Opening a Bar in Thailand – Is it realistic?

Moving to a country like Thailand and opening your own bar sounds like a pipe dream for many people – it seems especially attractive on a rainy Monday morning when you’re commuting to the office.

But Westerners that are seeking a change in their life should be aware of all the pros and cons of owning a bar in Thailand, because it’s not all peaches and cream.

Although Thailand stands out as a particularly appealing option for opening a bar, there are obstacles in the way for foreigners. After living in Thailand for years and chatting with various Farang business owners, I thought I’d cover exactly what owning a bar in Thailand entails.

First, why Thailand?

Thailand’s appeal lies in its rich cultural heritage, beautiful beaches, and a cost of living that is significantly lower than in many Western countries. The hospitality of the Thai people adds to the allure, making it a welcoming place for expatriates.

The bar scene is known globally, not just in the capital of Bangkok – in fact, when farang dream of buying a bar in Thailand, they usually imagine it’s by the beach in somewhere like Pattaya or Phuket, or even somewhere a bit quieter like Hua Hin.

Let’s take a look at the most common questions asked about starting a bar business in Thailand and go through them one-by-one.

Can a foreigner own a bar in Thailand under the Foreign Business Act?

The first thing to mention is that foreigners cannot own land in Thailand, so no, you can’t outright buy a bar and own the land it’s on.

However, you can choose to lease a premises, or what a lot of people I’ve met have done is to start a company and have the company own your bar.

Technically the company is supposed to be owned by a maximum 49% farang and 51% by Thai people, as this is necessary to get your liquor licence. But, there are ways around this (or so I’m told).

The whole process is a lot easier if you have a Thai partner. Or, extremely wealthy foreign investors can apply for a foreign business license if you want to own the majority of the company yourself, but for most it’s not plausible. Alternatively, you can register a limited liability company with a local partner to meet the legal requirements.

How do I set up a bar in Thailand with company registration?

The first thing you need to consider is the location. Will you open a new bar, or are you looking for something already established? Once you’ve decided on this, you can begin to move forward with starting a private limited company.

Company registration can be done with the DPD who will let you know if your company name is available – if it is, you then need to prepare the correct documents to apply, which includes informing them of your registered capital, who will own shares in the company (2 or more company directors), as well as all the names of everyone involved.

You can read more about how to register a company in Thailand here. Once this is done, you also need to consider a liquor license to sell alcoholic beverages, as well as a food and music licence if you intend to play copyrighted music. Additionally, opening a bank account with a minimum share capital is a mandatory step when contemplating the establishment of a business in Thailand.

After making sure you comply with all the local regulations, you can look at hiring staff – you’ll need to hire 4 staff that are Thai nationals to work to quality for a work permit.

You can then begin starting to looking at putting your bar together with equipment, design layout and marketing too. It is also essential to prepare annual financial statements and bookkeeping in accordance with Financial Reporting Standards.

If you’re serious about staring your own bar, you can check out the Foreign Business Act – the Foreign Business Act is a full document that lays out pretty much everything you need to know about setting up foreign companies in Thailand.

How much does it cost to start a business in Thailand?

It’s not the cost of starting a limited company in Thailand that really gets you, it’s the work permit.

You can start a Thai company for much cheaper (around ฿6000), but for a work permit you’ll need 2 million baht, which as of the time of writing, is around $55,000 (if you’re married to a Thai citizen, this drops to 1 million baht).

The cost of licences will likely be ฿10,000-20,000 per year, and then there’s your employee’s monthly salary to consider, as well as any accountancy fees too. Additionally, businesses must account for the corporate income tax and corporate tax, which includes a standard rate of 20% and various tax exemptions for certain activities.

How much is the alcohol license in Thailand for bar owners?

The alcohol licence is actually one of the cheaper costs when opening a bar in Thailand.

As of the time of writing, you can get an alcohol licence for around ฿10,000 annually from the relevant thai authorities, which in this case is The Excise Department (Ministry of Finance).

Are bars in Thailand profitable?

They definitely can be with a lot of hard work. There are some people that have managed to move to Thailand and live the dream, opening a bar here and running it for decades.

However, I’d bet that overall there are more unsuccessful bar owners than successful, but that’s business in general, and it’s even tougher making it work abroad. Running foreign businesses is tough work when you don’t speak the language

Where can I find a Thailand bar for sale?

You can start by looking through Thailand Businesses for Sale, as well as Baht Sold which is equivalent to Gumtree but still has some bars posted on there.

You can also look at traditional property websites like FazWaz and Siam Real Estate, which mainly deal in residential properties but also have some commercial properties too.

You can also find business opportunities through word of mouth when you’re in Thailand – unlike most places in the West, there are still buildings and houses for sale that aren’t listed anywhere online, though they’re becoming more and more scarce.

Conclusion: Is Owning a Bar in Thailand Right for You?

Owning a bar in Thailand is not just a business venture for most Westerners that want to move here; it’s a lifestyle choice.

Though it’s not as easy as some may think, and if you’re looking for somewhere to great drunk and party regularly, it’s probably not a good idea.

Running a bar here requires dedication, adaptability, and a passion for hospitality – or money to burn.

Like many businesses, a good percentage of them fail, and if you don’t take it seriously then you’ll find yourself broke within a few years.

For the average person that wants to move to Thailand, you’re likely better off looking at an Education VISA for one year, or an Elite VISA for 5+ years.

But for those willing to take on the challenge, run a successful bar in the Land of Smiles can offer you a great quality of life.

Will it make you insanely rich? No. But it can give you a more relaxed lifestyle and for many of us, that’s worth more than what money can buy.

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First visit to Asia in 2014; Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia & more. Based in Bangkok but always travelling. โชคดี (pronounced chok-dee, meaning good luck in Thai!).

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