Phuket Sandbox: Everything You Need to Know

Bucket and spade in the sand

Updated 2nd December 2021.


Phuket Sandbox Latest News:

  • 26th November 2021 – All Sandbox schemes have been shortened to 5 days. Source.
  • 2nd October 2021 – Thailand sandboxes now open to all fully vaccinated travellers, regardless of country. Source.
  • 1st October 2021 – Fully vaccinated tourists under sandbox programmes to Thailand will now only have to stay within the desination for 7 days before continuing their journey elsewhere in Thailand. Source.
  • 9th September 2021 – Other Southeast Asian nations look to replicate the Phuket Sandbox model to restart tourist in their own countries. Vietnam announce the Phu Quoc Sandbox and Indonesia look at introducing a sandbox model for Bali’s reopening. Malaysia look at possible Langkawi Sandbox. More recently, Cambodia unveils the Sihanoukville Sandbox.
  • 7th September 2021 – The private sector urge the government to fully reopen Phuket with no restrictions by 1st December 2021 in a so-called ‘freedom day’. Source.
  • 5th September 2021 – The Thai Government announce that the Phuket Sandbox has attracted over 20,000 tourists and generated approx. 1,634 million THB over the past 2 months. Source.
  • 29th August 2021 – UK residents cancel their plans to visit Phuket as the UK government moves Thailand onto the ‘avoid travel’ red list for travel. Source.
  • 18th August 2021 – The 7+7 program is now in effect meaning that travellers to Phuket can spend seven days on the island of Phuket and seven days in another approved destination. (No longer in place since reduction of scheme length). Source.

They call it the ‘Phuket Sandbox’. After over a year of strict travel restrictions in Thailand, on 1st July 2021, the country began to reopen up its borders to international travellers. The Thai Prime Minister himself was there at Phuket Airport to welcome the very first visitors.

Travel to the island comes with two conditions: 1) Visitors must be fully vaccinated before travelling. 2) They must spend their first 5 days on the island of Phuket. After that, they are free to travel to other places in Thailand!

How does the Phuket Sandbox work?

Visitors to Phuket via the Phuket Sandbox do not have to quarantine in their hotel room during their first week and are free to move around the island, however, they are not able to leave Phuket until they have completed 5 nights in a SHA+ hotel. (To be able to enter the island, arrivals have to show the reservation and proof of payment for the hotel.)

The Phuket pilot was the first of its kind in the country, and similar systems have begun to be rolled out across Thailand including the Koh Samui Plus scheme on 15th July 2021. This follows an announcement made by the Thai Prime Minister on 16th June 2021 to “fully reopen Thailand within 120 days”.

Each model will be slightly different, depending on geography, and international visitors will still have to get a visa in advance and fill out some paperwork (see details below). Nevertheless, this is promising news to those travellers desperate to visit Thailand! See the proposed timeline for the reopening of Thailand here.

In this article, we’ll try to answer all of the questions you might have about the Phuket Sandbox. And, as things are constantly changing, be sure to keep an eye on the TAT News website for Phuket Sandbox updates. 

Traveller Report – “I’m on Phuket right now (domestic tourist) spoken to a lot of sandbox arrivals, all saying the same thing; great for families, as it’s relatively quiet but definitely more businesses opening up daily. Around 2,500 arrivals now. Restaurants and some bars are opening. The arrival procedure is seamless so looking good.” – Steve

Mae Khao Beach, Phuket
Phuket’s beaches have been practically deserted for the past year.

Disclaimer: COVID-19 travel restrictions are changing daily. The following information reflects South East Asia Backpacker’s current understanding of the rules. We work hard to update this information as often and accurately as possible. However, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. We strongly advise you to contact the embassy of the country you are visiting for the latest information.

What are the current travel restrictions in the rest of Thailand?

To enter Thailand at the moment you must complete a mandatory quarantine. For fully vaccinated travellers the length is 5 days (from 16th Dec), for non-vaccinated tourists arriving by air it is 10 days and for non-vaccinated tourists arriving by land, it is 14 days (in reality 14 nights and 15 days). During this time, you are not allowed to leave the hotel. (See up to date Thailand travel restrictions here.)

Related: Quarantine hotels in Bangkok.

On 1st July 2021, however, the Phuket Sandbox scheme was launched, allowing international travellers to skip this burdensome requirement and simply spend 14 days on the island of Phuket at the start of their Thailand trip in order to be able to travel to other parts of the country. (If you only plan to travel to Phuket, there is no minimum number of days that you need to stay on the island.)

