Thailand’s Phuket Sandbox Plan, Explained

It’s official – almost. Beginning July 1st, Thailand will allow vaccinated travelers to enter the Kingdom, via Phuket, without having to quarantine for 14 days in a hotel room. 

Or more precisely, they will be able to do an island quarantine. Not so bad.

If you are fully vaccinated and currently residing in a medium- to low-risk country, then you and your family will be able to participate in the Phuket Sandbox Plan.

While the plan has not been officially announced, there is strong support from the right people in charge (mainly PM Prayut Chan-o-cha) so that the plan is almost certain to pass soon, according to @RichardBarrow. The official announcement will be released in the Royal Gazette. 

In this article, we will look at what we know so far about the Phuket Sandbox Plan. This article will be updated over the coming weeks as new details emerge.

Countries Allowed

NOT ANNOUNCED – The official list will be released soon. Right now they are just saying “low and medium risk countries”.

Vaccine and Covid Test Requirement

If you are flying from outside Thailand, you need to have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before entering the country. (See below for domestic travel.)

The list of approved vaccines hasn’t been announced, but according to @RichardBarrow it will likely include all of the major vaccines on the Thai FDA, WHO, and major government lists (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, Sinovac, etc).

Source: WHO via Bangkok Post

Even if you are vaccinated, you will still need to take (and pay for) a Covid-19 rapid test on arrival, as it is possible to carry the virus and transmit it to others on the island.

For every vaccine except AstraZeneca, you need to have received two shots, as prescribed by the manufacturer, at least 14 days before entering. Apparently they are going to be strict on this one.

The two-shot requirement also means no mixed shots (e.g. one Pfizer + one Moderna) which some countries are doing.

Children

If you are traveling with children under 6, they can fly into Thailand without a rapid test or any other restrictions. However, unvaccinated children between 6 and 18 must do a rapid test at the airport in Phuket.

Flights

As before, you will still need to apply for a Certificate of Entry (CoE) or relevant visa at the Thai Consulate or Embassy nearest you. There is no visa-on-arrival just yet.

You will not be required to fly directly into Phuket Airport (HKT). There will be a dedicated terminal at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) for Phuket transfers.

Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok

Once you arrive in Phuket and do your rapid test, you will be free to move about on the island (even renting a car at the airport) without any restriction.

Domestic Travel

If you are entering Phuket from elsewhere in Thailand, you need to be either fully vaccinated, have one AstraZeneca jab, or else get a rapid test at the airport.

Accommodations

All arrivals into Phuket must have at least 7 days booked at an SHA+ hotel or resort. The plus in SHA+ indicates that at least 70% of their staff has been vaccinated. 

This means that, for the first seven nights, you can’t stay in an Airbnb, at a friend or family member’s house, or otherwise rent a private residence. After the 7 days, you are free to stay wherever you want on the island.

This rule doesn’t mean that you have to stay in a fancy hotel your first week. A wide range of accommodations, from budget hotels to resorts, have already signed up (over 400 already) or will be doing so in the weeks leading up to July.

Nor do you need to choose one hotel for the first 7 days. You are free to move around to different parts of the island as long as your hotel is SHA+ certified. The official live list of SHA+ hotels will be announced soon.

If you are interested in tours, they will also need to be done through an SHA+ approved operator. Basically, any activity that is open for tourists must be able to prove they have SHA+ accreditation.

Local Covid-19 Restrictions

One of the biggest questions people have is, what exactly awaits the travelers who will soon be coming to Phuket? Will anything be open?

There have been a number of viral videos online documenting Phuket’s deserted streets and shuttered businesses, especially in Patong.

While this is true to some extent, I recently visited Phuket and found these reports to be misleading. Patong has certainly been hard hit, but Phuket is a large island and there was plenty of action to be found, especially on the east side of the island.

I planned to stay for 2 weeks, and ended up staying for 4 weeks. A great trip, all around.

Phuket Town, on the east side of the island, has been a center of expat activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, along with Ra Wai Beach in the south.

And things are looking up. While there are still restrictions in place (bars and pubs are closed), Phuket is having fewer and fewer new infections each day and it is expected that the restrictions will be rolled back leading up to July 1st.

Unfortunately the ban on bars and pubs is national and we will have to wait and see what happens with that, it is possible that hotels and restaurants in Phuket will be able to serve alcohol if certain local restrictions are lifted.

Gyms and hotel facilities such as pools and spas will be allowed to open.

14-Day Travel Restriction

While there is no minimum number of days you are allowed to stay in Phuket, you need to stay on the island for 14 days before you can travel to other destinations in Thailand.

After 14 days, if you pass your 2-3 Covid tests, then you are free to travel wherever you like within the Kingdom using your last negative test result as a reference. 

It is important to note that some provinces will probably have their own restrictions still in place in July, so be sure to check online before traveling.

Will the Plan Actually be Executed?

While the plan is not yet 100% certain, it is looking highly likely to be implemented on July 1st. Everything hinges, of course, on Phuket reaching its goal of having 70% of their population vaccinated by June 30.

However, according to TAT via @RichardBarrow, the Phuket vaccination program has proceeded apace so far and they expect to reach their goal in time, based on the large number of Thai people who have registered for their vaccine already.

If the Plan Is a Success, What Comes Next?

If all goes according to plan and there are no covid outbreaks in July, TAT will seek permission to reduce the 14 day travel requirement to 7 days.

Furthermore, it is expected that similar sandbox models in Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Pattaya will be planned for October or sooner.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s keep our fingers crossed for July 1st.

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9 Jun
2021
Mark
McGinn