In this article, I’m showing how to make money importing goods from Thailand. I think you are going to get some really good ideas. The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to building your dream global business and be your own boss.
Thailand is a great country to source products, be it clothes, handicrafts, or food items.
With so many markets and goods way cheaper than back home, at some point in time, the thought of importing products from Thailand to your home country crosses the mind of every expat and holidaymaker.
Whether shipping containers of fisherman’s pants to sell to stores (wholesale) back home or selling Thai exports like t-shirts, silver jewelry or gems on Amazon, it is a tempting idea considering the low wholesale prices.
But wait. Before you rush in and lose your life savings, there are a number of things you should consider.
Always remember the golden rule: if it was that easy everyone would be getting rich doing it. As with all feats of success in life, careful planning and due diligence are essential.
What you will learn in this article:
- Thailand Country Profile
- Thailand Market Profile
- Doing Business in Thailand
- Thailand Import and Export Profile
- How to Start An Import Export Business in Thailand
- 7 Golden Rules For Success
Let’s dive in…
THAILAND COUNTRY PROFILE
This section provides an overview of Thailand for those keen on exploring the possibility of living and working there. The information presented is gathered from open sources and is not exhaustive or meant to supplement or substitute legal and professional advice.
- Official name: Kingdom of Thailand
- Capital: Bangkok
- Geography: 77 provinces and two special local territories – Bangkok and Pattaya
- Land area: 513,120 Sq. Km
- Population (2019): 66.56 million (2019)
- Head of government: Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha
- National language: Thai
- Time zone: UTC+7
- Calling Code: +66
- Internet TLD: th
- Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
- Gross domestic product (GDP) (2019): $543.7 billion
- GDP per capita (2019): $7,843.9
Thailand is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, bordered by the Laos and Cambodia in the east; the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia in the south; the Andaman Sea and Myanmar in the west; and Laos and Myanmar in the north. It is spread over 513,120 sq km.
The total population of Thailand was almost 66.56 million in 2019. Around 49.05 percent (32.64 million persons) were male and 50.95 percent (33.92 million persons) female. The sex ratio is 96.3 males per 100 females.
Most of the population lived in the northeastern region (33.22 percent), followed by the northern region (18.28 percent), Bangkok (16.37 percent), the southern region (14.2 percent) and the eastern region (7.56 percent).
Around 17.08 percent of the population were children within the ages 0 to 14 years; 65.11 percent were of working age (15–59 years); and 15.45 percent were the elderly, aged 60 years and above.
Majority of the population are Buddhists, followed by Muslims and Christians.
Thailand has a mixed economy with the major economic sectors being agriculture, industry, tourism, service and natural resource. Its economy has rebounded from the numerous incidents of political unrest. Its GDP in 2017 was 15,450.1 billion baht.
Its economic growth sectors include tourism, automotive and food manufacturing, which are supported by its well-developed transportation system, infrastructure and communications systems.
A leading exporter of rubber, Thailand also exports crops such as rice, vegetables and fruits. It is also famous for its livestock exports, as well as exports of freshwater fish and marine fishery.
Its industrial exports include agro-industry, textile, electric appliance and automobiles. Important natural resources like limestone, gypsum, glass, sand, marble, tin and natural gas also contribute to the economy.
Thailand’s key business sectors include infrastructure development; consumer goods and services; and manufacturing. The government approved a 3.3 trillion baht (US$101 billion) Infrastructure Development Plan (2015–2022) that aims to improve Thailand’s transport links (railways, roads, water transportation, aviation and mass transit projects), both within Thailand and with its neighbours.
Thailand is the second-largest consumption market in Southeast Asia. Its people spend around half of their average household income on food and beverage, and retail consumption. Spending is also high for leisure activities and luxuries.
The Thai automotive industry is a key node in the world’s auto production supply chain, with around half of the world’s top 100 auto parts manufacturers and multinational auto companies – including GM, Isuzu, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota – having operations there.
Thailand is also a food production hub with stringent food manufacturing standards and halal food accreditation.
Thailand is home to Buddhist temples, exotic wildlife and spectacular islands. It is also known for its fascinating history, unique culture and delectable local food.