IMPORTANT: Starting 16th December 2021, the Phuket Sandbox has been reduced to just 5 days on the island of Phuket.

When you arrive on the scheme, you will be required to go through an entry screening. This health screening will consist of an RT-PCR test. You will need to wait for the result of this test (usually ready the following day) in your hotel room only. Once the result of this test comes back as negative, travellers are able to travel freely around the island of Phuket and explore at their leisure.

Colourful Sino-Portuguese Buildings in Phuket Old Town
We highly recommend that you explore Phuket Old Town, which is our favourite spot on the island!

Fully Vaccinated

In order to take part in the Phuket Sandbox scheme, you must be fully vaccinated with a vaccine that has been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or registered with the Thai Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

Vaccines that are so far approved are as follows: Pfizer Biotech, SK BIO Astra Zeneca, Sinovac, Covishield, Janssen – Johnson & Johnson. (Source – Royal Thai Consulate in Shanghai.)

List of vaccines approved in Thailand
List of vaccines approved by the Thai Ministry of Health.

For most of the vaccines, you will need to have had two vaccines before you can travel, (apart from the Janssen Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which provides full immunisation after just one dose). Mix and match vaccines will not be accepted (for example, if you have had one AstraZeneca jab and one Pfizer jab).

You will need to show a vaccine card/certificate or adequate proof of vaccination before boarding the plane to Thailand. At least 2 weeks (but not more than one year) must have passed since you were inoculated before you can travel. If you have had COVID-19 and are fully recovered, you will still need to be vaccinated in order to travel to Thailand.

Travel Vaccinations for Southeast Asia
All travellers using the ‘Phuket Sandbox Scheme’ must be fully vaccinated to travel.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you are still allowed to fly to Phuket, however, you will have to undergo quarantine in an ‘Alternative State Quarantine Hotel’ in Phuket for 10 nights and 11 days before being allowed to move around freely.

Changes to “Low Risk” Countries

Previously, the Phuket Sandbox scheme was only available to travellers coming from ‘low risk’ countries. The list of ‘low risk’ countries was updated every two months by the Ministry of Health. It depended on the number of cases and the types of COVID-19 variants that were circulating in that country.

However, as of 2nd October 2021, Thailand has opened all of its sandbox schemes to all fully vaccinated travellers regardless of what country they are from. Industry experts are hopeful that this will aid the tourism revival by reopening Thailand to other countries in the region including Malaysia, who before the pandemic, was Thailand’s second-biggest source of tourists.

Visas and other Paperwork for entering Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox

Entering Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox scheme comes with a few conditions. Here is a list of all of the requirements you will need before entering Thailand. You can also find more information on the Entry Thailand Portal here.

  • Certificate of Entry (CoE) – To enter Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox scheme (or any other way) you will need to apply for a Certificate of Entry, which should take no more than 72 hours to process. (See more information on this below.)
  • Thailand Visa – All international travellers to Thailand have the same visa options as before the pandemic, however, there are rumours about the Phuket Sandbox allowing new visas on arrival (not yet confirmed). At present, you can either enter Thailand without arranging a visa in advance and receive the visa exemption entry-pass upon arrival (which used to give travellers 30 days in the Kingdom, but now gives 45 days). Or, you can arrange a 60-day tourist visa in advance (TR60) which you must apply for at your local Thai Embassy. All visas can be extended at a local Thai immigration centre for a further 30 days. See more information on Thai visas and extensions here.
  • SHA hotel booking – You will need to show proof of payment for your stay in an SHA* Approved Hotel in Phuket. (*See full explanation on what SHA means below.)
  • Negative COVID-19 PCR Test – Taken not more than 72 hours before departure. (See more info below)
  • T8 Health Declaration form  – You will need to complete this form upon arrival in Phuket.
  • Proof of personal funds – You will need to show proof of at least 20,000 THB per person or 40,000 THB per family.
  • Travel insurance – You will need travel insurance with at least $100,000 USD of COVID-19 health insurance cover. SafetyWing Nomad Insurance (affiliate link) is a good option.
  • Flight out of Thailand – The proof of onward travel rule still applies. You will need a flight to prove that you are leaving Thailand within the date that your Thai visa runs out. See this article for more information on this and our recommendations.

