1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
Americans planning to invest in Thailand are advised to obtain qualified legal advice. Thai business regulations are governed predominantly by criminal, not civil, law. Foreigners are rarely jailed for improper business activities, yet violations of business regulations can carry heavy criminal penalties. Thailand has an independent judiciary and government authorities are generally not permitted to interfere in the court system once a case is in process.
Thailand continues to generally welcome investment from all countries and seeks to avoid dependence on any one country as a source of investment. However, the FBA prescribes a wide range of business that may not be conducted by foreigners without additional licenses or exemptions. The term “foreigner” includes Thai-registered companies in which half or more of the capital is held by non-Thai individuals and foreign-registered companies. Although the FBA prohibits majority foreign ownership in many sectors, U.S. investors registered under the United States-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (AER) are exempt. Nevertheless, the AER’s privileges do not extend to U.S. investments in the following areas: communications; transportation; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; the exploitation of land or other natural resources; domestic trade in indigenous agricultural products; and the practice of professions reserved for Thai nationals.
The Board of Investment (BOI) assists Thai and foreign investors to establish and conduct businesses in targeted economic sectors by offering both tax and non-tax incentives. In recent years Thailand has taken steps to reform its business regulations and has improved processes and reduced time required to start a business from 29 days to 6 days. Thailand has steadily improved its ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report in the last several years and now occupies the 21st position out of 190 countries in the 2019 ranking, trailing only Singapore (2) and Malaysia (12) in the ASEAN bloc. Thai officials routinely make themselves available to investors through discussions with foreign chambers of commerce.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Various Thai laws set forth foreign-ownership restrictions in certain sectors. These restrictions primarily concern services such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The FBA details the types of business activities reserved for Thai nationals. Foreign investment in those businesses must comprise less than 50 percent of share capital, unless specially permitted or otherwise exempt.
The following three lists detail FBA-restricted businesses for foreigners.
List 1. This contains activities non-nationals are prohibited from engaging in, including: newspaper and radio broadcasting stations and businesses; agricultural businesses; forestry and timber processing from a natural forest; fishery in Thai territorial waters and specific economic zones; extraction of Thai medicinal herbs; trading and auctioning of antique objects or objects of historical value from Thailand; making or casting of Buddha images and monk alms bowls; and land trading.
List 2. This contains activities related to national safety or security, arts and culture, traditional industries, folk handicrafts, natural resources, and the environment. Restrictions apply to the production, distribution and maintenance of firearms and armaments; domestic transportation by land, water, and air; trading of Thai antiques or art objects; mining, including rock blasting and rock crushing; and timber processing for production of furniture and utensils. A foreign majority-owned company can engage in List 2 activities if Thai nationals or legal persons hold not less than 40 percent of the total shares and the number of Thai directors is not less than two-fifths of the total number of directors. Foreign companies also require prior approval and a license from the Council of Ministers (Cabinet).
List 3. Restricted businesses in this list include accounting, legal, architectural, and engineering services; retail and wholesale; advertising businesses; hotels; guided touring; selling food and beverages; and other service-sector businesses. A foreign company can engage in List 3 activities if a majority of the limited company’s shares are held by Thai nationals. Any company with a majority of foreign shareholders (more than 50 percent) cannot engage in List 3 activities unless it receives an exception from the Ministry of Commerce under its Foreign Business License (FBL) application.
Aside from these general categories, Thailand does not maintain a national security screening mechanism for investment, and investors can receive additional incentives/privileges if they invest in priority areas, such as high-technology industries. Investors should contact the Board of Investment [https://www.boi.go.th/index.php?page=index] for the latest information on specific investment incentives.
The U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations allows approved businesses to engage in FBA restricted businesses detailed above in Lists 1, 2, and 3. However, the Treaty does not exempt U.S. investments from restrictions applicable to: owning land; fiduciary functions; banking involving depository functions; inland communications & transportation; exploitation of land and other natural resources; and domestic trade in agricultural products.
To operate restricted businesses as defined by the FBA’s List 2 and 3, non-Thai entities must obtain a foreign business license. These licenses are approved by the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) and/or Director-General of the MOC’s Department of Business Development, depending on the business category.
