You know how you have no idea what’s going on in your own life/household/city/country right now? Confusion, cancelled plans and “maybe-hopefully-soons”? It’s much the same in Thailand.
As yet unresolved: How to (A) keep Thai people safe and continue an incredibly successful COVID response while (B) encouraging tourism once again (an industry responsible for approximately 20% of the Thai economy). For now, while a tidy answer to Question B eludes us all, Thailand’s borders remain shut to many – including the casual foreign traveller.
Update: Nov 27, 2020 – See my latest Thailand COVID Update, including new visa details and flight options.
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Please note: These following details are changing
weekly daily and nothing is officially set in place yet (though new tourist visa details were announced yesterday). As you’ll read below, a variety of ideas and plans are being considered for the short-, medium- and long-term. For the most up-to-date information, please bookmark and refer to:
- World Nomads’ Coronavirus (COVID-19) travel restrictions in Thailand
- Thailand’s Department of Disease Control coronavirus updates.
- Also, join my email list to get updates as they’re available.
Thailand Tourism COVID Update (Oct 9, 2020)
- Start here
- So what’s the plan to reopen Thailand?
- Now what?
Who can enter Thailand today?
In addition to Thai nationals (and their spouses, parents or children), non-Thai nationals with valid residence permits (or permission to get a residence permit) and non-Thai nationals with valid work permits (and their spouses and children), the following visitors are allowed to enter Thailand today:
- Diplomatic personnel (including their spouse, parents, or children)
- Carriers of necessary goods, subject to immediate return upon completion
- Flight crew “who are required to travel into the Kingdom on a mission, and have a specified date and time for return”
- Non-Thai nationals who are students of educational institutions approved by Thai authorities (including the student’s parents or guardians)
- Non-Thai nationals who need medical treatment in Thailand and their attendants (excludes treatment for COVID-19)
- Non-Thai nationals who are permitted to enter the kingdom under special arrangement
- Non-Thai nationals participating in trade fairs in Thailand
- Foreign film crews coming for filming in Thailand
- Foreign workers from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar for food and construction industries
Those who qualify to enter Thailand must meet a variety of entry requirements and, on arrival, quarantine for fourteen days at their own expense. Thai nationals are allowed to use state facilities, while foreigners must stay at Alternative State Quarantine accommodation (AQS).
Alternative State Quarantine accommodation (AQS)
Currently, there are eighty-eight ASQ hotels in Bangkok – including two Anantaras, the Conrad, the Shangri-La and so on. It doesn’t have to be awful. Packages include three daily in-room meals (because you’re not going anywhere), laundry discounts and COVID tests galore. If you’re weighing your options for this situation … just spend the big bucks and choose a big balcony. (P.S. No alcohol in quarantine, but you’re overdue for a detox, right?).
Do these prohibitions matter to would-be holidaymakers? Given that agencies such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continue to advise against “against all but essential international travel”, you already know you’re better off at home than trying to force a vacation in a country that doesn’t want you quite yet. (Better plan: start here to plan for Thailand … in the Future Times).
What about domestic travel?
As I hit publish on this post, The Thai Hotels Association requested a THB100 billion (US$3.2 billion) bailout from the Finance Ministry and Bank of Thailand. While domestic travel has been heavily promoted in recent months, tourist economies like Phuket and Koh Samui are struggling. (No sugar-coating … it’s bad – here’s how you can help).
A domestic travel stimulus, ‘Wetraveltogether’, runs from July through October (or until the THB22.4 billion put towards the program has been claimed). Any Thai national aged 20 and above can book domestic hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions for up to 40% off. Also, hotels, airlines and other travel services are offering steep discounts (including high-end Koh Samui villas for as little as US$300/night). So far, only 17% of the available funds have been claimed and, as such, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) plans to tweak the programme and extend it through the end of the year.
Is Bangkok Airways flying again?
Yes! Domestic flights stopped completely for a period, however, they’re running again at a reduced schedule. Face masks are of course mandatory – all other details available at Bangkok Airways’s COVID page.
