Leading the way towards a full reopening of the Asian market, Thailand looks set to ease its strict travel rules even further by allowing vaccinated tourists to enter without being subject to pre-departure testing. The move, which is currently being discussed, could see immunized travelers enjoying less-bureaucratic visits sooner than expected.
Currently, those traveling to Thailand must apply through one of three existing entry schemes and satisfy a number of testing and quarantine requirements. Although it definitely does not offer restriction-free entry to tourists, even to those vaccinated, Thailand has been slowly relaxing stringent rules after months of closure, and is seemingly eyeying further relaxation.
What Could Change In Terms Of Entry Requirements In The Near Future
One of the main reasons behind Asia's clamp down on foreign arrivals lately is the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which led to Covid spikes across a majority of the continent. Thailand was no exception, imposing quarantine mandates on newcomers moments before Christmas out of fear Omicron would strain its health system.
Since the wave started receding, however, the country has been loosening these curbs, with popular entry schemes being restored and visitors from several countries being allowed in again. Now, it seems Thailand is willing to take yet another step in promoting its battered tourism industry by scrapping pre-departure PCR tests.
According to Bloomberg, the war in Europe has been a gamechanger for the Asian hotspot, as fewer arrivals from key markets are expected due to airspace bans and the volatile scenario in both Russia and Ukraine. In fact, Russians are some of Thailand's most important customers, with current travel trends painting a bleak picture.
Russian arrivals are 50% below the expected 500,000 this year, as reported by the Thai Chamber of Commerce. Travelers from other countries, including the United States and Canada, have also been affected by the ongoing conflict, with a wave of flight route changes and several flight cancellations being noted between North America and Asia.
As it turns out, having tight border regimes is not doing the Thai tourism industry any favors, especially at a time when tourism recovery is facing another downward trend due to the war. As reported by Mint News, industry officials called existing visa rules ‘cumbersome', and have been lobbying to introduce easier entry for immunized visitors.
As a result, Thailand's main Covid taskforce, which has been in charge of pandemic regulations and border management, will regroup on March 18 in order to reassess the Health Ministry's proposal that pre-departure PCR tests are waived for vaccinated individuals. Kiattiphum Wongrajit, the Permanent Secretary of Public Health, was the one to break the news.
Mandatory Medical Insurance Could Also Become More Affordable
According to Wongrajit, the Ministry is also considering lowering the minimum coverage for mandatory medical insurances to $10,000 from $20,000, making it more affordable for visitors to purchase travel insurance. Although Thailand seems keen on welcoming more travelers, including Americans, other requirements will likely stay in place.
Even if pre-departure PCR tests are scrapped, Wongrajit stated travelers will continue to be subject to PCR tests on arrival and a self-administered rapid antigen test on the fifth day of their stay. This is due to the fact that Thailand is yet to experience a sharp drop in Covid cases, with recent figures still showing infection trends totalling a stubborn 95% of its peak.
For that reason, the government has mandated that all visitors, including those vaccinated, pre-book a designated hotel and pay for all necessary tests before flying or applying for a visa. On top of that, tourists are currently not allowed to embark to Thailand unless they hold a negative PCR test within 72 hours of boarding.
So far, the government is yet to confirm an official date for when the pre-departure testing requirement will be lifted and/or insurance policy coverage will be downgraded, though official talks will be held soon. More news are expected in the upcoming days, especially following the reopening of other countries in Asia that are sure to give Thai authorities a run for their money.
Entering Thailand Right Now – The Test & Go, Sandbox, And Alternative Quarantine Schemes
As previously mentioned, Thailand has 3 entry schemes in place right now which we will run through briefly below. Under all 3, a pre-departure PCR test, medical insurance covering health costs over U$20,000, and registration for the online Thailand Pass are required, irrespective of vaccination status:
The Test & Go Scheme
Under the Test & Go program, travelers are required to have prepaid accommodation for at least 1 night at government-approved hotels. The booking must also include expenses for a day 1 PCR test, post-arrival, and a day 5 rapid antigen test. Only those able to present a vaccination certificate or a valid certificate of recovery can travel under this scheme.
The Sandbox Scheme
If vaccinated, travelers can apply for the Sandbox Scheme, being expected to pay for at least 7 nights of accommodation at a designated hotel within a ‘Sandbox destination‘, though they do not need to quarantine. Tourists hotspots such as Phuket, Phang-Nga, and Krabi are on the list, among many others. Much like the Test & Go scheme, proof of prepayment for a day 1 PCR and a day 5 or 6 rapid antigen is required.
Alternative Quarantine Schemes
While the vaccinated can choose between the fist two schemes, the unvaccinated who remain eligible to travel (particularly those without proof of recovery) must apply for the so-called Alternative Quarantine Schemes online. They will undergo isolation at a state facility and could face more restrictions than other categories of travelers.
Do Americans, Canadians, Brits Need Visas For Thailand?
Thailand still expects foreign arrivals to comply with entry rules irrespective of industry demands, which in the case of tourists entails holding a valid visa when staying and satisfying Covid requirements. Most travelers, including from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union enjoy visa-free entry to Thailand generally for trips of up to 30 days.
Those wishing to stay longer can apply for a visa extension for 30 more days before the one obtained upon landing expires. When caught overstaying, tourists can be fined up to USD 602.34, or 20,000 baht. They also risk being detained, deported, and even banned from returning to Thailand for up to 10 years.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com
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