The tourism industry contributes an estimated nine to 10 percent to the national GDP, though this is less than contributions from the service and manufacturing industries.
The tourism sector not only depends on foreign visitors but also domestic tourists whose number dwarfs that of foreign tourists.
In 2017, Thailand had 35,381,210 visitors – a large proportion of whom were on holiday, followed by visits for meetings, incentives, exhibitions, conventions and other purposes.
Thailand Market Profile
Why Thailand matters to the World?
Thailand matters to the world. Because it is the second largest economy in South East Asia. What differentiates Thailand from other ASEAN nations is its sheer market size, the diversity of its industrial sector and its position as a regional manufacturing hub.
What’s driving growth?
Thailand offers an attractive business environment among the high-growth Southeast Asian countries and is rated third in the region for ease of doing business in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index in 2020. (Source: Doing Business 2020 , The World Bank).
Opportunities by Thai market
Thailand is a regional and global manufacturing hub for vehicles, automotive components, consumer electronics, and processed food and beverages. It is also a leading exporter of agricultural commodities (particularly rice, palm oil, rubber, sugar and seafood).
The government of Thailand has announced a “Thailand 4.0” development plan to encourage investment into a value-based, digital, innovation-driven and services-based economy.
Doing Business in Thailand
Current business situation
Thailand has demonstrated economic resilience despite its history of political and economic upheaval, with business taking a ‘business as usual’ approach. Thailand’s economy is heavily export dependent, with exports accounting for more than two-thirds of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Robust overseas demand for its exports, sizable public investments and increased tourism are expected to support continued improvement in economic growth and demand for imports, although business confidence levels and investment timing may be dented by uncertainty around the timing of a general election.
I focus on opportunities for Global Entrepreneurs in the Thai market, especially those influenced by the following major trends:
- Increasing tourism and consumer affluence leading to greater demand for premium food, quality goods and services.
- The country’s ongoing position as a regional manufacturing hub particularly in automotive, electronics and food processing.
- Transformation of traditional industries through greater use of technology.
- Greater urbanisation leading to demand of more and better infrastructure and transport projects.
- Greater focus and awareness in sustainability and the environment.
- Growth of Thai businesses in trade and investment into ASEAN and beyond.
- The Eastern Economic Corridor (ECC) Development Plan under scheme of Thailand 4.0.
Thai Business culture
Relationship building is an essential factor if you are to succeed in doing business in Thailand. Thais will generally expect to spend time building a relationship with their business contacts before they will exchange detailed information or commit to a deal.
It is common to begin or wrap up business meetings with informal conversations. Your Thai counterparts may ask questions about your home town, family and educational background in order to build familiarity with you.
In general, Thai business people tend to follow a western, formal dress code. In business meetings a business shirt, tie and proper footwear is essential for men. Formal dress codes applies for women also. Casual wear should not be worn to business meetings.
Khun (pronounced khoon, as in cook) is Thai for Mr, Mrs, Ms or Miss. When addressing others, Thais use Khun followed by a person’s first (given) name. For example: Khun Somporn, Khun Mallee, or in a Western context Khun John (rather than Khun Murat:). Most Thais also have a nickname, which may be used in place of their given name.
The exchange of gifts is widely practiced in business dealings in Thailand and should be reciprocated. Gifts are given to those visited for the first time and signify friendship and an appreciation of hospitality. Gifts are opened in privacy, not when received. Gifts do not need to be expensive but a generosity of spirit will help build a strong relationship with your partners.
Pay Attention: care should be taken when giving gifts that they are relatively modest and proportionate to the occasion. Expensive gifts may constitute an offence if given unnecessarily and with the intention to obtain or retain business or a business advantage.
Setting up in Market
I strongly suggest that you seek professional legal and accounting advice prior to establishing a business in Thailand.
In many cases, a foreign entity cannot own more than 49 per cent of the enterprise, with the majority owned by Thais. However, exceptions for majority foreign ownership exist for certain types of industries and are often granted for projects approved by the Thai Board of Investment .
