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Living in Phuket

Living in Phuket
Many westerners have made Phuket their home. It is impossible to give an exact number but estimates range between 10,000 to 20,000. Phuket offers the charms of a tropical island with the amenities of a western country. The cost of living means that ex-pats can have a higher quality of life than they could afford at home.
The country is politically stable compared to many other tropical nations. Yes, there is a history of military coups. However, any conflict invariably takes place in Bangkok while in the rest of the country life continues as normal. The locals are friendly and tolerant, and visa rules are relatively generous.

All kinds of people settle in Phuket. Many retirees take advantage of Thailand's retirement visas for over 50s, knowing their pensions will go much further than at home. There are many foreigners working in Phuket - mostly in the tourism sector. Another group is those with visas for supporting Thai spouses and dependants. There are yet more people who stay in Phuket by doing regular visa runs or who stay 6-months a year. Many offshore workers make Phuket their home. Their high incomes allow them a great lifestyle in Phuket and they do not need to worry about special visas as they can return to work before their tourist visas expire.

A new option is to take a Thai language course and qualify for an education visa. The language schools in Phuket can arrange this for up to 5-years of study and there is no need for visa runs.

1. Visas

There are a number of visa options available to people wanting to live in Thailand. We will give a brief description of the most common visa situations used by ex-pats. You can find more visa information at Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If you do not want to do the research yourself, then there are plenty of lawyers in Phuket offering visa services. Another good source of information is the Thai Visa Forum in their 'visas, residency and work permits' section. Make sure you search through their previous threads for the answer to your query before you start a new thread.

Thailand's visa rules initially seem confusing to newcomers and many give up before they even start. Once you understand the visa rules, you will see they are not as complicated as they first appear. There is usually a way for most people to stay in Thailand although it may require some financial backing. It is certainly a lot more difficult for Thais to get visas to western countries. We hope we can give you a brief description of the visa rules without making them sound too confusing.
Visa Runs

It is amazing how many people have lived in Phuket for years simply by doing monthly visa runs. We give a brief description of Visa Runs in our practical information page. It is the option taken by people who do not qualify for any long stay visa. However, visa runs quickly become a tedious chore and the 30 days will seem to pass very quickly. There are always rumours circulating that the authorities will crack down on the regular visa runners and will force them to exit the country for a reasonable period of time. As yet, these rumours are unfounded but who knows.

Non-Immigrant Visas

Life in Phuket is much more comfortable if you can obtain a long-term visa.

The long-term visas are called non-immigrant visas and are available for a variety of circumstances. You can obtain these visas from a Thai Embassy or Consulate outside Thailand. Either you obtain them in your home country or sometimes people go to a country near Thailand. The Thai Consulate in Penang, Malaysia is a popular choice. Different embassies and consulates vary in the way they apply the rules. Some are friendlier than others. Some may require to see evidence of financial status, bankbooks or pension.

Retirement Visa (Non-Immigrant O-A)

Retirement Visas are available for people aged 50 years and over.

Dependants Visa (Non-Immigrant O)

These visas are primarily for people who support Thai spouses or children. You will need a Thai marriage certificate or evidence that you support a Thai family to qualify.

Business Visa (Non-Immigrant B)

These visas are for people who work in Thailand. You will need a letter of employment from a registered company in Thailand to qualify. Some people register their own company in order to qualify for this visa.

Educational Visa (Non-Immigrant E)

These visas are for people who study in Thailand. You will need a letter from a recognised educational facility. Thai Language schools have recently started offering these visas and they only require a few hours study a week. An annual fee of around 35,000 baht can get you a 1-year educational visa and the chance to study Thai language.

 There are other visa categories available such as media related and expert skills but the ones above are those most commonly used by ex-pats.

The main points of confusion are about single-entry visas, multi-entry visas and extensions of stay. A non-immigrant visa can be either single-entry or multi-entry. A single-entry non-immigrant visa allows you to enter Thailand for up to 90 days. A one-year, multi-entry, non-immigrant visa allows you to enter Thailand for up to 90 days at a time, as many times as you want for the one-year duration of the visa.

