Many western business men come to Thailand on business. Some are expats who’ll work in Thailand for months or even years. Some are business men who are on short trips to Thailand for business. For many westerners visiting the Kingdom,because Thailand is hot but also conservative, they’re not sure how to dress to do business here. Sadly, even though Thailand is an incredibly hot country, there is still a dress code and foreigners will be expected to adhere to it. Don’t worry though, there are ways around the heat. Just follow these simple Thai dress code tips, and you’ll find you’re more comfortable doing business in Thailand than you might expect to be.
Business Dress Code for Men in ThailandSuits – If you are going to be doing business in Thailand, one of the things you will notice is most Thai men wear dress pants and often wear a full western business suit. For western men who are not used to the oppressive Thai heat (Bangkok is the hottest city in the world year-round), wearing a suit can be incredibly uncomfortable. For western men who live here, you’ll see that most of them will wear suit pants but, if they’re planning on wearing a suit jacket indoors, they will be carrying it with them when they’re outside. For most of the Thai partners in the international company I work for, they actually keep their suit jackets at work in their office, and just arrive in the morning wearing suit pants. Then, if they need to leave the office for a meeting, they can put on their suit jacket later. Really saves on being uncomfortable.
Shirts – Unfortunately, for western men who are not used to the heat, long-sleeve shirts are worn for business in Thailand and not short-sleeved. You will see some western men wearing suit pants and a short-sleeved shirt but, overall, they are usually low-level western teachers, as this isn’t acceptable in most Thai companies. Bring long-sleeved shirts with you and the lighter color the better. Also make sure your shirts are 100% cotton or close enough to it, as you’ll find you’ll sweat less. You can wear a t shirt underneath your shirt (some Thai men do), but most western men in Bangkok just find that only adds another layer and makes them hotter, so a lot don’t bother.
Ties – Wearing a Thai in business in Thailand is a must. You will very rarely see a Thai man or a typical western business man in Thailand not wearing a tie, unless it’s at the end of the day or at a more casual meeting or presentation.
Of course, if you’re working in your office and not seeing clients, it’s fine to take the tie off. Just make sure you put it back on before you go anywhere where you need to make an impression.
Unlike the Americans and the Brits back home too, you’re unlikely to see a Thai guy or western business man in Bangkok wearing a loud or brightly colored tie, or one plastered with cartoon characters. Thai men tend to be conservative in dress so, if you’re not sure, wear a conservative tie with not too much of a busy pattern and you’ll be fine.
Shoes – You will see some Thai business men wearing brightly-colored plastic flip flops along with their suits. These are only worn for comfort while they get to work and are usually reserved for lower-level male employees and not for high-level executives. Most executives will wear socks and dress shoes with their suits, just like in the west. It is, however, advisable to have a pair of plastic or rubber flip flops in your office desk (most Thais will) as, in the rainy season Bangkok floods. You don’t want to ruin your $100 pair of leather shoes, when you can throw on a pair of $1 flip flops to paddle through the water to your car or taxi.
Overall, for western men in Thailand, your business dress should be similar to the west but with a more conservative cut or color and minus a suit jacket, unless you have a business lunch, dinner or meeting. What you wear in Thailand though is often more important than how well you do your job. Seriously. So make sure you stick to the dress code guidelines and, if in doubt, observe what your Thai male co-workers are wearing or ask one of them what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Photo – While we’re not fans of Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit (far right), he does dress well. Note his traditional business dress and the more relaxed dress (minus tie) of the other two men. This was taken at the opening of Bangkok’s art gallery, so a relatively casual affair