Southeast Asia is made up of several countries that have recently experienced economic growth, enticing Western companies to do business in this part of the world. This area has proven to have a range of untapped market opportunities, making it very appealing to many investors.

Southeast Asia is divided geographically into two parts: maritime Southeast Asia and mainland Southeast Asia. Most countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and as a single community, they offer a diverse range of business opportunities to investors.

The key point here is that all investors should be familiar with and understand the terms, regulations, and laws of each country before doing business in the region. This means they must deal with ten different countries, ten different currencies, ten different legal systems, ten different religious beliefs, customs, and cultures, as well as ten different official languages.

Understanding the various markets in Southeast Asia is extremely important

If you intend to do business in Southeast Asia, research which countries are on the rise and which offer the best options for your products and services. The region is made up of ten ASEAN member countries, the most economically developed of which are Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

All developed-country companies should be aware that they treat each of the region’s countries completely independently. Each country presents its own set of challenges, such as forming a company, obtaining a loan, obtaining a building permit, and complying with various tax laws.

There are significant differences between ASEAN member countries

Because Southeast Asia is regarded as the most important developing economy today, it is not uncommon for many multinational corporations to seek opportunities to invest in this market. Even though the region offers a plethora of business opportunities, all companies must thoroughly prepare for all the challenges that will face them as they expand.

The main goal of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is to create a single economic community among the Member States, which is extremely difficult in practice due to huge differences in business terms and conditions between the Member States. Singapore, for example, is a small market with a stable government, a stable currency, and excellent infrastructure, whereas Indonesia, on the other hand, has a large population but very limited business opportunities. Myanmar is the poorest country in ASEAN, with 75% of the population still living without electricity, which explains why its mobile markets are the fastest growing in the world.

What to consider when doing business in Southeast Asia

Doing business in Southeast Asia will be a real challenge for all companies accustomed to doing business in countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Singapore, as many factors must be considered.

Restrictions and regulations

Many Southeast Asian investors face a difficult situation because they must deal with a variety of local and regional laws, intellectual property registration, trademark protection, and immigration policy in their business.

Many ASEAN markets, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, have restrictions on foreign investment and require international firms to have local partners as well as local shareholders. Some countries pre-screen all foreign companies, and they can only begin doing business once they have been approved.

ASEAN member states also have different restrictions on foreign investment, but these vary depending on the economic activity. Please keep in mind that there are numerous additional regulations, particularly in the areas of banking, transportation, fisheries, and telecommunications.

Recruitment difficulties

One of the ASEAN Economic Association’s objectives, which is still in the proposal stage, is to allow free movement of labour throughout the region. When it comes to hiring workers from other countries, including neighbouring ones, different country markets still have strict regulations, so it is important to check whether it is possible to relocate some of your staff to the region or hire foreign labour to work in a specific country.

Varying time frames

While Western businesses are very consistent in terms of deadlines, the same is not always true in the East. If you want to manage the flow of procedures, you’ll need to adjust your schedule, particularly for immigration, import permits, business license documentation, negotiating and contracting with suppliers, and dealing with redundancies.

Trusting relations with business partners

Personal friendship and trust are essential for people in the East. We recommend that you travel frequently to the country where you do business, as this is the only way for you to establish personal contacts with potential business partners. You cannot make those who make business decisions rush, so expect a long wait before they approve your venture in this part of Asia.

However, trust with potential business partners is not the only factor to consider. It is critical that you get to know your potential customers, partners, and suppliers first-hand, as their perspectives can be extremely valuable in your business.

Accepting cultural diversity

When conducting business in Southeast Asia, it is critical to remember that their cultures are vastly different from those of the West. Keep in mind that situations or actions that would cause discomfort to others should be avoided. So, if you have been given a gift, do not refuse it, nor do you refuse the hospitality extended to you by your business partners. If you want to do business successfully, avoid playing the guilt card in public.

Understanding different challenges

Prepare for several challenges if you decide to do business in Southeast Asia. If you are impatient with this, you will be disappointed because many obstacles and cultural differences await you on your business journey. Expect some cultures to be more developed than others, and aid to international businesses varies by country.

Each country’s procedures are unique. On the one hand, there may be lengthy bureaucratic procedures, but on the other hand, establishing a business in other countries is much easier. It is critical that you become acquainted with all relevant information pertaining to the country in which you wish to do business.

General business rules vary from one country to the next

When it comes to doing business in Southeast Asia, business rules are crucial. Aside from personal contact and cultural diversity, it is critical to understand that each country has its own set of business rules that must be followed.

Business cards, which in the east are an extension of the person giving them, are an important link in business. As a result, it is critical that you both hand it over and receive it with courtesy. As a rule, use both hands to read it and, above all, do not put it in your wallet or pockets. Keep it close to the business documents you have with you on the table during the meeting. When creating your own business cards, make sure they are properly translated into the local language.

Attending business meetings requires punctuality as well. When it comes to personal interactions, such as receiving and giving gifts, do not just use your right hand in countries where Muslim and Hindu cultures predominate. In these countries, you should also avoid getting too close to the person with whom you are doing business.

Learn about Southeast Asian culture with the assistance of a translation agency

Doing business in Southeast Asia will be a real lesson for you, as the cultures in this part of the region are vastly different from those in the west. Make sure you have adequate knowledge of the business environment, protocols, language, and culture, and conduct a market analysis before deciding to start a business.

Language proficiency is also required in all of this. As previously stated, you will encounter a variety of official languages in this part of Asia, which can be a major barrier to doing business successfully. Make sure that not knowing the language will not be an impediment when doing business, and find a good translation agency that will be of great assistance to you with its translation services.

With its assistance, you will be able to easily deal with the numerous documents required to establish a company, your business cards will be accurately and professionally translated, and business meetings and appointments will be less stressful. A good translation agency will ensure that the information communicated between you and your business partners is precise and professional, which will help your company succeed in Southeast Asia.