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The ULTIMATE GUIDE to LIVING on Koh Phangan

2 Aug

Many people have the dream, it has to start somewhere. Sometimes it will begin after your first visit and maybe it will take a few, to think up the idea and plan that you want to make Koh Phangan your permanent home.

We've put together the Ultimate Guide for you if you want to come and live on Koh Phangan. From the Fun Stuff, making money and business, the type of Visa you will need, where to live and how to find a house and even some home truths and culture shocks, here is everything in one place!

What is it like to REALLY LIVE HERE, as an expat, a foreigner in a different Country. With different rules, culture, way of life and living, let’s look and talk about the things that no one else might tell you!

Firstly let’s look at the fun stuff before we get to the nitty gritty!

Freedom
Lots of people will tell you one of the best feelings about living on Koh Phangan is more a sense of freedom than where they came from.

With a more laid back lifestyle and the island vibes that this tropical paradise brings, living amongst the nature will of course make you feel more free.

Being Outdoors
The warm climate and beautiful surroundings of Phangan means that it is a lifestyle where you will enjoy spending a lot of your time outdoors. No being cooped up in crowded offices to work, constantly on public transport to travel, we all know that spending more time outdoors is good for us!

Inspiring people
As well as the friendly island Thai locals, Koh Phangan attracts people from all around the world who do all kinds of things. You are sure to meet and become friends with people that would have never crossed your path in your home Country.

Living Cost
As long as you have a good income then the living cost on Koh Phangan is more affordable than the Western world, however, be aware that the mainland of Thailand is cheaper than the islands like Phangan.

Hedonistic Lifestyle
As the island is famous for its parties, so comes with it a more alternative lifestyle which a lot of people like. It’s more free and easy, a place where you can dress in your own mad ways and not have to stick to strict timings as you would elsewhere. People are more accepting of a hedonistic way of life. This also rings true if you do not party, the island has a spiritual side which attracts yogis and wellness folks, sometimes it is a bit like going back to the hippy days.

Ok, so now you know it’s for you (who wouldn’t want to enjoy all of the above?) let's get into the details of what you need to know and how life could possibly be. It’s not always going to be easy but it could be worth it….

Sustaining Yourself and Your Life

First things first is you need to know or decide what you will do on Koh Phangan to sustain and support yourself financially.

For people wanting to live long term on the island here are your options:

Get a Job with an existing business
It’s not the easiest thing to do (as most people like to employ Thai locals to save on visas/work permits) but many people have done it and there are businesses who look for the particular skills a foreign worker can bring. So keep your eyes and ears to the ground for job opportunities and make sure they will also provide you with a work permit through the company otherwise you may as well…

Set up your own business!
By setting up and running your own business you will be able to generate an income to survive on and get your work permit through this company.
Do your research thoroughly on what you think the island needs in terms of business though, many new businesses open and close within their first year, especially restaurants.
If you have the motivation to pursue your dreams and talents then you can set up your business as a dancer, musician, Dj or artist etc and work hard and promote your skills to fit this creative island! Of course you will have to check if your skill is allowed as their are some job positions that are exclusively kept for Thai people.

Be retired with a pension or outside income
For those of you who have finished your years of hard-working you may already be getting your well deserved pension! This can act to sustain you, maybe even better, than it would in your home Country.

Have a lot of savings (basically be rich enough you don’t have to work)
Well done!

Have an income from home such as investments or online work
Other financial incomes where you don’t need to work could be from investments that pay you out on a monthly basis or something similar, or maybe your work can be done online or by phone (lucky you!).

Once you have decided how you will sustain a living on Koh Phangan, the next thing you will need to do is organise the right visa. A Visa is what allows you to be in Thailand and different Visas will mean you can do different things for different amounts of time so it is important you get the correct one.

These are the options and things which will mean you will be able to sustain a living on Koh Phangan all year round, making you different from a Tourist, even the tourists who come for 3 to 6 months of the year are not ‘really living’ on Koh Phangan as they go to sustain and make money for their lifestyles elsewhere for the rest of the year.

