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In this page: FDI in Figures | What to consider if you invest in Thailand | Protection of Foreign Investment | Procedures Relative to Foreign Investment | Office Real Estate and Land Ownership | Investment Aid | Investment Opportunities | Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer | Finding Assistance For Further Information

 

FDI in Figures

Foreign direct investment is an important element of Thailand's economic development, and the country is one of the major FDI destinations in its region. According to UNCTAD's World Investment Report 2023, FDI inflows stood at USD 10 billion in 2022, down by 31.5% compared to the USD 14.6 billion recorded one year earlier but still above the three-year average before COVID. In the same period, the stock of FDI reached USD 306.1 billion, around 57.1% of the country’s GDP. As per the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) figures, applications for investment promotion in 2023 reached a five-year high of USD 24 billion in combined value, an increase of 43% from the previous year's number. In 2023, foreign investors submitted 1,394 applications for investment promotion, marking a 38% increase from the prior year, with combined investment reaching USD 18.9 billion, a 72% surge driven by numerous large-scale projects. Notably, investment applications from China led the FDI sources by value, comprising 430 projects totalling USD 7.4 billion, mainly in electronics and automotive, including EVs. Singapore followed closely with 194 projects amounting to USD 3.5 billion, driven by major initiatives in solar cells and electronics. U.S. investments ranked third with 40 projects totalling USD 2.3 billion, while Japan secured fourth place with 264 projects valued at USD 2.2 billion, reflecting a 60% rise from the preceding year. The BOI's new strategy focused on five priority sectors: BCG (Bio-Circular-Green), electric vehicles (EV), smart electronics, digital, and creative. These sectors collectively garnered 759 applications, amounting to a total investment of USD 14 billion, representing 58% of the overall investment pledges. The Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), Thailand's premier industrial hub spanning Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao provinces, remained at the forefront of regional investment, securing USD 13.1 billion, representing 54% of total commitments. Following closely, the central region drew approximately USD 7.4 billion, constituting 31% of the overall investment. Thailand has been a consistent recipient of Chinese investment for some time, and its geostrategic position as the heart of the ASEAN free trade bloc, with free trade access also to China and India, has made it a hub for many Chinese investors. This has manifested itself primarily in the drive to digital economies and is building Thailand up both as a connectivity hub and as a key node for Asia in new tech. Plenty of money is being both raised and made via Chinese investments into various Thai-based initiatives in crypto, fintech, blockchain, and AI, as well as health care, including medical tourism. This, coupled with extensive infrastructure connectivity plans uniting Thailand to ASEAN, other export markets, and the development of numerous free trade zones on outlying islands is seeing the country take on a highly competitive global role for foreign investment into the South Asian region (ASEAN Briefing, 2023).

Thailand's strategic location in Southeast Asia, coupled with its relatively well-developed infrastructure and skilled workforce, makes it an appealing destination for FDI. The country offers various incentives through the Board of Investment (BOI) to attract investment, including tax breaks and streamlined bureaucratic procedures. However, political instability, bureaucratic red tape, corruption, labour issues, and infrastructure constraints pose challenges for investors. Several Thai statutes impose limitations on foreign ownership in specific sectors, notably in industries such as banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The Foreign Business Act (FBA) delineates the specific business activities reserved for Thai nationals, stipulating that foreign investment in these sectors must not exceed 50% of share capital, except under special permissions or exemptions. Thailand ranks 43rd among the 132 economies on the Global Innovation Index 2023 and 87th out of 184 countries on the 2023 Index of Economic Freedom.

 
Foreign Direct Investment 202020212022
FDI Inward Flow (million USD) -4,95114,64110,034
FDI Stock (million USD) 304,351296,270306,163
Number of Greenfield Investments* 727991
Value of Greenfield Investments (million USD) 2,0223,9268,292

Source: UNCTAD, Latest data available.

Note: * Greenfield Investments are a form of Foreign Direct Investment where a parent company starts a new venture in a foreign country by constructing new operational facilities from the ground up.