The common misconception therefore, is that all ex-pats need to do a visa run every 90 days. This is not true if you can show you qualify for an extension of stay.

Extensions of Stay

You can obtain extensions of stay from immigration offices in Thailand and they allow you to remain in the country for a year from your date of entry. Before the year is up, you can apply for another extension and then another so you never need to leave Thailand. To qualify for an extension of stay you need to have a non-immigrant visa and show you have the means to support yourself in Thailand.

For a retirement visa (non-immigrant O-A), you need to show a lump sum of 800,000 baht in a Thai bank or a monthly income of 65,000 baht.

For a dependants visa (non-immigrant O visa), you need to show a lump sum of 400,000 baht in a Thai bank or a monthly income of 40,000 baht.

For a non-immigrant B visa, you will need to show a work permit and tax slips.

The simplest way to show you have sufficient funds is to open a Thai bank account and transfer the required amount. Then you can use your bank book and a letter from the bank as evidence of the funds. They do require the money is in the account for 3-months before the extension application. This is to stop people just borrowing the money for a few days.

Two points to remember about extensions of stay. Firstly, you need to report your address to a local immigration office every 90 days. Secondly, if you want to leave Thailand and then return then you need to obtain a permit of re-entry before you leave the country. If you do not obtain a permit of re-entry then your extension of stay will be invalidated and you will have to start the whole process over again.

2. Accommodation

Long-term rental accommodation is available at very reasonable prices. In the tourist resorts, it is possible to find apartments from 10,000 baht a month. Away from the tourist resorts, you can find basic single rooms from 2,500 baht a month, one-room apartments from 4000 baht a month and houses from 10,000 baht a month. The areas around Nai Harn, Rawai, Chalong and Kathu are popular with ex-pats. Even cheaper and much quieter is the north of Phuket around Thalang and Nai Yang.

At the other end of the scale, if you want luxury accommodation with a sea view or swimming pool you can be looking at 50,000 baht a month or much, much more.

Buying a property is complicated because of Thailand's laws prohibiting foreigners from owning of land but there are ways to own property:

Foreigners may buy condos. Foreign ownership of the entire block may not exceed 49%.

Foreigners can get long-term land leases of up to 30-years.

Many ex-pats who have a Thai spouse, register the property in their partners name. They then get a lawyer to write a contract that entitles them to live in the property indefinitely.

The other option commonly used is to set up a Thai company and buy land through that company. Foreigners can only own 49% of a Thai company but the company is set up in such a way that the other 51% is split between nominee Thai shareholders who have no influence on the company. It sounds dubious but is a widely used ploy. The negative side is the company has to be active so you need to file a tax return and make a tax payment every year. Also there is the possibility the Thai government may close this loophole. On the positive side, you can also use the company to do business in Thailand and qualify for a Non Immigrant B visa.

3. Working in Phuket

Phuket is a fantastic place to live if you have the money to enjoy it. If you do not have money, it is a difficult place to come and make a living. Many people want their slice of paradise and come to Phuket looking to make a life. If they do not have an income from abroad or sufficient savings then it is a difficult place to earn money.

Legally, any foreigner working in Thailand should have a non-immigrant visa and a work permit. There are strict guidelines on what circumstances qualify for a work permit. There is also a list of reserved occupations that they only allow Thais to perform. These include manual labour, agriculture, tourist guides, bartending, legal work, driving motor vehicles and many more.

A common job for foreigners is teaching English. There is always demand for qualified and experienced English teachers. To qualify for a work permit you need a degree and a TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). The international schools will pay good salaries for qualified teachers but the pay at Thai schools and private language schools is much lower at around 30,000 baht a month. There are many people working as teachers who only have a TEFL and no degree. It only takes 4 to 6 weeks to study and pass a TEFL exam. Most of these people are working without work permits.

Many people try to start their own business. The most popular choices are associated with the tourist industry such as bars, restaurants, guesthouses and hotels. The success rate for these businesses is not good. There is a lot of competition and the majority of businesses will fail in the first two years. However, some people find a good niche and make a living. Many of the smaller business owners such as bars are working without work permits. The profit margins on these businesses are too small to cover the legal expenses and taxes of making themselves legal. It is a risk they take and if they are caught, they face possible jail or deportation.

