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Thailand

Overview

A founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and a major US ally, Thailand is the only country in the region never to have been colonized by Europeans. Its tech sector is currently too fragmented to offer reliable opportunities for software outsourcing, but this is a market to watch. Literacy rates are high and IT education and training are offered at all the top universities.

Thai workers are very familiar with Western culture and business processes, thanks to the country’s openness to foreign investors and tourists. Demand for skilled employees in STEM industries has led to the introduction of a 10-year resident visa to attract international talent. Thailand has a good internet and electricity infrastructure, and the government is increasingly investing in the tech landscape.

Talent Pool & Education

Tech expertise relating to 5G mobile network rollouts, data analytics, blockchain and other digital transformation skills will be in hot demand, according to a survey by the professional recruitment firm Robert Walters. Huawei has supported Thailand in shaping tech talent for years through numerous initiatives and partnerships with both the private and public sector. Bangkok’s True Digital Park, the largest tech and start-up hub in Southeast Asia, opened in 2023, with integrated commercial/residential areas and a 24-hour “lifestyle street.” The park is a critical driver for the development of the startup and innovation ecosystem in Thailand.

Since 2014, the size of Thailand’s workforce working in science and technology related fields has increased by a fifth to more than two million people. The surge in demand for skilled employees in these industries has led to the introduction of a new long-term resident visa to attract international talent. Thailand’s Board of Investment is also offering incentives, including multi-year tax holidays and training grants, to companies investing in the establishment of education and vocational training institutes specializing in STEM.

Language

The official language is Thai. Few locals are fluent in English outside the international business community. However, companies that aspire to be global players, such as software development firms, recruit for English proficiency. Many students study English as a second language through to university level and communication skills are significantly higher among young people and in urban centers.

Economic Outlook

Thailand is the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia and serves as an economic anchor for its developing neighbor countries. Its own economic climate recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, driven by a recovery in tourism and private consumption. Despite domestic political uncertainty, the economy appears resilient and is expected to advance at a moderate pace, according to international commentators. Public-private investment partnerships are projected to remain a key driver, in line with the government’s ambitious, multi billion-dollar infrastructure blueprint. The National Strategic Plan (2017-2036) places the emphasis on improving the business environment, boosting the country's competitiveness and long-term economic performance through the development of rail, road, airport, and electricity infrastructures.

Thailand's planned digital wallet program, potentially amounting to 2.7% of GDP, could boost near-term growth further, according to a World Bank report. However, its dependency on energy imports risks leading to another inflationary surge, due to heightened geopolitical conflict and high oil prices. Air pollution is a major economic and public health issue in Thailand, which has set a goal of reduced carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 and is currently revising its Climate Change Act.

Political Conditions

Srettha Thavisin, a former real estate tycoon, was endorsed by the Thai King after winning enough parliamentary support to become Prime Minister in the 2023 elections. The controversial alliance between his Pheu Thai party and its longstanding enemies from the military side was forged despite the reformist pro-democracy Move Forward party winning the most seats and the popular vote.  While this makes the government less likely to pursue a more radical agenda, fractiousness within the 11-party coalition will challenge political stability and government effectiveness.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has little direct power under the constitution, but insults or threats to the monarch remain a criminal offense under the “lese majeste” – legislation marked for review as part of Move Forward’s progressive platform. An amendment is due to be considered by the Thai courts in early 2024. However, while the Economist Intelligence Unit believes the new government will pursue some constitutional reform to reduce the military's role in politics, it does not expect a change to the lese majeste law.

The Pheu Thai party is led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a political coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and fled into exile. He returned to Thailand last year after the party regained power and was taken to prison but is now due for parole after his sentence was dramatically reduced by the King.