- Bangkok to Koh Samui: There are now approximately fourteen daily flights between Bangkok and Koh Samui (twelve run daily, and two others offered a few days per week). This will increase in late October and again in December.
- Koh Samui to Phuket, Chiang Mai and U-Tapao (Pattaya): Daily flights to Chiang Mai and U-Tapao, and twice-weekly flights to Phuket are set to resume.
- Passenger lounges have re-opened at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (06:00 to 16:00) and Koh Samui Airport (08:00 to 18:00).
- In-flight meals: Passengers will receive a pre-packed meal box including snacks and a sealed drink starting mid-September.
There are hints that Bangkok Airways might resume international flights in January 2021, starting with routes to Cambodia, then perhaps Yangon, Hong Kong and Singapore (subject to governmental approval).
What about visa extensions?
As the Thai border shut in April, a ‘visa amnesty’ was issued to any non-Thai nationals who would either have to leave the country (but couldn’t) or report at an immigration office (as is the case for foreign residents every ninety days). The amnesty has been extended since but expires on September 26th. Many such individuals are now preparing to leave Thailand following, perhaps, a much longer stay than anticipated.
Thai Airways special flights
While Thai Airways has ceased international flights through at least October 2020, they’re offering ‘special flights’ on one-way tickets to Copenhagen, Munich, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Taipei, Hong Kong and Seoul a few times per week through mid- to late October.
So what’s the plan to reopen Thailand?
Right now, this question gets a different answer at different levels, and a variety of plans have been suggested. I’ll outline them below but reiterate that things can change (and have) at the last minute.
‘The Phuket Model’ and/or ‘Safe and Sealed’
The Phuket Model (probably not happening): How does this sound? You fly into Phuket (or another tourist hotspot) and quarantine at a designated hotel for fourteen days (not necessarily in your room, but in a kilometre-square ‘play pen’ that might include a stretch of beach). Following your quarantine, you can vacation as you like around the island (for instance Phuket or Koh Samui). You may or may not have to wear a wristband. There’s a COVID test at the start and finish of quarantine. Want to go elsewhere in Thailand? More quarantine for you.
Safe and Sealed/travel bubbles (probably not happening): Various iterations of this plan involved ‘Safe and Sealed’ ‘travel bubbles’ with (A) ‘safe’ countries such as Australia and New Zealand and/or (B) ‘safe’ cities with no COVID cases for 30 days. Again, destinations would be ‘sealable’ islands such as Phuket or Koh Samui. Minimum spends of THB100,000 were suggested as well as a thirty-day minimum stay. Arrival numbers would be strictly capped.
Delays and changed plans: Plans were being made to start a cautious and limited re-opening in Phuket, along the lines of the plans above, however, delays became likely following Thailand’s first new COVID case reported in over 100 days (as well as outbreaks in aforementioned ‘safe’ countries and cities).
Widespread opposition: Compounding the noise is the crucial fact that many Thais want to keep their country safe and don’t want to rush back to normal with open borders. (Bangkok Post polls put this at 94% of those surveyed). The ‘Phuket Model’ plan has received a lot of criticism from both Phuket residents and domestic Thai travellers alike. As such, the entire plan might be scrapped with Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) required for all visitors or, what looks more likely as of announcements this week: the Special Tourist Visa.
Just announced: Special Tourist Visa
As of yesterday, September 15th 2020, the Thai cabinet approved a new visa category for long-stay visitors, dubbed the Special Tourist Visa (STV). The visa will be valid for 90 days, renewable for a second and third ‘batch’ of ninety days (up to a total of 270 days).
- Special Tourist Visas will be issued starting in October
- 14-day Alternative State Quarantine will be mandatory, either in Bangkok or in ‘ALSQ’ (Alternative Local State Quarantine – currently three choices in Phuket, one in Buriram and one in Chonburi with others to follow in tourist hubs such as Koh Samui).