The Thai Board of Investment provides more detailed information about establishing a business in Thailand. Professional service firms also offer their own guides to setting up and doing business in Thailand.
Banking and Finance
There are 14 Thai commercial banks and 11 foreign banks in Thailand. In general, only Head Office branches of local banks are able to open bank accounts for foreign businesses.
In general, the basic accounting principles practiced in the United States are accepted in Thailand, as are accounting methods and conventions sanctioned by law. Auditing practices conforming to international standards are, for the most part, recognised and practiced by authorised auditors in Thailand.
Information on accounting and financial reporting requirements for a business in Thailand is available in English from the Board of Investment.
Intellectual property protection
As part of a market entry strategy, foreign companies should do an intellectual property (IP) audit and be acquainted with how best to protect their IP rights in Thailand.
E-commerce in Thailand
E-commerce in Thailand is currently experiencing unprecedented growth with the value of Thailand’s e-commerce market reported to be valued at
approximately 79 billion USD in 2017.
More and more consumers are opting to shop online than in stores. The Internet is becoming an inseparable part of society in Thailand, especially with the emergence of new technologies changing the way retail is offered to consumers.
To capture market share in Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, both local and international companies in retail and service industries are taking steps to understand the nature of digital channels to
take advantage of the potential online opportunities.
Thailand Import and Export Profile
Thailand is the 20th largest export economy in the world and it enjoys a positive trade balance of $5,4 billion after deducting its annual import total of $239,9 billion from the $245,3 billion achieved in export sales.
Thailand’s Top 10 Exports
Located in the Southeast Asian Indochinese peninsula, the Kingdom of Thailand shipped US$245.3 billion worth of goods around the globe in 2019. That dollar amount reflects a 16.4% gain since 2015 but a -1.8% decline from 2018 to 2019.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 68.6% of products exported from Thailand were bought by importers in:
- United States (12.8% of the global total),
- China (11.8%),
- Japan (10%),
- Vietnam (4.9%),
- Hong Kong (4.8%),
- Malaysia (4.2%),
- Australia (4.1%),
- Indonesia (3.7%),
- Singapore (3.6%),
- India (3%),
- Cambodia (2.9%),
- Philippines (2.8%).
From a continental perspective, approaching two-thirds (63.2%) of Thai exports by value in 2019 were delivered to fellow Asian countries while 14.6% were sold to importers in North America.
Thailand shipped another 12.4% worth to Europe and 5% to Oceania led by Australia and New Zealand. Smaller percentages arrived in Africa (2.8%) and Latin America (1.9%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Thailand’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following table displays 10 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Thailand during 2019. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2018.
Thailand’s Top 10 Imports
Thailand imported US$239.9 billion worth of goods from around the world in 2019, up by 18.8% since 2015 but down by -4.4% from 2018 to 2019.
Thai imports for 2019 represent 1.2% of overall global imports which cost an estimated $19.665 trillion one year earlier during 2019.
From a continental perspective, 74.9% of Thailand’s total imports by value in 2019 were purchased from fellow Asian countries.
European trade partners supplied 11.7% of imports into Thailand while 8.1% worth originated from North America.
Oceania (mainly Australia and New Zealand) accounted for 2.2% of the total.
Even smaller percentages came from Africa (1.6%) and Latin America (1.5%) excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean.
Thailand’s Most Valuable Import Products
The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in Thailand’s import purchases during 2019. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into Thailand.
How to Start An Import/Export Business in Thailand
Building an import-export business in Thailand is considered as a major step to take towards success in your career. Thailand gives you a wide range of opportunities to start your own dream global business. But, before starting up a business you need to take care of certain steps in order to make you venture a grand success.
I give you a wide explanation on each of the step read on!
5 Steps To Build Your Import – Export Business in Thailand
1- DECIDE WHAT BUSINESS ARE YOU WILLING TO SET UP
As mentioned earlier, Thailand is the land of opportunities giving you a chance to set up a business of your own. But, the first thing that should be considered is what type of business do you want to set up?
When deciding on the business you will have to keep in mind not only the profit but also the risks your business might be facing. Depending on these factors decide wisely and think over which business can you handle in the booming market of Thailand.