“Certificate of Entry”

In order to complete the Certificate of Entry Form, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Book your flight. (You will need to submit your flight information to the hotel that you plan to book in order for them to authorise your stay.)
  2. Book your SHA+ hotel. It is best to book directly with SHA+ hotels via email. Once booked, the hotel will send you confirmation of your booking and add your booking to the “SHA+ Booking Authorisation” System (also known as “SHABA”) to authorise your stay in Thailand.
  3. Apply for ‘stage 1’ of your Certificate of Entry. You will need both your flight details and hotel booking confirmation when applying for the first stage of your CoE.
  4. Apply for ‘stage 2’ of your Certificate of Entry. Once stage one of the CoE has been approved, you will receive the SHABA booking from your SHA+ hotel. You will need a QR code from your SHABA booking to apply for stage two of the CoE.
  5. Receive Certificate of Entry in 3 working days. If all of the above steps have been followed, you will receive your CoE within three working days.

Flights to Phuket

Flights to Thailand are pretty cheap right now! For example, right now, you’re looking at around 400-500 GBP for a return flight from London to Phuket in mid-July. Most of the flights that we found (on Skyscanner) are not direct to Phuket and involve two stops. One in Europe (usually Frankfurt or Vienna if you’re flying with Lufthansa) and one in Bangkok, before arriving at your final destination of Phuket.

We strongly recommend that you fly direct to Phuket and avoid transit in Bangkok. See below for more info.

Sunset flight
Flights to Thailand are pretty cheap right now in an effort to entice passengers.

Transit in Bangkok

Before the Phuket Sandbox Scheme kicked off, it had been suggested that international travellers would be able to transit in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on their way to Phuket Island. However, there is nothing yet approved for travellers who wish to transit in Bangkok on their way to Phuket. Plans are apparently underway to allow transit in Bangkok with rumours of creating a dedicated section of the airport and special flights for those transiting via Suvarnabhumi. However, travel agencies in Bangkok have no idea if/when it will go ahead. For the time being, if you plan to use the Phuket Sandbox to enter Thailand, you must book a flight direct to Phuket.

Accommodation in Phuket

You do not have to stay at a particular quarantine hotel in Phuket. You are allowed to stay at any hotel or guesthouse, as long as it has been approved by the Thai Health and Safety Administration (SHA) and has received the SHA Plus Certification. (More explanation on this below.)

SHA Plus Certification Phuket

You will have to show your hotel booking to be able to enter Phuket. Bookings at hotels or Airbnbs that are not SHA+ Approved will not be accepted. (Be sure to look out for a rosette badge saying ‘SHA+ Approved Hotel’ on the website and social media pages of the hotel you are considering.)

The SHA Approval Badge.

You’ll be pleased to hear that all hotel facilities in SHA Approved Hotels will be open. Guests can freely enjoy the hotel swimming pool, gymnasium, restaurant, bar and spa. You will also be allowed to leave the hotel and move freely around the island to visit places and go to bars and restaurants and take part in activities (see more below). 

(Apparently, if you like, you are allowed to stay at two or more different hotels in different parts of the island during your stay in Phuket, as long as any hotel that you stay at is SHA Approved.)

If you own property in Phuket: If you have your own property on the island, you will still have to book and pay for an SHA Approved hotel in order to enter Phuket. However, you are allowed to stay at your own property if you wish. You do not have to stay at the hotel you have booked. This is only a requirement for entry!

When travelling to other parts of Thailand, you may be required to show your hotel booking in Phuket as proof that you have completed your 14-night stay. You may also have to carry your test certificates, insurance policy and any other documents related to your entry into Thailand, so make sure you keep your paperwork safe.

UPDATE: The TAT has declared that all hotels are now encouraged to apply for “SHA Plus Certification”. All foreigners using the Phuket Sandbox Scheme are required to show proof of stay at an ‘SHA Plus’ hotel and show the booking before applying for the Certificate of Entry (COE). You can find out more information about the SHA Plus Scheme on the SHA Plus Phuket Facebook Page. They recently posted a link to the list of SHA+ Hotels here.

What does “SHA Approved” mean?

The SHA is the Thai Health and Safety Administration. You can check out their website here. All hotels and activities in Phuket must be SHA Approved in order to accept visitors. (You obtain the SHA Approval by having at least 70% of your staff vaccinated.)

COVID-19 Tests Required

You will need to have a COVID-19 RT-PCR medical certificate showing a negative test result no later than 72 hours before your departure to Phuket. 

All visitors to Phuket will have to take a COVID-19 test on days 1 (PCR)and 4 (ATK) of their stay. The tests will be carried out at your SHA Approved Hotel. (Guests will be expected to cover the cost of the test(s) which are believed to be around 2500-4000 THB per test.) If at any point during your stay you test positive for COVID-19 you will immediately be taken to the hospital in Phuket and treated there.