Although we may be sounding way too sensible for all you free thinking Phanganists, you do need to know that you will need to have some sort of income to live on Koh Phangan. Living costs are cheaper than other places in the world but as the island and Country of Thailand is developing quickly, so is its economy, meaning that it is not as cheap as it was even 5 - 10 years ago.

In our combined years of experience of permanently living here on the island (20+ years combined) we have unfortunately seen some lovely souls come and go, with all the positive intentions of making the island their home, sometimes people leave in a not so nice way too. This is due to lack of just some simple planning of finances, or not dedicating themselves to work, falling into bad habits and not respecting the way of life here, although it is laid back there are still rules to follow. So don’t get caught in a mess, decide how you will sustain yourself and then all will fall into place much easier.

Now you have chosen the best way to sustain yourself and your life on Koh Phangan the next thing you will need to do is organise a Visa to be able to stay all year round and permanently. A Visa is the thing which allows you to be in Thailand and is one of the most important things.
 

The Correct Visa
Depending on how you will sustain yourself and what you will be doing will depend on the type of Visa you will need to apply for, here are your options.

Working / Having a Job
Your employer should have a work permit available under their company for you and with this goes a Non-B working visa. Usually if you are an employee of a company then you will get three months Non-B visas, meaning that you will need to leave the Country every 3 months to make a new working visa. It’s just a short and easy trip though!

Your own Business or Company
By setting up your own business, depending on the size/value of your business, you will be entitled to one work permit under that business ( or 2 or more if you have set up a larger company).

As it is your own business, you will be the Managing Director, meaning that you will be entitled to a One Year Non-B Visa. This visa means you can stay and work in the Country for one year, however, they will still only stamp you for 3 months at a time which means you will have to do a quick border bounce every 3 months. There is an option to not have to leave the Country every 3 months but it is more costly and you need to have certain things in place for your business, this is something your Lawyer will be able to tell you about.

Living off of Pension / Retirement
If you are living off a pension from your home Country, in retirement then you will qualify for a Retirement visa which is different to a Tourist Visa. You must meet some requirements such as; be over 50 years of age, have a valid passport with at least 18 months left, show a certain amount in the bank and also show an income coming in (usually your pension). Retirement Visas allow you to stay in the Country for one year at a time.

Having enough savings / being rich enough so you don’t have to work
This is where it’s a little tricky. Although you do not need to work, a Tourist Visa will not be enough to allow you to live in the Country full-time. Tourist visas in a row are cut off after 2 or three also.

You have a few options however, you could get an Education Visa which allows you one year at a time by enrolling in a language school here. This way you also get to learn Thai Language which will help your life greatly on Koh Phangan. Otherwise you will have to set up your own company to get a Non-B Visa for the year. Even if you don’t use this company for work purposes it will still allow you to have the longer-term visa and also you will need your own company if you ever wanted to build your own house or buy land for example so it could always be handy in the future!

Have an income from home such as investments or online work
If you have an income from your home Country or work online then you will be needing to look at getting a Non-B Visa too. See the above info on setting up a business.

Visas for Thailand can be obtained either in your home Country before you arrive or from Asian and other Countries close by from the Thai Embassies.

Once you have your Visa, then you are allowed to enter and stay in the Country! - Yay!

Lifestyle and Where to Live
You can now move on to the exciting aspect of finding a house to live in and make your own and deciding which area of the island is right for you, because each area is different!

If you are working and have a job you may be lucky enough to be provided with accommodation in your employment package. If not, then you may want to consider where your job will be and chose a home close to the area. This goes the same if you will have business on the island, you may want to be close to the shop or office depending on the business you do.

If you are more free to chose the area without ties to a location then you may want to consider your budget as an important aspect when choosing where to live. Different areas of Koh Phangan can be more expensive than others, especially if they are near a beach or with a seaview etc.

You can read our article here on ‘Which Area of Koh Phangan to Stay in Depending on Your Budget’. We address low, medium and high budgets and the areas best suited for you to live.

In general, we will assume that because you are moving here to live permanently you will not be looking at staying in a Hostel or Resort and that you will want your own house. However, you could always look at sharing a house with others if you want to keep your living costs down.

