We report on the first X-ray images of the Phoenix dwarf galaxy, taken with XMM–Newton in 2009 July. This Local Group dwarf galaxy shares similarities with the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) including a burst of star formation ∼50 Myr ago. The SMC has an abundance of high-mass X-ray binaries (HMXBs) and so we have investigated the possibility of an HMXB population in Phoenix with the intention of furthering the understanding of the HMXB–star formation rate relation. The data from the combined European Photon Imaging Cameras (EPIC) were used to distinguish between different source classes [foreground stars, background galaxies, active galactic nuclei (AGN) and supernova remnants] using EPIC hardness ratios and correlations with optical and radio catalogues. Of the 81 X-ray sources in the field of view, six are foreground stars, four are galaxies and one is an AGN. The remaining sources with optical counterparts have log(fX/fopt) consistent with AGN in the local Universe. Further investigation of five sources in the field of view suggests that they are all background AGN. Their position behind the gas cloud associated with Phoenix makes them a possible tool for further probing the metallicity of this region. We find no evidence for any HMXBs in Phoenix at this time. This rules out the existence of the X-ray persistent supergiant X-ray binary systems. However, the transient nature of the Be/X-ray binaries means we cannot rule out a population of these sources but can conclude that it is not extensive.