Cost of living in Phuket
It’s relatively inexpensive to live in Phuket, as long as you avoid the ‘touristy’ west coast (Patong, Kata, Karon, Surin, Bang Tao, Mai Khao, Kamala, Nai Harn) to live. These areas are some of the most popular tourist areas and attract the highest rents and living costs.
There are large expat communities in Rawai, Chalong, Koh Kaew and Kathu. Even in the local ‘capital’ Phuket Town and Thalang have better value for rental costs. But, right around Phuket, you can find cheaper alternatives for rent and food – you just have to have time to get into the local network and meet some friends who have lived on the island for a longer time.
Internet, electricity, laundry and health costs are all quite low, compared to western counterparts. The motto is, to live cheaply, “live like a local”.
Phuket is hot all year around, with defined wet, hot and dry seasons. Usually the only thing you need to worry about in Phuket is if it’s raining or not – it’s always going to be hot. You get some localised thunderstorms and flooding during the wet season, but there are rarely any extremes of heat, cold, wind or intense weather events.
You can see here that the wettest months of the year are September and October, the ‘dry season’ usually November through to April, and the wet season start in late April and runs through to the end of October. But there are annual variations on the same theme.
The good weather is also matched by good air quality throughout most of the year. Whilst Bangkok and northern Thailand have to cope with three or four months of the ‘burning season’, air pollution, smoke and smog each year, Phuket will have much lower incidence of air pollution in comparison.
There are many levels of affordable accommodation all over the island, from 8,000 baht+ for a small house on the east coast in places like Phuket Town, even with air conditioning. You’d find a 2 bedroom pool villa in the south of the island for 20 – 25,000 baht per month.
There are certainly many websites that cater for foreign tourists that will advertise peak costs for monthly rentals. Do lots of homework before renting a house, condo (apartment) or villa in Phuket. Get some recommendations from friends before calling the first website you see.
There are laws in Thailand which control the amount of bond you are required to pay before moving in to your room or house. You should check the fine print of any lease before signing it. If it is in Thai language you MUST get it checked by a Thai lawyer and ensure you know what you are signing.
Keep in mind that, during the annual holiday season of December to the end of February, the rental prices can peak.
There’s quite a lot of fresh produce grown on the island and fresh food markets everywhere, probably within 5 minutes of where you live. There are also western-style supermarkets and shopping centres which give you more of a western-style food shopping experience – you will pay more for fruit and vegetables in these establishments.
Apart from all the local fresh seafood, fruit and vegetables available in Phuket, you can also get many of your favourites from home. Villa Market, for example, is a supermarket (there are Villa Markets in Chalong, Koh Kaew and Cherngtalay) that stock international favourites from many countries.
Big C, Makro, Lotus and Tops are the most popular supermarkets and there is a 7-11 or Family Mart on just about every corner for the emergencies.
For eating out you are spoiled for choice. Obviously Thai food is everywhere, cheap and tasty. Whilst you might pay 300-400 baht in a ‘nice’ restaurant in a touristy area for a traditional Thai meal, you will surely find exactly the same food for less than 80 baht in a local market or street-side restaurant.
There’s also a wide selection of foreign food, especially in the tourist zones. You’ll usually pay more for the pleasure but will still be able to eat most foods from around the world at a reasonable price.
When it comes to street food, never be shy about trying some of the often exotic treats on display with the many street vendors along the roads. Probably unlikely to be particularly healthy, they are certainly delicious. May we recommend a banana pancake sometime!
There are around 30,000 expats living in Phuket with all sorts of international and local associations, clubs and groups. Many have Facebook pages. Beyond that making contact with people you know will usually lead to a wider circle of friends on the island – an important aspect of living as a foreigner in Thailand.
Every day there are hundreds of planes, from around the world as well as domestic locations, flying in and out of Phuket. The international airport has flights to every continent and major cities around the world. Also plenty of cheap, discount flights to get around Thailand and the region.
There are many domestic airlines flying an extensive network around Thailand – Bangkok Airways and Thai Smile (the domestic arm of Thai Airways) are the main full service airlines. Nok Air, Thai Viet Jet, Thai Lion Air and Thai Air Asia are the discount airlines with very competitive pricing to a range of destinations, within Thailand and regionally.
The island has 30 beautiful beaches, some which are more touristy and accessible than others. There are also many pristine islands within 20 minutes to an hour from the main island with a range of tour companies providing competitive itineraries Most of the departure points are along the east coast, in Chalong, Boat Lagoon, Royal Phuket Marina, Rassada Pier and Ao Por.
Phuket’s beaches along the west coast are characterised with wide, sandy beaches, all unique. During the wet season there is often a strong south west swell running that produces large waves and dangerous rips. Many (not all) of the west coast beaches are patrolled. Take note if there are red flags along the beaches and don’t over-estimate your swimming skills as it can quite challenging for even competent swimmers at this time of the year.
Paperwork and Thai bureaucracy
There are three immigration offices on the island and a number of registered visa agents to help you with your paperwork. The Immigration outlets are in Saphan Hin, Patong and Cherng Talay (Blue Tree).
There are also visa agents to assist with things like finding a property, getting a Thai license, residents’ certificate and insurance. Of course, you will pay for their help, but, particularly with immigration matters, a reliable visa agent can often ‘smooth’ any wrinkles in your application. Keeping your visa up to date is a prime responsibility of a foreigner visiting or living in Thailand.
Retirement visas (O and O-A visas) are available for foreigners over the age of 50 and requires a minimum bank balance and monthly income requirement. There are also Elite Visas available which cover you for stays of 5, 10 or 20 years – not cheap but eliminate just about all the hassles of maintaining a visa. There are also new Long Term Resident 10 year visas available for skilled or high-income individuals which may fit your requirements.
A few hours on the internet or a consultation with a reliable visa agent will help you decide what is best for you.
Be aware, whenever you interface with the Thai public service there is usually a lot of paperwork and red-tape involved. The same vibe has spread to many private sector companies as well. Be prepared and smile when you have to initial 32 pages of A4 paper after getting new brakes installed in your car (true story!).
Healthcare and education
There are world class private hospitals, as well as good public hospitals, and lots of excellent (but not cheap) international schools scattered around the island – there’s a lot of choice. All Thai people, and foreigners on a Thai Work Permit, can use Thailand’s universal health care system which is mostly free. Otherwise you would be well advised to ensure you have proper private health insurance that covers you whilst in Thailand.
For retirees, it is even more important to maintain your health insurance and is usually a requirement when renewing your ‘retirement visa’ annually.
Bangkok is an hour away from Phuket, by air. Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam about 2 hours away by air. India, Hong Kong, Philippines, Japan and southern China within a 5 hour flight. So many choices for exciting travel adventures within hours of Thailand.
Within Thailand there are another 75 provinces, plus Bangkok, waiting to be explored outside of Phuket. A Thai smile will be waiting to welcome you around the country and affordable car and motorbike rental make it easy to get around. Even within a 2 or 4 hour drive from Phuket, you can be in up to four different provinces, all with their own personality and attractions.