

I heard of Pee Khap and Nong Khap?  Pee relates to an expression you call people older than you and Nong relates to people who are younger than you gender is irrelevent.  - but I not heard of the ones you mention which are gender based, nigh ( MALE) and Ter (FEMALE)  I think they sound like what you mention.

My spellings are not correct but phonetically they sound good I am advised.

Funny you mention the Krup because I only ever heard expats prenounce krup like that and it appears to me it is more accurate to say khaap or khap to get the correct sound a thai would make when using the same words. No offence to Thais but R is a hard one to prenounce for many hence it is virtually silent when I hear that word. ( khap referring to male)

That's it, they transliterate it as krup themselves (or krub; the consonants don't match perfectly either) but usually pronounce it more as kup.  It's odd there would be anything related to an "r" sound in the direct transliteration, but of course they do vary how that word is pronounced in different circumstances, and sometimes actually do say it as krup, although more commonly as kup.  I'm not fluent in Thai, I just hear a lot of it, so someone else could explain all that better.  When my aunt here, who is a Thai language instructor, tried to help me learn Thai she wanted me to only say "krup," which isn't what they say, but to her that was closer to being completely accurate.

I'd meant "nong," related to them calling service staff that, and it is gender neutral.  It can be hard to express some of these ideas in English without specifying both the basic idea and separately explaining that some things don't translate directly.  I suppose nong is actually closer to being translated as "younger sibling," but it can also be used in the sense of "child," since you can use it to designate some child that you have no relation to, and I was taking them to be using it that way. 

Maybe they really are calling out "younger brother / sister" instead.  I guess that would seem more respectful, related to a literal translation to English.  But that seems to be the whole point, that the associated context related to something like respectfulness tends to shift in translation, along with literal and figurative meaning.  It seems possible, maybe even likely, that they mean neither, that the correct figurative translation is closer to English use of "you."

Hi, I wanted to update this with some good info on this WAI and the WAI info I have learned today is not something that I or you should be doing to younger people. I have been doing this to everyone but today I was advised why it is not a good thing to do and superstituosly speaking it makes sense.

I am advised that you should not WAI anyone younger because if you do then superstituosly speaking thais believe if an elder Wais a younger then the younger will die young. Bit harsh I know but thais are very superstitious so from now on I advise you Not to wai to any younger person. Just saw kob khun khap (thanks) or sawadee khap (hello)

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