Every year, the MOC reviews business categories on the three FBA lists. Businesses no longer subject to restrictions include regional office services and contractual services provided to government bodies and state-owned enterprises. In an effort to further reduce obstacles to foreign investment, four business types under List 3, otherwise supervised by specific acts, were removed from the restricted list in 2019 and 2020. Those businesses include telecommunication services for license type 1 (telecommunication business operator without its own network for services); financial centers; aviation/aircraft maintenance; and software development.
American investors who wish to take majority shares or wholly own businesses under FBA’s Annex 3 list may apply for benefits under the U.S.-Thai Treaty of Amity. https://2016.export.gov/thailand/treaty/index.asp#P5_233
The U.S. Commercial Service, U.S. Embassy Bangkok is responsible for issuing a certification letter to confirm that a U.S. company is qualified to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity. The applicant must first obtain documents verifying that the company has been registered in compliance with Thai law. Upon receipt of the required documents, the U.S. Commercial Service office will then certify to the Foreign Administration Division, Department of Business Development, Ministry of Commerce (MOC) that the applicant is seeking to register an American-owned and managed company or that the applicant is an American citizen and is therefore entitled to national treatment under the provisions of the Treaty. For more information on how to apply for benefits under the Treaty of Amity, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The World Trade Organization conducted a Trade Policy Review of Thailand in November 2020 (https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp500_e.htm). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) concluded its Investment Policy Review for Thailand in January 2021 (https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/c4eeee1c-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/c4eeee1c-en).
The MOC’s Department of Business Development (DBD) is generally responsible for business registration. Registration can be performed online or manually. Registration documentation must be submitted in the Thai language. Many foreign entities hire a local law firm or consulting firm to handle their applications. Firms engaging in production activities also must register with the Ministry of Industry and the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
A company is required to have registered capital of two million Thai baht per foreign employee in order to obtain work permits. Additionally, foreign companies may have no more than 20% foreign employees on staff. Companies that have obtained special BOI investment incentives may be exempted from this requirement. Foreign employees must enter the country on a non-immigrant visa and then submit work permit applications directly to the Department of Labor. Application processing takes approximately one week. For more information on Thailand visas, please refer to http://www.mfa.go.th/main/en/services/4908/15388-Non-Immigrant-Visa- percent22B percent22-for-Business-and.html.
In February 2018, the Thai government launched a Smart Visa program for investors in targeted industries and foreigners with expertise in specialized technologies. Under this program, foreigners can be granted a maximum four-year visa to work in Thailand without having to obtain a work permit or re-entry permit. Other relaxed immigration rules include having visa holders report to the Bureau of Immigration just once per year (instead of every 90 days) and providing the visa holder’s spouse and children many of the same privileges as the primary visa holder. More information is available online at https://smart-visa.boi.go.th/home_detail/general_information.php and by telephone at +662-209-1100 ext. 1109-1110.
In 2020, Thai companies continued to expand and invest overseas despite the pandemic. These investments primarily target neighboring ASEAN countries, China, the United States, and Europe. A relatively strong domestic currency, rising cash holdings, and subdued domestic growth prospects are helping to drive outward investment. The baht depreciated over 4 percent against the dollar in Q1 2021. Faced with the effects of the pandemic, the government may prioritize domestic investment to stimulate the economy.
Previously, food, ago-industry, energy, and chemical sectors accounted for the main share of outward flows. Purchasing shares, developing partnerships, and making acquisitions help Thai investors acquire technologies for parent companies and expand supply chains in international markets. Thai corporate laws allow outbound investments to be made by an independent affiliate (foreign company), a branch of a Thai legal entity, or by any Thai company in the case of financial investments abroad. BOI and the MOC’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) share responsibility for promoting outward investment. BOI focuses on outward investment in ASEAN (especially Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam) and emerging economies. DITP covers smaller markets.
4. Industrial Policies
The Board of Investment:
The Board of Investment offers investment incentives to qualified domestic and foreign investors. To upgrade the country’s technological capacity, the BOI presently gives more weight to applications in high-tech, innovative, and sustainable industries. These include digital technology, “smart agriculture” and biotechnology, aviation and logistics, automation and robotics, medical and wellness tourism, and other high-value services.