 

FDI STOCKS BY COUNTRY AND INDUSTRY

Main Investing Countries 2020, in %
United Kingdom 40.6
Singapore 20.5
Belgium 15.3
United States 7.4
Hong Kong 6.9
Japan 2.0
Luxembourg 1.2
Main Invested Sectors 2020, in %
Manufacturing 45.0
Financial and insurance activities 25.1
Real estate 9.9
Trade and repair of motor vehicles 7.1
Information and communication 2.3
 
Main Foreign Companies
Foreign Companies in Thailand: Honda, Toyota, BMW, Ford, Volvo, Exxon Mobil, Shell Global, Bayer, Dupont, Syngenta, Samsung, hp, LG, Sony, IBM.
Sources of Statistics
National Statistics Office of Thailand

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What to consider if you invest in Thailand

Strong Points

Advantages for FDI:

  • The Thai economy's strengths lie primarily in its diversity: agriculture (40% of world production of natural rubber but also rice, sugarcane, and fruits), industry (automotive, food processing electronics ), services and tourism are highly developed. 
  • The workforce is inexpensive, skilled and above all diversified. 
  • The country's location in the heart of Asia makes it a gateway to Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong Basin region, where new emerging markets have great economic potential. 
  • Government policy is generally in favour of investment and encourages free trade: there are, for example, no restrictions in the manufacturing sector or export conditions, just as there are many government agencies helping foreign and domestic investors.
Weak Points

Weaknesses in the Thai economy:

  • Lack of infrastructure and innovation
  • Political uncertainty
  • Strong collusion between economic and political circles and conflicts of interest
  • High household debt
Government Measures to Motivate or Restrict FDI
Thailand, the second largest economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is an upper middle-income country with pro-investment policies. The Thai Board of Investment (BOI) grants both tax and non-tax incentives to qualifying investment projects in Thailand, available equally to both Thai and foreign investors.  The incentives include a corporate income tax holiday, machinery and raw materials import duty incentives, and other non-tax incentives.

  • Eight years of corporate income tax exemption (with or without a maximum cap),
  • Five years of corporate income tax exemption,
  • Three years of corporate income tax exemption.

Other incentives also include:

  • Withholding tax exemption for dividend distribution during the tax holiday.
  • 100% foreign ownership in certain businesses reserved under the FBA.
  • Customs duty exemption or reduction for imported raw materials and machinery.
  • Land ownership for foreign companies.
  • Withdrawing or remitting money abroad in foreign currency.
  • Visa and work permit privileges for expatriates.

Other incentives are available for expenditure in these sectors: R&D in technology and innovation, intellectual property acquisition/licensing fees for commercialising technology developed in Thailand, advanced technology training, development of local suppliers with Thai shareholder(s) holding at least 51% of the total shares, product and packaging designs in Thailand, both in-house and outsourced.

Additional area-based incentives for corporate income tax exemptions are provided to qualified investors in the specific areas that fall under the following categories:

  • Decentralisation (activities based in the 20 provinces with the lowest per capita income).
  • Industrial area development (for qualified projects based in industrial estates).
  • Science and technology parks.
  • Eastern Economic Corridor areas.
  • Four provinces on the Southern border and the four districts in Songkhla.

In support of its “Thailand 4.0” strategy, the government offers incentives for investments in twelve targeted industries: next-generation automotive; intelligent electronics; advanced agriculture and biotechnology; food processing; tourism; advanced robotics and automation; digital technology; integrated aviation; medical hub and total healthcare services; biofuels/biochemical; defense manufacturing; and human resource development.

The Thai government in 2019 passed new laws and regulations on cybersecurity and personal data protection that have raised concerns given to Thai authorities regarding confidential and sensitive information, introducing new uncertainties in the technology sector.

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Protection of Foreign Investment

Bilateral Investment Conventions Signed By Thailand
Thailand has signed 43 bilateral investment treaties. See the list on the Thailand page of the UNCTAD Investment Policy Hub.
International Controversies Registered By UNCTAD
The ISDS Navigator contains information about known international arbitration cases initiated by investors against States pursuant to international investment agreements. Thailand is involved in in 2 cases as Respondent State.
Organizations Offering Their Assistance in Case of Disagreement
ICCWBO , International court of arbitration, International chamber of commerce
ICSID , International Center for settlement of Investment Disputes
Member of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency
Thailand is a signatory to the MIGA Convention.
 
Country Comparison For the Protection of Investors Thailand East Asia & Pacific United States Germany
Index of Transaction Transparency* 10.0 5.9 7.0 5.0
Index of Manager’s Responsibility** 7.0 5.2 9.0 5.0
Index of Shareholders’ Power*** 9.0 6.7 9.0 5.0

Source: The World Bank - Doing Business, Latest data available.

