Reader mailbag/submission: My experience going through quarantine and coming back to Thailand part one

Editor’s note: The following is a submission from one of our readers who offered to share his recent experiences of going through the alternative state quarantine process and other requirements to enter Thailand recently and is currently wrapping up his quarantine period. He shares this to hopefully give others an idea of the experience. His thoughts, photos, and opinions are his own.

I’m a 66-year-old Englishman living in a small town in North-East England. In early December of 2020, I’d realized that the world, and my world, was changing because of Covid. The restaurants were closed, the gyms were closed, the cafes, entertainment places, and pubs were closed, the weather was cold, and everything was extremely miserable.

I generally enjoy Christmas in England, even the cold and frosty weather because it is a time of fun and festivals celebrating our Christian heritage, presents are given and received, food and wine are plentiful and the families all join together traditionally. A great time normally!  Not this year.

But, I started thinking about after Christmas (December 25th). In the months of January and February when it is dark most of the day and the weather is freezing. Going outside with a hat and gloves and heavy boots and still being so so cold and with nearly everywhere closed due to Covid-19 regulations. The more I thought about it the more I realized I really, really couldn’t be in England during the winter months.  Additionally, nobody knows when England will ease its Covid-19 restrictions and it may be months.

I love Thailand and have visited on many occasions and thought of my winter spent in Pattaya, Hua Hin, and Surin: warm weather, fresh food, smiles all around, and, to farangs, a lot better value than Europe. Yes, there are some Covid-19 restrictions in Thailand now too but it is nowhere near the situation in England. So, my mind was made up. Thailand was going to be my ideal destination. But, how do I travel there in these covid times? I usually go to the local Thai consulate, fill in a form, wait two days for a visa, book a flight and then travel.

But now oh how things have changed. Firstly, everyone told me I could not travel and leave England due to the lockdown rules, and secondly, they said Thailand is closed. I went online and looked at Youtube videos to get some insight, but the more videos I watched the more confused I became. So in desperation, I emailed the Royal Thai Embassy in London for advice.

They informed me that with the correct documentation I could travel, even during the lockdown, but had to follow strict guidelines. So on December the 11th of last year I officially applied for a visa. There are many visas and the most appropriate one for me was a ‘Non-O immigration ‘ visa because I could meet the criteria: over 55-years-old and have a pension of over 65,000 Thai baht per month. I filled in the required form and within a week I had got my visa.

Next, I needed a  ‘Certificate of Entry ‘ issued by the Royal Thai embassy. At this point, most Europeans give up because to gain the ‘COE’ you need to have booked and paid for:

1. Insurance ( stating in English, you are covered for Covid for 100,000 US dollar)

2. Confirmation of an ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) hotel  ( prices range from 40,000 baht to 200,000 baht).

3. An airplane ticket ( 30,000 to 80,000 baht)

Now even for Europeans, this is a significant amount of money. And, what if you spend all this money and then you don’t receive a COE? This was a very daunting part of the process. But, and this is important, the Thai Embassy performs a pre approval check. Which only requires a copy of your visa and insurance and when you get the pre-approval you then can purchase your quarantine hotel and flights.

I went through this process very slowly bit by bit until I had all the necessary paperwork to enter Thailand. One big scare I had was on the COE. It stated that I would leave England on the 14th of January and land in Bangkok on the 15th of February.  That meant my plane journey would take a whole month, which would be one hell of a flight. When I rang a Thai friend he said maybe the plane was very slow. But when I informed the Thai Embassy they corrected the mistake within hours, but not before  I had many nervous moments.
Now, I had all the paperwork to enter Thailand, but you need 2 more important documents: a negative covid test taken 72 hours before departure and a ‘Fit to fly ‘ (F2F) certificate issued within 72 hours of departure.
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The timing on both was critical and causes huge problems for all travelers coming to Thailand because no company will guarantee that your covid test will arrive when you need it. I personally know people who have missed flights waiting for negative test results. And, also in England, most doctors won’t issue F2F certificates, especially during the lockdown period. So a big problem is if you miss your flight you then have to reapply to the Thai embassy for a new COE because the date of arrival on your COE is valid for 24hours only.
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I was so concerned about receiving the negative covid tests back in time I had 3 done. Each costing 8,000 baht. The F2F certificate I received from a Thai Doctor in Bangkok ( I sent negative covid results and had a face to face medical interview on skype) so believe me that to get all the correct documentation and to get it in time involves a huge amount of stress and money ( mine was over 175,000 Thai baht).
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So, I was set for my day of travel on the 14th of January and was excited and very nervous, as England now was in total lockdown. There was no legal movement between towns and cities and all foreign travel was frowned upon. I left my town at 10:00 A.M. for my journey to Manchester airport with KLM. But traveling over the high pennies I was caught in a blizzard and ended up in a traffic jam. All my thought of traveling to the land of smiles were diminishing by the minute. I was thinking if all the time and money I had spent and I was stuck in a snow blizzard with stopped traffic. My heart sank as we sat in traffic with a blizzard around us.
To be continued-Colin
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