The most significant privileges offered by the BOI for promoted projects include: corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
- corporate income tax exemptions; tariff reductions or exemptions on imports of machinery used in the investment; tariff-free treatment on imported raw materials used in production for export.
- permission to own land; permission to bring foreign experts; and visa and work permit facilitation.
Investment projects with a significant R&D, innovation, or human resource development component may be eligible for additional grants and incentives. Moreover, grants are provided to support targeted technology development under the Competitive Enhancement Act. BOI offers a one-stop service to expedite multiple business processes for investors.
For additional information, contact the Office of Board of Investment on 555 Vibhavadi-Rangsit Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 and telephone at +662-553-8111 or website at www.boi.go.th.
Office of the Eastern Economic Corridor:
Thailand’s flagship investment zone, the “Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC),” spans the provinces of Chachoengsao, Chonburi, and Rayong (5,129 square miles). The EEC leverages the developed infrastructure networks of the adjacent Eastern Seaboard industrial area, Thailand’s primary investment destination for more than 30 years. The Thai government foresees the EEC as a primary investment and infrastructure hub in ASEAN and a gateway to east and south Asia. Among the EEC development projects are smart cities; an innovation district (EECi); a digital park (EECd); an aerotropolis (EEC-A); a medical hub (EECmd); and other state-of-the-art facilities. The EEC is targeting twelve key industries:
- Next-generation automotive
- Intelligent electronics
- Advanced agriculture and biotechnology
- Food processing
- Advance robotics and automation
- Integrated aviation industry
- Medical hub and total healthcare services
- Biofuels and biochemicals
- Digital technology
- Defense industry
- Human resource development
The EEC Act authorized investment incentives and privileges. Investors can obtain long-term land leases of 99 years (with an initial lease of up to 50 years and a renewal of up to 49 years). The EEC Act shortens the public-private partnership approval process to approximately nine months.
The BOI works in cooperation with the EEC Office. BOI offers corporate income tax exemptions of up to 13 years for strategic projects in the EEC area. Foreign executives and experts who work in targeted industries in the EEC are subject to a maximum personal income tax rate of 17 percent.
For additional information, contact the Eastern Economic Corridor Office at 25th floor, CAT Tower, 72 Soi Wat Maungkhae, Charoenkrung Road, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500, telephone at +662-033-8000 and website at: https://eng.eeco.or.th/en.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand (IEAT), a state-enterprise under the Ministry of Industry, develops suitable locations to accommodate industrial properties. IEAT has an established network of industrial estates in Thailand, including Laem Chabang Industrial Estate in Chonburi Province and Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong Province in Thailand’s eastern seaboard region, a common location for foreign-owned factories due to its proximity to seaport facilities and Bangkok. Foreign-owned firms generally have the same investment opportunities in the industrial zones as Thai entities. While the IEAT Act requires that in the case of foreign-owned firms, the IEAT Committee must consider and approve the amount of space/land bought or leased in industrial estates, in practice, there is no record of disapproval for requested land. Private developers are heavily involved in the development of these estates.
The IEAT currently operates 14 estates, plus 45 more in conjunction with the private sector, in 16 provinces nationwide. Private-sector developers independently operate over 50 industrial estates, most of which have received promotion privileges from the Board of Investment. Amata Industrial Estate and WHA Industrial Development are Thailand’s leading private industrial estate developers. Most major foreign manufacturing investors, including U.S. manufacturers, are located in these two companies’ industrial estates and in the eastern seaboard region.
The IEAT has established 12 special IEAT “free trade zones” reserved for industries manufacturing exclusively for export. Businesses may import raw materials into, and export finished products from, these zones free of duty (including value added tax). These zones are located within industrial estates and many have customs facilities to speed processing. The free trade zones are located in Chonburi, Lampun, Pichit, Songkhla, Samut Prakarn, Bangkok (at Lad Krabang), Ayuddhya, and Chachoengsao. In addition to these zones, factory owners may apply for permission to establish a bonded warehouse within their premises to which raw materials, used exclusively in the production of products for export, may be imported duty-free.