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Procedures Relative to Foreign Investment

Freedom of Establishment
Certain types of business activities are reserved for Thai nationals only. Foreign investment in those businesses must comprise less than 50% of share capital, unless specially permitted or otherwise exempt.
Acquisition of Holdings
A Thai private limited company may be wholly owned by foreign parties. However, for certain business activities reserved for Thai nationals, foreign participation is generally allowed up to 49%.
Obligation to Declare
The Foreign Business Act (FBA) of 1999 governs most investment activity by non-Thai nationals. FBA prohibits foreigners from engaging in most business categories and those that are open to foreign entrepreneurs can be operated in only after obtaining a Foreign Business License (FBL) issued by the Department of Commercial Registration. The second method of achieving 100% foreign business ownership is to have your business promoted by BOI (in the agricultural sector, mineral and ceramics, light industry, metal products, electronics and chemicals).

The Board of Investment gives information on the permits required to start a business.

Competent Organisation For the Declaration
Department of Business Development
Industrial Estate Authority
Requests For Specific Authorisations
Various Thai laws provide for restrictions on foreign ownership 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.

Prohibited sectors include: media, rice and livestock farming, 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 and land trading. Restrictions apply to activities related to national safety or security, or those which affect arts and culture, or natural resources and the environment
Specific authorisations are needed for the following sectors: accounting; legal, architectural, or engineering services; retail and wholesale; advertising businesses; hotels; guided touring; selling food or beverages and any kind of service business.

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Office Real Estate and Land Ownership

Possible Temporary Solutions
Regus and ServCorp
The Possibility of Buying Land and Industrial and Commercial Buildings
Foreigners may not own land in their name; however their Thai registered company may own the land. Buying Thai real estate under a leasehold interest is a very popular and preferred way for foreigners to acquire property in Thailand. A foreigner can buy land in Thailand if he is married to a Thai however there are some limitations.
Risk of Expropriation
Thai laws provide guarantees regarding protection from expropriation without compensation and non-discrimination for some, but not all, investors. Thailand’s Constitution provides protection from expropriation without fair compensation and requires the government to pass a specific, tailored expropriation law if the expropriation is required for the purpose of public utilities, national defense, acquisition of national resources, or for other public interests. The Investment Promotion Act also guarantees the government shall not nationalize the operations and assets of Board of Investment-promoted investors.

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Investment Aid

Forms of Aid
The incentives include a corporate income tax holiday, machinery and raw materials import duty incentives, and other non-tax incentives.
Privileged Domains
Incentives are granted to investors in R&D in technology and innovation, advanced technology training, Industry 4.0 strategy, specific regions such as 20 provinces with the lowest per capita income, Industrial area development (for qualified projects based in industrial estates), Science and technology parks, Eastern Economic Corridor areas and the four provinces on the Southern border and the four districts in Songkhla.
Privileged Geographical Zones
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. Foreign-owned firms generally have the same investment opportunities in the industrial zones as Thai entities.
The IEAT currently operates 14 estates, plus 45 more in conjunction with the private sector, in 16 provinces nationwide.
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.
Free-trade zones
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).
The free trade zones are located in Chonburi, Lampun, Pichit, Songkhla, Samut Prakarn, Bangkok (at Lad Krabang), Ayuddhya, and Chachoengsao.
Public aid and funding organisations
Bank of Thailand
IFC makes investments and provides advice to support the growth of Thailand’s private sector.
 
 

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Investment Opportunities

The Key Sectors of the National Economy
Automotive, agriculture (rubber, seafood, rice, cane sugar, fruit), electronic components, computers, organic chemistry, tourism.
High Potential Sectors
All sectors related to rail, road, airport and electrical infrastructure are offering great business opportunities for foreign investors.
Privatization Programmes
None.
Tenders, Projects and Public Procurement
Tenders Info , Tenders in Thailand
Asian Development Bank , Procurement Plans in Asia
DgMarket , Tenders Worldwide

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Sectors Where Investment Opportunities Are Fewer

Monopolistic Sectors
Thailand’s government influences prices in the local market through its control of state monopoly suppliers of products and services, such as in the oil and gas industry sectors (US Department of State)

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Finding Assistance For Further Information

Investment Aid Agency
The Board of Investment Promotion in Thailand
Department for Business Development - Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce
Other Useful Resources
Siam Legal
Doing Business Guides
Doing Business in Thailand - World Bank
Doing Business in Thailand - Deloitte
Doing Business in Thailand - Baker McKenzie
 
 
 
 

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Latest Update: June 2024