By Matthew H - Phuket Expat
Retiring in Phuket is starting to appear on the radar of retirees globally. Phuket, ‘The Pearl of the Andaman Sea’ is a tropical island paradise located in the ‘Land of Smiles’ - Thailand. Replete with some of the best beaches in the world, emerald blue waters, limestone karsts, unrivalled scenic viewpoints, all augmented by natural flora and fauna, these and the famed Thai hospitality ensure Phuket at the very least is a must visit destination.
Once a largely impassable mountain terrain predominantly inhabited by local fisherman Thailand’s largest island has morphed and developed itself into a world class resort destination complete with modern infrastructure and all the amenities you would expect of more celebrated destinations; while keeping its rustic charm, and easy going lifestyle in the process. Is it any surprise I decided to retire there? Let’s take a look at why Phuket is becoming a popular retirement destination, shall we!
Pros of Retiring in Phuket
Phuket has so many positive attributes it’s difficult to know where to start...but if you are thinking of visiting or living there, here are many great factors to consider:
Cons of Retiring in Phuket
As with any destination Phuket has its downsides and therefore it is important to be aware of them when considering it as a retirement destination:
Don't be surprised if you see people on mopeds with umbrellas on a rainy day. It rains so often in Phuket that this is a normal practice.
Best Place to Retire in Phuket
There are several options if you plan on retiring in Phuket. Some recommended retirement areas would include:
- Rawai - for those that like the quiet life
- Patong - for those that need to be at the center of it all
- Kamala - for those with the funds to live on ‘Millionaires Mile’
- Laguna - for those who wish to be close to golf courses
- Cherngtalay - for those who wish to be close to schools and the airport
What is the Culture Like in Phuket?
Phuket has an eclectic blend of expats from almost every conceivable nation on Earth. So if you’re the type of person who likes to socialize and live amongst his own countrymen, this is easily done. Rawai, a lovely ‘sea gypsy’ village at the southern end of Phuket is a notable area for expats as is Cherngtalay on the North West coast.
The latter representing the more modern and affluent area of the two. It is the beautiful Thai culture however which most pervades; whether from taking in the view of a majestic Buddhist temple or shrine; to witnessing Monks walking the streets in traditional saffron robes in search of ‘alms’; to experiencing the absolutely fabulous cuisine Phuket has to offer wherever you choose to dine. “Thainess” is ubiquitous.
What Languages are Spoken in Phuket?
Thai is the only official language spoken in Phuket. However, as a tourist destination even the locals now have a good grasp of English. If you speak just a rudimentary form of English with a combination of a few hand signals and gestures, it’s possible to get by - as locals have generally now come to understand what ‘foreigners’ are usually seeking to achieve.
How to Get Around Phuket?
To be honest, public transport in Phuket ranges from non-existent to extremely poor. There is no scheduled bus service as such. ‘Tuk Tuks’ frequently overcharge (so always negotiate a price before engaging one) and Taxis often try to refuse to turn on their meter under the guise ‘it’s broken’, or overcharge on a price basis similarly.
However, there are solutions:
Motorcycles in the form of a 125cc automatic scooter are extremely cheap to rent or even buy and the preferred method for most to get ‘the wind in their hair’ and explore this idyllic island given its amenable climate. Also they are extremely practical for just popping down to your local 7-Eleven, the beach or your favorite restaurant.
Car hire or purchase is also significantly cheaper than in many countries and represent a good option should it rain or if you need to do your monthly shopping. Finally, it should be noted that the Thai government is seeking to correct the dearth of public transport options with several projects in the works, including a light rail system connecting the major routes on the island though when these will be completed is of now uncertain.
What are Popular Activities in Phuket?
Quite simply the list is endless! There is something for everyone!
If it is a hobby of yours in your home country, you will more than likely find many people who share the same passion in Phuket. Expat groups abound. Moreover, if you are the adventurous type there are a multitude of options to satisfy everyone from naturists to thrill seekers. I have listed some of the most popular options below.
Phuket has absolutely world class beaches, indeed, too many to mention so I have only selected a few along with a brief description as to what you can experience there.
- Patong Beach: the longest, most lively beach in Phuket. Parasail, jet ski, ride a banana boat, rent a sun bed, have a drink at a beach side bar or just stroll along 2850 metres of golden sand into a majestic sunset as the sun goes -- here you can do it all!
- Nai Harn Beach: this beach is arguably Phuket’s best and consistently ranks in the Top 10 beaches of Asia polls.
- Laem Singh Beach: a beautifully enclosed beach naturally set into the mountainside, the likes of which you will struggle to find anywhere else in the world. And probably my favorite!
- Laem Ka Beach: if you want privacy, this is the beach for you. Unlikely you’ll be disturbed by anyone other than the odd local fisherman.
If you're adventurous and up for exploring the smaller communities of Phuket by moped, look for small bottles of "whiskey" at roadside stores that are filled with gasoline when you need to fill up the tank.