The Thai government also established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in ten provinces bordering neighboring countries: Tak, Nong Khai, Mukdahan, Sa Kaeo, Trad, Narathiwat, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Phanom, Songkhla, and Kanchanaburi. Business sectors and industries that can benefit from tax and non-tax incentives offered in the SEZs include logistics; warehouses near border areas; distribution; services; labor-intensive factories; and manufacturers using raw materials from neighboring countries. These SEZs support Thai government goals for closer economic ties with neighboring countries and allow investors to tap into abundant migrant labor; however, these SEZs have proven less attractive to overseas investors due to their remote locations far from Bangkok and other major cities.
In 2019, Thai Customs implemented three measures to improve trade and customs processing efficiency: Pre-Arrival Processing (PAP); an “e-Bill Payment” electronic payment system; and an e-Customs system that waives the use of paper customs declaration copies. The measures comply with the World Trade Organizations (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), adopted in February 2016, which requires WTO members to adopt procedures for pre-arrival processing for imports and to authorize electronic submission of customs documents, where appropriate. The measures have also improved Thailand’s ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business: Trading Across Borders 2020” index.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The Thai government does not have specific laws or policies regarding performance or data localization requirements. Foreign investors are not required to use domestic content in goods or technology, but the Thai government has encouraged such an approach through domestic preferences in government procurement proceedings. In March 2021, Thailand announced the “Made in Thailand” initiative, which will direct government agencies to procure at least 60 percent of their goods from local producers.
There are currently no requirements for foreign IT providers to localize their data, turn over source code, or provide access to surveillance. However, the Thai government in 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that have raised concerns about Thai authorities’ broad power to potentially demand confidential and sensitive information. IT operators and analysts have expressed concern with private companies’ legal protections, ability to appeal, or ability to limit such access. IT providers have expressed concern that the new laws might place unreasonable burdens on them and have introduced new uncertainties in the technology sector. As of April 2021, the government is still in the process of considering and implementing regulations to enforce laws on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection. Thailand has implemented a requirement that all debit transactions processed by a domestic debit card network must use a proprietary chip.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Thai government maintains a regulatory framework that broadly encourages and facilitates portfolio investment. The Stock Exchange of Thailand, the country’s national stock market, was established under the Securities Exchange of Thailand Act B.E. 2535 in 1992. There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to allow investors to enter and exit sizeable positions. Government policies generally do not restrict the free flow of financial resources to support product and factor markets. The Bank of Thailand, the country’s central bank, has respected IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.
Credit is generally allocated on market terms rather than by “direct lending.” Foreign investors are not restricted from borrowing on the local market. In theory, the private sector has access to a wide variety of credit instruments, ranging from fixed term lending to overdraft protection to bills of exchange and bonds. However, the private debt market is not well developed. Most corporate financing, whether for short-term working capital needs, trade financing, or project financing, requires borrowing from commercial banks or other financial institutions.
Money and Banking System
Thailand’s banking sector, with 15 domestic commercial banks, is sound and well-capitalized. As of December 2020, the non-performing loan rate was low (around 3.25 percent industry wide), and banks were well prepared to handle a forecast rise in the NPL rate in 2021 due to the pandemic. The ratio of capital funds/risk-weighted assets (capital adequacy) was high (20.1 percent). Thailand’s largest commercial bank is Bangkok Bank, with assets totaling USD 100 billion as of December 2020. The combined assets of the five largest commercial banks totaled USD 492.6 billion, or 70.82 percent of the total assets of the Thai banking system, at the end of 2020.
In general, Thai commercial banks provide the following services: accepting deposits from the public; granting credit; buying and selling foreign currencies; and buying and selling bills of exchange (including discounting or re-discounting, accepting, and guaranteeing bills of exchange). Commercial banks also provide credit guarantees, payment, remittance and financial instruments for risk management. Such instruments include interest-rate derivatives and foreign-exchange derivatives. Additional business to support capital market development, such as debt and equity instruments, is allowed. A commercial bank may also provide other services, such as bank assurance and e-banking.
Thailand’s central bank is the Bank of Thailand (BOT), which is headed by a Governor appointed for a five-year term. The BOT serves the following functions: prints and issues banknotes and other security documents; promotes monetary stability and formulates monetary policies; manages the BOT’s assets; provides banking facilities to the government; acts as the registrar of government bonds; provides banking facilities for financial institutions; establishes or supports the payment system; supervises financial institutions manages the country’s foreign exchange rate under the foreign exchange system; and determines the makeup of assets in the foreign exchange reserve.