2- GET YOUR BUSINESS REGISTERED WITH THE GOVERNMENT
The government of Thailand is very strict with rules and regulations. Thus, if you are planning to set up an import-export business here, you will have to first get your business registered and achieve an import-export licensing for the same.
To help you get through the licensing procedure, you can easily contact any law firm in Thailand. Search for a reliable one in town and sign up with them as soon as possible.
3- CHOOSE A TARGET AUDIENCE
After you have decided on the type of business you are willing to set up and have completed its registration with the Thai government, now comes the time when you have to choose a target audience for your business.
Look out for what is demanded by the market. Once you come to know about it, you will also understand your target audience and thus be able to start your business.
4- STRENGTHEN YOUR NETWORKING
The profit and success of any import/export business depend on strong networking. This mean that the owner should establish both foreign as well as domestic contacts in a niche.
Though the step is time-consuming, but exceptionally beneficial for your business. First of all, you have to create a list of all the foreign and domestic businesses in your chosen area and then start a good marketing campaign. When you do so, do not forget to follow up with them on conversations and agreements.
5- DETERMINE YOUR CLIENTS NEEDS AND PRODUCT OFFERING
The contacts you have established from the previous step connect with them and get to know about their needs and the products they will be offering.
Directly contact the manager of purchasing and sales to find out what product do they have to offer to the foreign buyers and what products are they willing to purchase from them.
The 7 Golden Rules of Success When Importing/Exporting from Thailand
Rule 1 – Assess the Market: Create a Spreadsheet
The first problem people encounter when choosing a product is choice. In short: what should I sell?
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of products to choose from, and a quick visit to Chatuchak market in Bangkok, or the Walking Street markets of Chiang Mai, will have your head spinning with potential ideas.
Settling on one sure idea that will strike gold is difficult. And this where you need to use your smarts, otherwise you’ll end up thinking a lot and not doing very much. This is called ‘analysis/action paralysis’.
The golden rule is not to dive in. Give yourself time to truly assess the market, the options and the potential profit margins.
Draw up an excel sheet and make a shortlist of your ideas with comments in one column by each one. Make columns for other considerations such as breakage potential, shipping viability, existing supply and demand, and longevity (shelf-life).
The reason I suggest drawing up a spreadsheet is because it is much easier to assess the viability of an idea when it is written down on paper and compared with other ideas.
Once you have five or ten product ideas and columns listing the key considerations you will quickly be able to eliminate ideas initially we thought were great but clearly fall down in terms of profit margin or shipping problems.
This might sound like a very obvious thing to do but most people just don’t. Instead, they get fixated on one product and go headfirst into ordering and shipping it back home without considering the potential pitfalls of that product.
Rule 2 – Research Customs & Excise Back Home
Again, this is one of those seemingly obvious points, but then why do so many people do this research at the last minute once they have already placed their order?
It may well be the case that the product you intend to import to your home country is restricted, or at least restricted in some way.
It may have an extra tariff on it that drives up the price to the point where your business venture won’t be profitable.
Something else that happens to so many people who start up importing is they forget to factor in the customs duty that will be paid when they receive the item in their home country.
Importing from Thailand generally isn’t a problem. In fact, most manufacturers will take care of the shipping arrangements for you. Factories and export companies usually have shipping partners that they deal with on a regular basis.
What you need to make sure is that you understand what is required by you from the regulations in your home country.
Rule 3 – Think Outside the “E-commerce Box”
Since a kid I’ve always been a wheeler and dealer. I’ve always loved selling things. It’s not all about big profits either – just the thrill of making a buck.
When you are visiting or staying in Thailand. You will discover many profitable products for e-commerce. That’s why you can choose e-commerce as your starting point to make money importing goods from Thailand.
You can open a shop on Amazon, E-bay or create your own online store on Shopify.
One huge barrier was posting from Thailand: the moment people see it coming from a foreign address they worry about quality and scams, especially coming from SE Asia.
Also, with clothes (women’s) and jewelry, there are so many Chinese sellers selling for seemingly no profit at all it makes it impossible to compete.
