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Thailand travel guide: Everything you need to know as the country reopens

Thailand is one of the most tourist-heavy countries in the world. The popular Southeast Asian destination is endowed with tropical forests, sandy beaches, miles of coastline, quaint villages, ancient temples, traditional cuisines, pocket-friendly shopping options, and much more to explore. These features make the newly reopened Thailand an attraction for all kinds of travellers, but there are a few rules and guidelines to follow.

Before everything came to a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic, Thailand, like many other major tourist destinations, was witnessing a steady rise in visitors. Data from the World Bank indicates, barring 2014 when the military took control of the country, arrivals in Thailand were on a sharp rise between 2009 and 2019. Figures show that from just over 14 million arrivals in 2009, the number jumped to almost 40 million in 2019 — most of these were Chinese tourists.

However, in a massive blow to the country’s tourism industry the following year because of the pandemic, the number of visitors fell over 80 percent as compared to the 2019 figure. The economic fallout too was severe. A few months ago, Thailand slowly began opening its doors to foreign tourists.

Reopened Thailand
Image: Courtesy Frida Aguilar Estrada/@fridaae29/Unsplash

Thailand reopens

On 1 November, 17 more countries were added to its well-planned entry system designed to boost business and the tourism industry while ensuring safety.

As Thailand lifted restrictions on travel after 18 months, it rekindled hopes in the people whose livelihoods depend on tourism. The BBC reported the reopening is expected to bring around 15 million tourists in 2022 to Thailand, translating into revenues of over USD 30 billion.

According to the Reuters COVID-19 Tracker, coronavirus cases in Thailand as of 19 November have been on a decline, with 6,736 new infections reported on an average each day, while the vaccination rate has been on the rise. As of 18 November, over 54 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, as per Our World in Data.

The decreasing cases and rising vaccination rates have emboldened tourism operators in hopes of a better upcoming year.

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Rules for entering Thailand

The Government of Thailand has a systemic reopening plan for the entry of foreigners into the country. Part of this is a colour-code grading, which divides provinces as per the risk factor from COVID-19.

Provinces designated as “dark red zones” are where COVID-19 case risk is the highest, while those marked “blue zones” are the safest. The colour codes, in the order of the highest to the lowest risk, are: dark red, red, orange, yellow and blue.

While there are three provinces in the blue zone — Bangkok, Krabi, Phang-nga and Phuket — most provinces are in the red zone, including Kanchanaburi and Chiang Mai. The strictest restrictions on movement, such as curfew, have been imposed in provinces that fall in the dark red zone.

Moreover, irrespective of the zones, all nightlife entertainment venues remain closed. According to a 13 November report by Associated Press, the reopening of pubs, bars, karaoke joints and other nightlife entertainment places has been delayed to 15 January 2022.

Reopened Thailand
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Procedure to enter Thailand

Travellers are divided into two groups — fully vaccinated and not fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated visitors are further classified into two groups — eligible countries and ineligible countries.

All fully vaccinated or not fully vaccinated travellers will have to get a negative RT-PCR test report issued within 72 hours before departure. Antigen tests are not accepted.

The Thai government considers 63 eligible countries as low-risk, including Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, the UK and the US.

Fully vaccinated travellers may arrive in Thailand only after they have spent at least 21 days in these eligible countries. However, no hotel quarantine is required for these travellers, but they must get an RT-PCR test done upon arrival and spend a night at an SHA Plus or Alternative Quarantine (AQ) hotel until they receive a negative report.

Travel for fully vaccinated visitors from ineligible countries or those who have spent less than 21 days in eligible countries will be restricted to “sandbox” areas designated by the Thai government for seven days and seven nights. During this time, they will have to stay at an SHA Plus hotel and will have to get two tests done — an RT-PCR test on the day of arrival and an antigen test six-seven days after arrival.

Irrespective of the countries, visitors who are not fully vaccinated or unvaccinated will have to spend 10 nights in quarantine at an AQ hotel and undergo two RT-PCR tests.

All non-Thai travellers, whether or not fully vaccinated, must have a health insurance cover of USD 50,000 (Rs 37 lakh approx.).

All expenses of tests and hotel stay will be borne by the travellers. A list of SHA Plus and AQ hotels can be accessed here, and that of SHA Plus certified hotels can be accessed here and here.

What about children?

