They’re calling it the ‘Phuket Sandbox’. After over a year of strict travel restrictions in Thailand, on 1st July 2021, the country is opening up its borders to international travellers. This comes with two conditions. 1) Visitors must be fully vaccinated before travelling. 2) They must spend their first seven days (now 14 days- see below) on the island of Phuket. After that, they will be free to travel to other places in Thailand!
BREAKING NEWS 4th JUNE 2021: We have just heard that the government have lengthened the required stay in Phuket from 7 to 14 days. You do not have to quarantine in your hotel room and will be free to move around the island, but you will not be able to leave the island until you have completed your 14 nights in a hotel. Source – Richard Barrow in Thailand.
The trial will be the first of its kind in the country, and if successful, may be rolled out across other parts of Thailand. The Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) has already earmarked Krabi, Pattaya, Bangkok, Buriram, Cha-am, Koh Samui, Phang-nga and Hua Hin as possible destinations to try out the scheme.
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 will come as promising news to those travellers desperate to visit Thailand!
Join the debate: There are many different opinions on whether or not the Phuket Sandbox is a good idea or not. Some, who are worried about vaccinated travellers still being able to pass the COVID-19 virus onto others, say that the scheme endangers the local population. Some say that the scheme is just what’s needed to kickstart the tourism industry which has suffered greatly over the past year. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below or get in touch with us on Twitter @SEA_Backpacker.
If the Phuket Sandbox Scheme goes ahead, from June to September 2021, Thailand is expecting to receive up to 129,000 international visitors – will you be one of them? In this article, we’ll attempt to answer all of the questions you might have about the Phuket Sandbox and more!
Will the Phuket Sandbox definitely happen?
We’ve heard so many rumours over the past year about various countries reopening… How do we know that the Phuket Sandbox will actually happen?
Well, despite Thailand being currently engulfed in its third (and most deadly) wave, the Thai Government and the Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) seems determined for the scheme to go ahead. And, while it hasn’t yet been officially approved by the CCSA (The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration), the Prime Minister of Thailand, Mr. Prayut Chan-o-cha, has approved the draft plan.
The TAT even have an enormous countdown on the homepage of their website counting down the days until the island welcomes its first international visitors!
UPDATE: On 4th June 2021, the CESA (Centre for Economic Situation Administration) approved the Phuket Sandbox Scheme in principle. The CCSA is expected to give its full approval on 7th June followed by the Cabinet on 8th June. Source – Richard Barrow in Thailand.
Says Mr. Yuthasak Supasorn, TAT Governor – “All of us at the Tourism Authority of Thailand share the excitement and anticipation of everyone in Phuket in the preparation to welcome back foreign tourists in the not-too-distant future. From 1 July, 2021, vaccinated foreign tourists will be allowed to visit Phuket without quarantine, so the countdown starts now to the reopening of Phuket!” (Source: TAT Newsroom.)
TAT also states, however, that the Phuket Sandbox program is still subject to the status of COVID-19 across the country. In order for it to go ahead at least 70% of Phuket’s population must be vaccinated. Huge efforts are taking place across the island right now to make sure that happens. Whether or not it can be achieved is yet to be seen. There is also currently a 2-week quarantine in place for anyone who arrives in Phuket from other parts of Thailand.
DON’T PACK YOUR BAGS YET! Despite all the buzz around the Phuket Sandbox, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change in an instant… (For example, the very next day after writing this article, the required stay in Phuket changed from 7 to 14 days!) We highly recommend that you hold off booking flights and accommodation in Thailand (unless they are fully refundable) until the final details of the scheme have been ironed out.
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 contact the embassy of the country you are visiting for the latest information.
What are the current travel restrictions in Thailand?
To enter Thailand at the moment you must quarantine for 14 nights and 15 days in a special quarantine hotel in Bangkok. During this time, you are not allowed to leave the hotel.
On 1st July 2021, however, the Phuket Sandbox scheme will allow international travellers to skip this burdensome requirement and simply spend seven days* on the island of Phuket at the start of their Thailand trip.
UPDATE 4th JUNE: The requirement for duration of stay in Phuket is now 14 days, instead of 7 days.