Renting a House
Houses on Koh Phangan range from simple bamboo and wooden styles up to luxury western style houses and villas like you would find anywhere else in the world. So your budget will really play a part in what you can get.

To find somewhere to live long-term the best thing to do is drive around yourself and look!

Most free houses will have a sign and a phone number of the Thai owner, doing it this way means you cut out the agents and speak to the owner directly who will eventually be your landlord. You can also negotiate a Long-term price, sometimes they are open for a 10 year or so deal and if you pay yearly then the discount will be great compared to paying every month.

If you are looking for something specific or just don’t have the time to look yourself then you can of course use an agent or property company to look for you. Many westerners have business in doing this exact thing and so have many contacts and landlords who use their services. You can find reputable companies on Facebook groups for Koh Phangan.

Building your own house
It is not the easiest thing to do but it can and has been done, so if you are committed to living here and can afford it then you may want to build your own dream home. You will need to have your own company set up to be able to acquire the land first or be married to a Thai National.

You can also lease the land for 30 years or more ideally and then once you have land you can build the house! You can find architects and building companies either here on Koh Phangan or from elsewhere in the Country.

Choosing the area of Koh Phangan which suits you best!
Different areas have different things and also very different feelings, you will want to consider your lifestyle when considering where you will place yourself when you live here.

Here you can read about the different areas and to which people they suit the best:

Haad Rin - Full Moon Party
Famous for the monthly party but it also has more to offer and the area just before it, on the hills, can be a nice place for Expats to live.

Thong Nai Pan and the East - Heritage and Nature
This part of the island is the quietest and sparsely populated side of Koh Phangan and it has some breathtaking views both on the coast and inland.

Thong Sala and Baan Tai - Lifestyle Central
Thong Sala, the main centre of Koh Phangan has grown into a thriving atmosphere full of wonderful Western and local bars and restaurants open both day and night. Baan Tai is now the main party area, hosting Jungle Experience, Waterfall Party, Half Moon and Loi Lay Floating Bar. It is a great place to be in the evening if you fancy a dance or a pub crawl.

Chaloklum - Fishing and Sea
This part of the island is famous for being the dive centre of the island. Chaloklum is the main village up this neck of the woods and it is full of different dive centres. Chaloklum is a lovely community which mixes well with the local Thai people.

Sri Thanu and Hin Kong - Health, Wellness and Yoga
Sri Thanu is famous for its yoga and spiritual schools and there is a certain 'calmness' in the air around this area. Along the coastline is Hin Kong, a really stunning coast with views across the ocean to Samui and some of the best sunset spots on the island.

We hope this helps you find your perfect home in the perfect spot for you on Koh Phangan, let’s get you settled in with comfort and once you’re all cosy, we’ll give you the low-down on some home truths and honesty about things you might have to deal with living on Koh Phangan.

Hometruths and Culture Shocks
So let’s prepare you well for some things you may not have considered when planning your dream life.

People leaving / coming and going
Koh Phangan is a transient island, people come and go a lot and you may find that you meet a wonderful best friend who is by your side 24/7 for 3 months then suddenly gone the next. This is because most people are travellers, not here for the long run. You will have to get used to this and maybe find different ways of meeting long term expats living on the island. The people you meet at parties may not be the people who can be your friend or ally all year round.

Plus, it is wise to surround yourself with a few good people who are doing the same as you, for support.

Thai Culture
Everything is different here. Just because your Thai girlfriend ‘knows someone’ is no guarantee that you can bypass a certain business requirement or that your endeavour will succeed. Thai people can also be wary at first of foreigners coming in. Just because you met that Thai Koh Phangan original family member once or a few times does not mean they will get you out of any trouble you cause.

Everything takes time, if you do want the support of the Thai community here then be patient and be authentic in your good actions.

Paying Tax, Bills and Expenses
Running your own company, having a job and generally living on Koh Phangan brings with it some maybe un-thought of expenses. Like your Country back home, Thailand also has taxes. You will also need to pay things such as balance sheets once a year, social security, electricity bills and the rest. When you are here as a Tourist your accommodation probably included such things but longer-term rentals do not.

