Thailand's Phuket Island is an internationally famous beach destination, and rightfully so. Beautiful sandy shores, separated by rocky headlands, grace the entire west coast of the island, the largest in Thailand. The surrounding Andaman Sea is warm, clear and inviting, one of Phuket's main attractions.
Onshore Phuket is a welcoming place that can quickly begin to feel like home. More than 100,000 foreign residents have chosen to make a life here. Foreigners from across the globe have integrated into the local community, transforming Phuket into a multicultural, international retirement destination. Expats make up more than 21 percent of the total permanent population of Phuket Province.
One of the biggest appeals is the cost of living. Rent, especially, is a global bargain. You can find a comfortable rental for as little as $350 to $400 per month, and most rentals come fully furnished. All things considered, including groceries, utilities, entertainment and your own motorbike for transportation, a retired couple could live here on a monthly budget of as little as $1,000.
For that very low cost, you could be buying a big and interesting lifestyle. If you're a night owl, you need look no further than Patong, where the party lasts until the wee hours of the night. Maybe you prefer to spend your days on the links. If so, you'll have your choice of six superb golf courses on the island. Restaurants, ranging from friendly one-star shacks to acclaimed, five-star international establishments, are abundant.
Phuket Island's large foreign population is scattered throughout several towns and villages. Patong is the largest town on the west coast; it's the one famous for its nightlife. To the north and south of Patong are the peaceful coastal towns of Surin, Kamala, Kata, Karon and many smaller villages.
Another reason Phuket is so appealing as a retirement destination is that everything you need is available on the island, including top-tier medical care and Thailand's second busiest international airport. Locals like to point out that they never have to go to Bangkok--ever. (And that's generally considered a very good thing.)
Medical care is not only international standard (Bangkok Phuket Hospital has Joint Commission International accreditation) but a great value, as well. Thailand is one of the top spots in the world for medical tourism. Care in Phuket can average 20 percent to 80 percent less than "back home," and the quality of care, according to expats living here, can be far superior.
Phuket has something for nearly every budget. Again, if your retirement budget is limited, you could live inland, in Phuket Town or in one of the smaller villages on the north or south ends of the island, and enjoy a very comfortable and full life on as little as $1,000 per month. If your nest egg is more generous, you could live an elegant and affordable lifestyle in Patong or another upscale coastal village such as Surin and Karon.
Luc Montens, an expat who has been retired in Patong for 12 years, sums it up well: "Phuket is not too big, and it's not too crowded. We love the greenery and the weather and being close to an international airport. There is no need to go to Bangkok for any reason."
The area is increasingly drawing a wider range of expats. "At one time, older single men would come here for a good time, maybe marry a Thai woman, settle down and start a new family. The area used to be tremendously popular with the young backpacking crowd, as well," Montens says. "Now, more families are coming to the area. They are bringing their children, enrolling them in one of the international schools and staying for life."
Other long-time foreigners in the area agree. The mix of people moving to Phuket has definitely changed for the better, making Phuket more appealing for would-be retirees.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 28 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her newest book, How To Buy Real Estate Overseas, published by Wiley & Sons, is the culmination of decades of personal experience living and investing around the world.