Thailand’s battered tax on foreign tourists delayed once again

The devil is in the detail for Thailand’s long-delayed tourist tax on foreign arrivals.

The 300 baht (US$9) levy on foreigners entering the kingdom by air, land or sea has again been put back from June this year to September at the earliest. This is the fifth delay since the idea was first mooted in 2018. Tourism minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn said the ongoing delay was due to the well-known implementation issues. Most of the proposed tax would be set aside for improvements and renovations at tourist sites such as temples, although a modest 10-17 percent would go to an ill-defined insurance pot on behalf of foreign visitors.

International airlines had agreed to pilot a scheme whereby the cost would be added to fares whether booked with them direct, or online or with travel agents. However, no way had yet been found to target only “foreign tourists” since Thai nationals and some non-defined expats were excluded from the scheme to raise the extra money. It had been suggested that those excluded would be able to reclaim their 300 baht later, but the fuzzy idea has proved very unpopular amongst those directly concerned.

Nor has any solution yet been found to the nitty-gritty problems of collecting the cash at land borders or when foreigners arrived by water including cruise ships. The prospect of long queues forming as toll booths struggled to deal with foreign currencies, give change or cope with the hazards of credit cards have all been bones of contention. There is also the issue that some foreigners are daytime market traders, from Myanmar, Cambodia or Malaysia, who stay in Thailand only a few hours on a daily basis.

The prospect of cash for hospitals to cover the medical bills of foreigners has also created confusion, especially in the international media. The scheme does not envisage universal cover – a financially absurd notion – but a discretionary government fund to cover cremation or compensation costs in publicized cases such as awful traffic accidents with multiple victims. The Tourist Association of Thailand urges all visitors to take out personal policies even though these are compulsory only for a small number of visas including the 10-year Long Term Residency and some retirement visas issued at Thai embassies abroad.