I can hear your words give some product example for selling online. So let’s dive in. Here are some profitable Thai products for starting your online store:
Thai gems and jewellery are famous across the globe, because of their excellent quality and reasonable prices. The combination of skilled craftsmen and low labour costs make Thailand the perfect place to manufacture your jewellery and import it to your country.
2. Silk Clothing
Thai silk is well known for its softness and suppleness. As such, it is one of the most popular varieties of silk available in international markets. Take advantage of this and import Thai silk clothing to sell at your online or brick and mortar store to make a good profit.
3. Cosmetic & Spa Products
Thai spas are famous for their skin and hair care services. If you have located a market for hair and skin care products back home, then importing the products from Thailand is one of the best ideas you can ever have.
4. Cell Phone Accessories
From unique looking earphones to attractive phone cases, Thailand manufactures a wide variety of phone accessories. Find out which items are most in demand back home and start importing.
From aluminium wall hangings to silver dinner sets, Thai metalwork is one of the best of its kind in Asia. Take advantage of this and import some from Thailand to sell to collectors in your country.
From paper and bamboo lamps to fancy wooden sculptures, Thailand produces more types of handicrafts than you can think of. Find a target market for these products back home and get in touch with a reliable supplier.
7. Electronic items
From digital watches to computer motherboards, Thailand boasts of a thriving electronic industry. If you do not take advantage of this, who will?
My opinion is that you may also benefit from selling directly through your own website. Finding a product and building a brand around it gives it a personal touch and the perception that it is high quality than other similar products found on marketplaces.
However, note that you need to establish a company in Thailand, before you can start importing products from there. Register your company name and get all paperwork in order, before you start your business.
Rule 4 – Consider Wholesale Your Long-Term Goal
I once met a man whose father was in the imports business. He used to import parts for machinery and machines, cars, etc.
The genius thing about what he was doing was that the majority of orders were for 1,000 or more parts at a time. So let’s just say someone was building a 20,000 of a particular tool and they needed a particular part like a nut of screw.
He might only make 25p per part, but the quantity he ordered meant he was absolutely raking it in. He told me that he would occasionally make $25,000 American Dollars per order.
If he only fulfilled one order per month, that is still $300,000 turnover a year. He had a small office and only employed one person, and that was his son.
It will always be more profitable to fulfill wholesale orders to companies who then sell on to their customers there for you to sell individual items on a marketplace such as eBay or Amazon.
If you are looking to make a little bit of money in addition to your main income, or perhaps you’re looking for something for your partner to start up as a business to be run from home, then selling items one by one online might not be a bad choice. You can also sell in local marketplaces or pop-up shops.
But if you want to make real money in the long term then wholesale has to be at the forefront of your mind. You want to be shipping in a container of product and delivering it directly to client who pays you immediately for the lot.
Opportunities like that of my friend’s father in the example above are out there. Identifying them is not easy, and the pathway to finding them is never going to be a smooth one.
It takes trial and error, but like anything in life those who stick at something and stay committed and work on it every day until they get it right are the ones who succeed.
Rule 5 – Go Direct to the Wholesaler or Factory in Thailand
It is tempting to buy goods from marketplaces. You can get some very good deals for bulk items at popular Thai markets such as Pratunam, Chatuchak, etc.
But it goes without saying that the traders at these markets are not selling it to you for the price they are getting for, unless they have discounted something to be a lost leader.
Of course, the market trader will be more than happy to sell you a bulk amount of goods because they will want to offload the stock and be able to purchase new stock. The bane of every market trader is cash flow: when you’re holding a lot of stock you haven’t got cash to buy new stock.
In this regard they aren’t likely to give up their source supplier.
If you use your smarts and remain friendly and chatty, and politely offer to give them a tip for giving you the name of their factory supplier, it shouldn’t be too difficult to leave the marketplace with a name.
Of course you can go online and Google around for manufacturers of products you are looking for, but references are always good and quite often you won’t find a lot of the companies because their websites are in Thai.
Endeavor to get as close to the source as possible. You will save yourself a lot of money.
You will also benefit from the fact that a factory or an export company will be able to advise on shipping options and of course package everything up properly and make sure it gets to you on time and in one piece.