- Unlike the scrapped/rebranded ‘Phuket model’, visitors will be allowed to travel throughout Thailand after completing the quarantine period. Use of an app will be required to keep in touch with immigration authorities throughout the visitor’s stay.
- At the time of writing, it has not been announced which countries will be eligible for the Special Tourist Visa as past announcements have shown a strong preference for allowing only ‘safe’ countries.
- Thailand expert Richard Barrow offers more details: traveller numbers will be limited to two to three flights per week of perhaps one hundred passengers (aiming for twelve hundred visitors per month). Other requirements include COVID-19 insurance (coverage to US$100,000), and miscellaneous documentation, plus a current (and negative) COVID test taken 72 hours before departure.
If you’re a retiree who hates winter … stay tuned. The STV will cost THB2,000 (US$60) per person for the first ninety days, and each subsequent renewal.
Confused? Not to worry – We will likely know more concrete details in a month or so, towards late October. I’ll post more as it’s available – please join my email list if you’d like to get these updates (and a few stuck-at-home Thai cooking experiments).
Can’t quarantine for two weeks but still want to travel to Thailand sometime? TAT acknowledges this might be tricky and is considering ways to make such travel safe – no details yet.
I’ve concluded, as perhaps you have, that we need to stay home for now and simply watch this space. My optimistic side is hoping for a Christmas miracle – others (including the deputy governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand … who just might be better informed) predict it will be 2021 when something resembling normal travel resumes. (Perhaps Q2 next year: April/May/June). What to do now, to keep Thailand on the cards for “someday soon?”
The very best thing you can do, today, is helping out in any way that you can: approximately four million Thai people worked in the tourism sector and many could use your support. Learn how to help.
To get updates on Thailand’s COVID plans and tourism, please join my weekly emails and you’ll get new details from me as more details are announced.
To help Koh Samui – its people, its elephants, its dogs and cats – see 9 easy ways to help.
And, finally, read some good news (it’s about baby sea turtles).
Resources and further reading
- 1,004 Contacts of Infected DJ Traced in Push to Prevent Local Outbreak
- 14 Hotels Register As Alternative State Quarantine
- Cabinet to Consider Special Tourist Visa Next Week: TAT
- COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center
- Current List of Who Can Fly Into Thailand Starting Wednesday
- Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s Foreign Travel Advice Thailand
- Four Categories of Foreign Nationals to Be Allowed to Enter Thailand
- Full List of Quarantine Measures, Locations & Prices for Arrivals to Thailand
- Here Are the Hotels Where Thailand Will Pay 40% of the Bill
- Hotels See Opportunity in Becoming Quarantine Sites
- Koh Samui, Thailand Weekly Weather Update; 1st June – 7th June 2020
- Latest Travel Industry News Thailand
- PG Boosts Domestic Flights in October
- Phuket Hotels Fighting for Their Lives As Domestic Tourism Fails to Support the Island
- Phuket Model’ Expanded Nationwide Despite Little Support
- Phuket Re-opening Could Be Postponed
- Plan for Long-term Visitors Set for October
- TAT Says Country Ready to Reopen
- Temporary Suspension of International Flights
- Thai Airways *Updated* Information Regarding Coronavirus
- Thai Airways Special Flights
- Thai Visa Extensions Approved Through Sept. 26
- Thailand Moves a Step Closer to Welcoming Back Foreign Tourists
- Thailand Set to Extend Emergency Decree yet Again
- Thailand Unlikely to Welcome Tourists Until at Least 2021, Putting Millions of Jobs at Risk
- Thailand’s Holiday Hotspots Have Become Dystopian Ghost Towns
- Thailand’s Tourist Magnets Deserted and Desperate
- The Notification on Conditions for Aircraft Permission to Enter Thailand
- Uninvited Guest As the Virus Crisis Lingers
- Welcome to August 2020
- With 1 Million Jobless, Thai Hotels Association Seeks 100 Billion Baht Bailout