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Thailand

Executive Summary

Thailand is an upper middle-income country with a half-trillion-dollar economy, generally pro-investment policies, and well-developed infrastructure. General Prayut Chan-o-cha was elected by Parliament as Prime Minister on June 5, 2019. Thailand celebrated the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn May 4-6, 2019, formally returning a King to the Head of State of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Despite some political uncertainty, Thailand continues to encourage foreign direct investment as a means of promoting economic development, employment, and technology transfer. In recent decades, Thailand has been a major destination for foreign direct investment, and hundreds of U.S. companies have invested in Thailand successfully. Thailand continues to encourage investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment.

The Foreign Business Act (FBA) of 1999 governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. Many U.S. businesses also enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, signed in 1833 and updated in 1966. The Treaty allows U.S. citizens and U.S. majority-owned businesses incorporated in the United States or Thailand to maintain a majority shareholding or to wholly own a company or branch office located in Thailand, and engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies (national treatment). The Treaty exempts such U.S.-owned businesses from most FBA restrictions on foreign investment, although the Treaty excludes some types of businesses. Notwithstanding their Treaty rights, many U.S. investors choose to form joint ventures with Thai partners who hold a majority stake in the company, leveraging their partner’s knowledge of the Thai economy and local regulations.

The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages investment. Some investors have nonetheless expressed views that the framework is overly restrictive, with a lack of consistency and transparency in rulemaking and interpretation of law and regulations.

The Board of Investment (BOI), Thailand’s principal investment promotion authority, acts as a primary conduit for investors. BOI offers businesses assistance in navigating Thai regulations and provides investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors through straightforward application procedures. Investment incentives include both tax and non-tax privileges.

The Thai government is actively pursuing foreign investment related to clean energy, electric vehicles, and related industries. Thailand is currently developing a National Energy Plan that will supersede the current Alternative Energy Development Plan that sets a 20 percent target for renewable energy by 2037. Revised plans are expected to increase clean energy targets in line with the Prime Minister’s November 2021 announcement during COP26 that Thailand will increase its climate change targets, as well as domestic policies focused on sustainability, including the “Bio-Circular Green Economy” model.

The government passed laws on cybersecurity and personal data protection in 2019; as of March 2022, the cybersecurity law has been enforced while the personal data protection law is still in the process of drafting implementing regulations. The government unveiled in January 2021 a Made in Thailand (MiT) initiative that will set aside 60 percent of state procurement budget for locally made products. As of March 2022, Federation of Thai Industry registered 31,131 products that should benefits from the MiT initiative.

The government launched its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development plan in 2017. The EEC is a part of the “Thailand 4.0” economic development strategy introduced in 2016. Many planned infrastructure projects, including a high-speed train linking three airports, U-Tapao Airport commercialization, and Laem Chabang and Mab Ta Phut Port expansion, could provide opportunities for investments and sales of U.S. goods and services. In support of its “Thailand 4.0” strategy, the government offers incentives for investments in twelve targeted industries: next-generation automotive; intelligent electronics; advanced agriculture and biotechnology; food processing; tourism; advanced robotics and automation; digital technology; integrated aviation; medical hub and total healthcare services; biofuels/biochemical; defense manufacturing; and human resource development.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 110 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 43 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 17,450 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 7,040 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Thailand’s 52 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have total assets of USD 448 billion and a combined gross income of USD 131 billion (end of 2021 figures, latest available). In 2021, they employed 255,397 people, or 0.65 percent of the Thai labor force. Thailand’s SOEs operate primarily in service delivery, in particular in the energy, telecommunications, transportation, and financial sectors. More information about SOEs is available at the website of the State Enterprise Policy Office (SEPO) under the Ministry of Finance at www.sepo.go.th .

A 15-member State Enterprises Policy Commission, or “superboard,” oversees operations of the country’s 52 SOEs. In May 2019, the Development of Supervision and Management of State-Owned Enterprise Act (2019) went into effect with the goal to reform SOEs and ensure transparent management decisions. The Thai government generally defines SOEs as special agencies established by law for a particular purpose that are 100 percent owned by the government (through the Ministry of Finance as a primary shareholder). The government recognizes a second category of “limited liability companies/public companies” in which the government owns 50 percent or more of the shares. Of the 52 total SOEs, 42 are wholly-owned and 10 are majority-owned. Three SOEs are publicly listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand: Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited, PTT Public Company Limited, and MCOT Public Company Limited. By regulation, at least one-third of SOE boards must be comprised of independent directors.

Private enterprises can compete with SOEs under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products/services, and incentives in most sectors, but there are some exceptions, such as fixed-line operations in the telecommunications sector.

While SEPO officials aspire to adhere to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs, there is not a level playing field between SOEs and private sector enterprises, which are often disadvantaged in competing with Thai SOEs for contracts.

Generally, SOE senior management reports directly to a cabinet minister and to SEPO. Corporate board seats are typically allocated to senior government officials or politically affiliated individuals.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Thailand 110th out of 180 countries with a score of 35 out of 100 in 2021 (zero is highly corrupt). Bribery and corruption are still problematic. Despite increased usage of electronic systems, government officers still wield discretion in the granting of licenses and other government approvals, which creates opportunities for corruption. U.S. executives with experience in Thailand often advise new-to-market companies to avoid corrupt transactions from the beginning rather than to stop such practices once a company has been identified as willing to operate in this fashion. American firms that comply with the strict guidelines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are able to compete successfully in Thailand. U.S. businesses say that publicly affirming the need to comply with the FCPA helps to shield their companies from pressure to pay bribes.

