Retirement in Phuket
Retirement in Phuket– Nov 2018 – By James Kirby
After working in Phuket real estate for the last few years I have met a lot of retirees and spoken to many clients looking at retiring in Phuket. I thought it would be nice to provide some information that could be helpful for anyone considering to move to Phuket for retirement. There are also many retirees who choose to live 6 months on / 6 months off in this great nation. Most of what I’ve written are positives although I have also included some reasons why it might not work for some people.
Cost of living: The cost of living in Thailand is virtually as low or as high as you would like. You can have a very healthy diet on a very small budget which certainly won’t ‘break the bank’. There is also a large amount of high end international restaurants and beach clubs for those who like to indulge in a different way. We only live once after all! I know a few expats who are living off small pensions and easily staying afloat (including paying rent). I myself occasionally enjoy going to a Sunday brunch at a high-end resort however I often eat 50 thb ($1.50 USD) Pad Thai’s being served on the street.
Healthcare: Phuket is blessed with a high quantity of hospitals and specialists in many aspects of healthcare. Medical tourism in Thailand is a very large tourist attraction which attracts over 300,000 tourists every year. This is due to the quality and pricing of the procedures. Looking after your own health is the most important thing, so it is nice to know that there are capable doctors and surgeons in a close proximity with a Pharmacy almost every 100 metres throughout the island.
Golf courses: There are 8 golf courses in the area of Phuket (including one which is not far across the Sarasin bridge). Not everyone loves golf, although it is a common hobby throughout the world for retirees. I even got my retired father to take lessons in Laguna. He had never really played golf and he enjoyed it a lot. There is something special being out on the greens in the fresh air on a tropical island. Also, we can’t forget the 19thhole. : )
Weather: There is something really beautiful about the weather in Phuket. In the high season the sky is often clear and beautiful with the sea clear and calm. In the low season the tropical storms are refreshing and the surf is up. As it never gets cold in Phuket it is nice to have the feeling of 2 seasons. There are a couple retirees I know from the UK who still can’t adapt to the heat very well although they are still here and have no other place they’d rather be.
Thai culture/food: Thailand is full of wonderful people, markets, temples, spices, bars, restaurants, activities, and the list goes on. Approximately 80% of the population are Buddhists while the remaining 20% population are Muslim (obviously there are small amounts of other religions also). There are pineapple and rubber tree plantations all throughout the island, let’s not forget the fresh coconuts from the palm trees. Once you get settled in Phuket then everything does come together with the culture and you realise how peaceful it is.
Expat Community: Phuket has a very large international community. There are expats from all around the world who often get together for all sorts of events. There are groups where you play golf, exercise, lawn bowls, darts, drink at bars, etc, so there are plenty of people to get to know in a similar situation as you. When you don’t get along with some people, you will always find others with the same interests.
Family: This is a strange one because it all depends on the family, situation and where you are from. Some people might find they will see their children more frequently by retiring in Phuket and others might feel too distant so they won’t. It all comes down to where your family members are currently living, for example: Some people have their children working in Asia already and due to Phuket having an international airport it makes all these trips easy. Many countries have direct flights with Emirates having 2 x flights to/from Phuket/Dubai every day (3rd busiest International Airport in the world in 2018). This is a topic that you have to work out what is best for you. Just remember that being in the same city doesn’t necessarily mean you will see more of them or the grandchildren (if any). Hopefully they have their heads down and are working hard making their own bright future which unfortunately makes it difficult to see them frequently.
Retirement Visa: Probably one of the biggest positive factors about retiring in Phuket (Thailand) is that retiring here is encouraged by the Thai government by enabling you to come and live here even without purchasing property. The process isn’t too bad and does have a few requirements which shouldn’t be difficult to meet. Minor details can sometimes change in Thai processes so it’s best I give you a link to Siam-Legal’s website for up to date information. You can see the process and requirements at www.siam-legal.com/thailand-visa/Thailand-Retirement-Visa.php. If you wanted a more ‘hassle free’ visa process then you can also see www.thailandelite.comwhich offers premium services such as meeting you at the airplane’s door, walking you through customs and going to your home in a limousine, golf memberships, setting up bank accounts, 90 day visa reporting etc. It’s worth a look at their different packages because I know a few people who have used thailandelite and they are very happy. The above are easier options however you can do it all yourself because there are people at the embassy/immigration offices who are able to help.
Location: I mentioned a little bit of this in the ‘Family’ section although there are many more reasons why the location of Phuket is fantastic. Once you cross the Sarasin bridge you are open to mainland Thailand of which there are many places to explore. You can also get very cheap flights to surrounding countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and the list goes on. Bangkok is a bit too dirty for my liking with the pollution although it is a nice place to visit every now and again with a domestic flight being no more than 90 mins. Koh Samui and Khao Lak are also great locations to visit which are not far to drive from Phuket. It is nice to take your car on the car ferry to Koh Samui so you can get around easily when you are there.
Know where you stand: The Thai’s are really lovely people. I believe if you genuinely treat them with respect they will also respect you. This is a simple rule which some tourists break too often. If a foreigner came to your country and showed you disrespect then I’m sure you wouldn’t be pleasant in return. Many Thai’s are living with a very low income and yet they still know how to have a good time with a smile on their face. Respect is very important in this country and it is a very simple thing to show. If you are someone with a short temper and a lack of patience, then this probably isn’t the best place for you to retire. If you’re a patient, happy and respectful person then this very well could be the place for you.
