Updated 1st July 2020.
It’s officially the start of summer in the Northern hemisphere and European countries are beginning to emerge from months of lockdown due to the dreaded COVID-19. With several countries (many in Southeast Asia) appearing to have the virus under control and new talk of travel bubbles* – is there hope on the horizon for the backpacker?
Our partner, World Nomads, seems to think so. They made the decision to resume selling travel insurance from 19th June 2020. Today, we also begin the reopening of our booking system, as several of the local companies who we work with have encouraged us to start accepting bookings. (This is predominantly for people who are already in Southeast Asia.)
Well, it’s been over three 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 now?
Is it possible to travel to Southeast Asia from overseas? And which countries are planning to blow some travel bubbles?
We look at the status of each country and their policy on receiving international travellers.
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.
So, let’s check the status of international travel for Southeast Asia.
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 over a month. 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 200 visitors per day, and there are varying degrees of quarantine measures in place.
While international flights are unlikely to resume fully until September, there are talks of several travel bubbles between Thailand and countries who have the virus under control, such as Australia and Japan.
Vietnam have been praised the world over for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic with a remarkable 0 deaths so far. 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.
As of today, foreign tourists are still banned from entering the country. However, there are rumours that Vietnam will soon be creating travel bubbles for those nations who have been virus-free for more than 30 days. These ‘safe zones’ are expected to begin in July, though nothing is yet confirmed.
Cambodian borders are open to international travellers from all countries. However, there are some 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 them for at least $50,000 USD in medical bills.
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’ are being considered as an attempt to kickstart tourism in several places, such as the popular island of Boracay, but recent new outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns have put a dampener on this.
Myanmar has stopped issuing visas to all international travellers and international flights will not be running until at least 15th July according to this article in the Bangkok Post. 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.
The Malaysian borders are closed to all international travellers except those with an essential reason to visit 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.
There is some talk of travel bubbles with neighbouring countries such as Thailand, but nothing has yet been agreed.
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. Authorities on the popular backpacker and tourist island of Bali, who have been quite successful in containing the COVID-19 virus up until now, are wondering when tourism can resume and are considering August. Officials are saying that they plan to start small and say that locals must be ‘mentally ready’ to welcome international visitors.
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. There has been recent talk of a travel bubble between China and Singapore though nothing is yet confirmed.
If you have any new information which we have not mentioned or see something that needs updating please contact us!