Samui Wining & Dining
The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One.

The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One.Living on a tropical island is a dream for many people. Imagine being able to swim in the warm ocean water, relax with a book on a pristine beach, take out a kayak, go hillwalking amidst the tropical vegetation. Or simply watch the coconut trees sway in the breeze whilst chatting with friends over a sundowner or two. Yes, you can do all that, and the infrastructure is slowly improving, with better roads, shopping, restaurants entertainment and sports facilities all within a stone’s throw of other major Asian cities. But what’s the nitty gritty low down of actually living here? And is it that easy? The answers can be very different depending on your current life situation.


Are you single or in a relationship? Do you have children? Are they of school age? Will you need to work to support yourself financially or are you retired with a steady income? What sort of accommodation would you be happy with, and how about getting around the island? Let’s break down the basics.


Accommodation. Koh Samui is developing fast. It seems a new villa, condominium or resort is opening almost every day! There is definitely no shortage, but it is no longer a cheap destination. Tourists visit in abundance, and Samui now has a firm footing as a luxury destination. You can still find simple bungalows for rent, but those near the beach are heavily sought after, and some are very basic, possibly without a proper kitchen. At the other end of the scale, you can buy or rent beautiful luxury villa’s up in the hills with sea views and private pools, surrounded by mother nature’s finest tropical landscape. Anything is possible, just wallet dependent!


If you buy a property, you can always rent it out so it can be a good investment. But you must do your due diligence and get full legal advice before committing. And whereabouts on Samui do you want to live? Amid the bars, restaurants and shopping mecca of Chaweng? Or the quieter southwest? Most of the services and amenities are located in the north, with the biggest working expat communities Bangrak, Plai Laem, The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One.Choeng Mon, Bophut, Maenam and the outer areas of Chaweng. These areas are close to schools and shopping centres. Retirees often choose the less developed, and sometimes cheaper areas of Lipa Noi, Bang Po, Laem Set and Taling Ngam. It’s a good idea to rent somewhere first and see if it ticks all your boxes.


Work. If you arrive to take up a job offer, then your company will prepare all the necessary paperwork required to get your visa and work permit. Most foreigners tend to be involved with tourism and hospitality, property development or teaching, but it is possible to set up your own business. A lawyer or accountant can advise you on setting up your own company, including the costs, legalities and work permits. Before you rush into opening a business, spend some time getting to understand the island, the fluctuating high and low seasons, especially if your business will depend on tourists for income. Check out any hidden costs and complete some genuine market research.


If you plan to teach English, your chances are greatly enhanced if you have a TEFL certificate and if you come from an English-speaking country. The Ministry of Education in Thailand states that you must originate from a native English speaking country, or you will need to complete a test to prove your English competency. This involves travelling to Bangkok to do a TOEIC test to apply for a teacher’s license.


Visas. If you intend staying in Thailand for an extended period of time, then you’ll need more than a tourist visa. Your options are: Non-immigrant business visa (Non-B) - The only visa with which a person can legally work,The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One. and there’s quite an amount of paperwork involved. If you are employed, your company will sort this out. If you are setting up your own company, you will need a lawyer or accountant to help with all the necessary documents. If you are already in Thailand, you will need to visit a Thai consulate in a neighbouring country to get your visa. Depending on your type of employment you may also need to leave the country every 90 days and stamp back in.


Non-immigrant Ordinary visa (Non-O) - Can be in several forms; dependent, marriage, retirement or education visa. If your spouse or grown-up children work in Thailand, or your children are at school here, then it’s possible to stay on a dependent visa. Marriage visas are applicable for those married to a Thai national, and conditions apply. For a retirement visa, you’ll need to show a certain amount of money in your bank account or prove that you receive a monthly income such as a pension. Learning to speak Thai at a recognised language school is a popular way to stay in Thailand on an education visa. The school can assist in preparing the paperwork. Most lawyers and accountants on Samui are visa experts and will assist with preparing any paperwork required. Note that you are not legally allowed to work or even volunteer in Thailand without a work permit. Laws are constantly changing and getting stricter, and you risk being deported if you are caught breaking them. Keep up to date by reading the visa requirements on the Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs visa page:


There are companies that will drive you to consulates in Malaysia for a visa (visa run) or to the border and back (border bounce) or you can organise it yourself. Do not overstay your visa or entry stamp, strict enforcements are being applied. You can extend your visa at the Immigration office in Maenam at a cost,The basics of ‘real-life’ living on Koh Samui – Part One. but much better to stay organised.


Transport. You can rent a motorbike or car if you have a licence from any country, but beware of other road users, they will definitely not be adhering to the road rules that you are used to at home. Also look out for dogs, chickens or children just dashing across the roads! The statistics of road accidents and fatalities on Samui do not make pleasant reading.


Thai law and common sense requires that you wear a helmet on a motorbike! Foreigners can buy a motorbike or car. If you need a sizeable loan you may need a Thai person to stand as surety. There is no official public transport on the island, but red vans called Songthaews (meaning two rows) run around the island. Just flag one down and pay the fixed price fare, although you will have to negotiate the cost in the evening. They have random schedules; you will just have to wait on the roadside for whenever one decides to come past. Taxi scooters are also available as are yellow taxi cabs, the cabs are the most expensive way to get around. After six months, you should get a Thai drivers licence. You will have to go to the Department of Transport in Nathon. Check ahead as various copies of paperwork are required and the requirements are different depending on which licence you currently have or if you don’t have one at all.


Health. If you are employed by a company, then you may have health insurance as part of your package. Check the conditions, many are just for accident related cases and some will exclude things such as motorbike accidents. Major insurance companies have offices here, but speak with other expats and see what insurance they are using. There are a number of very good insurance agents working here. Samui has several private hospitals of international standard as well as the government hospital in Nathon. They are well-equipped to deal with accidents, illness and trauma. Some even have plastic surgeons if you fancy a new look for your new Samui life! For some services, such as an MRI, you may need to go to the mainland, either to Suratthani or Bangkok. For simple illnesses and things like dressing changes, there are a number of clinics dotted around the island which will be a cheaper option.


Many medications are available at one of the many pharmacies on the island. Most are open well into the evening. Some medicines such as antibiotics can be dispensed without a prescription, and are substantially cheaper than at the hospitals. There are many dentists and opticians on the island, mainly located in shopping areas.


Nurseries and Schools. Samui has a good choice of private and international schools and nurseries. The main ones are Samui Tiny Steps Nursery and Preschool, ISS, Panyadee, SCL and Oonrak. You can arrange to visit all the schools and then make your decision from there. As a rule of thumb, choose the school with the best facilities you can afford.


Part two, in our next issue, will focus on shopping, dining, entertainment and sport.


Karan Ladd


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