When you arrive in Phuket on the scheme, you will not have to self-isolate in your hotel room and will instead be free to enjoy the hotel’s facilities, such as the swimming pool, spa and gym. You will also be able to travel freely around the island of Phuket and explore at your leisure. However, you will not be allowed to visit nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi or James Bond Island, on day boat trips or travel anywhere outside of Phuket province.
In order to take part in the Phuket Sandbox scheme, you must be fully vaccinated with a vaccine that has been approved by the WHO or the Thai FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
For most of the vaccines (such as Pfizer, the Moderna and AstraZeneca) you will need to have had two vaccines before you can travel, (apart from the 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 proof of vaccination before boarding the plane to Thailand. (It has not yet been decided what kind of proof is acceptable, especially as the ‘proof’ varies from country to country.) At least 2 weeks (but not more than one year) must have passed since you were inoculated before you can travel.
Alternatively, if you can prove (with a medical certificate) that you have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you do not have to show proof of vaccination.
If you are not fully vaccinated, you will still be allowed to fly to Phuket, however you will have to undergo quarantine in an ‘Alternative State Quarantine Hotel’ in Phuket for 14 nights and 15 days before being allowed to move around freely.
“Low Risk” Countries
The Phuket Sandbox scheme is only available to travellers coming from ‘low risk’ countries. A list of these countries has not yet been released, but it has been suggested that the risk factor will depend on the type of COVID-19 variants that are circulating in each country.
The TAT says that a list of ‘low risk countries’ will be posted soon on their website so be sure to keep an eye out there for updates. (We will also update this article when the list is released.)
Visas and other Paperwork for entering Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox
Entering Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox scheme, unfortunately, comes with a few requirements. (Sorry folks, travel just ain’t as easy as it used to be!) 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 – 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.
- Thailand Visa – The Special Tourist Visa will soon be scrapped and international travellers will have the same visa options as before the pandemic. 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 this below.)
- Proof of accommodation after 7 days* – Right now, all travellers to Thailand have to show proof of accommodation for the entire duration of their stay in Thailand. It is not yet clear whether this will be a requirement for the Phuket Sandbox Scheme.
- Negative COVID-19 PCR Test – Taken within 72 hours of travel. (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 cover. SafetyWing Nomad Insurance (affiliate link) is a good option.
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 mid-June. 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.
Transit in Bangkok
International travellers will be able to transit in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on their way to Phuket. Plans are underway to create a dedicated section of the airport and special flights for those transiting via Bangkok. More info on this soon.
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.)
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.
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!
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 PCR test showing a negative result no later than 72 hours before your arrival in Phuket.
All visitors to Phuket will have to take a COVID-19 test on day five of their stay (This has now changed. See update below.) The test(s) will be carried out at your SHA Approved Hotel. (Guests will be expected to cover the cost of the test(s), but we’re not yet sure how much this will be.) 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.
UPDATE: Since the required proposed stay on Phuket was increased from 7 to 14 days, the required COVID-19 tests have now changed. You will now be required to take a COVID-19 RT-PCR test on day 6 and day 12 of your stay before you will be allowed to travel to other parts of Thailand. Source – Trunk Travel.
Thailand Plus App – Track & Trace
It appears that all visitors to Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox Scheme will 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 will be allowed to travel to Phuket with vaccinated parents and do not need to be tested upon arrival. 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 arrival in Phuket. (This has not yet been officially agreed upon and is subject to change.)
Activities in Phuket
You can partake in any activity in Phuket 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 will be allowed to open as long as they are SHA approved. You will not be 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 will be 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 will be enforced.
We expect that 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 flying here.) At the moment there is a strict rule in place that face coverings must be worn at all times in Phuket when leaving the house. Those not adhering to this rule will be fined. We are not sure if this will change after July 1st 2021.
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.)
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 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.
If you have any further questions about the Phuket Sandbox Scheme, please add your comment below and we will try 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.
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:
- Richard Barrow in Thailand
- Thailand Tourist Visa & Phuket Sandbox Facebook Group
- Thailand Authority of Tourism News Blog
- Thai Island Times Newsletter by David Luekens
- Travelfish Newsletter by Stuart Mcdonald
- Asia Travel Re:Set Newsletter by Gary Bowerman
- The South East Asia Travel Show
- South East Asia Backpacker Facebook Community
South East Asia Backpacker Newsletter
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