On July 15th 2021, the Samui Plus Plan, AKA the Samui Sealed Route (or less officially the ‘Samui Sandbox’), was officially launched. For travellers itching to get to Thailand’s most popular islands, it was the news that they had been waiting for.
After more than a year of tough travel restrictions throughout the country, Thailand’s reopening is a slow and considered process. It began with dedicated quarantine hotels in certain cities. Now, there are several pre-arranged schemes that allow fully vaccinated tourists to return to the islands in a way that minimises the risk of the spread of COVID-19. The first was the Phuket Sandbox, next it was time for Koh Samui.
If you’re desperate to head to the Land of Smiles, you’re in the right place! By the end of this article, you will know all about Thailand’s Samui Plus Scheme, if you are eligible, how to apply and much more.
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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.
Is Thailand Open for Travel?
Currently, Thailand is open to international tourists. Whilst things are not opening up quite as quickly as some may have hoped, gradually, more options are appearing.
To enter the country as a normal tourist, you must be able to provide a negative COVID-19 test no earlier than 72 hours prior to departure and complete a 14-day self-isolation in a quarantine hotel in Bangkok.
Alternatively, if you’re fully vaccinated, you can enter the country on one of Thailand’s sandbox schemes, the Phuket Sandbox or Samui Plus (which is what we’re discussing here). This will mean that you skip the Bangkok quarantine.
In June, it was announced that Thailand would fully reopen in 120 days. This timeline began with the introduction of the Phuket Sandbox, with future plans to eventually reopen other tourist hotspots such as Hua Hin (in the Hua Hin Recharge Scheme) and Chiang Mai (Chiang Mai Charming) in the north of the country. Owing to a surge of infections, this plan has been pushed back to allow the authorities to get cases under control.
Although lockdowns and other strict pandemic protocols have been introduced across the country, Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox and the Samui Plus scheme are still welcoming international tourists and have served as a model for how other Southeast Asian nations may start to invite back international visitors to their shores.
A Guide to the Samui Sealed Route
What is Samui Plus?
Following on from the popular Phuket Sandbox scheme, the Samui Plus Plan allows fully vaccinated international tourists to enter the country without the normal mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
Through a controlled test and release system, international tourists will be able to travel to Koh Samui, where they are required to stay for a minimum of one night at a SHA+ Hotel. After completing this stay, they can then choose to stay on Koh Samui or head to Koh Tao or Koh Phangan on a specified tourist route.
Once tourists have stayed for at least 5 days on the islands, they are free to travel elsewhere in the country (local travel restrictions permitting).
Update: As of December 16th 2021, all of Thailand’s Sandbox schemes have been shortened to 5 days.
Essentially, the system has been designed to reintroduce international tourists to Thailand while keeping coronavirus cases as low as possible. In theory, travellers will benefit from safer trips and locals will be more protected from foreigners bringing in the virus. It is hoped that schemes like Samui Plus will help to stimulate tourism in the country.
Who is Eligible for the Samui Plus Scheme?
To be eligible for the Samui Sealed Route you must meet the following conditions:
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months.
- If you are over 18, you must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a WHO-approved vaccine*. You will not be considered fully vaccinated until at least 14-days from the date of your last vaccination.
- You must have booked or purchased return air travel. You must fly to Koh Samui direct or transit in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi using an approved airline.
- You need to have tested negative for COVID-19 no earlier than 72 hours before travelling.
- Unvaccinated people under the age of 18 can travel as part of the Samui Plus scheme but need to fulfil the negative test criteria.
- Your medical insurance must cover COVID-19 treatment to at least $100,000USD. (We recommend SafetyWing for travellers.)
- You need to have booked and paid for your required PCR test/s and hotel/s.
- You must be from one of the 78 eligible countries. It’s also required that you’ve been in an approved country for at least 21 days prior to entering Thailand. These are countries that the Thai authorities have deemed low and medium risk. You can see a list of them below:
*At present, these include Sinovac, Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sinopharm.
Please note: Although your country may have been deemed eligible for the sandbox scheme by Thailand, this does not take into account any travel advice from your own government.
Samui Plus Timeline
Before You Go…
- Book your return flights to Thailand, travel insurance that covers COVID-19, necessary covid tests and state-approved accommodation
- Complete pre-flight paperwork
- Test negative in the pre-flight covid tests
- Adhere to social distancing rules and face-mask wearing on flights and in the airport
Day 0: Once you arrive at the airport, you will be taken by private transfer to your pre-arranged SHA+ hotel. You will have to take a covid test on arrival and quarantine in your room until the result is returned.
