The streets of Yaowarat (Bangkok’s Chinatown) is gleaming with the gold of the many gold shops there. It gives the cool and historic neighbourhood a glittering touch. And there’s plenty of gold shops dotted around the rest of the country…
The gold trade is a big part of Thailand and everyday life for Thai people. It can also be a great place to buy and sell gold for foreigners. But there’s a lot to wrap your head around first.
I’ve done all the research for you and compiled it into this article with buckets of information and lots of input from Thais who live here into how it all works.
Let’s dive in.
Is gold cheap in Thailand?
Gold is a commodity and has a value that is the same worldwide. You won’t find any country selling gold for cheap as it would be easy for them to make more money by selling it somewhere else.
Thailand can be a very good place to buy gold though, because of cheaper overheads. There are two main things you can save on, here.
Tax. VAT, or sales tax, in Thailand is not applied to sales of gold. You can buy or sell freely without the taxman taking his cut, which would be 7% for other sales in Thailand and possibly more depending on the country.
This huge saving is one reason why buying and selling gold is so popular over here. With small transaction fees and no tax, any Thai can safely store savings in gold as it is a saleable asset that is always valuable.
If you want to take your gold out of the country you will need to research import laws. Many countries don’t allow you to move gold across borders and charge an often hefty import tax. A bracelet or two might not raise any eyebrows, but expect a few questions at customs if you’re bringing 20kg of gold ingots through an airport!
Paying less on overheads. Excluding tax, any purchase of gold will include commission fees to the broker (the gold shop) and potentially workman charges for moulding it into a necklace, ring or bracelet.
The commission in Thailand are low, owing to the lower cost of living here. Renting a shop, paying wages, all contribute to a lower cut of the transaction. You will need to ensure you’re not being ripped off, stay tuned for the next heading for some tips on that front.
The workmen charges span a wide range but a typical price for a necklace might be 500฿ – a drop in the ocean compared to the cost of the gold and very low by international standards. In the UK at least, it’s not unheard of for the cost of craftmanship to be two or three times the cost of the gold! Again, this comes down to the lower cost of living and lower price of labour in this country.
If you’re planning to resell the gold, you do not get the workmanship fees back. But that’s just another reason why Thailand is a good place to buy gold, you don’t lose that much on those fees.
How do I check I’m not getting a bad price?
Gold is a commodity and its price fluctuates day by day. Any gold shop worth its salt will have the current price on display somewhere, often in the front door or window. Failing that, you can simply ask.
How do you make sure the price is correct? The website of Gold Traders Association of Thailand tracks and displays the live cost of gold in the country and you can use it to verify prices you see in shops. The website itself is only available in Thai so I’ll explain how to use it.
Here’s a picture of the important information which is directly shown to you on the webpage.
The price on the left is the buying price and the right is the selling price. The top row is for gold ingots and the bottom row for gold jewellery.
So if you wish to buy gold ingots the price would be 20,900฿ per baht (an amount of gold NOT to be confused with the Thai currency) and if you wanted to sell them ten seconds later the price would be 20,800฿.
All prices are listed in Thai baht and the picture above is from 12th November 2019. Prices will be different when you are reading this so you must check the website yourself.
You may wish to purchase a cheap $10 scale that can fit in your pocket so you can verify weight measurements of any gold you buy. They’re easy to find on Amazon, I have one for making coffee. I’d recommend getting a precise 0.01g scale.
What is the purity of gold in Thailand?
Thai gold sales operate at a standard 96.5% pure gold with the rest being metal alloy. Remember the website I linked to earlier? You can see a big 96.5% in the corner that indicates the gold purity.
Let me put that in terms you might understand better. The karat system of measuring gold purity is a level out of 24, where 24 karat is pure gold because 24/24 = 100%. Another example is that 18 karat gold would be 18/24 = 75% purity.
Thai gold doesn’t use this system. The closest comparison would be 23K gold which is 95.8% purity. Thai gold is slightly more pure than that, working out to about 23.2K.
The 96.5% purity of Thai gold is very high by international standards. In other countries, purities as low as 18K, 14K or 9K are common.
A higher purity has its drawbacks. Gold is not a sturdy or robust metal which is why you can’t wear pure gold jewellery. The gold in Thailand is mixed with an alloy typically composed of copper, silver, zinc or manganese to harden it. Still, be careful with any gold you buy here so it doesn’t get dented or damaged.
Why is gold so popular in Thailand?