Rule 6 – Do Your Due Diligence on Thai Companies
Due diligence is the investigation or exercise of care that a reasonable business or person is expected to take before entering into an agreement or contract with another party.
This is not just about doing business in Thailand but goes for anywhere in the world, including your home country.
I have heard from a few people over the years who have lost money doing business in Thailand. It is not uncommon, and indeed not uncommon all over the world.
But don’t let that put you off doing importing good from Thailand. Simply make sure you do your due diligence.
As with Golden Rule 1 where I recommend that you make a spreadsheet of your product ideas and their considerations to help you eliminate the bad ones and find the best one, now you should make a list of all the things that you need to find out about company before you start doing business.
Here’s how you can make a start:
1 – Check out the website:
Does the website use the HTTPs security protocol in the URL bar. This is always a sign that a business keeps its website up to date and is concerned for the security of its clients and those visiting its website in general.
You will notice that ExportPort does use the HTTPS protocol. Admittedly, some companies who don’t update the website or don’t need to pay much attention to their website because they don’t do a lot of business through it may not have implemented this, but is usually the first thing I look for.
2 – Vet the contact details:
Go to the contact details section of the website and see if they have given their full address and phone number. In this day and age we tend to make enquiries by email and even complete entire transactions over email. But this makes it much easier for fraudulent businesses to communicate. So instead give them a ring.
Register your interest and ask if they can send details of their company and their price list. Do a Google Maps search on their address and make sure that the address exists. And if you are in Thailand, pay the address a visit and make sure it is a functional place of business.
3 – Research their clients:
Have a look over the website and see if they have a list of clients that they do business with. You may recognise some of them from Thailand, or indeed from overseas.
This will be a good indication of their reputation. You may even choose to call one of these companies or email them and ask whether they been happy with the service they have received.
4 – Request the registered company number:
Every company in Thailand has one. You can request copy of their company certificate by email too. In fact, providing a copy of your company certificate is a general requirement in Thailand when doing business with other businesses and indeed when dealing with banks and lawyers, etc.
5 – Check the government business database:
You can research information on a company in Thailand by using the government database. Can check the database here.
Don’t be shy about asking for more information and thoroughly vetting a company. Any good business, Thai culture aside, will understand your concerns and want to put your mind at ease.
Rule 7. Test Purchase Before Committing Big Money
Do not make the mistake of placing a big order without testing the funnel first. Make sure the chain of supply works by placing a small order for an amount of money you can afford to lose.
This will also be your final due diligence to see if the supplier can deliver on their promise.
If it all goes smoothly, you’re onto a winning supply chain.
Golden Rules Recap Summary:
So let’s just run through these Golden Rules quickly again:
- Don’t go in all guns blazing. Be methodical and organised. Assess the market and create a ‘Product Ideas‘ spreadsheet to start your search.
- Research the customs and excise rules in your home country.
- Think ‘outside the e-commerce box‘ and consider other marketplaces and places to sell. Also consider building a brand.
- Consider your long-term strategy. If you’re aiming to make a full-time living this is most likely going to be through a wholesale business.
- Go direct to the factory or wholesaler in Thailand and bypass markets. Get the best price possible.
- Do your due diligence on Thai companies before committing time and money.
- Make a small test purchase before committing to a big money order.
It is definitely possible to sustain a good living exporting goods from Thailand. There are thousands of people doing it successfully. But the reality is that most won’t tell you what they’re exporting, who they buy from and where they sell to.
The fact is, like any business, you have to put in the planning and research and initial hard work to ensure long-term profitability.
Congratulations! You have officially learned how to make money importing goods from Thailand. Now start booming and make the world your business!
Also, if you would like to learn more about international trade, here is a link to our international trade for beginners guide. You can also watch videos on my YouTube channel.
If you would like to take any help about importing or exporting your products, our sister company FUTURESIA Global Trade can help you with their knowledge and good relationships with the industry leaders in Turkey, Thailand and other ASEAN countries.
Now I would like to hear your thoughts:
What’s your first takeaway lesson from this article?
Or maybe you have a question about the topic.
Either way, leave a comment below right now.