4. Cost Of Living

The most common question people ask is 'how much money do I need to live in Phuket?' The answer of course is totally dependant on the lifestyle you want. The average Thai wage is around 8,000 baht a month and it is possible to survive on such a paltry sum. However, for most westerners such a life would not be tolerable. It would involve living in a 2,000-baht a month room and eating 30-baht meals at food stalls every day. And you would still have to cover extra expenses like visa runs. The minimum figure for a westerner to enjoy a reasonable life is probably 30,000-baht a month. At 60,000-baht a month, you can start to enjoy yourself and at 100,000-baht a month, you can have a great time.

5. Children and Education

Whether you consider Phuket to be a suitable place to raise children is a personal choice. Thai people love children and will especially dote on any light-skinned western child. They are also very protective and responsible when they see children. On the other hand, Thailand is a harsher environment than western countries with lower safety standards and a very different set of values.

Education will be a major issue for any parent. For the wealthier, there is the British International School (formerly Dulwich College) but the fees are steep. There are five other slightly less expensive international schools; QSI, PIA (Phuket International Academy), Montessori, Headstart and Kajonkiet International. There are also two bi-lingual private schools, Darasamut and Kajonkiet, which are still cheaper.

The Thai government schools are also an option. Of course, the curriculum will be in Thai although they usually teach English as a foreign language. Thai schools are often criticised for putting too much emphasis on learning by rote and not enough emphasis on analysis and creativity. They do give a lot of attention to manners and respect for elders which is why most (but not all) Thai children are polite and well behaved.

The Thai schooling years are:

Anoobahn 1 to 3: This is optional elementary education for children from the age of 3 to 5.

Prathom 1 to 6: This is the first 6 years of mandatory primary education for children from the ages of 6 to 11.

Mattayom 1 to 6: This is the 6 years of secondary education for children from the ages 12 to 17. The first 3 years are mandatory so all Thai children should receive a minimum of 9 years schooling.

The Thai school year has two terms: May to September and October to March.

Education costs in Phuket:

The international schools are expensive. When you take all the extra charges into consideration, you could be paying up to a million baht a year for the British International School. The other international schools are a little cheaper with Headstart costing as little as 160,000-baht a year.

The two bi-lingual schools offer a choice of curriculums. If you put your child in the bi-lingual curriculum (western teachers for the English language classes) then they charge around 40,000 baht per term. The Thai curriculum costs around 10,000 baht per term.

The Thai government schools are supposedly free, but in reality they charge for books, equipment, etc. You can expect to pay from 2,000 to 10,000 baht a term.

In addition, you will need to buy school uniform, school bag, etc.

Nursery / Kindergarten/ Preschool

Many of the above schools offer preschool classes but there are also several specialist pre-schools around. Here are a few:

International Kindergarten - For children age 18 months to 6 years old. The school has specialist early child care teachers from Canada. They also have Thai teachers and Thai and Russian lessons are available on request. The school has spacious grounds located near Tesco Lotus (Chalong Circle).

Buds Phuket Nursery and Preschool - Catering to children between the ages of 18 months and 7 years. A bi-lingual English and Thai school on Chao Fa East Road near the junction with Soi Palai.

Cravens International Preschool - An international nursery on Chao Fa West Road, not far from HomEPro Village

Withaya Sathit - A private Thai school on Komaraphat Road in Phuket Town with an English program. They accept children from ages 2 years to 10 years.

ABC Nursery - An international pre-school in the Nai Harn area on Soi Sai Yuan. They offer the International Primary Curriculum Early Years Program. They have been establised for 5 years and only employ fully qualified British teachers.

Compiling a cost of living table is always a subjective exercise. Everybody has different needs and expectations. Some people want to party all night while others are happy to spend the day on the beach. For some, satellite TV is an essential while others do not want TV at all. Just the same, we have tried to gather some guideline figures to give an idea what life costs.