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Can you run a successful business in Thailand?

The one conversation that trumps even that of the difficulties with getting a Thai Visa is making money in Thailand. It seems everyone who lands in Thailand is all of a sudden an expert in business and economics even if they’ve never been to Thailand or started a business before. Though for most people it’s just a pipe dream, 1,000’s of expats start up businesses in Thailand all the time, most fail miserably.
Can you run a successful business in ThailandA good friend of mine likes to say “The only way to make a small fortune in Thailand is to bring a large fortune with you”. While the newbies are all full of optimism as if Thailand is the new gold rush and anything you do will turn to gold soon get brought to reality when their small coffee shop on the outskirts of town runs out of money shortly after their beer bar wife returns to beach road.

I do know dozens of guys that actually do make good money 100,000 baht plus per month in Thailand and some even clear more than a million baht. The truth is those people actually brought in millions of dollars in order to clear a million baht a month.
[ad#Make Money]While I didn’t do a survey or anything scientific there are certain characteristics of those people that I do know that have succeeded in Business in Thailand.

  • They have previous business experience.
  • They own the property/building.
  • They have the means.

The first point here having previous business experience is what I’m talking about. If you’ve never owned or run a bar before then your chances of succeeding are about 1 in 1000. If you’ve never owned or run coffee shop before your chances of lasting more than a year in business are about 1 in 100,000.

Secondly if you own the building you’re protecting you’re own investment. Let’s say you rent a shop house, the business does well, the owner sees this and puts up the rent so now you’re making nothing. You can’t move the business you’ll have to start all over again and all the fittings would have to be changed. Whereas if you own the building, whatever you put into the building you still own if the business falls over. When you sell you can sell everything. If you move out after renting you pretty much lose everything. Any appreciation in the building/land that occurs while you own it could help offset any losses that you occurred on running the actual business.

Finally while you don’t need a million dollars to start up a successful business in Thailand you will need to be flushed with some cold hard cash. The following list shows you what you’ll need if you want to follow the successful business guys in Thailand.

50,000 baht investment = Noodle Cart

4,000,000 baht investment = Coffee Shop

8,000,000 baht investment = Restaurant

If you’re lucky enough to make those businesses work here’s what you’re likely to end up with at the end of the month

Noodle Cart = 10,000 per/month

Coffee Shop = 30,000 per/month

Restaurant = 60,000 per/month[ad#Google Horizontal] When someone in Thailand tells you that they don’t make any money from their business in Thailand, really they mean they lose money every month.

If you can get a loan for half the amount of the building you could probably wipe 2,000,000 baht off those figures for investment but you honestly shouldn’t go into the business if you can’t buy the building outright as you’ll lose way more money unless you need that 2,000,000 baht to see you through the crucial first 3 years of business. Assumed building costs 4,000,000 million.

As you can see that simply buying a noodle cart and making that work can make you a 6th of what a restaurant could potentially make but the restaurant would cost you more than 100 times what a noodle cart costs!

Remember in the beginning of this article I mentioned that only a few dozen people that I know run a successful business in Thailand. But there are thousands of guys I’ve met that live in Thailand from running their business from their laptop. And that’s where the easiest money in Thailand and you don’t need to invest millions of baht in order to make a paltry 60,000 baht a month.

Those guys who are running successful businesses in Thailand I take my hat off to them because I know all too well how difficult it is. Would I ever want to run my own business in Thailand? Maybe later, but a business in Thailand would require me to stay in one place for a long time, i’m not ready to commit to that just yet.

If I were to start a business in Thailand it would probably be a Short time hotel or Karaoke club what about you?


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About Chris

Chris founded Living Thai and author of the books Learn the The Thai Alphabet and How to make money in Thailand also the Blueprint for Living in Thailand. Chris started this blog with the aim of educating westerners on how to have the best time in Thailand, to make new friends and to vent his frustrations Chris is also fluent in both written and spoken Thai.

18 Responses to Can you run a successful business in Thailand?

  1. jeremy2507 April 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    steel Fabricating business, specializing in the Steel Gate security systems that you see on all the Town houses/Houses/Apartments in Bangkok

    • Chris April 12, 2013 at 3:53 am #

      Security is big in Thailand this is a good idea.

    • Ryan March 9, 2014 at 5:57 am #

      Hi Jeremy,

      Interesting comment, I’m a engineering tradesperson\diploma in mechatronics from Australia interested in starting a fabrication business in Thailand.
      If your interested in sharing ideas please send me a email, cheers.

