Hi guys! We are Nadine & Mark – a Phuket based expat couple. Welcome to our expat guide on Phuket. Before we tell you all about our experiences and recommendations in Phuket, allow us to introduce ourselves.
Nadine is 24 years old and from Ireland. She’s a qualified primary school teacher who graduated from St Mary’s University College Belfast in June, 2019 with a BEd in Primary Education and Religious Studies.
Her love of travel ignited in her university years when she was working and earning enough money to plan and pay for her own holidays. As a child, her family holidays tended to revolve around visiting relatives in Ireland – which she loved! But she certainly had no idea just how big the world was.
Nadine didn’t realise how much the world offered until she studied abroad during the second year of her degree. She moved to Madrid for five months and fell in love with the culture, language and lifestyle. She then decided that she wouldn’t search for a job at home once she completed her degree.
During that semester, Nadine also decided that she could not return to Ireland and spend the whole summer there after living in Madrid for five months, spending Easter Week travelling Southern Spain with a group of 20 friends, visiting Morocco for a weekend and even taking a trip to Leuven, Belgium to see her friend who was also studying abroad!
Instead, she decided to sign up to Camp Thailand – spending two weeks teaching English in Bangkok at a Thai school and then two weeks travelling around the country. That year (2019) was the best year of her life and that is completely because of travelling! Nadine hasn’t looked back since.
Mark was born in Essex. He moved a few times as a child due to his parents’ work. He has lived in Bournemouth and for the longest and most recent period in Sheffield. After leaving school, he studied and became a qualified Mechanical Engineer via an apprenticeship.
He was quickly moved into the role of “Sales Engineer” for the company he worked for. However, after working for the company for four years, Mark realised that he wasn’t happy with anything that was happening with his life inside or outside of work. He then decided to take a year off to travel.
Mark wanted to do all the things that he had wanted to do for a long time. Firstly, he went to Cyprus and worked in a bar for three months. After that, he went to South Africa and volunteered in townships teaching and coaching a variety of sports with a focus on rugby. He loved this experience!
Once he returned back to the UK, after being in South Africa for a few months, Mark then booked a flight to Southeast Asia. He began what was the last stretch of his “year off”. In Southeast Asia, he started in the Philippines and from there travelled to Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand.
Long story short, he is still in Thailand as he loves everything about Southeast Asia. Mark has no intentions of returning to the UK as seeing what other countries has to offer is too addictive and fulfilling. So his “year off” turned out to be one of the best decisions he has ever made!
Our Amazing Expat Life in Phuket
Nadine then returned to Ireland and we stayed in contact for a few months before it fizzled out. She still had two years of her degree to complete and Mark had no intentions of leaving Thailand to return home any time soon.
The following summer, however, Mark returned home to be best man at his friend’s wedding and visited Nadine in Belfast. We then started a long distance relationship between Ireland and England for six months before Mark was meant to go to Australia! Instead, two months before he was set to leave, he was offered a job as a Hostel Manager in Thailand.
Mark decided to take the job as his dream is to own his own hostel and tour company. We continued with our long distance relationship for another six months as Nadine finished her degree. She then left Ireland for Thailand.
Originally Mark was in Bangkok, but we both wanted to be on an island with nearby beaches and a more chilled out lifestyle. Phuket was perfect for us as it also has many Western elements. So you never get home sick!
Throughout the week we both work Monday to Friday. Nadine works at an international school from 7.30am – 4.30pm and her evenings are usually devoted to gym classes. Mark spends his mornings at the gym and then works 3pm – 12am for an advertising company. We have a super healthy work-life balance in Phuket and we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Why Phuket is Super Expat Friendly
We find Phuket to be expat friendly. The expat Facebook pages are great for keeping up to date with events and activities to help you meet people. We live central on the island and there is a great expat community here.
Thai people have always been welcoming. They are some of the friendliest locals we have ever met on our travels! Although the language is quite difficult to learn, we have never felt unwelcome for not being able to speak Thai. We always make the effort to greet locals and thank them in Thai, as well as the “Wai” (traditional Thai greeting) to show our respect.
We are both lucky in the fact that we were well educated on Thai culture and etiquette when we first arrived – the do’s and don’ts of Thailand! We would recommend everyone doing their own research before travelling somewhere with so many cultural differences to their own country.
Favourite Places in Phuket – Phuket Town & Kata Noi Beach
One of our favourite places is Phuket Town. During the day the cafes and local food places are great. At night there is a massive variety of bars that you can go to – from a Harry Potter themed bar to a secret prohibition-style club called “The Library”. The nightlife scene is so much fun!