Apart from the 15 domestic commercial banks, there are currently 11 registered foreign bank branches, including three American banks (Citibank, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase), and four foreign bank subsidiaries operating in Thailand. To set up a bank branch or a subsidiary in Thailand, a foreign commercial bank must obtain approval from the Ministry of Finance and the BOT. Foreign commercial bank branches are limited to three service points (branches/ATMs) and foreign commercial bank subsidiaries are limited to 40 service points (branches and off-premise ATMs) per subsidiary. Newly established foreign bank branches are required to have minimum capital funds of 125 million baht (USD 3.99 million at 2020 average exchange rates) invested in government or state enterprise securities, or directly deposited with the Bank of Thailand. The number of expatriate management personnel is limited to six people at full branches, although Thai authorities frequently grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis.
Non-residents can open and maintain foreign currency accounts without deposit and withdrawal ceilings. Non-residents can also open and maintain Thai baht accounts; however, in an effort to curb the strong baht, the Bank of Thailand capped non-resident Thai deposits to 200 million baht across all domestic bank accounts. However, in January 2021, the Bank of Thailand began allowing non-resident companies greater flexibility to conduct baht transactions with domestic financial institutions under the non-resident qualified company scheme. Participating non-financial firms which trade and invest directly in Thailand are allowed to manage currency risks related to the baht without having to provide proof of underlying baht holdings for each transaction. This will allow firms to manage baht liquidity more flexibly without being subject to the end-of-day outstanding limit of 200 million baht for non-resident accounts. Withdrawals are freely permitted. Since mid-2017, the BOT has allowed commercial banks and payment service providers to introduce new financial services technologies under its “Regulatory Sandbox” guidelines. Recently introduced technologies under this scheme include standardized QR codes for payments, blockchain funds transfers, electronic letters of guarantee, and biometrics.
Thailand’s alternative financial services include cooperatives, micro-saving groups, the state village funds, and informal money lenders. The latter provide basic but expensive financial services to households, mostly in rural areas. These alternative financial services, with the exception of informal money lenders, are regulated by the government.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
There are no limitations placed on foreign investors for converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment; however, supporting documentation is required. Any person who brings Thai baht currency or foreign currency in or out of Thailand in an aggregate amount exceeding USD 15,000 or the equivalent must declare the currency at a Customs checkpoint. Investment funds are allowed to be freely converted into any currency.
The exchange rate is generally determined by market fundamentals but is carefully scrutinized by the BOT under a managed float system. During periods of excessive capital inflows/outflows (i.e., exchange rate speculation), the central bank has stepped in to prevent extreme movements in the currency and to reduce the duration and extent of the exchange rate’s deviation from a targeted equilibrium.
Thailand imposes no limitations on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits or revenue for direct and portfolio investments. There are no time limitations on remittances.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
Thailand does not have a sovereign wealth fund and the Bank of Thailand is not pursuing the creation of such a fund. However, the International Monetary Fund has urged Thailand to create a sovereign wealth fund due to its large accumulated foreign exchange reserves. As of December 2020, Thailand had the world’s 13th largest foreign exchange reserves at USD 258.1 billion.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International
Source of Data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2019||$543,478||2019||$543,549||www.worldbank.org/en/country|
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international
Source of data: BEA; IMF;
Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2019||$18,345||2019||$17,738||BEA data available at
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||2019||$8,015||2019||$1,904||BEA data available at
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||2019||50.2%||2019||46.8%||UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/
* Source for Host Country Data: Bank of Thailand (http://bot.or.th/)
|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||$259,830||100%||Total Outward||$134,022||100%|
|Japan||$89,682||34.5%||China, P.R.: Hong Kong||$25,059||18.7%|
|China, P.R.: Hong Kong||$22,669||8.7%||The Netherlands||$10,481||7.8%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$662319||100%||All Countries||$37625||100%||All Countries||$28606||100%|
|United States||$9,423||14%||Luxembourg||$7,473||19%||China, P.R. Mainland||$6565||23%|
|Japan||$3387||5%||China, P.R.: Hong Kong||$1,202||3%||UAE||$2,026||7%|