IMPORTANT: According to the Phuket Sandbox Rules, if anyone at all on your flight tests positive for COVID-19, it is the end of your holiday and you will be taken to ‘Alternative State Quarantine’ (ALQ). You will have to pay for quarantine and you will not receive a discount on the SHA+ hotel that you booked. In the first week of the Phuket Sandbox, 20 tourists were put into quarantine. 12 are now asking if they can leave and fly home.

Thailand Plus App – Track & Trace

All visitors to Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox Scheme have to download the Thailand Plus App on their mobile devices so that they can be tracked throughout the duration of their stay in Thailand (in case of a COVID-19 outbreak).

Travelling with children

Children under 6 years old who are not vaccinated are allowed to travel to Phuket with vaccinated parents or guardians. Those who are between 7 and 18 years old must be fully vaccinated OR be able to show a negative Rapid Antigen PCR test within 72 hours of departure to Phuket. (While it is not the official rule of the Phuket Sandbox, airlines are asking children under 6 for a saliva test for COVID-19 not more than 72 hours of departure.)

Activities in Phuket

Whilst in Phuket, you can partake in any activity on the island as long as it is operated by a company that has been approved by the Thai Health and Safety Administration (SHA). Gymnasiums, Muay Thai gyms and golf courses are allowed to open as long as they are SHA approved. You are not allowed to take boat trips to outlying islands, such as James Bond Island or Koh Phi Phi Island.

If the company is approved by the SHA you will see a rosette badge on their website and social media pages. (Technically, only SHA Approved companies are allowed to open.) 

Bars and Restaurants in Phuket

Once in Phuket, you are allowed to move freely around the island and visit bars and restaurants as you wish. Officially, the restaurants where you dine must be SHA Approved, (however, it is very unclear how this rule is enforced).

Face masks

All visitors to Phuket will still have to wear a face mask when in public places on the island. Of course, you will have to wear a face mask during your flight and at the airport. (See our recommendations for the best face masks for travel here.) Those not adhering to this rule will be fined.

Lady wearing a face mask in a Thai market.
Face masks are a common sight in Thailand right now.

Renting a car in Phuket

You are allowed to rent a car in Phuket. You are allowed to pick it up at the airport when you arrive and use it to get from the airport to your hotel. (As always, you must have an International Driving License.)

Recieving Visitors in Phuket

You are allowed to have visitors in Phuket or meet friends in Phuket, who have already been in Thailand, as long as they are fully vaccinated. (They will need to provide proof of vaccination before being allowed to enter Phuket.) The rules are as follows for anyone entering Phuket, which we expect to be in place for at least the next two months:

Current measures for entering Phuket for both Thai and foreign visitors.

Travelling to other parts of Thailand after Phuket

After your stay at an SHA approved hotel in Phuket and after providing two negative PCR tests, vaccinated visitors will be allowed to travel freely to other parts of Thailand. (This will be subject to local travel restrictions in other provinces of Thailand at the time.) They will also be allowed to visit other non-vaccinated people who live in other parts of the country. IMPORTANT: The COVID-19 situation in Thailand keeps changing so be sure to keep an eye on the local news and follow reliable sources like the Bangkok Post for internal travel restrictions and domestic flight cancellations at the time of travel.

If you have any further questions about the Phuket Sandbox Scheme, please add your comment below and we will try our best to answer it!

Disclaimer – Information regarding the Phuket Sandbox Program is changing literally every day and is dependent on the COVID-19 situation across Thailand. While we update this article regularly to the best of our ability, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions.

Resources

Thank you to the following resources which were used to write this article. We recommend that you check them out if you want to find out more about the Phuket Sandbox Scheme and other travel-related news in Southeast Asia:

Dave Noakes Bio Pic, with Nikki Scott
Nikki Scott | Founder & Editor

Nikki is the founding editor of South East Asia Backpacker. At age 23, she left the UK on a solo backpacking trip and never returned. After six months on the road, she founded a print magazine about backpacking in Asia. The rest is history.

Find me: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

57 thoughts on “Phuket Sandbox: Everything You Need to Know”

    1. Sheree Hooker

      Yes. According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, “If staying less than 7 nights, you must leave Thailand immediately on a direct flight to another country.” You will not be able to go elsewhere in Thailand so your flight will need to be to your home country from Phuket.

  1. Hi – A couple of questions,

    (1) When arriving to Thailand through the Phuket sandbox scheme do you have to stay in just the one SHA approved hotel or could you split up your mandatory 7 night stay in a couple of different hotels in different locations on the island?

