Updated: September 10th, 2021
You might have seen some big headlines recently on various websites and media, even Thai government press releases or those from the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
The headlines usually go something like this:
Thailand opening to foreign tourists with quarantine in October!
This, of course, has led to lots of sharing and discussion on social media. All of this follows a statement made by the Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan O’Cha in June stating that he planned to reopen the country within 120 days, although this statement was misinterpreted by many as it wasn’t a countdown or a guarantee that everything would be open and every country would be allowed.
So, we here at TPN media have decided to do a fact check on this topic as we have noticed a ton of confusion by the public. Here are the facts, as gathered by our editorial team. Keep in mind, the situation constantly changes and is fluid in Thailand and could change in hours sometimes but all of this is current as of the time of publication. We would still advise keeping a close eye on the news as, again, decisions and proposals change incredibly fast in Thailand.
Q: Is Thailand fully open to foreign vaccinated tourists sometime in October?
A. The short answer is no, in terms of FULLY open. We will get further into this below.
Q: But, the prime Minister promised 120 days to the country reopening!
A. Yes and no. His statement was never intended as a firm countdown to “opening” how many readers and tourists see it, which would be flying in, waving a passport and proof of vaccination, and off to go wherever you want and doing what you want. That is going to be sometime off, unfortunately, based on current proposals and plans from the Thai government who is still being overly cautious. What his statement was is that the country would open provinces and locations that were able to reach the goal of 70% of the local population (based on house registration and permanent residence) to foreign vaccinated tourists. However, each province would have different ways that they wished to handle this, and most (with the exception, for now, of Phuket and Hua Hin) have chosen a “bubble and seal” method to let in tourists, also sometimes called “safe and sealed.” If you use this as a measure to the statements made by the Prime Minister, the program is moving forward in October.
Q. What is the bubble and seal/safe and sealed method?
A. First, this is different than the Sandbox in Phuket or being proposed for Hua Hin (but not yet official!). It is most similar to the program currently being used in Koh Samui but is actually in some ways even stricter.
We discussed this in-depth here as well recently for the proposed Pattaya plan.
Here is what we described bubble and sealed as in that aforementioned article:
Essentially, this means a tourist would have to stay at a resort that meets SHA (Safety and Health Administration) standards in the Pattaya area for between 3-7 days. They could utilize the resort’s premises and facilities but could not leave the overall area. They would also have to go through several hoops at home to get here, including a Covid-19 test, proof of vaccination, and a certificate of approval from their nearest Thai embassy or consulate, as well as mandatory insurance.
After two Covid-19 tests in the first three to seven days at the resort, the tourist would then be allowed to go on tours around the Pattaya area to approved locations. Early spots named were Nong Nooch Gardens, Buddha Hill, islands, water activities like diving, Sanctuary of Truth, Wat Yansangwararam, Khao Kheow Open Zoo, the Floating Market, Rubber Land, Underwater World, and other attractions that would be easy for one to socially distance with little risk of spread of Covid-19. None of these tours would be “mandatory” and one could simply stay at the resort if they wished.
After a final Covid-19 test, one would be allowed to travel where they wished after fourteen days, under the proposal. Although some people would certainly opt into the program, especially those who reside permanently in the country or snowbirds, many would prefer no quarantine at all or being able to visit the locations and destinations of their choice, such as Pattaya’s famous nightlife or bars, which have no guarantee of even being able to open in October and have currently been shuttered since April 10th of this year.
Keep in mind, this is just the Pattaya proposal, and other province proposals will be completely different. Pattaya is also considering a “Sandbox” for Koh Larn, but again, it is a very early preliminary pre-proposal. Koh Samui is also considering become a true Sandbox, which is likely to happen, possibly also in October.
Q. Are these bubble and sealed plans, like the Pattaya one above, final and set in stone and guaranteed?
A. Absolutely not. It is a proposal, as are plans that have been made by Chiang Mai, Hua Hin, and numerous other areas. Each province’s proposal is different and has been approved by communicable disease committees, mayors, governors, Tourism Authority of Thailand officials, etc. However, they await approval from the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) and the Thai Cabinet, who at the end of the day is responsible for all decision-making in regards to tourism programs. They are due to discuss these proposals sometime later this month at scheduled meetings in Bangkok and give changes or further approval. None of these plans are yet official, which is why there is so little information online about them…with the exception of the already approved and in place plans for Phuket and Samui as stated above. As of September 10th, 2021, all plans for Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, etc. are still proposals and not finalized with details published and “set in stone”. However, the government continues to announce them such as HERE which means they will likely move forward in some form.
Q. Why is Thailand doing all these different plans? Why not one single plan to welcome back vaccinated tourists?
A. Good question. The short answer is they are not ready yet with just over 17% of the population fully vaccinated, although heavy work is being done now with an average of 800,000 vaccinations being done a day now on weekdays. Most of the vaccinated population, however, is still in the Bangkok/tourist areas and many provinces, especially rural ones, have barely begun. Until this moves further along, likely by the end of the year, a single program to allow in vaccinated foreign tourists for the whole country will not come along as they have significant concerns of people traveling to less vaccinated areas, especially with elderly and vulnerable populations like in the Northeast that has not been heavily vaccinated.
