Since closing its borders in April 2020 and then going through various starts and stops in response to new variants of the coronavirus, Thailand has tested various programs to bring international visitors back. To prepare your own travel planning, By The Way has collected advice from recent visitors and travel experts on how to successfully move around the country.
What are the entry requirements you need to know
During the pandemic, Thailand has developed three programs allowing foreign travelers to enter the country: Test & Go, Phuket Sandbox and Alternative Quarantine.
Santi Sawangcharoen, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) office in New York, says the easiest option for visitors is Test & Go – a program that allows fully immunized travelers from the United States to visit without quarantine. Alternatively, the “sandbox” programs are for those interested in visiting specific beach destinations in the country, and the Alternative Quarantine program mandates a 10-day isolation period for unvaccinated travelers.
Test & Go requires travelers to take an RT-PCR test within 72 hours of their departure flight to Thailand, again upon arrival and once again on the fifth day. During these first and fifth days of the trip, travelers must stay at a government-approved “SHA Extra Plus” hotel (although they do not need to be the same), where they will spend their PCR test and will wait for their results in their room. On days when they are not tested, travelers are free to roam as they please.
Test & Go candidates must provide proof of payment for these nights in advance, as well as transportation from the airport via their SHA Extra Plus hotel, two PCR tests and a coronavirus-specific travel insurance policy covering at least $50,000.
And don’t forget: there is also a testing requirement in place for return travel to the United States. Anyone returning from overseas travel must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test result taken within a day of their flight.
Apply early for Test & Go to allow processing time
Visitors must apply for their Thailand Pass online at least seven days before their trip, but can do so up to 60 days in advance. Do yourself a favor and apply as soon as possible.
Jude Vargas, founder and travel curator of Pyxis Guides, recommends travelers submit their application at least two weeks in advance. Vargas recently had three clients who forgot to apply until the last minute. Their requests were repeatedly denied and finally approved the morning of their flight.
Moran Velz relied heavily on her mother-in-law, who is a native Thai speaker, to help her apply for her Test & Go Thai Pass.
Even for Robert Sukrachand, a furniture designer who splits his time between New York and Bangkok and traveled between them three times during the pandemic, it was difficult to keep up with Test & Go requirements. In addition to Thai government websites, Sukrachand turned to the Twitter account of a longtime Thai expat and travel blogger. Richard Barrow for information.
“He’s super connected,” Sukrachand says. “Assoon as [a travel requirement change] is announced, he has all the details on his Twitter account. I read his page religiously for the first two weeks before coming here.
Taking out the wrong insurance can get you refused
For all Thailand tourism programs, travelers must purchase insurance with a minimum coverage of $50,000 which includes the cost of treatment and other medical expenses associated with coronavirus infection. The policy must cover the entire duration of the traveler’s stay plus a minimum of 10 additional days in the event that the PCR test on the fifth day is positive.
Purchasing the wrong insurance may result in your claim being denied.
Meagan Drillinger, a travel writer from New York, and her boyfriend were due to travel to Thailand with a friend in January. The friend’s request was repeatedly denied for having the wrong insurance policy. After resolving the issue with a new insurance plan, “he ended up getting approved, but his PCR results didn’t come back in time for his flight,” says Drillinger.
The Tourism Authority recommends policy options on the Thailand Pass website. (Drillinger used Allianz.) Sawangcharoen says travelers who have a health insurance policy can ask their provider to issue a coronavirus-related cover letter for the duration of their trip to Thailand.
Make sure you have an SHA-approved hotel wherever you book
SHA Extra Plus, or SHA++, hotels are establishments certified by the Thailand Safety and Health Administration (SHA). These accommodations have partnerships with certified hospitals that provide coronavirus testing services to customers. For the Test & Go program, SHA Extra Plus bookings must include a ride from the airport to their first hotel, as well as both PCR tests.
Sawangcharoen says such hotels should have a “SHA manager” who fully understands Test & Go procedures and can help manage a guest’s quarantine if they test positive during their stay.
“I think it’s the easiest [way],” he says. “You just need to make sure the hotel is SHA Extra Plus.”
Don’t book unless you’re absolutely sure your booking meets the Test & Go requirements. Vargas warns that a mistake could cost travelers a lot of pressure at the start of their trip or, worse, send them back to their home country.
You will need physical documents for the airport
Do not go to the airport without physical copies of your essential documents, including hotel reservations, coronavirus tests, an insurance policy and the Thai Pass.
“You want to have a hard copy of everything,” Sukrachand says. “They won’t look at something on your phone and say, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. “”
In case things go wrong, get to the airport early. Even with all of the required paperwork in hand, the newlywed couple Velz ran into trouble on the day of their trip.
Three hours before their scheduled departure from Boston, an airline employee at check-in said the couple did not have the correct travel papers. After making a few calls to family members and hotels, they convinced the agent that their documents were correct and they were allowed to check in.
Waiting for test results can take up to 12 hours
After their long-haul flight, travelers first undergo an entry check. Visitors must provide the required documents before going through Thai immigration.
“There were about 30 people dressed head to toe in hazmat suits who came to individually check each person’s documents,” says Sukrachand.
Depending on their hotel package, travelers will take their first mandatory PCR test at the airport, at a partner hospital or at their hotel. A hotel representative should be waiting for guests upon arrival to take them to the appropriate testing location.
After their tests, travelers must wait in their hotel for their results to be processed. Sukrachand says her test results came back in about six hours. His mother took 11 hours. Some travelers said they waited 12 hours.
Curfews at the curb – the legal ones, anyway
For Amanda Davis, travel designer at In the Know Experiences, planning clients’ trips to Thailand means preparing for last-minute changes to the itinerary. But for now, she says, her bookings in the country have all the trappings of a pre-covid holiday: cooking classes, temples, elephant sanctuaries and boat and ATV adventures.
“It looks like things are picking up,” says Davis, who traveled to Thailand for work last October. “I have no apprehension.”
Once the Velzes arrived in Thailand, the rest of their trip went smoothly. They said restaurants were open, street food was plentiful and spas were back. With fewer tourists than normal, they felt like they had the attractions to themselves. Sukrachand felt the same.
“It’s kind of an amazing time to visit Thailand,” says Sukrachand. “Especially the south. The beaches are much cleaner and calmer than they have ever been, except maybe 30 years ago.
What the Velzes lacked was the country’s renowned nightlife; clubs and shows are closed. Curfews are also in place for bars and restaurants and differ by city, although some businesses remain secretly open to customers.
“We befriended the owner of the restaurant who called us in the ‘speakeasy’ in quotes,” says Drillinger. “We had to be really quiet, and all the nuances were drawn.”
The most notable coronavirus protocol travelers mentioned are Thailand’s dedication to mask-wearing. In April 2021, the country implemented a nationwide mask mandate for public places, including outdoor spaces.
Yet Sukrachand regularly encounters tourists who do not respect the mask rules. He understands that travelers may find wearing masks frustrating, but he says it’s a sign of respect for locals to do the same.
“Read the room around you,” he says. “You can argue that wearing a mask outside is a little ridiculous at this point, but I’m doing it because it’s culturally what other people want to see.”