Thailand has a legal framework and a range of institutions to counter corruption. The Organic Law to Counter Corruption criminalizes corrupt practices of public officials and corporations, including active and passive bribery of public officials. The anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to political parties.

As of February 2022, the Thai government is working on an Anti-SLAPP law (strategic lawsuit against public participation) proposed by the Thai National Anti-Corruption Commission. The new law provides a legal definition of SLAPP lawsuits as cases where the plaintiff intends to “suppress public participation in defense of the public interest in good faith” or has the purposed of intimidation, suppressing information, negotiating, or ending litigation” and empowers law enforcement to file Anti-SLAPP charges in court.

Thai procurement regulations prohibit collusion among bidders. If an examination confirms allegations or suspicions of collusion among bidders, the names of those applicants must be removed from the list of competitors.

Thailand adopted its first national government procurement law in December 2016. Based on UNCITRAL model laws and the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, the law applies to all government agencies, local authorities, and state-owned enterprises, and aims to improve transparency. Officials who violate the law are subject to 1-10 years imprisonment and/or a fine from Thai baht 20,000 (approximately USD 615) to Thai baht 200,000 (approximately USD 6,150).

Since 2010, the Thai Institute of Directors has built an anti-corruption coalition of Thailand’s largest businesses. Coalition members sign a Collective Action Against Corruption Declaration and pledge to take tangible, measurable steps to reduce corruption-related risks identified by third party certification. The Center for International Private Enterprise equipped the Thai Institute of Directors and its coalition partners with an array of tools for training and collective action.

Established in 2011, the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) aims to encourage the government to create laws to combat corruption. ACT has 54 member organizations drawn from the private, public, and academic sectors. ACT’s signature program is the “Integrity Pact,” run in cooperation with the Comptroller General Department of the Ministry of Finance and based on a tool promoted by Transparency International. The program forbids bribes from signatory members in bidding for government contacts and assigns independent ACT observers to monitor public infrastructure projects for signs of collusion. Member agencies and companies must adhere to strict transparency rules by disclosing and making easily available to the public all relevant bidding information, such as the terms of reference and the cost of the project.

Thailand is a party to the UN Anti-Corruption Convention, but not the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Thailand’s Witness Protection Act offers protection (to include police protection) to witnesses, including NGO employees, who are eligible for special protection measures in anti-corruption cases.

10. Political and Security Environment

Street clashes between anti-government protesters and police occurred regularly in a major Bangkok intersection in the early months of 2021. Several protesters were injured by rubber bullets, two of whom later died.

Violence related to an ongoing ethno-nationalist insurgency in Thailand’s southernmost provinces has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2004. Although the number of deaths and violent incidents has decreased in recent years, efforts to end the insurgency have so far been unsuccessful. The government is currently engaged in preliminary talks with the leading insurgent group. Almost all attacks have occurred in the three southernmost provinces of the country.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In 2021, 38.6 million people were in Thailand’s formal labor pool, comprising 66 percent of the total population. Thailand’s official unemployment rate stood at 1.6 percent at the end of 2021, interestingly, workers with university degrees have the highest unemployment rate compared with other groups. The working hours in the private sector are still below the pre-Covid era with the average working hours of 45.6 hours per week.

The Thai government is actively seeking to address shortages of both skilled and unskilled workers through education reform and various worker-training incentive programs. Low birth rates, an aging population, and skill mismatch, are exacerbating labor shortage problems in many sectors. Despite provision of 15 years of free education for every child in Thailand, Thailand continues to suffer from a skills mismatch that impedes innovation and economic growth. Thailand also has a shortage of high-skill workers such as researchers, engineers, and managers, as well as technicians and vocational workers. The statistics from the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board show that 49.3 percent of new graduates are in the fields of business and social science.  

Regional income inequality and labor shortages, particularly in labor-intensive manufacturing, construction, hospitality, and service sectors, have attracted millions of migrant workers, mostly from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. At the end of 2021, there were more than two million migrant workers registered with the Ministry of Labor.

Employers may dismiss workers provided the employer pays severance. When an employer temporarily suspends business, in part or in whole, the employer must pay the employee at least 75 percent of his or her daily wages throughout the suspension period.

At the end of 2021, there were a total of 1,432 labor unions in Thailand with 364 of them located in Bangkok. Thai law allows private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their choosing without prior authorization, to bargain collectively, and to conduct legal strikes, although these rights come with some restrictions. Noncitizen migrant workers, whether registered or undocumented, do not have the right to form unions or serve as union officials. Migrants can join unions organized and led by Thai citizens.

In 2020, the Department of Labor Protection and Welfare issued a ministerial regulation on occupational safety, health and working environment for diving work; the regulation sets a minimum age of 18. In March 2022, the Ministry of Labor issued a regulation regarding the Protection of Fishery Workers to provide additional protection for the workers’ rights in this industry. Additional information on migrant workers issues and rights can be found in the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, as well as the Labor Rights chapter of the U.S. Human Rights report.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2021 $490,297 2020 $501,644 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $18,499 2020 $17,450 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $8,724 2020 $1,810 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 59.3% 2019 46.8% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html

* Source for Host Country Data: Bank of Thailand (http://bot.or.th/)

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $290,774 100% Total Outward $173,437 100%
Japan $94,929 32.7% China, P.R.: Hong Kong $31,836 18.4%
Singapore $53,612 18.4% Singapore $20,910 12.1%
China, P.R.: Hong Kong $35,141  12.1% The Netherlands $12,711   7.3%
United States $18,499   6.4% Indonesia $10,757   6.2%
The Netherlands $13,849   4.8% Vietnam   $9,545   5.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Bangkok
Economic Section
BangkokEconSection@state.gov 

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