Q. When will Thailand truly open to vaccinated foreign tourists, IE. fly in, show a passport and proof of vaccination, and be able to go where they wish with ZERO quarantine, island quarantine, resort quarantine, any type of pseudo-quarantine, restrictions on travel areas, etc?
A. No official date. The earliest is likely January of 2022, but it could be as late as Songkran (April 2022). Thailand has greatly increased its vaccination program, as stated above, but still has a significant way to go, especially for provinces outside of the normal tourist areas. The Pattaya Mayor recently stated the earliest he believes a true zero quarantine visit to Pattaya would be in place would be January 2022 as well. Pattaya, as a result, is mainly focusing on domestic tourism for the rest of this fiscal year and looking at international tourism for next year.
Q. Will bars, entertainment, nightlife, gogos, clubs, concerts, drinking at restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. all be allowed to open in October in these places “opening” like Pattaya and Bangkok?
A. That is a decision for the CCSA to make. Currently, bars and entertainment remain closed nationwide (although levels of enforcement vary, especially on islands, but are enforced fairly stringently in Pattaya and Bangkok.) They have been closed since April 10th of this year. The CCSA sets color-coded zones in Thailand based on what they see as the current risk level in a province. This is NOT only based on cases but also on vaccination levels, hospital capacity, current hospitalization levels, ICU levels, etc. So far, the CCSA has taken a very conservative and cautious stance on these types of venues. Phuket is heavily vaccinated and yet these venues are also still closed (legally, again, we aren’t talking about unenforced/illegally).
Q. Will I have to wear a mask?
A. For now, this answer appears to be yes. Yes, that includes outside and technically on the beach or driving with more than one person. Yes, even vaccinated. Enforcement, as always, may vary based on area.
Q. Can unvaccinated tourists still visit?
A. Yes. However, they must go through, as of now, a fourteen-day quarantine, mostly in Bangkok and Pattaya, at a quarantine hotel and various other paperwork and hoops. There is some early discussion about lowering the number of days of quarantine but nothing final right now. This is, right now, a strict “in-room” only quarantine with no freedom of movement.
Q. Do I still need a certificate of entry to visit?
A. As of right now, yes, and this is a major roadblock for many people as it requires paperwork, visiting/contacting embassies, consulates, etc. This will stay in place as long as the Emergency Decree to stop Covid-19 is in place for Thailand. The good news is there is a solid discussion for this to be lifted and replaced with communicable disease laws in the somewhat near future, but without any solid guaranteed date. Once this is dropped, it will make arriving much easier, although people will still need to meet other requirements.
Q. Do I still need insurance, a test before I arrive, etc?
A. Yes, although these measures are also constantly being looked at and changed.
Q. Do I still have to take multiple Covid-19 tests at my expense during my sandbox/safe and sealed/etc. program?
A. Yes. For now. This could also change and there are discussions around this as well. Data from the Phuket Sandbox shows that foreign vaccinated tourists are incredibly low-risk in terms of carrying and spreading the virus. They are considering changing some of these from more expensive RT-PCR tests to rapid antigen tests which will be major savings for a potential visitor/tourist.
Q. Do I have to pay in advance for my hotel, insurance, tests, etc?
A. Yes, as long as the COE stays in effect. Some of these, like insurance, will likely stay as a requirement even after the COE is dropped.
Q. If I test positive for Covid-19 do I have to go to a hospital/field hospital/isolation/hospitel/etc at my expense.?
A. Yes. This is another roadblock for travelers knowing they would have to take multiple Covid-19 tests under current plans and that if they are positive they would have to isolate, possibly at a hospital, at their own (or insurance) expense. At 0.32 percent of Phuket sandbox tourists visiting testing positive the chance is incredibly low for vaccinated foreign tourists to do so after already testing and preparing in their own country to come, but it is possible.
Q. If someone near me on the plane tests positive, do I also have to isolate/go to a hospital/hospitel/etc. even if I am negative?
A. This is more difficult to answer and depends a lot on multiple factors, according to Thai authorities. But it is still a risk, albeit a very, very small one, and did happen to some folks in the Phuket Sandbox.
Q. Do the current plans require tracking my movements?
A. Short answer is yes. The long answer is it depends on the province and location proposal, but you will need to have one of the Thai platforms installed on your phone at least for the first period of your visit.
Q. Can I freely travel to other provinces without quarantine after doing my fourteen days in Pattaya, Bangkok, Phuket, etc?
A. Every province has its own unique rules and based on the situation with Covid-19 in each province they may vary. Some, unfortunately, may require further testing or even quarantine regardless if you had just finished a similar process in another province. Chonburi, however, currently has no requirements for quarantine or entry restrictions.
Q. This is all so frustrating. What do you think of all of this?
That concludes this Fact Check. We understand the answers given here are likely not those people wanted to hear, however, it is a positive step forward that many more areas are opening and is another step (although smaller than many wish) towards greater openings and what the average person would consider a “full” reopening with minimum hassle, paperwork, restrictions, and rules. Keep in mind a significant amount of the country is still not vaccinated so they are attempting to only open the areas that are, while keeping in mind that the country is also still recording thousands of Covid-19 cases a day, with popular destinations like Bangkok and Chonburi still being sources of high infection. Take care of yourselves and we hope to see you soon!