Jeff: "Phuket offers a gentle integration into Thai life"

Expat interviews
  • Jeff in Phuket
Published on 2014-02-13 at 00:00 by team
Jeff left Los Angeles to move to Phuket with his girlfriend about 10 months ago in search for the life they wanted to live. They share with us their experience in the country, before flying to discover other parts of the world...

Why did you decide to move to Phuket?

My girlfriend and I found ourselves dragged down in Los Angeles at jobs that weren't giving us the life we wanted to live. After a couple months of searching for new jobs we decided to give up the search and bought two tickets to Phuket, Thailand. We arrived a few months ago and haven't regretted a single thing! Since arriving we have been able to continue some work from the states as well as launch our travel blog where we provide tips, tricks, video reviews and stories from the road.

How was the moving process?

The moving process was the easy part! Once we finally made the decision to move abroad everything else fell into place. It was rather amazing. As soon as we booked our flights and told our family and friends, we felt an almost unending amount of support. Our jobs under-stood and supported our decision, our families did what they could to help us transition and from yard sales to getting rid of our cars, to packing boxes and ending our leases, everything simply fell into place. It all really made us believe in our choice to move abroad.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

While Thailand might be a vastly different country to many, Phuket offers a more gentle integration into Thai life. While the language is difficult (we are taking weekly Thai classes), there is enough English because of the high rate of tourism to function quite well. We both love Thai food so we didn't complain much about the cuisine, although after 6 months here we are happy to go out for pizza or cook at home. The culture is gentle and slow and getting used to the laid back Thai life has been a lesson in patience for both of us. Here in Phuket cars are expensive so we purchased a motorbike. For Marina this was particularly difficult to get used to. She is comfortable riding on the bike, but too nervous to drive one. This hasn't been an issue, but at times she feels a little codependent since she can't just jump in her car and run errands like she could back home.

What formalities did you have to go through in order to be able to live in Phuket?

For the vast majority of people planning to live in Thailand for an extended amount of time, the education visa provides them with the chance to stay in Thailand and the opportunity to study the Thai language as well. When we decided to live in Thailand we also decided the experience wouldn't be complete without at least attempting to learn the language in hopes of more fully experiencing the culture and the people. While our classes have been challenging and frustrating at times, being able to give a street vendor a complement or to order your meal correctly in Thai makes all the difference in the world. The ED visa allows you 90 days in the country, renewable up to 15 months, with only a visit to the immigration office each 90 days without having to leave the country.

You still work with the United States: how do you manage the time difference? Is it easy to keep that way of working while being in Thailand?

We work primarily as video editors and freelance documentary filmmakers as well as run our travel blog Latitude 34. It is sometimes a bit frustrating dealing with a 12+ time change but being that we are able to work anywhere on Earth, on our time, whenever we want as long as we have decent internet, makes it all worth it.

What surprised you the most in Phuket?

The size. Phuket is a mere spec on a map, but in reality it is a quite large island. If you think you are coming to a small island where everyone knows everyone and you can walk every-where you will be surprised at the size, hustle and bustle of the life in Phuket. There are, how-ever, many smaller tight knit beach communities which are well worth the time to get to know.

Is it easy to make friends in Phuket?

We believe that having a strong group of friends is the single most important thing no matter where you live. We knew that having a strong network of friends in Phuket would be very important to us but we had no idea how hard it would be to meet people. With so many older expats and people just on vacation it was very difficult to tap into the younger here. Through social media sites we have been able to make some great friends but have overall been surprised at how hard it has been to fully tap into to the expat scene here.

Could you please share with us something you like about Phuket and something you don't like?

We love the beaches. Even though most of our time here has been in the rainy season, we still spend 2 or 3 days a week on the beach with sun! Living on a tropical island is the best part about living here. As far as what we don't like, Phuket is expensive. As the number one tourist destination in Thailand it has also become the most expensive in Thailand, and while still much cheaper than the States or Europe, the prices of certain things remain quite high. The price of a taxi ride in Phuket is about 4 times higher than the same distance in Bangkok and about 6 times higher than one in Chiang Mai. Being treated like a tourist day after day has gotten tiring, and while many locals know us now, the feeling of being viewed as a just off the plane tourist is sometimes quite frustrating, but a great time to bust out some of the Thai we have been working on!

A common belief about Thailand which wasn't right:

It is surprising to us how many of our friends are suspicious of Thailand, only hear crazy stories and are slow to commit to visiting us because of certain stereotypes that it is an unsafe and a crazy country. While it is a developing third world country, it is far from what many people think and Phuket especially leaves nothing to be desired. The malls are impressive, gigantic and have every store you could imagine. The movie theaters are much nicer than any at home. If you want Starbucks, Pizza Hut or Sizzler you won't have to go far. Solid Wi-Fi is offered almost everywhere, even little bamboo restaurants on the beach. The infrastructure is a bit behind but booming at an alarming rate and the overall safety and development of Thai-land is increasing almost faster than it can handle it. As of September 2013, Thailand has al-ready welcomed over 15 million tourists this year.

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

Our friends. We often talk about how we could be happy living anywhere in the world as long as we had a solid core group of friends. It's hard to only have each other when you are traveling. We are our best friends, our significant others, our work partners and our only outlets. Sometimes it get very trying and really puts our relationship to the test, but ultimately has made us stronger as friends and as a couple.

How do you keep in touch with family and friends back home?

WhatsApp! Honestly it's the app we use the most on our iPhones to communicate with friends and family. It makes it so easy to text, send voice messages and photographs and while the time change might delay the conversation a couple hours sometimes it really helps us feel connected. We also use Skype and Facebook quite a lot to stay in touch. Also, before we left the states, we transferred our US numbers from AT&T to Vonage, brought the small vonage adapter box, purchased 2 cheap touchtone phones here in Thailand, hooked them up to the internet and now both our US numbers work just like at home. People can call us, we can call home and there are no international fees at all since it is all internet based. We then got our iPhones unlocked, fitted with Thai sim cards and are good to go!

Which advice would you give to people wishing to live in Phuket?

Just go for it! Honestly you will always be able to think of some little reason why you shouldn't go travel, but missing Sunday Night Football or having to go a few months without your favorite pizza place isn't a good enough one (ps. I stream NFL football on our tv through an Apple TV and there is an amazing pizza place 30 seconds walking from our house).

What are your plans for the next few years?

We are planning to stay in Phuket until at least the summer of 2014. We are going to be traveling throughout Europe and excited to check out other countries along the way we might like to live in. Since we currently have the ability to work from anywhere we want we are always on the lookout for a country we would like to live in next. Our time in Thailand has been amazing and it will always hold a special place in our heart.

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