Work in Phuket in the Scuba Diving Industry: Insider tips and tricks for landing dream dive jobs in Phuket.

March 12, 2010

So now you’re a dive professional you want to work in Phuket. You can now start looking for scuba diving jobs in Phuket and Thailand. Here are some insider tips for how to go about finding dive jobs in Thailand, and how to cut through all the red tape to work in Phuket legally.

Firstly, work opportunities for dive masters in Thailand are pretty limited and the pay can be pretty dire. Dive shops tend to employ instructors only, as they are far more versatile than dive masters. The only place in Thailand where dive masters can expect to make some kind of living is on Similan liveaboard dive boats, which usually run from October to May. To work on a Similans liveaboard as a dive master, you’re either going to have to know someone that can help you get the job, or have a lot of experience, especially experience of all the Similan Islands dive sites. Most liveaboard companies will be looking to employ instructors on their boats, as they have a higher level of training and can also conduct courses and specialties on the boat. In a nutshell, Thailand has very few opportunities for dive masters. If you manage to find a job as a dive master, make sure you have some savings or money in the bank to supplement your meager income.

Working in Phuket as an instructor isn’t as easy as simply passing the PADI IDC and being offered a job with a local dive centre. There’s a lot of competition for dive instructor jobs in Phuket, and shops here also tend to look for instructors with some experience. Being a MSDT (The next level up from OWSI) helps in Phuket as there’s quite a high volume of specialty courses being run here. In places like Koh Phi Phi it’s not so important, as very few specialty courses are conducted there.

To work legally in Phuket you will also need a work permit. They are fairly easy to get but depending on the lawyer you choose it could be a hassle. All you need to do is set up your own Thai limited company and then apply for your work permit. Easy, but expensive. It will cost around B60000 to set up, it takes around six weeks, and will require two trips to KL or somewhere similar to obtain the required visas. It’s a pain. So you can see already, if you only plan to come here for a few months it’s a lot of hassle and expense. If you plan on being here longer then it becomes worthwhile. It should be noted that if or when you decide to leave, it’s a straightforward process to sell the company and make some money back. There’re always new divers arriving who will buy these companies, as it saves them a lot of the headache involved with starting from scratch. Of course, it is still possible to work in Phuket without a work permit, but employers who take that risk are few and far between. If you need more detailed information about visas and work permits, please visit the travel section here where it is covered in more detail.

How much will you earn in Phuket? That’s a good question, and one that’s difficult to answer. A poor month here for instructors might be as low as B20K for a month, or even less. A very good month might be as high as B80K a month. It really depends on which shop you’re working for and how much work the manger chooses to give you. If you’re good at selling then it will improve your chances to earn a reasonable wage. If your teaching some open water students and can sell them the advanced course, then the chances are that you’ll get that course, and once your manager realizes you can sell, they will give you more and more work. If you have languages you’ll be quids in.

Expect to pay around B4k in taxes and accountants fees every month. With other living expenses don’t expect to save any of your monthly salary.

Phuket is a good place to come and work if you plan to come for an extended period of time, if you have experience and language skills, and are willing to go through the process of obtaining a work permit. Also bear in mind that Phuket has a six-month low season from May to October. Many Phuket based dive instructors leave during these months to work somewhere else, rather than suffer the frequently stormy weather and deflated salaries.

New instructors thinking about working in Thailand should give some serious thought to Koh Phi Phi. Here the dive center managers actually prefer inexperience to experience. There’s also no need to set up a company and obtain a work permit. Out of all the dive staff on Koh Phi Phi, probably no more than a few have work permits. There is just no need. Immigration is based in Krabi which is a boat ride away from Phi Phi. When they decide to come and inspect the island, all the shops have been tipped off and the dive staff make themselves scarce for the day, until the all clear is given. Occasionally they are successful and manage to apprehend someone. Usually this results in the dive shop paying some bribes to the arresting officers and all is forgotten.

Salaries on Phi Phi are commission based the same as they are in Phuket, but on Phi Phi they are generally more stable. Expect to earn between B40K and B60K a month. Phi Phi has the same low season as Phuket so things can get quiet then. The monthly rent can be expensive on Phi Phi, with basic rooms with a fan and a bed going for around B15K a month. That kind of money would rent you a nice house in Phuket. Phi Phi is a great environment for a new instructor to cut their teeth. The dive sites are excellent with Leopard Shark sightings most days. The visibility can be poor sometimes, and confined water sessions are conducted off the beach which can sometimes be murky with a swell. You’ll be chucked in at the deep end and told to get on with it. Within a month of teaching on Phi Phi you’ll have the confidence of a seasoned pro. In Phuket, new instructors are treated with kid gloves and are generally not allowed to make their own mistakes which they can learn from.

Our most popular dive instructor

Our most popular dive instructor

Phi Phi is a great place for younger instructors while Phuket tends to be home to more mature dive professionals. Phi Phi has an all night party culture, and most dive shops there either turn a blind or don’t realize that sometimes they’re staff might be out partying until 7am, before arriving at the shop at 8am to take their open water students diving for the day. I actually remember one time when I was working on Phi Phi; One of our newly certified dive masters turned up for work on the boat with body paint holding a whiskey and redbull kamikaze bucket. He’d come straight from the black moon party at Hippies Bar and was trying to do his best impersonation of a sober person. Half an hour later, he was underwater guiding four certified divers around Bida Nok. The point I am trying to make is that this behavior would never be tolerated in Phuket like it is on Phi Phi.

A couple of the busier shops on Phi Phi where it would be a good idea to start looking for work include Barakuda, Phi Phi Scuba, Viking Divers, and Seafrog. In Phuket there is such a large number of smaller shops it’s difficult to know where to start looking.

Wherever you want to work, either in Phuket or on Phi Phi, it’s much better to physically go to the shop with your C.V. to try and speak to the manager. Try to make a good first impression. Usually, emailing dive shops your C.V. with a short mail explaining that you’re looking for employment will be fruitless. Shops get so many of these mails. Also remember that jobs posted on the Internet at places like the PADI job board, usually have dozens and dozens of applicants. If you’re offered freelance work take it. Offers like this can be quite good financially, and also lead to more permanent positions, once they realize that you’re reliable as well and a good person.

Top Tips to Remember

  • If you decide to set up a limited company in Thailand to obtain a work permit, make certain you use a law firm that comes highly recommended. Some lawyers in Phuket are useless. Some take months to cut through the red tape while some can have your work permit within a week. Some are reasonably priced, some are rip-off merchants who keep coming up with extra charges. Be warned. Get a recommendation from someone who’s already been through the system.
  • First impressions count. When you walk into a Phuket dive centre armed with your dive C.V. make sure you’re well presented, articulate, and polite. Cover up those tattoos. Take off your sunglasses and make eye contact.
  • Follow up with the dive centers you visit. This is how to get offered work. Look keen.
  • Make yourself available for freelance work and be reliable. If you’re offered any work whatsoever, even guiding for B800 per day, take it. Once you’ve proved to be reliable you’ll be offered bigger and better things.
  • Once you’ve accepted some freelance work, don’t change your mind later if you get a better offer. Be reliable and dependable and you’ll climb the list of people who get called first for work.
  • Keep your work permit and passport with you at work. The police might stop you and ask to see them both.

Good luck!

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