- Ko Phi Phi - ‘The Beach’ – visit Maya Bay made famous by the movie of the same name.
- Ko Phang Nga - ‘James Bond Island’ – visit this incredible spot made famous in the movie ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and explore the limestone Karsts as well by canoe.
- The Similan Islands (closed certain months of the year) but if you can get there, this really is ‘desert island’ paradise stuff. Also one of the few beaches in the world to have been rated in the top 10 beaches above and below water by respected Scuba magazines!
- Visit old Phuket Town and marvel at the Sino-Chinese architecture.
- Take an elephant trek/safari tour, sometimes which can be combined with an ATV tour.
- Do some paragliding with an instructor.
- Visit the ‘Big Buddha’ and ‘Wat Chalong’.
- Visit Patong ‘walking street’ at night; after you have visited you’ll know why you did!
Visit Phuket town’s main night market (Sat/Sun only) – the biggest market in Phuket. Full of a variety of local foods’, drinks, trinkets, and souvenirs, superb bargains and remembrances are on offer here for all. Something for everyone.
Central Festival malls – two huge connected ‘Super Malls’ sporting everything you could think of; from Cinemas, great eateries and designer clothing shops to bookshops and home furnishing depots.
For retirees seek out the various ‘Villa Market’ supermarkets on the island as they are stocked with all the imported goodies you miss from your home country.
Many retirees like to play Golf. In which case Phuket represents ‘a dream come true’ with a whole host of top quality courses. Some of which were designed by famous golf architects, and others that have hosted PGA tour events won by famous professional players. They include:
- Phuket Country Club
- Laguna Phuket Golf Club
- Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
- Red Mountain Golf Club
- Blue Canyon Country Club
- Phunaka Golf Course
- Loch Palm Golf Club
Dining and Where to Eat in Phuket
If there’s one thing people who retire to Phuket won’t want for, it’s great food! Whether you just crave fast food from restaurants in malls, a pub lunch or fine dining in five star hotels. Phuket has it all. However it’s the local cuisine in village restaurants which provide ‘the best bang for your buck’ and a taste sensation like no other. Moreover, here are some extra adventurous experiences and ideas not to be missed if you’re a ‘foodie’.
Visit a Thai ‘all-you-can-eat’ BBQ and cook it yourself – priced from 199THB!
Visit the ‘sea gypsy village’ in Rawai – purchase fresh seafood straight off the fishing boats, then walk into a beachside restaurant and have them cook it for you for a nominal fee.
Try some of the following famous Thai dishes in a local restaurant:
- Tom Yum Goong (Spicy Shrimp Soup)
- Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Soup)
- Gaeng Daeng (Red Curry)
Try some of the following famous street food :
- Pad Thai (Thai style Fried Noodles)
- Som Tum (Spicy Green Papaya Salad)
- Thai Noodle Soup
Cost of Retiring in Phuket 2023
For a retired couple, you can living really well for $2500-$2800 per month. But if you need to spend less, you can. Here are a few of the common costs:
1 Bdr Apartment in City Rental
$427 per month
1 Bdr Apartment Outside City Rental
$463 per month
Average Utilities: 1 Bdr Apt
$81 per month
Median Apartment 1 Bdr Price in City
Inexpensive Meal for One
Meal for Two, Mid-Range
Does Thailand Have a Retirement Visa?
Not specifically but you can apply for a Non-immigrant O (other) or an OA (other, long stay) visa. These visas are good for one year and you can reapply yearly.
You need to report your address to Thai immigration every 90 days and you are not allowed to work in Thailand.
Here's a list of general requirements to get a long-term visa in Thailand. Laws can change so be sure to see the latest on the official Thai government site.
- You must be at least 50 years old.
- Proof of financial stability: This can be demonstrated through a monthly income or pension of at least 65,000 Thai baht (roughly $2,000) OR a bank account with a minimum balance of 800,000 Thai baht (roughly $25,000) deposited for at least two months prior to the visa application.
- Valid passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity.
- Completed visa application form with passport-sized photos.
- Proof of accommodation in Thailand, such as a rental agreement or property ownership documents.
- Health insurance covering inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment with a minimum coverage of 40,000 Thai baht and 100,000 Thai baht for inpatient and outpatient treatment, respectively. The policy must be valid for at least one year.
Retiring in Phuket: Bottom Line
If you are anything from someone who just appreciates the serenity of nature to an adventurous person that has always dreamed of living on a tropical island, complete with the ability to have your home comforts when you get that sudden craving (we all do) then, Phuket might be for you!
Why not try it? I went for a month’s holiday and ended up staying 17 years!
If Thailand is where you want to be but you're looking to live in a bigger city...what about checking out Bangkok?
Retiring in Phuket Quick Facts
Hot and humid year-round with clouds in both wet and dry seasons. Average temps are from 75°F and 92°F (23.8°C and 35°C)
Flight time to U.S.
24 hours by plane to New York; 14-17 hours to London
Not great but you can get around via mopeds, tuk tuks or taxis.