In 2017, I and a business partner decided to set up a company in Thailand in order to legally enter the Thai market with our food application TopTravelFoods. The reasons to choose Thailand were simple:
It has one the highest number of tourist visits each year and the majority of these tourists have no clue what to order in this beautiful country. This is exactly what TopTravelFoods does: we recommend the best food restaurants have to offer for tourists who have a lack of knowledge of the local cuisine. You simply open the app and it recommends the best dishes available near you.
Co-founder Joost & Theo
Setting up a Company (BOI-approved)
To do so, we’ve contacted a local agent to help us set up a BOI-approved company. The BOI (Board of Investors) is a department of the Thai Ministry of Economy and its constantly looking for foreign companies to invest in Thailand. One of the main advantages of a BOI-approved company is that the owners can own one hundred per cent of the company, in contrary of ‘normal’ Thai companies where foreigners only can own forty-nine per cent of the company. After five to six months and all documents approved, we finally got our own company. In my experience, you cannot set up a BOI-approved company without the help of a local agent. Finding the correct agent who is not overpriced is difficult. Find someone in your network that can help you with that, and one of the best ways to expand your network in Bangkok is joining your country’s business network. In my case, this is the NTCC, the Netherlands-Thai Chamber of Commerce.
Enhance your Network
The Netherlands-Thai Chamber of Commerce hosts, like many other business network organizations in Bangkok, a monthly event where fellow business minded people gather to discuss business and expanding their network. It is vital for entrepreneurship in Bangkok to join these events. It’s the NTCC’s interest that you set up your company in the best way possible.
The Top Travel Foods App
One of the requirements when having a (BOI-approved) Thai company is that you have to have an actual office. It’s not possible to register your company at your own Thai address. Due to uncertainty at the time, as we are a startup and the fact that we work with outsourcing companies, we decided to have a small office almost as cheap as possible. This was not a smart decision, although the building was occupied with other Thai companies. Once we moved to a co-working space where you are surrounded with liked-minded young entrepreneurs and startups, who go through the same phases and problems as you. Here you can easily find the right solution for you and get in touch with the right people.
Obstacles to overcome
Getting your company registered, make sure you have the right documentation including your visa and work-permit and surround yourself with the right like-minded people are the foundation of eventual success as an entrepreneur in Bangkok. But there are a few obstacles to overcome when it comes to running a business in Bangkok:
There is a lot of paperwork to be done. From setting up a Thai bank account to file a 90-days report to Thai Immigration. The government is doing their absolute best to digitalize all of this, but in reality, the digitalization is far from mature. Also, recently a new pain for expats have come to arise, as you now have to file a report each time you visit a Thai province the so-called TM30 file. All of this can be annoying, but you have to simply accept it. I’ve met several employees at Immigration, BOI and Bangkok Bank that helped me get through every paperwork struggle.
Obviously there is a language and cultural barrier. Where in the Netherlands, where I grew up in, everyone is direct, in Thailand that directness is not always appreciated. This is just one example of how we all have different norms and values. However, when you want to run a business in Bangkok, you as a foreigner have to adapt to these local norms, values and their language. (Although I have to admit that the majority of the people do speak proper English). The variety of people and staff can work in your advantage as well, so embrace it.
My conclusion is that when you get the foundation of your business right, surround yourself with like-minded people and are open to adjusting yourself to local norms and values, Bangkok is a great place to set up your business. And to prove the Thai government is acting on this:
In 2016, Thailand started the 20-year economy program called Thailand 4.0, where the country is aiming to be a global destination for startups. This is an important signal that the government welcomes startups and want to catch up with startup destinations such as Singapore and Hong Kong.