Compulsory tourist tax bizarre
The Thai authorities seem determined to continue with plans to implement a new 300 baht levy on foreigners entering the country. The new start date is early 2023. The idea was first put forward in 2018 and has since languished in a sea of confusion. The early models suggested that ten percent of the cash might be used for medical insurance for tourists, though this notion hasn’t been mentioned of late.
The real purpose
It is an absolute non starter to think that such a paltry sum could cover all or even most tourist medical woes. At best it might be a part-insurance for cremation costs. The main stated reason was to repair or refurbish tourist sites – building public toilets in temples was mentioned – though it is hard to escape the conclusion that the tax is in effect an income generator for discretionary government purposes.
How to collect the cash has generated a lot of ink. The prospect of airports and land borders, crowded with tired arriving passengers and waving around foreign currency needing change, is too awful to contemplate. The next idea was to add the 300 baht as a surcharge when foreigners bought their tickets or perhaps there could be vending machines positioned strategically at points where arriving passengers are likely to surge.
Airlines not keen
Many airlines said they were opposed to the proposal as it was discriminatory: they were asked to charge foreigners more than Thais. Also it might be difficult to sort out who is a Thai and who is not. Some nationals carry more than one passport and some Thais have foreign-sounding names if they adopt the title of their spouse. In response, the Thai authorities offered a phase-in and pilot project to test the workability, but nothing seemed to come from this notion.
Not all foreigners caught
It was then clarified that some foreigners might escape the net. Foreigners with a work permit, dual nationals and children under two were listed. How these individuals might be pinpointed on data bases of airlines, embassies or immigration was not made crystal clear. But it was confirmed that most expats, including those on one year extensions of stay, would need to pay on each and every entry. On social media, it was announced that even permanent residents would be required to help fund the scheme. They are the guys and gals who have no end date in their passport and possess a red police book for registration purposes.
Air versus land
If collecting cash from air travellers is complex enough, the land and sea borders offer special challenges. There is no pre-booked ticket in most cases. How to avoid mammoth queues at Cambodian, Laos and Malaysian crossings has consumed much time and energy. One suggestion was to offer use of advance payment by credit card which likely raises as many problems as it solves. Two months ago, Thai tourist authorities announced air travel was the priority and that further research was needed on land and sea visitors.
And so it goes on
In view of all the technical difficulties, it is tempting to say the scheme is just not worth the effort. An alternative might simply to add 300 baht to the 700 baht departure tax already charged automatically on all passengers’ tickets, irrespective of nationality, who leave the country by air. But this is unlikely to happen. A bit too straightforward.