Updated 7th July 2021.
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.
This came with two conditions: 1) Visitors must be fully vaccinated before travelling. 2) They must spend their first 14 days on the island of Phuket. After that, they would be free to travel to other places in Thailand!
On 1st July, the first visitors were welcomed by the Thai Prime Minister himself as well as a round of applause at Phuket International Airport. On 3rd July, there was also a fireworks display on Patong Beach to celebrate the new arrivals and the start of a month-long festival in Phuket called ‘Colourful Phuket’.
The scene at Phuket Airport today as the prime minister greets the first international travellers to arrive for more than one year without having to do quarantine (📷 @MatichonOnline) pic.twitter.com/0Zp4oayfl3 #Thailand #PhuketSandbox— Thai News Reports (@ThaiNewsReports) July 1, 2021
Traveller Report – “I’m on Phuket right (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 opening. The arrival procedure is seamless so looking good.” – Steve
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 two weeks and are free to move around the island, however, they are not able to leave Phuket until they have completed 14 nights in a hotel. (To be able to enter the island, arrivals have to show the reservation and proof of payment for the hotel.)
The Phuket pilot is the first of its kind in the country, and if everything goes to plan, similar systems will be rolled out across Thailand in the coming months, with the island of Koh Samui next in line 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.
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.
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 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. (See up to date Thailand travel restrictions here.)
On 1st July 2021, however, the Phuket Sandbox scheme allowed 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 Thailand. (If you only plan to travel to Phuket, there is no minimum number of days that you need to stay on the island.)
When you arrive in Phuket on the scheme, you do not have to self-isolate in your hotel room and are instead free to enjoy the hotel’s facilities, such as the swimming pool, spa and gym. You are also able to travel freely around the island of Phuket and explore at your leisure. However, you are not be allowed to visit nearby islands, such as Koh Phi Phi or James Bond Island, or go 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 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.)
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.
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 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. The list of ‘low risk’ countries is constantly being monitored and updated every two months by the Ministry of Health. It depends on the number of cases and the types of COVID-19 variants that are circulating in that country.
Travellers must have been staying in said ‘low risk’ country for 21 days before they depart for Thailand. (We believe that this can be one, two or more countries, as long as they are all deemed low risk.) You can see a official list of the 63 countries allowed to enter Thailand right now here…
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. 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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.)
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.)
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 RT-PCR test on days 1, 6 and day 12 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).
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.) Those not adhering to this rule will be fined.
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:
Travelling to other parts of Thailand after Phuket
After your stay at an SHA approved hotel in Phuket and after providing three 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 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.
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
- Facebook Group – Thailand Tourist Visa & Phuket Sandbox (By Trunk Travel)
- Facebook Group – Phuket Sandbox – “Better Phuket” By | Asia Thailand
- 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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