Confusion reigns over new tourist tax in Thailand

Foreign tourists, and maybe others, will soon face an extra entry burden.

Thai government press releases are sometimes clouded by ambiguity. The decision to impose a 300 baht (US$9) on foreign “tourists” from April is no exception. It will be collected by a supplement on pre-arrival air tickets, but presumably people with a Thai-sounding name will be exempted. Or maybe not. Foreign residents and expats are not “tourists” so won’t need to pay. Maybe. Nobody yet knows how travel agents and online ticket sites will be able to distinguish between the various groups.

According to the Thai based tourism and sports ministry, no decision has yet been taken on how “tourists” arriving by sea or land will pay. There is a suggestion that they will download yet another app and use their credit or debit card. The issue is said to be non-urgent because there are few arrivals by water, whilst land borders are still closed to most international travellers and vacationers. However, it has been announced that guest workers from neighboring countries (Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos) will not have to pay.

The new fund – predicted to produce 1.5 billion baht in 2022 if 5 million international visitors actually show up – will be used to improve facilities at tourist sites (repairing temples, building toilets etc) and to provide “insurance for travellers”. However closer inspection reveals that this will be a discretionary, slush pay-out fund to be tapped in case of accidents such as minibus crashes or even murders of foreigners. It absolutely does not replace the need for general health and/or Covid insurance currently required of all foreigners entering the kingdom.

Thai pressure groups from the travel, tourism and hotel organizations are already lobbying the government to delay the imposition of the new tax until 2023. This is to allow tourism to recover before being thumped by a further cash burden. The Thai Hotels Association says that 300 baht may not sound a lot, but has a withering and psychological effect on potential vacationers. But insiders say that the government’s lust for cash revenue is likely to ignore pleas for a further delay. The new tax has already been postponed several times since 2019.

In a separate announcement, the government has indicated that 10 insurance companies will optionally sell to foreigners on arrival extra Covid cover. This is because some current policies bought by foreigners prior to entry do not cover all Covid-related expenses. For example, some do not pay for quarantine if the patient is asymptomatic, others only kick in if the coronavirus sufferer dies. Not to mention those which have a cash cut-off point well below the actual cost, or require the traveller to pay first and try to reclaim from the company afterwards. Further details are awaited with interest.