The Australian Consulate-General Phuket is Australia’s official diplomatic mission in Phuket, with accreditations to the provinces of Phang-nga and Krabi. We went to visit the Australian console in Phuket, to meet the Consulate General of Phuket Matt Barkley to ask him all sorts of questions about what does a console do, what can it help with, what can’t it help with and to get some top tips for Australian’s traveling to Phuket.
Firstly, a bit of background:
The Consulate-General was officially opened in August 2017 by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. In 2015 the Australian Government announced that its presence in Phuket would be upgraded from an Honorary Consul to a full Consulate-General, reflecting the strength of the Australia-Thailand bilateral relationship and the number of Australians travelling and residing in Phuket.
So, my first question to Matt was an easy one, what does a consult General do?
Matt: So, a consulate general is basically like a small Embassy, so we do the role of an embassy, but outside of the capital, so that’s why we’re based in Phuket. We look after Australians; we promote Australian interests and we’re basically here as a conduit between the Australian community and the Thai community.
Are you only covering Phuket?
Matt: So, we cover Phuket, Panna and Krabi. So, if you’re an Australian that gets in trouble somewhere else in the region, then you can call us for assistance and even if you’re in places like Songkhla or Chumpon, Ranong, Surat Thani, if you need something done in southern Thailand and don’t want to travel to Bangkok, then you can travel to Phuket and we can assist you.
What services or assistance do you offer?
Matt: We do quite a few things here, so we provide passports to Australians that need them, so if you’re an Australian that wants to renew your passport, we can do that here, if you lose or damage your passport and you need to travel urgently, we can issue an emergency passport here as well, that’ll allow you to travel back to Australia. We also do something called notarial services, so if you’re an Australian that’s buying a house, going through divorce proceedings or something like that, we can do the signatures necessary for you to Lodge those documents back in Australia. And then, another major part of what we do is what we call Consular assistance, so that’s when if you’re an Australian that gets into trouble overseas, we can provide assistance and guide you through the process to hopefully get you home in one piece.
Are your services for tourists or expats or both?
Matt: It’s really interesting. So, we have about 2 000 Australians that live in Phuket and we have about a quarter of a million Australians who visit every year. Now, we provide services to both those groups and I think people would be quite interested to know that we provide about 40% of our services to the expats that live here and about 60% of our services to the travelers. So, we’re here for everyone, if you’re an Australian, if you’re an Australian passport holder, then we’re here to look after you.
What are the main things that you are asked help for from tourists?
Matt: Yes, it’s a good one and this changes on a day-to-day basis, obviously passport is a big one and particularly tourists going swimming and forgetting their passports in their pocket or putting their washing in and forgetting that their passport is there, that’s a big one for us because you need a valid travel Document to be able to get back to Australia or to go somewhere else in your travel. So, helping people with their passports or even with their passports expire, that’s another big one that we help people with. The other major area is on what we call again Consular assistance, so that’s when you are sick overseas and you maybe need to go to hospital and you don’t understand the processes there, you maybe need to be in touch with your family. These are things that we can assist you with. Unfortunately, we have a number of Australians that die overseas every year as well, we’re here to be able to help the families to navigate that process to be able to get their loved ones back to Australia as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Then, there’s also Australians that maybe go down to Patong and get into some trouble down there as well and we’re also here to assist them, so if you’re arrested or if you get into an accident, you have trouble with the law, then we can help you navigate that process, it’s important to know that we can’t get you out of those situations, but what we can do is we can give you the tools to be able to work your way through it. So, for example, if you get arrested, we can provide you with a list of local lawyers who potentially speak English and Thai and can help you go through the process there. So, it’s quite a range of services that we provide and we really are there just to ensure that Australians can help themselves when they get into a situation here in Thailand.
What things can you not do or help within your role as Consulate General?
Matt: So, the key thing to understand is that Australians are subject to Thai law when they’re in Thailand, we can’t get you out of legal problems, we can’t get you out of jail, we also can’t issue visas, we can’t issue visas to Australia. We also can’t extend your Visa if you’ve got a problem with your Visa here in Thailand. We’re also unable to provide legal advice, I think people come to us and because we understand the system here, they want us to be able to give them an estimate on how long things will take to work through the system. Unfortunately, we’re unable to do that, but what we can do is we can provide you with contacts, so that you can speak to a lawyer, you can speak to an expert in these matters who can actually inform you of those things. So, while there are a range of things that we can’t do, we will always try to assist an Australian in need, we’ll always try to point them in the right direction, and if that doesn’t work, you can always come back to us and we can work on a strategy to get you the help that you need.
What are some of the top attractions and things to do in Phuket for Australians?
Matt: I came to Phuket first as a tourist, so I know what people love about Phuket and I’m so glad to be posted here now. So, my top tip is to go to Phuket old town. If you think you know Thai food, then you have no idea until you actually get to try it here in Phuket old town. Southern Thai food is something unlike what we get back in Australia we think of Thai food, but beyond that, it’s got beautiful architecture, it’s got beautiful street art and to be able to spend an afternoon wandering around there to go to The Walking Street, the markets, it’s absolutely incredible, and it’s the top thing that I do when people come and visit me. And otherwise I think Phuket got some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and I find I love getting up early in the morning going for a great walk on Kamala Beach or down in Rawai as well, I mean it’s got some of the best walking trails anywhere in Southeast Asia and it’s just such an amazing thing to do to get out there, see people going about their morning routines and to just see the sunrise over the island here, it’s absolutely amazing.
What are some of the top tips and advice that you can give to Australian tourists coming to Phuket?
Matt: Well, I don’t think we have enough time to answer all of them, but I think there’s some really good tips that we can get from that. First of all, travel advice page called smartraveler.gov.au, my top tip is if you can’t ride a motorbike back in Australia, you can’t ride a motorbike here in Thailand, it’s not an ability you just suddenly pick up when you get on the plane in Sydney. Another thing is if you’re going to ride a motorbike as a passenger or as the rider themselves, wear a helmet, we see far too many motorbike accidents here and often they’re preventable and some of the worst injuries are preventable if you wear a helmet. So, go ahead wear that helmet when you’re on a bike. The other thing that I really recommend is to get travel insurance, we don’t know what’s going to happen on our travels, we don’t know what incidents or issues are going to happen and even the best prepared people can come across issues, so get that travel insurance before you get on the plane, and even while you’re here, if you’ve forgotten to get it, there are companies out there that can get you travel insurance Midway through a trip, so definitely think about it. Thanks very much, I’m looking forward to meeting you when you’re in Phuket, hopefully for the right reasons, but I hope everyone has a great time when they visit you.
So, that was awesome Matt Barkley the Australian Consul-General. So, if you’re Australian and you do need help; hopefully you don’t, then this is a place to come and they will look after you, because they are awesome. A big Thank you to Matt and a big thank you The Australian Consulate-General Phuket team.