    (2) When travelling out of Phuket once completing the 7 day stay, do you think that you would be able to fly from Phuket to Bangkok and start travelling the country this way? Or would you have to travel using different methods?

    1. Sheree Hooker

      Hi Rebecca!

      There is conflicting info around this issue online. According to the Thai Embassy, it has been stated that ‘You must stay for at least 7 nights in your first SHA+ hotel in Phuket before you can move to another hotel in Phuket or other provinces.’ However, I am unsure of whether this policy has been updated since the sandbox was reduced to 7 days. Other sources say that you can stay in up to three SHA+ approved hotels throughout the 7 day duration of the sandbox. This is the case for the Samui Plus scheme so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was also true of the Phuket Sandbox.

      As for your second question, domestic flights catering to Phuket Sandbox travellers have certainly been permitted in the past, however, there was disruption when infections surged in the capital. It is advisable to keep an eye on the situation in Bangkok and have a reserve plan in case something disrupts flights to Bangkok.

  2. Hi,
    I’m going to visit Thailand with my family through Phuket Sandbox program.
    Do you have information, how many test do I have to book and pre-pay through thailandpsas web site for a kid 3 years old? Same as for an adult, 3 tests? Or just 1 test?

    1. We have spent two weeks under Phuket sandbox program in Phuket. Now want to travel to Phi Phi for one week, then return to Phuket. What are the requirements RE-enter Phuket from Phi Phi in this case.

      Similar situation and question to visit Koh Samui. What are the requirements to visit Samui after spending two weeks under Phuket sandbox program, and what are the requirements to re-enter Phuket from Samui?
      Thank you for guidance on these questions.

      1. Hi Anil, I believe that as you have completed your 2 weeks in Phuket you will be able to travel freely around Thailand granted that you can show proof of your 14-day stay in Phuket and your negative PCR tests. This, of course, depends on local travel restrictions so it would be best to check with a SHA+ travel agent in Phuket for the local rules as things are changing all of the time. All the best!

        1. Hi Nikki,

          Thank you very much.
          Your answer is what my understanding was before I started from Canada. But now I am being given different instructions.
          I am told that the local travel for sandbox participants is okay provided they comply with the provincial entry rules. Phi Phi comes under Krabi province and their rules are that you must have a PCR test before you can come into Krabi Province. Phuket also has the same rule, and Surat Thani, where Samui is located also has the same rule.
          How unfortunate!
          In other words, after testing three times negative already under the sandbox program, and one time before we left our home country, (so a total of 4 times in 16 days!!), we must test negative when we leave for Phi Phi, then test negative when we leave Phi Phi to return to Phuket, then test again within three days of our travel to Samui, and then test again to return to Phuket. And then test again to take the flight back to our home country.
          What a joke!! So after testing 4 times already, we must test five times more. Each test costs USD 110+, so after spending USD 880 already, we must spend USD 1100 more for the two of us.
          This is pathetic!!
          Even though it is ridiculous, no one wants to change it; Testing labs have a vested interest in it. Why can’t the three four provinces involved permit fully vaccinated Sandbox tourists to travel freely to other similar open tourists destinations is beyond me.
          I do not know who to complain to either.
          I am seriously considering cancelling the rest of my program and going back to our home country. If I did, Thailand will lose the economic benefit of apps. USD$10,000 over seven weeks.
          Thank you for your assistance.

          Anil

  3. Hi
    Great information, thanks.
    Is it the process that you need to book hotel and flight before you can start the application process or do you carry out stage 1 first?

    I’m worried that application could be denied and then there’s hotel and flight costs lost.

    Thanks

    Rob

    1. Hi Rob, yes unfortunately you do need to book the hotel and pay for the flight first in order to apply for the Certificate of Entry. You need the details of those before applying. I would recommend checking this Facebook group for the latest advice and posting there if you have any questions as the rules are prone to change: https://www.facebook.com/groups/317712356197034

  4. Robert minns

    We have a house in chiang rai after the sandbox quarantine we will be going there so I will not have a return date because we don’t know when we are going to return

    1. Hi Rob, It depends on what type of visa you have? If you have a retirement visa or a working visa then you don’t need to book a return flight. If you entering on the normal 30-day visa exemption (now valid for 45 days), you will need a flight out of Thailand within 45 days. If you have a 60-day tourist visa, you will need a flight out of Thailand within 60 days. It’s best to check with the Thai Embassy what is required for the type of visa that you will be entering Thailand on. All the best!

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