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Understanding Business Etiquette

Whether you're working for a multinational corporation in Bangkok, or teaching scuba diving in Koh Tao, it pays to be mindful of the local business customs in Thailand.

Thai business has an emphasis on relationships and values seniority and tradition – it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with this to be successful in your career or investments. Particularly in more recent years, you may also find your welcome is lacking in warmth if you fail to acknowledge and respect local customs and values.

Respect for age

Age demands respect in business culture in Thailand: senior managers of a company hold a patriarchal role – issuing orders, having the final say on decisions, and expecting obedience. For many expatriates, this will be a different way of working, particularly if you’re accustomed to business esteem being as a result of initiative or making independent decisions. You may also find that promotions tend to be rewarded to those who have maintained their position for a number of years, as opposed to excelling in their role.

Dressing smartly

Credence is also granted to the well-presented business person. It is important to dress smartly and appropriately.

Cultivate business relationships

Relationships are highly valued, carefully cultivated, and judiciously guarded in Thailand business culture. Until a rapport has been established, it can be considered bad manners to jump straight into negotiations or deals. You may also find that any mistakes you make with peers, will not be pointed out so as not to cause embarrassment. If you’re able to, say yes to invitations to social engagements and networking opportunities.

Greetings and introductions

Though expatriates may find that they’re offered a handshake, the wai is the traditional form of greeting in Thailand. Custom dictates that the wai is initiated by a person of lower status to a person of higher status. The palms are held together at chest height, with the fingers pointing up, before a small bow is executed. As an expatriate, you are unlikely to be considered rude if you do not initiate a wai, but if you find yourself greeted with one, make sure you return the gesture. The exception to this is when it is not customary to return a wai to people perceived as being lower status – for example hotel staff. In these situations, responding with a nod is sufficient

It is customary for the person of lower status in a business context to be introduced before their senior, for example a secretary would be introduced before their manager. Address people by their formal title and their first name. The use of last names in this context is new, and surnames may be difficult to pronounce.

Family values

Family values are very strong in Thailand. Even to staunch business people, family comes first and is a matter of pride. You will likely find that outside the relatively strict business mores, the Thai people are loyal, fun-loving, and welcoming.


In business culture in Thailand, it’s not uncommon for gifts to be given and received, though it is not necessarily expected. If you are given a gift in a business environment, remember not to open it in front of the giver unless you are expressly given permission.

Final tips

  • Avoid making comments or showing any form of disrespect for Thai Royalty.
  • Invest in some good quality business cards. Make sure you give and receive cards with the right hand, that the host initiates any such exchange, and that you offer your card first to the most senior member present.
  • Bangkok is renowned for its extreme traffic, but avoid using this as an excuse for lateness and always let your colleagues know if you’re running late.
  • When entering homes or temples, it is customary to remove your shoes.  Look out for a picture of the Buddha or a place to leave shoes – this may be the case in some offices too.
  • Avoid putting your feet on tables, pointing your feet at people, or touching your feet in public.

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