Day 1-7: If your test result is negative, you can now travel around the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. However, there are some caveats to this. You must follow ‘sealed routes’ and are only allowed to choose from pre-approved tours. On day 4, you must take a RTK test. You’ll receive the result the following day. If it is negative, you are free to travel elsewhere in Thailand with a Release Certificate.
Note: Previously, in the 14-day version of the Samui Plus Scheme, visitors were not allowed to drink alcohol for the first 7 days of their stay. In the latest version of the programme, visitors can now drink alcohol at their leisure.
Samui Plus Hotels
For the duration of Samui Plus, you can only stay in SHA+ hotels on Koh Samui, Koh Tao or Koh Phangan. These hotels have been certified because they meet high cleanliness standards in regards to COVID-19.
One of the requirements of SHA+ hotels is that 70% of the workforce has to have been fully vaccinated, making these hotels safer for tourists and locals.
See the list of approved SHA+ hotels for Samui Plus travellers here.
How to Apply for Samui Plus
If you are an international tourist who is eligible for the Samui Plus plan, you will need to apply for a Certificate of Entry (COE). You can do this here. This must be done at least six days before the date that you intend to travel.
COE applications usually take around 3 working days to be processed initially. Once you receive the pre-approval, you will need to submit and upload your documents. Bear in mind that you only have 15 days to do this from when you receive the pre-approval email.
To obtain the COE you will need the following documents, translated into English (no other language qualifies).
- Proof of travel insurance which covers at least $100,000USD for potential COVID-19 treatment
- Vaccination status proof
- Return air tickets
- Pre-payment of covid tests throughout stay
- Fully paid hotel bookings
- Visa (if required)
Once your COE has been fully approved, you will need to print out a copy of the approval (in English) and bring it with you.
You will also need to arrange your pre-flight covid PCR test before you fly in your home country. These vary in price depending on where you are.
You will need to download both the Thailand Plus application (App Store/Google Play)and the MorChana application (App Store/Google Play) on your phone. The latter of these will allow you to register your Samui Health Pass to track your journey to Koh Samui. If you are worried about your phone battery lasting the duration of your journey, make sure you pack a portable charger!
Samui Plus Programme: FAQs
What happens if I test positive on any of the covid tests?
If you test positive on any of the covid tests, you will be sent to a hospital for treatment. These expenses should be covered by your insurance.
If you are a close contact of a confirmed covid case somewhere on your journey, you will need to enter quarantine.
Are there restrictions on what tours or transport I can use? What about restaurants?
Visitors on the Samui Plus programme are not allowed to rent private vehicles or use public transport. You are only permitted to use approved transportation and tour operators.
When it comes to dining out, you are recommended to use SHA Plus certified restaurants, however, this is only an advisory, not a compulsory requirement.
When can I leave the islands?
As a requirement of the scheme, you must stay in a SHA+ hotel on either Koh Samui, Koh Tao or Koh Phangan. Your first night will need to be in a Samui SHA+ hotel as you won’t be released until the result of your first PCR test is returned. After this comes back negative, you can move to the other islands. You can switch SHA+ accommodation on the islands no more than 3 times. It is only after a week that you can move elsewhere in Thailand.
How can I fly to Koh Samui on the Samui Plus scheme?
If you can’t fly direct to Samui, you can travel via Bangkok Airways from the capital. There are two daily flights (in both directions) to Samui for Samui Plus visitors. They are sealed routes which means you will not be able to detour from these paths or visit shops in the airport.
- Depart at 12.00, Arrive at 13.30
- Depart at 17.10, Arrive at 18.40
- Depart at 14.10, Arrive at 15.40
- Depart at 19.20, Arrive at 20.50
Do I need a smartphone to enter the Samui Plus programme?
Yes, a smartphone is essential for visitors on the Samui Plus scheme.
Can I leave Thailand early?
Yes, you can leave earlier if you wish but you must leave the country. You will not be permitted to visit other destinations in Thailand without completing the mandatory 5 days in the islands.
Will everything be open in Koh Samui?
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses have had to close their doors forever. However, many are now reopening thanks to the gradual easing of travel restrictions to international tourists.
When I arrive in Thailand, is this day 1 or day 0?
If you arrive between 18.01-00.00, this is day 0.
If you arrive between 00.01-18.00, this is day 1.
Do I have to wear a mask?
Participants of the Samui Plus scheme are asked to adhere to local rules. This may mean you have to wear a mask in public areas.
All visitors should follow DMHTTA protocol to protect themselves and others against the spread of COVID-19.
- D – Distancing
- M – Mask wearing
- H – Handwashing
- T – Temperature check
- T – Testing
- A – Alert Application
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