Rules that apply to fully vaccinated travellers coming from eligible countries also apply to unvaccinated children below the age of 12. However, unvaccinated children from 12 to 18 accompanied by fully vaccinated parents from eligible countries may have to undergo the “sandbox” scheme.

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What is a ‘sandbox’?

Under the “sandbox” scheme, fully vaccinated tourists from ineligible countries will have to arrive directly at airports of designated provinces that are part of the framework. They cannot travel outside the “sandbox” area for seven days and seven nights after arrival.

Places that fall in the “sandbox” are Bangkok, Phuket, Krabi, Phang-Nga, Surat Thani (Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Koh Tao) and Chonburi. Travellers can land directly in Phuket, as part of the “Phuket sandbox”, or Samui, as part of the “Samui sandbox”.

Transfer from Bangkok to the “Phuket sandbox” is not possible. However, travellers can be transferred from Bangkok to the “Samui sandbox”.

Documents to visit
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Required documents for entry

Travellers coming to Thailand will need a list of documents ahead of arrival. The Tourism Authority of Thailand presents the following checklist for travellers:

  1. A Certificate of Vaccination (fully vaccinated) with an approved vaccine at least 14 days before travelling.
  2. Those infected and recovered within three months of travelling must present a certificate of recovery and the one dose of an approved vaccine at least 14 days before travelling.
  3. Travellers under 12 years of age, accompanied by parents or guardians, are exempt from the vaccination requirement.
  4. A medical certificate issued within 72 hours before travelling (all travellers) with an RT-PCR lab result, indicating COVID-19 has not been detected, has to be furnished.
  5. A confirmed payment for a one-night stay at an SHA Extra Plus accommodation and an RT-PCR test.
  6. Travellers must have an insurance policy with coverage no less than USD 50,000.
  7. Valid visa or re-entry permit is a must, except for those specifically exempt.

Besides this checklist, all travellers will have to register for the Thailand Pass, which replaced the Certificate of Entry (COE) scheme, for a hassle-free entry.

All documents will have to be uploaded on the Thailand Pass site. Once all approvals are completed, a Thailand Pass QR Code will be generated. The entire process takes about seven days, so travellers should apply for the pass at least seven days before arrival.

According to a 19 November editorial by Bangkok Post, the progress of the application can neither be tracked nor can any changes be made to the documents.

The Thailand Pass QR Code will have to be presented before the Health Control for checks at immigration upon arrival. Once RT-PCR tests and other required formalities are complete, travellers will move to their reserved accommodations.

The MorChana application needs to be downloaded and installed at the hotel.

If the test report is negative, fully vaccinated travellers from eligible countries are free to travel anywhere in Thailand. They will also be given an Antigen Test Kit for self-testing on the sixth or seventh day, the record of which can be maintained on the MorChana application.

All travellers are advised to adhere to safety measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, temperature checks, testing and using the alert application.

Which are the approved vaccines?

Thailand accepts seven different vaccines. These are AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer, Sinopharm, Sinovac and Sputnik V.

The vaccination certificate must meet the duration between two doses as set by the vaccine manufacturer. It must be noted that the certificate will be rejected if the duration is less than what has been stated.

A combination of vaccines is allowed if the period between the two doses is as determined by the manufacturer of the first dose.

Phuket island
Image: Courtesy Samule Sun/@samule/Unsplash

Rules to enter Phuket

Those eager to enjoy the sun, sea and sand can do so via the “Phuket sandbox”.

For this, travellers must land directly at the Phuket airport from their respective countries. All general rules, including Thailand Pass, that apply to foreign travellers entering Thailand, also apply to those entering Phuket.

The “Phuket sandbox” requires travellers to stay at an SHA Plus accredited hotel in the city. Travellers staying for less than seven days must fly out to an international destination, meaning they must leave the country.

Only those who spend seven days and seven nights in Phuket may travel to other parts of Thailand, depending on their test results.

Image: Courtesy Anthony DELANOIX/@anthonydelanoix/Unsplash

What about the ‘Samui sandbox’?

The rules in this scheme are mostly the same as the “Phuket sandbox” scheme.

A major difference, however, is that while a transfer from Bangkok to Phuket is not allowed, one can come to Samui from the national capital only if the traveller’s international flight is connected to Koh Samui through approved sealed flights.

The Thai government states that for such a transfer, “the ticket must be issued on the same booking with international flight in conjunction with such approved Bangkok-Samui flights.”

Hero and Featured images: REY MELVIN CARAAN/@reymelvinwafu/Unsplash

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