And the documents you see for past revenues and/or “profit and loss statements” can’t be trusted. If someone sells you their business and it turns out that everything they told you was a complete lie, what are you going to do about it? You don’t have the benefit of a fair system like you might at home, and if anything goes wrong you’re really limited in your options. Also, lawyers will be licking their chops over trying to broker a business-sale and it’s very common that they overcharge and don’t deliver.
“Ok, I won’t buy a business; I’ll just start one from scratch.” If only it were that easy. First, you can only own 49 per cent of a business here. Seriously, you’re not even allowed to own 50 per cent of a business that you will put all of the funds and work into. I should be able to stop right there as going any further will be overkill. Why in the world would you want to go into business if you can’t even own it? But there are lines of men eager to put 51 per cent of their businesses into their Thai girlfriends’ names so I’ll continue to further educate you on the numerous other pitfalls. But in case you didn’t draw the conclusion by now, you can’t stop your Thai partner from taking the business from you. You may be in love or you may think she’s in love with you, but that doesn’t actually matter. Any relationship can sour, and when it does, there goes your business. Knowing that she owns the business, she might not exactly be scared of the relationship ending, and it may even motivate her to end it. This really doesn’t even matter unless the business is at least somewhat successful, which it probably won’t be. But to know that, even if you surpass all obstacles and make a nice business, it can be stolen out from under you and you can’t do much to stop it… that should make an impact on you.
If that’s not enough to stop you, please understand the general attitude amongst the Thai people and the Thai police. They want you to come here and spend money; they do not want you to come here and make money. They don’t see it as though you will be creating jobs; they see it as though you will be hurting Thai business owners that you will compete with. This means at times you’ll face issues with Thai police and Thai mafia that just give you “fines” or “regulation fees.” It doesn’t matter how you look at it, these will come, and if you don’t pay then you are risking your livelihood. If you do pay, then they know they can keep coming back. You really need to make an alliance with someone (police, army, Thai mafia, Russian mafia) to protect you from other soliciting groups, and this alliance will come with a monthly fee. Also, if you have a lease on your space with a Thai landlord, don’t expect the law to go to bat for you if the Thai breaks the lease and either tells you to leave or doubles your rent at the first sign of you actually doing well. The law will always favor the Thai citizen, and who knows what unethical things might be done outside of court if you are actually fighting a matter inside of court.
You may have deep pockets and you may be able to square a lot of these issues with the best lawyers in town. I think you’re better off keeping that money or risking it in a better business climate, but let’s assume that you’re willing to spare no expense in terms of making it possible. What kind of business would you start here that would work and have the profit potential to warrant a large investment? Exporting used to be an easy way to take advantage of your two-country base. You would find some businesses in your home country and offer them inventory and supplies at a deep discount at Asia prices. Unfortunately China now owns this type of market, and sites like Alibaba.com make it easy for any retailer or wholesaler in the West to meet English-speaking employees at Chinese factories. Your business in Thailand can’t compete with the Chinese factories. What about restaurants and hotels? The competition will be considerable and the off-season months will be a killer. The disadvantages you face compared to the Thai businessman are great and overwhelming to say the least.
For every one of these success stories there are probably fifty people who seemed to know what they were doing and failed. Still, extremely well-connected, funded and experienced business players have made it work here and I’m sure more will come. I guess what I would take out of that is that doing business in Thailand may eventually become possible if you make the right connections and friends over the course of years, and learn every trick in the book so you don’t have to learn the hard way.
*Also consider that it is actually quite expensive to dissolve a business in Thailand. It’s like the cherry on top of a failed business here.
The bottom line: this is not a good place to open a business, and if you don’t want to take my word for it do some “Googling” to read about the million-and-one horror stories. Also keep in mind that shame and embarrassment prevent most from admitting their mistakes here. Many bar owners are just happy not to lose money with their business, and that’s actually pretty difficult to pull off!