Contrary to hopeful rumors and exaggerated promises, the Center for Covid Situation Administration has not yet detailed its policies to replace the Certificate of Entry with the newest kid on the block, the Thailand Pass. A new policy for favored countries is due to start on November 1, although precedents in the history of Thai bureaucracy suggest a deferment is by no means impossible.
It is clear that Thai embassies round the world will continue to play a major role in who can come here, on what basis and for how long. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which controls Thai embassies, is developing a new system with the Digital Government Development Agency with some oversight by the Department of Disease Control. Surprisingly, the Thai immigration authorities are not listed.
We do know that visitors to Thailand under the newly-empowered Thailand Pass will upload their documents which will include vaccination proof, evidence of a recent RT-PCR test, the familiar TM6 entry card, consular fees and the like. It seems likely that this will be a fully-automated procedure which will issue online a vignette or sticker visa to be placed in the passport. This would avoid travellers having to present physically their passport at the appropriate embassy, or to collect it in person.
But lots of ambiguity remains, such as the future of the US$100,000 Covid insurance required of all visitors until now. Not to mention the possibility of general (not Covid specific) medical insurance worth 440,000 baht which is currently needed for non-immigrant visas based on “retirement”, as well as for the recently extended Special Tourist Visa designed for long-term vacationers.
The prime minister promised “no quarantine for fully vaccinated tourists,” but they will still need a PCR test on arrival at the Thai airport. Because PCR test results take longer than the lateral flow method, it looks like new arrivals from favored countries will have to spend a night in a quarantine hotel awaiting the PCR test result, or longer if the verdict comes back ambiguous or (even worse) positive.
The old Certificate of Entry system will apparently remain in force for those entering by land or sea. Presently, the land borders are closed to all tourists and most foreigners – except labor permit holders from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Arrivals by sea are becoming more popular, especially in Phuket and Pattaya which have harbor facilities.
Thailand has far and away the most complex system of visas in Asia. There are well over 20 different visas and permissions requiring very different documentation depending on the length of stay and the reason for the visit. Not to mention 12,000 Elite card holders, who were once told they were fast-track favorites, and the lucky permanent residents who don’t need a visa anyway but have needed a pile of documentation ever since Covid struck.
Then there are the 30/45 days visa exempt arrivals from specified countries, including the US and the UK, as well as the visa-on-arrival people (China, India, etc.) who traditionally queue patiently at the airport to get their 15 days. What dealings, if any, will they have with the Thailand Pass bureaucracy? Let’s not forget too that a new 500 baht “tourist tax” will be introduced next year with no clarification as to the method of collection or the definition of a tourist.
All these, and many more bread and butter questions, are going to be asked whenever the CCSA sets out in detail its entry policy. The nightmare scenario would be huge queues, lasting many hours, at Thai airports as immigration officers wade through the paperwork yet again, or ask time-consuming questions of the arrivals and their eligibility for admittance. Everyone is hoping that the new rules are clear and that the latest generation of computerized information systems won’t crash at the worst possible times. If there is a devil, he will be in the detail. That’s his favorite hiding place.