While the gold shops of Thailand are mostly owned by families that descend from Chinese immigrants, buying gold is popular among all people in the country. So why is this?
One reason is that you can reliably buy and sell gold here. Anything you purchase can be sold back at near original price. This is thanks to no VAT and low commissions. Each transaction you make, either buying gold or selling gold, you’re not throwing away a large percentage of its value in useless contributions to the taxman or the guy behind the counter.
In addition, gold is a solid investment, particularly against currency issues or stock market crashes. It’s always valuable and has a history of increasing in value. In a country like Thailand whose citizens have not had easy access to other investment options like foreign currencies, stock markets or treasuries, gold has become the de facto investment vehicle.
It’s also considered a good form of insurances for wives. If your husband buys you a collection of gold jewellery, then if he leaves you or dies you are left with a sizable amount of cash that can offset the loss. It helps to understand that gender roles are still very traditional in Thailand.
The last thing to point out is that gold is pretty and desirable. It’s something nice to show off to the neighbours. The 30,000฿ you might pay on a pair of designer shoes would be money down the drain in a few years, but a 30,000฿ gold necklace can be worn, enjoyed while still retaining its value.
I suppose you can think of it like shovelling your earnings into a 401k or the house you want your grandchildren to inherit. It’s money in the bank.
Can you sell Thai gold outside of Thailand?
Selling gold outside of Thailand is possible but comes with no small amount of difficulty. Your gold has value anywhere, the issue with gold bought in Thailand is it does not follow the international standards of imprinting the gold with an Assay mark.
What is an Assay mark? It’s a small inscription of several symbols somewhere on the gold that tells you information like the material of the metal, the karat value or the sponsor. Assay marks are heavily regulated and internationally recognised.
Gold that is purchased in Thailand is usually stamped by the shop you buy them in, these stamps are not useful for verification purposes outside of tht shop.
Selling your gold outside of Thailand is possible but difficult. Some gold merchants will not touch your gold without an Assay mark whereas some will want to verify the material and purity themselves. Either way, it is a risk to buy gold in Thailand with the thought of selling it later on in another country.
Where should I buy gold in Thailand?
The centre of gold trading in Thailand is Yaowarat in Bangkok. This neighbourhood, known as Chinatown, has a long history of selling gold with most shops being run by Thai-Chinese – the families of former Chinese immigrants.
Chinatown has hundreds of gold shops. The area has an excellent reputation for selling quality gold and not ripping people off but for a first time buyer I’d still recommend sticking to the biggest and oldest shops there.
This article rounds up the best places to buy gold in Chinatown. The two it recommends are Hua Seng Heng and Tang To Kang – both long-standing stores that are easy to find with a google search. These places are simply not going to risk decades of reputation to pocket a few extra baht by scamming a foreigner.
Gold shops are ubiquitous in Bangkok. You’ll find them in malls and build up areas and they’re mostly legit. Like any shop, why risk your business by making a fast buck on a few tourists? This kind of thing always comes back to bite you.
Still, first your first foray, get yourself to Chinatown. It’s a cool, if utterly mental, place to walk around and you can end the day with some of the best street food in Bangkok.
How to make sure I’m not being sold fake gold?
The gold trade is serious business in Thailand and you can expect to run into few problems. As I mentioned, the last thing a gold store wants to do is gain a reputation for scamming hapless tourists. Still, there are precautions you should take.
My main recommendation is to begin your gold buying journey in Thailand at the oldest and most reputable places there are. That means Chinatown, and that means Hua Seng Heng and Tang To Kang. Go to Chinatown and have a look at these massive shops doing awesome amounts of business and you’ll realise they have so much to lose.
Whether you go to old and reputable shops or not, it’s smart to check the price of your gold. You should have this link open on your phone whenever you buy or sell gold in Thailand. It lets to check the shop is selling at the fair market rate.
So the main issue with Thai gold it doesn’t use the internationally recognised Assay system. Gold shops do use their own stamps but these are not useful outside of Thailand and sometimes outside of that specific shop. If you don’t know what that is then read the question above “can you sell gold outside of Thailand?” for a brief primer.
What is gold measured and sold in?
In Thailand, Gold is measured and sold in baht. This is a form of weight and NOT to confused by the currency Thai baht (฿) which, confusingly, goes by the exact same name.
One baht is equal to 15.244 grams and this is the amount that is used for the price on the gold traders website I linked to. I’ve linked the shot below. The top left corner indicates the buy price for gold ingots and in this instance the cost is 20,800฿ for one baht or about 15 grams.