Updated 26th August 2020.
Well, it’s been over six months since we first started to see hostels and businesses shutting down in Southeast Asia and backpackers grappling to get home as fast as they could!
So what’s the situation in Southeast Asia like now? Is there hope on the horizon for the backpacker!?
We look at the status of travel for each country and their policy on receiving international travellers.
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With less than 100 coronavirus-related deaths in the whole of the country, Thailand seems to have fared much better than other countries with the pandemic. Citizens of Thailand and foreigners who were in the country before the pandemic began have been able to move in-between provinces for several months. Local tour companies and hotels are accepting bookings for those who are already in the country.
From 1st July, Thailand opened schools, some entertainment centres such as massage parlours and pubs (that had been closed from mid March) and began to allow in some foreigners.
The foreign visitors (as well as repatriating Thais) are restricted at the moment to 1000 visitors per day and will mostly include non-Thais who have family in Thailand, non-Thais who have residency permits in the country, business travellers and medical tourists. To enter the country, as one of these groups, you have to apply for an International Flight Permit. All passengers travelling into Thailand must have travel insurance that covers COVID-19.
General tourists (yes, that’s you backpackers!) will have to wait a little while longer to enter the country. Governer of the Tourism Authority of Thaialnd, Yuthasak Supasorn, has told media outlets that they could be allowed during the fourth quarter of 2020. This will be the third phase of allowing visitors into Thailand.
- Phase 1: Business travellers, investors, skilled workers, those with Thai spouse or family members.
- Phase 2: Medical tourists.
- Phase 3: General tourists (date TBC).
Back in June, there were talks of several travel bubbles between Thailand and countries who managed to get the virus under control, such as Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea. However, recent rises in Coronavirus cases across Asia have sparked fears of second and third waves and as it stands plans for travel bubbles have been halted.
Vietnam have been praised the world over for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with very few cases and just 10 deaths from the illness.
As a country bordering China, the location of the start of the pandemic, some say that the Vietnamese success relied upon them taking it seriously from the very beginning. In early March, before many countries even realised what was happening, Vietnam stopped all international flights and put a hold on issuing visas.
Unfortunately, just last week, Vietnam detected its first Coronavirus case since April and evacuated 80,000 people (mostly domestic tourists) from the coastal city of Danang where the cases were discovered. As international travel had been mostly impossible, Danang had been promoted as a domestic tourism destination over recent months.
As of today, Vietnam is not allowing entry or issuing visas to foreign nationals from March 22nd until further notice. Previous plans of travel bubbles with neighbouring nations has been halted due to the recent rise in cases across Asia. See the Vietnam evisa website for more info.
Cambodian borders are open to international travellers from all countries. However, there are some strict rules!
The Cambodian authorities have introduced a $3000 USD deposit* (for COVID-19 services) which all visitors have to pay upon arrival into the country. They also have to have travel insurance which covers COVID-19 sickness them for at least $50,000 USD in medical bills. *The deposit has recently been reduced from $3000 to $2000 USD.
The services include a COVID-19 test ($100), a night in a hotel ($30), meals ($30) and transport to and from the testing centre ($5). All of these costs are deducted from the $3000 US deposit automatically. If the passenger tests positive, everyone who was on the flight with them must quarantine for 14 days.
Laos suspended its visa on arrival service and is no longer issuing tourist visas to foreign nationals until further notice (this went into effect on March 18th 2020).
As lockdown measures inside Laos began to ease in early May, there is still no official announcement as to how the country will restart tourism.
International passengers are currently barred from entering the Philippines until further notice. This does not apply to Philippines nationals or family of Philippines nationals.
Domestic tourism and ‘travel bubbles’ were being considered as an attempt to kickstart tourism in several places, such as the popular island of Boracay However, recent new outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns have put a dampener on this. Around 27 million people on the main island of Luzon (home to Metro Manila) are currently suffering another lockdown as cases surge. Over 100,000 have been infected in the Philippines with over 2,000 deaths.
Myanmar has stopped issuing visas to all international travellers and international flights will not be running until at least the end of August. Myanmar nationals returning to the country from abroad have to quarantine for 3 weeks.
There are talks of travel bubbles with neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia as a first stage in kickstarting tourism. However, at the moment these plans are on hold.
The Malaysian borders are closed to all international travellers until 31st August. On that date, authorities may renew the border closure or let it expire (TBC). Meanwhile, some travellers, with an essential reason to visit the country, are being allowed in.
Similar to Thailand (but stricter), Malaysia first allowed medical tourists from select nations with low COVID-19 transmission, as well as foreigners with Malaysian spouses and expatriates holding positions of management in the country.
On 10th June, with a decline in the number of COVID-19 cases, lockdown in Malaysia began to ease with the reopening of shopping malls, hairdressers and some tourist attractions, only for Malaysian citizens. Since then, domestic travel within the country has been encouraged.
There is some talk of travel bubbles with neighbouring countries such as Singapore, but nothing has yet been agreed.
NEW: Malaysia will open the border with Singapore as of August 17th to selected travellers in what is known as a Reciprocal Green Lane. The RGL will mean that people from either country can travel across the border for up to 14 days for official business reasons.
Indonesia has been one of the countries worst hit by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia. At the time of writing, the country remains closed to all international travellers except those with an essential purpose, who still need to have a health certificate to be allowed to enter.
When domestic airlines in Indonesia resumed fly in early June, the spike in coronavirus cases led to concerns about the further relaxing of lockdown measures.
Indonesia’s Island of Bali – Update
Previous plans to open the popular island of Bali to international tourists on 11th September have been scrapped. The holiday island, which had been quite successful in containing the COVID-19 virus up until now, have recently suffered outbreaks which has forced authorities to close the island to tourism until at least the end of 2020. This is devastating news for the islands tourism industry which makes up around 80% of the economy on Bali.
“The situation in Indonesia is not conducive to allow international tourists to visit the country, including Bali,” said the island’s governor, Wayan Koster, in a recent statement. Source.
Singapore continue to disallow all but essential travel to the small country, which had over 40,000 cases of Coronavirus.
Travellers wishing to enter the country for an essential reason must fill out Form 14 and wait to be granted permission. Once permission has been granted, you will be issued an SHN (Stay At Home Notice) which lasts for 14 days. Quarantine must be carried out at a government designated hotel for which the visitor must pay $2000 US.
Over the past few months, several new words and phrases have been added to our vocabulary: lockdown, social distancing, furlough, ‘new normal’. However, perhaps the most exciting of these new terms began to circulate this week: travel bubble.
So what the hell is a travel bubble?
Also known as air bridges or corona corridors, travel bubbles have been proposed by experts as a possible way to kickstart global travel. Travel bubbles are being considered between the leaders of certain countries where COVID-19 has been contained.
Over the past few months, if you had travelled internationally, you would have had to quarantine upon arrival in your destination country for 2 weeks. Clearly, this was not very desirable and most of us (apart those with emergency reasons to travel) have been sheltering in our homes protecting ourselves and others from the dreaded virus. However, the concept of a ‘travel bubble’ gives new hope for the future of travel.
How do travel bubbles work?
Inside a travel bubble, a few countries who have been successful in containing coronavirus agree to open their borders to each other. People from the lucky countries can travel safely and freely within the bubble but nobody can penetrate the bubble from the outside. With this method, there would be no need for travellers to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to a new country.
If you have any new information which we have not mentioned or see something that needs updating please contact us!