Accommodation: Obviously this is our expertise in Phuket whether you are looking at renting or purchasing. Sometimes people coming on a retirement visa prefer to rent for the first year or 2 first before they commit to purchasing a property. Some others only rent, either due to not feeling the need to purchase or not having available finances. Then there are some who have been to Phuket many times and have researched the property market sufficiently and want to purchase straight away prior to moving to Phuket so they don’t have the hassle of moving belongings from property to property to property. It is important to understand the different ownership structures before purchasing property in Thailand. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions.
Shopping: One of the benefits of living in Asia is the costs of everyday items such as clothing, appliances, crockery, electronics and everything in between. Central Group is an enormous company which has made shopping a much better experience for all throughout Thailand. They are continuously keeping up with demand and own a lot more of the shops in and out of malls then people realise. They recently launched Central Festival – Floresta in Sept 2018 which is a major extension from the original Central Festival. They are currently constructing another mall/plaza in Patong opposite Jungceylon and have already confirmed a new plaza/mall at Cherng Talay to open in December 2019 which will be close to the already famous ‘Boat Avenue’.
For everyday grocery shopping, the favourites are Tesco Lotus, Makro and Super Cheap 24 which all offer low prices. Makro is more of a bulk buying superstore, however it is extremely good value and many items are not required to buy in bulk, such as meat and fresh produce. Tesco Lotus is the more everyday supermarket with many locations and normally surrounded by other useful shops. Super Cheap is a bit like a 7/11 that sells a wide range of items including meat and fresh produce. For those that like some comfort foods and don’t mind spending more than the average person there is Villa Market. Villa Market is a great supermarket with a great wine selection and many items from around the world, for example, international meats and cheeses, international fresh produce, international sauces and canned pickles, another list which goes on.
Hardware stores are an important part of life for me personally as I enjoy DIY. There are many shops all around the island to pick up the smaller items such as bolts, screws, drills, cable, etc. Then we have the large hardware stores like Thai Watsadu and HomePro of which you can find everything from plywood to bedsheets. They both have a large selection of appliances, power tools, kitchens, tiles, lights, another list that goes on. Furniture can also be found at these stores with many other furniture stores surrounding Central Festival in Kathu.
Vehicles: An important part of life is getting around. I personally recommend renting or purchasing a car for getting around, although you do see a large quantity of Expats getting around on scooters. The roads are certainly not the safest and if you are coming to retire and enjoy life then the risk involved riding a scooter is hard to justify. Many imported cars have a high import tax and you will find that European cars (for example) are more expensive here then your home country. I believe many have a 400% import tax. However, there are many cars which are partly/manufactured here so the prices can be closer to what you would expect. Pick-ups have a much smaller import tax and are considerably cheaper than an SUV which is part of the reason why you see so many pick-ups in Phuket. Second hand vehicles are much more affordable and found on various websites and dealerships.
Possible Frustrations: As previously mentioned, patience is key.
- There might be times where you are at immigration or other Thai government offices and feel like things are taking too long when you feel the matter is simple.
- The way that locals and expats drive/ride in Phuket can be very silly and dangerous. It is best not to react and just do your best to avoid any accident. Seeing 8 year old children riding scooters like lunatics and popping out of nowhere is certainly a tongue biting situation.
- Getting ripped off; There are many people who will overcharge ‘Farangs’ although the majority of Thai’s will not. It’s like the bad people ruin it for the good people. Over time you will get to know good contractors, cleaners and many friendly Thai’s you can rely on. Just remember it is a minority of the people that rip people off in Phuket. Farangs also don’t mind ripping off other Farangs just like in every other country.
- Import taxes can be frustrating when a friend sends something over to you from another country. Often it will be something of low value or just sentimental value which ends up with a massive tax on it which you have to pay when it arrives at your door. There are ways around this issue but it is a frustrating situation.
- Learning the Thai language; Thai is a very difficult language to master and many retirees who reside in Thailand will never grasp the language. Although many Thai speak some English, communication can still be frustrating in certain situations. Having good English speaking Thai friends certainly makes life a lot easier.
- As a bare minimum, learn the Thai phrases for ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ as the simple acts of greeting and thanking are used far more frequently in Thailand than in most other countries.
- Having an international driving license makes the transfer to a Thai drivers license much easier, so before coming over I strongly recommend you get one, even as a tourist to avoid some unwanted fines.
- Patience is key.
- Always check receipts and the change given. This includes checking bills properly when paying by card.
- Always be aware on the roads and try to make sure you are not over the 0.05 BAC when driving home after alcohol consumption.
- Always speak calmly to police even if they are wrong. Reacting in negative way will only make the situation worse.
- Understand that low local wages tempt some Thai to ask for dubious extra payments. Take some time to learn the local rules and regulations and then stick to them to avoid such situations.
Overall: I have been coming to Thailand for years and decided to make the move myself a few years ago. Life hasn’t been better.
It isn’t for everyone, so it is up to you whether you decide to experience the life of Phuket. It certainly is a different life living here full time and not being a tourist. There are many opportunities with memberships, groups and discounts that you can join while residing here. Most expats looking to retire in Phuket have already been here multiple times and have a very strong idea of what they are moving to.
Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions about retirement and renting/purchasing property in Phuket. I will be more than happy to assist.
James Kirby – Property Consultant at Tropical Properties Phuket