Phuket Sandbox: Everything You Need to Know

Bucket and spade in the sand

Updated 7th September 2021.


Phuket Sandbox Latest News:

  • 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. (See below for more info.) 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 14 days on the island of Phuket.* After that, they would be free to travel to other places in Thailand!

*NEW: According to the 7+7 extension – Now travellers are able to stay for 7 days in Phuket and 7 days in another approved Thai destination (see below).

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 Plus scheme 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. 

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 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.

NEW: 7+7 Extension Approved!

On Monday 15th August, the government approved the long-awaited 7+7 extension which allows tourists to spend 7 days on the island of Phuket and 7 days in another approved destination: Khao Lak, Koh Yao Noi, Koh Yao Yai, Railay, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Ngai, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. The extension is in effect as of 16th August 2021 and will hopefully boost tourism in all of the islands of South Thailand.

Phuket-Sandbox-77-Extension
The Phuket Sandbox 7+7 extension. Source: TAT.

Those who want to take advantage of the scheme must obtain a ‘Transfer Form’ from their hotel in Phuket stating that they have spent 7 nights in Phuket. In order to leave the island, they must also show their negative COVID-19 tests carried out on day 0 and day 7 in Phuket. Finally, travellers must reach the second destination via approved routes and modes of transport.

After the traveller has spent 7 days at their second destination, they can obtain a ‘Release Form’ to enable them to travel to other parts of Thailand.


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.

If you would like to take advantage of the new 7+7 extension scheme, you are able to spend 7 days on the island of Phuket and 7 days in another approved Southern Thailand destination. (See above.)

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 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…

Countries allowed to enter Phuket via Sandbox Scheme
Countries allowed to enter Phuket via Sandbox Scheme.

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:

  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 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).

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 flying 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 three 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

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

  1. Hi Nikki,
    I am from India a prospective grad student to University in Chiang mai. I applied for Thailand’s Non-immigrant EDUCATION visa. am I eligible for Phuket Sandbox scheme

    1. Hi Sabari, you would have to check with the Thai Embassy in India. I am not sure whether India will be one of the low/medium risk countries that are allowed to enter Thailand, given recent outbreaks. (We are still waiting for the Thai government to release the list of what they consider to be low/medium risk countries.) In the case that India was considered ‘high risk’, unfortunately, you would not be eligible for the Phuket Sandbox scheme.

  2. Hi, my girl is thai national living in bkk, does she need to be vaccinated as well? Or can will a pcr test be enough to enter?

  3. Hey,
    thank you for the helpful article. Do you know if diving will be possible?
    Besides, we would like to go to Koh Phangan or Koh Tao after staying in Phuket, but cannot find any direct flights to Samui. What would be the best and easiest way to get there? I’m rather worried about traveling overland at the moment.
    Cheers,
    Mari

    1. Hi Mari, yes, I believe that you can hire a car and drive anywhere you like on the island of Phuket (including picking the car up at the airport and driving it to your hotel) as long as you don’t leave the island during the 14 days. Once you have stayed 14 days and passed your COVID test, you could drive to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao overland (via road and then Seatran car ferry from Surat Thani) or you could take a minibus/ferry combo (which would take around 7 hours in total). Pre-pandemic this rote was very popular and you could buy tickets at any travel agency.
      Alternatively, you could fly to Surat Thani on the mainland and get the ferry from there.
      Hope that helps!

  4. Reading here you say you can stay in one of the 440 SHA approved hotels, but other sites are telling me that you have to stay in one of the 65 SHA Plus + approved hotels (possibly less as I have also read some hotels have pulled out from gaining SHA Plus + status). Please can you confirm, as I think what you have said here about standard SHA hotels is wrong.

    1. Yes, I think TAT have now introduced SHA+ certification. The official announcement about which hotels you can book will be made on the TATnews.org website so be sure to check there. See this article – https://www.tatnews.org/2021/06/phuket-introduces-amazing-thailand-sha-plus-certification/ and this FB page (https://www.facebook.com/Shaplusphuket/) for official TAT announcements as the info is changing daily.
      They just posted this link to the latest hotel list – https://www.thailandsha.com/shalists/

    1. Yes, that’s correct. The old 30-day visa exemption rule now gives travellers 45 days. You do not need to arrange this in advance. You only need to arrange the TR60 visa (60-day tourist visa) in advance. Both of these can then be extended for a further 30 days at a Thai Immigration Centre.

  5. Anybody an idea which of the SHA hotels in Phuket will accept our dog in the room – we need to bring the dog to Phuket ….

  6. Kevin Randall

    Do you have to book a hotel for your entire stay, or can you book a week and then go to your own property for the rest of your stay? Also can you get in on visa exemption the same as before when we had to quarantine?

    1. Hi Kevin, You will have to book and pay for 14 nights in an SHA approved hotel to be able to enter. However, no one is saying that you need to actually stay in the hotel, as long as you have the booking. So, you can book for the 14 nights and stay at your own property for all of those nights if you wish. You will just have to go to the hotel for your COVID tests as I believe the hotel will be arranging them. Hope that helps! Details are still being ironed out and all the info is subject to change so be sure to check the resources above for the latest info.

    1. Hi Nina,
      It appears that the authorities are still deciding on this and that they are currently trying to make it possible for international travellers to transit in Bangkok. (There is the issue of switching airports from the International BKK Airport, Suvarnabhumi, to the Domestic Airport, Don Meuang.) The general advice for travellers right now, however, is to look at direct flights to Phuket to be on the safe side. Keep an eye on the Resources links above for more info on this and I will be sure to update the article with any more information that becomes available. Things are still quite up in the air right now as details are still being agreed on by the government, so it may be wise to wait a while before booking anything. All the best!

      1. Hi Nikki,

        Is it possible to transit elsewhere other than Bangkok?

        For example – Manchester (UK) – Dubai – Phuket.

        Otherwise this would mean direct travel from Heathrow.

        1. Hi Richard, Yes you can transit anywhere else that’s not in Thailand, depending on the rules of the country you are transiting of course.

  7. Andrew black

    I’ve recently traveled to bkk and done all my quarantine and tests I’m looking to travel to Phuket in June or July I haven’t been vaccinated (Uk citizen) do I have to enter before July? Will have covid test before travel do I need to quarantine 7 days there? Are there different rules traveling after June? Many thanks

    1. Hi Andrew, as far as I am aware, as an unvaccinated traveller, you would have to quarantine for 14 nights in a hotel on the island before being allowed to move around freely. The 2-week quarantine for unvaccinated travellers into Phuket is in place at the moment and is expected to continue after 1st July… However, please be aware that these things are changing daily and it’s best to keep an eye on the local news. You can also check the resources above and ask in the Facebook Group “Thailand Tourist Visa & Phuket Sandbox Facebook Group” which is very helpful. I will also ask in a few Facebook groups I know today to see if I can get any clearer information on this. Best of luck!

      1. Just heard this update from a traveller in our Facebook Group (note: we cannot verify this information): “If you leave Bangkok the day your quarantine ends you can enter. You need to show proof of your ASQ when arriving. At least those are the things I’ve heard. I’m planning the same thing myself, instead of Phuket going to Koh Samui/Koh Phangan. Have 7 more days to go.”

  8. hello! do we need to prove the 16000 usd to get in Thailand Phuket in July? I have everything else. I hope not!

    1. Hi Nick, we do not know the answer to your question at the moment. I will do some research today and see if I can find out. In the meantime, why not ask your question in the Facebook Group: ‘Thailand Tourist Visa & Phuket Sandbox’ which is a great resource for finding out more about the Phuket Sandbox. You can find the link under the Resources section above. All the best!

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