Getting a Visa
If you’re looking for long-term residency on the island, you’re going to need the right visa. Initially, many expats and foreign visitors perform what are known as “visa runs,” where you exit Thailand for a day at the end of your 30-day extended visa term, stay in another country for the meantime, and then return the next day to get a fully-renewed visa stay.
However, if you’re unwilling or unable to do this, you may want to consider working towards a ‘Type O,’ Non-Immigrant Visa. As expected, these visas carry a number of stipulations and requirements, so it’s worth fully checking to make sure your situation meets the rules. For example, a marriage visa is the best bet if you’re married to a Thai citizen; or if you are retiring, are above the age of 50 and have a certain pensioned income or bank balance, you may work towards a retirement visa. You may also be eligible for an ‘ED’ visa if you’re studying (learning Thai in a local language school, for example).
Alternatively, if you’re working for a Thai company long-term, or are planning to start a company in the country, you may apply for a ‘B1’ visa. In this case, your company or lawyer will be able to handle the application paperwork for you.
Please note – For the majority of Thai visas, applications must be made outside of Thailand.
Learning the Language
We mentioned that learning Thai through a language school is an option for obtaining an education visa, but is it really necessary to know Thai if you’re going to live on Koh Samui? As a tourist destination, most of the locals on the island speak basic English, so you could thrive on the island even if you only know that language. However, knowing Thai will certainly help you when it comes to fitting in with and adapting to the local culture and community, so it’s advisable for long-term residents.
Thai is a difficult language to learn, coming from English or Romance languages. One of the major ways in which it differs is that the pitch of a word can affect its meaning. This alone can be very tough to get used to.
For best results, pick a well-established, government-accredited school to learn the language. Some of the better Thai language schools on Koh Samui include ‘Mind Your Language,’ ‘Samui Language School’ and ‘Koh Samui Tutor and Vocational School.’
Making a Living
If you don’t have a job waiting for you, or a company that you’re looking to start and you’re in need of regular employment, there’s a wide selection of jobs that you can try applying for. One obvious choice is English tutor, for which you will probably need a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification. If you’re a qualified scuba diver, you could try being a diving instructor – diving is a big thing on the island thanks to tourism. You may also consider hotel management if you have the connections and qualifications, or aim to become part of the resort staff for one of the many destination resorts on the island.
There isn’t much in the way of public transportation on Koh Samui. One of the more prominent ways of getting around is via songthaew, which means “two rows” and is typically a modified truck with two bench seats placed parallel to each other on the back. Songthaews don’t have schedules, so you’ll have to wait for them at a stop if you want to board. Some travel around the ring road of the island and others pass through the more urbanized areas. The fare is typically 50 baht (US$1.50) for foreigners.
You can also opt to take a taxi via a service like ‘Samui Taxi,’ though as a foreigner you may be charged extra by the drivers, who often don’t bother with their meters. A trip can cost well over 400 baht (US$11.75). A better choice, though one that might not always be available, is ‘NaviGo Samui,’ an Uber-like app with short waiting times and mandatory metering.
If you want to drive yourself, you can rent a scooter or bicycle for about 150-250 baht (US$4.41 to $7.34) per day, or around 2500 baht ($73+) per month, depending on the model. It’s generally inadvisable to import your own car into the country, as import duties can soar to as much as 200%! It’s an option to buy a car from the mainland and import it onto the island. Gasoline prices can go for about 45 baht (US$1.32) per liter. Driving requires a local license, which you can get from the Department of Transportation in Nathon, where most government buildings are located.
Koh Samui weather generally features three seasons: dry, hot and rainy. Thailand sits between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, and this generates a warm and humid climate all year round.
Unsurprisingly, the peak season for tourist-related businesses and hotels is the dry season that runs from December to February. At this time you’ll find calm seas, light winds and warm temperatures!
If you visit Koh Samui between March and April, you’re going to encounter scorching 30 C+ temperatures, then in late April/early May there’s usually an increase in rainfall. From June to August, the pattern typically tends to be strong daytime sunshine, followed by afternoon thunderstorms.
For fans of rain, September to November is monsoon time. Rain isn’t guaranteed every day, and when it does arrive, it’s often in short, sharp showers, but fans of diving and snorkeling might choose to avoid this time of year, as underwater visibility is reduced.
Koh Samui is relatively safe, and when the rare crime does take place, the local police are an able force! If you do need their services, you shouldn’t experience any problems communicating any issues or concerns to them.
Motor accidents are somewhat above average, so be careful on the road and respect the rules. Also, watch out for the terrain – it can be easy to fall down a slope on a motorcycle or scooter!
Food and Shopping
There are plenty of familiar international and local supermarket brands on Koh Samui, such as branches of Tesco, as well as Big C, Makro and Tops.
The biggest supermarket stores can be found near Chaweng beach, and this is also where you’ll find the island’s biggest shopping and dining mall, Central Festival Samui. – 90,000sqm of retail therapy across three storey offers a welcome respite from the heat of the Sun.
Over at Choeng Mon, you can find night markets selling a variety of goods and different foods. The Fisherman’s Village in Bo Phut has a similar arrangement. Also, every Sunday, Lamai’s Beach Road transforms into Lamai ‘Jai Dee’ Walking Street, meaning ‘Kind-hearted’ Walking Street and selling handicrafts, clothes and delicious local street snacks.
Koh Samui is a tropical island getaway that manages to host everything you need for a comfortable life. Don’t forget, island life can bring certain challenges when it comes to the availability and speed of getting hold of some items, but once you settle in, you’ll be rewarded with a paradise that you’ll never want to leave!
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