Updated 17th January 2021.
Phuket Sandbox Latest News:
- 22nd January 2022 – Thailand will resume Test & Go scheme on 1st February allowing travellers to enter Thailand quarantine free (almost). However, travellers can still use the Phuket Sandbox and Samui Plus.
- 26th November 2021 – Sandbox schemes shortened to five days. Source.
- 2nd October 2021 – Thailand sandboxes now open to all fully vaccinated travellers, regardless of country. 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 7 days on the island of Phuket. After that, they are free to travel to other places in Thailand!
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.
Read more: (opens in new tab):
- Guide to Thailand’s Test & Go Scheme
- Travel Guide to Phuket
- Thailand COVID-19 Travel Restrictions
- Cheap Quarantine Hotels in Bangkok
The Phuket Sandbox: All Your Questions Answered!
1. 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 7 nights in a SHA+ hotel. (See below.) 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”.
2. 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 7 days, 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 (now only 7 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.)
3. What does “Fully Vaccinated” mean?
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).
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 10 nights and 11 days before being allowed to move around freely.
4. Which vaccines does Thailand recognise?
You can find the list of vaccines that Thailand recognises on the Tourism Authority Thailand website.
5. Do I have to be from a “low risk” country to use the Phuket Sandbox?
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.
6. What visa do I need to enter Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox?
All international travellers to Thailand have the same visa options as before the pandemic. While there are rumours about the Phuket Sandbox allowing new visas on arrival, this has not yet been 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.
7. Can I extend my visa once in Thailand?
Yes. 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.
8. What other paperwork do I need for the Phuket Sandbox?
Here is a list of all of the requirements you will need before entering Thailand:
- Thailand Pass (previously Certificate of Entry) – To enter Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox scheme (or any other way) you will need to apply for a Thailand Pass, which should take no more than 72 hours to process. (See more information on this below.)
- SHA+ hotel booking – You will need to show proof of payment for your stay in an SHA Extra+ or AQ Hotel in Phuket.
- Negative COVID-19 PCR Test – Taken not more than 72 hours before departure. (See more info below)
- 2 x pre-booked and paid for COVID-19 RT-PCR tests – To be taken while in Phuket. Arrange your tests here.
- 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 $50,000 USD of COVID-19 health insurance cover. SafetyWing Nomad Insurance (affiliate link) is a good option.
- Direct flight into Phuket – No domestic transits in Thailand are allowed.
- 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.
6. How do I get the Thailand Pass?
In order to obtain your Thailand Pass, 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 Extra+ hotel. It is best to book directly with hotels via email. Once booked, the hotel will send you confirmation of your booking and add your booking to the “SHA Extra+ Booking Authorisation” System (also known as “SHABA”) to authorise your stay in Thailand.
- Submit relevant documentation. This includes a copy of your passport, visa (if applicable), vaccination certificate, SHA Extra+ reservation for 7 nights (including COVID-19 RT-PCR tests) and insurance policy to cover the duration of your stay in Thailand.
- Receive Thailand Pass in 3 working days. If all of the above steps have been followed, you should receive your Thailand Pass within three working days. You will need the Thailand Pass QR code to check in on your flights and also to present at immigration when entering the country.
Important: You should register your Thailand Pass at least seven days before you travel. This allows time for approval.
7. Should I fly directly to Phuket?
Most of the flights that we found (on Skyscanner) are not direct to Phuket and involve one or two stops, either in Europe or the Middle East. Be aware that at present, no transit is allowed elsewhere in Thailand, for example, Bangkok.
8. Can I transit in Bangkok on my way to Phuket?
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. For the time being, if you plan to use the Phuket Sandbox to enter Thailand, you must book a flight direct to Phuket.
9. Where can I stay in Phuket?
You do not have to stay at a particular quarantine facility 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 Extra 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 Extra+ 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.)
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 7-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!)
10. Which are the cheapest Phuket Sandbox hotels?
There are some very good value for money hotels offering the Phuket Sandbox package. The cheapest of them starts at just 700 THB per room per night or 4,900 THB for seven nights (just under $150 USD for seven nights). Here are the five cheapest Phuket Sandbox hotels below starting with the cheapest. Please note that these prices do not include COVID-19 tests nor transport from the airport.
- Ratana Hotel Rassada (Phuket Town) – 4,900 THB for 7 nights (700 THB per night)
- The View Rawada Phuket (Rawai) – 5,250 THB for 7 nights (750 THB per night)
- C & N Hotel (Patong) – 5,950 THB for 7 nights (850 THB per night)
- The Blanket Hotel (Phuket Town) – 6,300 THB for 7 nights (900 THB per night)
- Coconut Village Resort (Patong) – 6,300 THB for 7 nights (900 THB per night)
Also see – 10 Amazing Phuket Sandbox Hotels with Swimming Pools for under 1000 THB/night!
12. If I own property in Phuket, can I stay there?
If you own property in Phuket: If you have your own property on the island, you will still have to book and pay for a 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!
13. What does “SHA Plus” mean?
The SHA is the Thai Health and Safety Administration. You can check out their website here. Previously, the hotels needed to be only SHA approved, which meant that at least 70% of the staff were vaccinated.
However, recently, the TAT encouraged all hotels in Phuket to apply for “SHA Extra Plus Certification”. This meant that the SHA hotel has an approved partner hospital. 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 Thailand Pass.
14. How many COVID-19 Tests are required for the Phuket Sandbox?
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 and 5-6 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) at 2,100 THB for one test and 4,200 THB for two.) 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 then asked if they could leave and fly home.
14. What rules are there if I am 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.)
15. What activities can I do whilst 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.)
16. Are bars and restaurants in Phuket open?
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).
17. Do I have to wear a face mask when in Phuket?
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.
18. Can I rent 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.)
19. Can I receive 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.)
20. Can I travel 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.
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
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