It’s a small price to pay for living your dream life on a tropical island though so don’t let it put you off, just bear these things in mind.

The Heat
Being here all year round means that you will deal will heat like never before!!! There is a really hot season in Thailand which coincides with ‘Low Season’ which brings with itself its own battles which we will get to soon…

Rainy Season
Like the super hot heat, you will also encounter rainy season. Most people do not visit Thailand during the rainy season as they purposely come for the good sunny warm weather. You need to be aware that Koh Phangan’s rainy season is different to Bangkok’s rainy season.

The Battle in Business
It is HARD WORK to have a business on Koh Phangan, let’s not beat around the bush here!
Firstly, you need to meet requirements, register your company, find a good location and do all the legal stuff and then you have to sustain and grow.

You need to be doing something really special, for such a small island, it doesn’t need 7 Italian restaurants or 10 bikini shops, the competition is hard and good. Businesses that do make a success of themselves here are training their staff well, bringing something unique, offering quality service or goods and never giving up. You need to be prepared for the battle at the beginning, it may take a few years, before you can enjoy a laid-back lifestyle that you planned.

FOMO - Fear of Missing Out
The reason you fell in love with Koh Phangan was because of its hedonistic ways, laid back vibe, parties or yoga events and the beauty of the paradise.
Of course, you can still enjoy all of these things, but when you permanently live somewhere, anywhere, even if it is Koh Phangan, life changes a little from when you used to come as a visitor…

You have responsibilities, priorities, a job to get to in the morning or you’re waiting for a pay check or business is slow. You may have to turn down that invitation from friends to go to Loi Lay on Sunday night because you have work the next morning, Ecstatic Dance might cut right into your day of commitments which will get your rent paid for that month, and so, at first, you may get the fear of missing out.

Don’t worry though, you’ll get used to it and things will become even more enjoyable when you CAN do them!

Immigration Changes
It’s Thailand, things can change a lot or just a little. Next time you go to make your visa there may be a bit more paperwork you need or something else to do, just be aware of this and as long as you are doing things the right way you’ll have nothing to worry about.

Low Season
Oh, lovely low season… as a tourist you may not have liked it so much, less people to meet, less parties on ect ect...but as a person living on the island low season has its good points! But also it’s bad ones too.

You may need to plan financially for low season if you are running a business, the income you make may be smaller and so it may be wise to save your profits from the high season to cover your expenses. Some businesses even close during this time and use it as their excuse to take a holiday. On the plus side however, with less tourists around, it’s a great time for expats to enjoy the island paradise they chose to live on.

Trust Issues
Unfortunately, you never know people’s backgrounds here on Phangan, it’s best to take your time in trusting someone. This is a place where people can be anonymous, re-invent themselves and vanish without a trace, it can be hard to know who to trust and who has good intentions, the same as yours. Just a word of warning.

Standards of School, Health Care etc
Firstly, make sure you have insurance! This will make everything easier if you get sick.
Next, be aware that the standards of institutions will not be the same as your home Country, something might be better and of course could be worse.

Thailand will have different rules and regulations and schools may follow different routines or curriculums. Best thing is to talk in person, do your research and just be prepared to question everything!
You can also try out a few hospitals/schools or other services you will need to use, find which are most comfortable for you and the longer you are here the more you will get used to all of the differences.

Normal life is normal life wherever you are in the world! When you live in a different Country you will still have to deal with issues that arise and you should be prepared for the cultural differences here on Koh Phangan.

What you DO get from living here however, as long as you are willing to be committed, can far outway the difficult things. You can breathe fresh sea air, you drive to work through coconut palm tree groves and drive home witnessing a beautiful sunset. People are much more open-minded and the way of life is chilled to your taste.

You will become a stronger person from living on Koh Phangan that’s for sure! It will make you appreciate the little things you take for granted back in your original Country of birth.

Next time we speak to people themselves who have done the move, some firsthand experience, let’s get the low-down from the people who know the best!
 

People who have Done It!
These people have chosen to spend all year round on this beautiful island, so don’t just listen to us, listen to them as well.