We also love Kata Noi Beach. We have so many fond memories of days spent there with friends, we have captured endless beautiful sunsets and any day at the beach is a great day! No matter what we do or where we go in Phuket – we are always making incredible memories with friends.
Awesome Things To Do in Phuket for Expats
The biggest thing we want to highlight in this Phuket expat guide is that Phuket is not just Patong or the party scene of Bangla Road. Phuket has so much more to offer! From hikes and waterfalls, to beaches and boat trips – there is literally something for everyone to enjoy on this island.
We recommend everyone check out Blue Tree. Newly opened in 2019, Blue Tree certainly blew us away when we first visited. You can easily spend a whole day there. It’s perfect for solo travellers, couples, groups and families.
Whether you want to lounge on sunbeds while taking a dip in the lagoon or float around on a rubber ring, or you prefer the thrill of a Slip n Fly, or want to go zip-lining across the lagoon – you won’t be disappointed! We even tried water zorbing during our last visit which was a lot of fun.
This ensures that the elephants have plenty of time to themselves also. Tree Tops is an ethical reserve with zero interaction with the elephants unless they approach you. It’s a beautiful experience to observe how happy these rescued animals are in their new homes and to hear about their pasts.
Another must-do in Phuket is completing a cocktail making masterclass or even just taking a tour of Chalong Bay Rum Distillery. The rum distillery is located in a beautiful area and we had so much fun doing this activity.
If you are travelling to Phuket or have just moved as an expat, we would advise making the most of your time. Explore as many beaches as you can, go on snorkelling trips, hike to the best sunrise/sunset spots and check out as many viewpoints as you can. There is no doubt that you will love Phuket!
Exploring the Rest of Thailand
Not only have we explored a lot of Phuket but we have also travelled quite a bit in the rest of Thailand. However, we feel like there is always so much more to see! We love going off the beaten track and finding new places.
Some of our most favourite and memorable experiences so far have been staying in the floating bungalows on the Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park and doing a sunrise hike to Samet Nangshe Viewpoint in Phang Nga Bay. We are constantly finding ourselves amazed at just how beautiful Thailand is! These two experiences are two of our favourites.
A Highlight of Living in Thailand – The Food!
We absolutely love Thai food and feel like that was a major part of our decision process for moving here. Spicy food is some of our favourite and the Thai’s certainly know how to do spicy! For that reason, we are not sure the food is so different in Thailand compared to our diets back home.
We often have to leave the kitchen when Mark cooks because of how much chilli he adds! Mark’s favourite dish is Tom Yum Soup. He would eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner if he could. And yes, he really has eaten it for breakfast before! Nadine’s favourite is Massaman Curry. We are convinced that Natural Restaurant in Phuket Town does the best Massaman Curry.
Biggest Challenge for Expat Life in Phuket, Thailand
To be honest, it’s not easy to secure a job with a steady salary in Phuket as an expat. Most jobs require a degree to enable you to get your work permit. Mark left his job managing two hostels in December, 2019 and was then on a Tourist Visa in February while searching for new employment.
By mid-March the pandemic had really hit Thailand. The National State of Emergency was declared and borders were shut. This made finding work even more challenging. It wasn’t until July that Mark secured a job and began working again. We think the lack of security with work permits and visas here can get stressful and that was the case for us in 2020.
Need to Know Before you Go
The first thing that expats should know before moving to Phuket is that jobs are not particularly easy to come by. The majority of jobs require a degree of some kind to secure your Thailand work permit and visa.
Also, it’s important that you sort out good medical cover. Hopefully you won’t need to use it but we have had an experience where our medical cover was literally a god send. Nadine caught Dengue Fever and spent five days in hospital. It was completely covered by her insurance, thankfully!
When renting a place to live in Phuket, landlords often request two months of rent upfront as a security deposit and the first months rent paid upfront too. So ensure that you have plenty of money to get yourself on your feet.
Remember to barter to get reduced prices – even when it comes to renting! Our house was pitched at 20,000 THB a month and as soon as we asked if it could go any lower we got it for 18,000 THB. Not a huge difference but a great saving over the year. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
In terms of expat communities, places like Nai Harn, Rawai, Kathu and Cherngtalay are fantastic locations for expat communities. Also, be sure to join expat groups on Facebook and sign up to any events advertised to meet new people. The expat lifestyle is amazing – so make the most of it!
Lastly, read up on the cultural side of Thailand before moving. Things like how to show respect, greet a Thai person and say thank you. These are simple things but courtesy and making an effort goes a very long way here.