  2. David April 11, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    I would love to setup a manufacturing business making a product that I can wholesale to USA/Europe/Japan etc… maybe high end leather bags or something high end. basically, exploit the benefits of hailand, low cost/ higher qualit Mfg

  3. Leo April 11, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    I would never start a karaoke bar or short time hotel or anything of that nature because I feel like I would likely start having to pay off the mafia or the police in order to stay open and basically they would take all my profits… Or not pay them and mysteriously have an accident on my way up to doi suthep. I definitely wouldn’t start a restaurant either because food is just way too cheap to make any kind of money in Thailand. However, I do have an idea to start a hamburger cart and setup near the farang bars late at night to cater to drunk farangs willing to pay for overpriced hamburgers and hotdogs and pizza. And if it fails, well I would eat all the food to offset the cost.

    • Chris April 12, 2013 at 3:52 am #

      Nothing illegal about a short time hotel so no reason to pay, but as for Karaoke yeah I’d have to pay 100,000 plus in chiang mai to keep it open, but these places bring in millions. Hamburger cart, that’s more like a hobby don’t you think?

  4. jefke April 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    I would open a donut shop with nicely decorated motorcycles that would go to sell donuts around the city.

  5. jack April 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    vaginal whitening cream salesman door to door..

  6. David April 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Is that 100,000b a month in fees? That’s. a lot
    Is that o the police, mafia, or both?

    • Chris April 14, 2013 at 6:03 am #

      same thing isn’t it?

  7. jefke April 14, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    If you want to set up a successful business you’ve to do like the Thai do. Copy them. Look at which business is most successful in the area or neighbouring areas (and that is missing in your area). If you want to know which businesses are doing well, look at the wealth of the owner (where do their children study?). Look for a very good location (Location is directly related to success). Look for a reliable Thai partner. I actually believe that setting up a business in Thailand is easier (for Thai people) that it is for us to set up a business in Europe/USA/Australia. I see many farang have too many great ideas and create new businesses that Thai people have no need for. You need a Thai partner because as a farang there is a lot of knowledge you don’t have (just facts, but also cultural knowledge). Also, looking at pricing you’ve to go either cheap, or very expensive. Intial investment is important, if you don’t invest you’ll not stick out, people will not notice you. You need a smart, well spoken sales person or manager (go for someone with a university degree, it’s worth it). We set up a business here that is much successful than we expected. We took over a 50 years old business at a very good location and completely renovated it and changed the product that they sold (not donuts, that was just a joke). The return on investment is very good.

  8. Bam April 14, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    jefke

    Well,you are smart thinking farang. I was really smile for those farang just made a joke. I know that but it funny. I like it.

    Take Care!

  9. Tom April 16, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    I started a new business near Udon 7 years ago i built a brand new gas station the first few years was good, in my area there was only me selling, but the local thai’s saw I was busy and making money so 1 after 1 small gas stations was popping up everywhere near me so now my business is no good,but there is only the same amount of cars and motorbikes in my area as before but now have many gas station so no one is making money, the same with car care you make one the thai’s make one they see a falang have idea they copy then have so many of the same business no one can make money. ???????

    • Chris April 16, 2013 at 9:39 am #

      The problem is not competition but really the local government. You’ll see in Chiang Mai no new gas stations are being built in fact it’s the opposite they are getting closed down. It’s my assumption that the owners of the gas statinos have someone in the local government blocking anyone opening up a new one. Something you could have prevented had you known the future. Unfortunately it’s too late now. Sorry to hear bro. (btw i don’t think it’s the fact that your a farang)

  10. Brad April 16, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    Married to a Thai? Prepared to do a bit of physical work? … Buy up a house that the bank has foreclosed on (read: cheap!), hence the need for a Thai wife. Register this house as your address (read: no capital gains). Apply a western eye to the property and renovate the house and garden. Sell at a profit. Just look around you how little effort the Thai’s put into making their property look nice. Simply a decent clean and paint job, pull out the weeds and put in plants, etc… Thailand is a goldmine for the renovator, but as I said before physical work must be done.

    • Chris April 16, 2013 at 10:58 am #

      Not married, don’t like physical work, but this is a good idea for those who can.

  11. myluckythai October 11, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    moneylending, take chanut’s in return for a loan at 3 % a month if you know how and what paperwork is involved. highly illegal in my homecountry in this form, but highly profitable over here. stay away frommafia infested area’s though!

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