We have asked each individual the positives of living here but also the negatives and things they wish they would have known, with the negatives we have come up with a solution in case this is something you face or have to deal with.

Firstly we speak to Natu who has lived on Phangan for one year so far, she works as a receptionist for Phanganist Hostel and originally just came for 4 days but ended up getting a job and staying.

As well as working full-time, Natu enjoys the Latin dances on the island and also the Psy-trance, “quite an interesting combination”.

What are the best things about living here?
I think the best thing is that even though it is an island, it is such an interesting one that you can never get bored here. No matter what are you interests, you have it here, and if you are like me, that you have an interest in a lot of different things, this is paradise.

You can one day just focus on meditation, yoga, ecstatic dance, tantra, whatever you want. Next day, party like crazy. Next day just go for a hike/beach day quiet and relax.
There’s such a nice mix of activities and people make you feel refreshed.

Problems:
Well, for me one really negative side of the island is that I don't ride a motorbike... and living on an island without this can be quite a challenge sometimes.

The solution:
We must agree that the best way to get around is by motorbike/scooter, especially if you live here full time, you will want to go shopping, go to see friends and visit different parts of the island in your spare time. However, there are other ways…

You can be like Natu herself and get yourself a bicycle! This will at least enable you to get to work, any longer distance however would mean to get a lift from a friend or get a taxi (which could be expensive).

What you should do is find a trusted friend or the person you work for to teach you how to ride a scooter. This can be done over time so there is no need to panic. A lot of jobs actually provide you with a scooter so it would be in the businesses best interests to teach you and do this in a safe way.

Why is it a great place to live?
People here are very open minded, and we are looking for the same and feeling the same for this place, so I think you get to connect to people in an easier and deeper way.

And we all know that it is the people that actually make a place so special.

You can also include all the amazing beaches, viewpoints, incredible parties, peaceful sunsets, and yes, you have paradise!

We go from someone living here for one year to someone who has lived here for 14 years! Sabrina in fact very first came to visit in 1994 and would come and go until 2005 when she made it her permanent home. She has a well-established and beautiful business making homemade and healthy vegan and vegetarian foods which she has recently extended to Koh Samui. With all her free time she also does a lot to help the island’s animals.

What are the best things about living here?
It’s warm and we have beautiful sunsets.

Problems:
Heavy Monsoon Rain and Storms, especially when you have to do things outdoors in the Nature or have to drive a bike.

Dealing with the humidity when everything get mouldy. Animal cruelty, and that you always will be a Farang (a foreigner not a Thai).

The solution:
With the heavy monsoons and storms during the rainy season and also at random points of the year we don’t really have a solution for this! As we mentioned in a previous article (see here) this is something you will just have to deal with. Try to check the weather satellites and get into the habit of planning your days and outdoor activities as best you can.

The humidity can of course cause problems as Sabrina mentioned, again this is another thing you will just have to deal with and try to fix as best you can. There are ways in which you can protect your house from mould or try to prevent it by researching.

The culture is different here, you may see things in regards to animals that shock you, try to get involved with the island’s many organisations that try to help such as PACS or Adopt a Furry Friend. Sabrina also helps with her organisation Koh Phangan Animal Lovers.

Always being a Farang...yes, you will. No matter how long you live on Koh Phangan or in Thailand, that’s just the way it is here, you will always be an outsider. Take your time, be patient, have good intentions and slowly but surely you will make some good honest Thai friends in the community.

Why is it a great place to live?
I used to enjoy my freedom here because there were less rules than in Germany but things are changing because too many foreigners are thinking the same and go over the limits.
The Thai’s can’t deal with it anymore. Now we get the same rules as in Europe....but it’s still better than Germany and I hate freezing. Apart from this, Phangan is just special…

Next up we speak to Linda who has lived here for 12 years. She went with the option of studying Southeast Asia culture and Thai Language through Danish University, this allows her to be in education but to enjoy the cheaper cost of living (which is good for a student) and more relaxed life-style Koh Phangan has to offer.

When she is not working on her degree studies she helps the team here with Phanganist Magazine and has five dogs as her ‘real-life’ project to keep her busy and entertained.

What are the best things about living here?
The best thing here is the feeling of freedom. Everyone has time to smile, there are swimming pools and beaches all around me, there is yoga and party, there is like minded friends and freaks. It is like we’ve made a small little bubble away from the real world and the troubles there ...we know we are hiding away but we like it like that .. for now at least.

Problems:
No times are the exact time, no plan is absolutely set in stone.

The solution:
This is called ‘Thai Time’ or could just be island life time… it is something that could frustrate you, especially if you are working and have commitments. It is however something you will get used to and you will learn how each individual works to their particular time-frame.

If you’re working or running a business then you will either get used to this or not encounter it as the people you will be around will be doing the same thing and so will be able to stick to times but you should be aware that a lot of people DO have a lot of free time and so plans can change, times can change and things can be a bit less prompt than what you are used to. Read our article on island time.

Why is it a great place to live?
It is my favorite place to live right now because most people here are like me. We are hiding a bit away from the tough and rough real world. We created a space among the locals where we can feel free and alive, not just live to survive.

Any idea you have, you have space and time to create here. It is only up to you, there’s no one to tell you if you can or not, you do and then you see.

The sun is always shining and your small bike is easy to ride all around the island, what's not to love?

Next we speak to Andrea who is married to a Thai National, she has lived on Koh Phangan for 20 years and together with her husband, owns and runs a jewelry shop business in Thong Sala.

Like many others she enjoys the “personal freedom I have, to do and live the way I want and not have to follow too many rules which are forced on you.

I love the very special energy of the island here, probably because of the many stones you can find in the rocks like clear quartz, Amethyst, Black Tourmaline, granite and many more. I also love the nature here and the wildlife”.

Problems:
Money or Visa issues and getting ‘too big for your boots’.

The solution:
With regards to Visa issues, you need to know that things are always changing as we addressed here. You also need to be prepared for money problems that may arise, such as preparing for low season when you may not be making as much as high season, see info here. Just remember that when you permanently live somewhere you will encounter the same problems as when you lived back home, life is life.

Getting too big for your boots - keep your ego in tact and stay humble. Things change quickly here so don’t go showing off if you have had a good month in business, it can annoy the community who are not doing so well and you could lose it all the next month, things can change a lot.
Most people who have managed to sustain themselves and create good business and a good life here on Koh Phangan have stayed quiet, humble and authentically thankful to the Thai community in which they live, take note.

One photographer who has been living here for nearly 3 years tells us her experience…

What are the best things about living here?
WOW where to start? Being completely immersed in nature is my favourite thing about the island. It is my version of paradise, the island has a really nice blend of party scene and spiritual scene which means I can dip in and out depending on my mood. The people living here are happy, the food is amazing and although it feels like I really know the island I am always discovering new places.

Problems:
The only 2 points I can think of is the Thai visa process is a bit annoying and secondly the plastic problem. However this is apparent around the world and especially across Asia so I wouldn't say it is island specific!
However I hate seeing plastic in nature and the ocean around here because the island is so beautiful and needs to be protected from human destruction.

The solution:
Yes the Visa situation can be annoying, things change a lot. The best way to deal with this is to remember you are a guest of Thailand and this is the small price you pay to have your dream life. We talk about visa changes here.

The plastic, ‘be the change you want to see’, do your small bit to help and others will follow. You can have a look at ways to reduce your plastic consumption and other means of helping the island here in our Environment section of Phanganist.com.

So there you have it, the good, the bad, the ugly and the excellent things about what it is REALLY LIKE to live on Koh Phangan! We hope this has been a good practical help and also a creative inspiration to help you decide if you want to live permanently here.

One of the best pieces of advice we can give is to ‘do things the right way’. No matter if you see people doing things the easy wrong way, be respectful for the Country you are in. If you’re working, then do it legal, pay your Thai taxes like the Thai people do. Be kind to the Thai people and be patient, it will take years for them to wholey accept you but it will be worth it.

And remember to take care of each other, the other expats who are trying to live out their dream life here on Koh Phangan.

There will be ups and downs but if you work hard, do things in the right way, then it really can be living the dream.

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