Thailand has decided not to let the truth get in the way of a good marketing slogan, because the truth – once it gets out – will undermine the country’s grand “reopening”.
Millions of Thais and foreigners alike are thrilled that today marks the start of the country’s “reopening” to fully vaccinated foreign tourists. But the government’s much-touted “Test & Go” slogan – and the promise of “no quarantine” – is a lie. It’s untrue; a sham.
If Thailand truly was allowing tourists to simply get a coronavirus test and go on a plane – as can be done to the United Kingdom and myriad other destination in the world – then today’s reopening truly would be remarkable. It’s not.
If officials were being truly honest, they would call it “Buy pricey insurance, book an expensive one-night quarantine hotel, submit a half-dozen documents, wait up to five days for approval, then test and go.”
Because that’s what it is. You cannot simply get a test and go. You cannot just jump on a plane with negative Covid-19 test results. It takes weeksof preplanning, thousands, or tens of thousands, of wasted baht, patience of a saint and plenty of practice making PDFs to upload.
The most infuriating, and possibly most expensive, obstacle that the Tourism Authority of Thailand or government marketers fail to mention is insurance. Until now, US$100,000 of Covid-19 coverage was required. Under the “Test & Go” scheme, that was lowered to $50,000.
The government’s insurance portal still, as of Nov. 1, has not been updated. The only policy you can buy is $100,000 cover. And that runs about 4,800 baht a month for an applicant in their 40s. Less for younger. More for older.
Some companies have jumped in, offering their own, more affordable insurance. One leading firm – Mr. Prakan Insurance – offers $50,000 policies that cover not only Covid-19 but most general health problems, as the government now requires, but didn’t announce until four days ago.
The price? 2,800-3,400 baht a month, depending on age.
Insurance is required per person for as long as the tourist’s visa is valid. For a married couple of European snowbirds coming for the winter, that could add 36,000 baht to the cost of their holiday. Now imagine the cost for a family of four?
‘No Quarantine’ Is a Joke
Don’t believe the slogans or the quick-hit news stories. Thailand is not reopening without quarantine. It’s simply opening with shorter quarantine.
Before you can leave home, you must first find and book one night at an “alternative quarantine” or “SHA+” hotel which has been certified by the government. Not just the room. The “quarantine package” must include an invasive and redundant PCR-based Covid-19 test and an antigen test kit.
Yes, you must take three tests to go to Thailand. At least the antigen test is cheap and non-invasive.
Currently on travel site Agoda, the cheapest one-night AQ/SHA+ package is 4,300 baht. The government’s SHA-Certified Website lists more, but there are no links to their quarantine-night packages and no easy way to book.
Once a room is booked, that’s still not the end. You now need an official SHA-formated confirmation letter from the hotel showing the package details and that it’s fully paid and non-refundable.
Before you can get one of those, you hotel may first require copies of your airline ticket, vaccination certificate, passport, visa and insurance. The letter can take days to get.
Once a tourist arrives, they will be taken via a “sealed route” in a hotel van, complete with staff in full personal protective equipment, to a hospital or testing site, then to the hotel. There you must wait – in your room – until the test comes back.
Most times, that will be within 24 hours. But what if it isn’t. Or, more commonly, what if you arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport after midnight. By the time you clear Health Control, Immigration and Customs, then claim your bag and find your van, it will be very late. The hospital may take your test sample at 1:30 a.m., but the chances of the results coming back before the noon checkout time are slim.
Now you need two nights quarantine hotel, at least according to the law.
So much for “no quarantine”.
Now the average tourist may be just fine hanging out for the results. Maybe the AQ hotel is where they want to stay. Most likely, though, they want to leave their roosms, go to the pool, or even checkout of the hotel and find a cheaper or nicer accommodation in a different area.
Lastly, everyone will be required to install and use the Morchana tracking app and then use the antigen test kit and take another Covid-19 test on Day 6 or Day 7 (or if symptoms appear) and upload the result to Morchana.
Now that you have your insurance policy and hotel-booking confirmation, it’s time to collect the other documents you need:
- Official Covid-19 vaccination certificate showing date of both doses, the batch number and brand of the vaccine and other details. A handwritten vaccine card, common in the U.S. might suffice, but not always. A certificate from the state or provincial Health Department would be better.
- Copies of passport, current visa and re-entry permit, if applicable.
- Airline electronic ticket
These all will be submitted via the government’s new Thailand Pass website that went live and promptly crashed and malfunctioned, making it impossible to actually submit anything.
Thailand’s government has a putrid reputation when it comes to launching websites and apps. If Thailand Pass doesn’t crash on the first day, color us shocked. Also watch out for personal data left exposed on the internet or wide-open backdoors for hackers to exploit. That was the case with the launch of Covid-19-vaccination websites and apps.
Once you manage to submit all your documents via Thailand Pass, you wait. First it was said approval would take one-to-three days. The current warning is three-to-five days. If your documents don’t pass muster, wait again.
If they are approved, you’ll be given a link to obtain a QR code that must be shown at your airport arrival, with the negative results of a Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before flying.
‘Test & Go’? 🤣🤣🤣
If all of this seems like an overly complicated, expensive and pointless hassle, it’s because it is. If Thailand wants to truly reopen easily for tourists, it should have actually made the system like the U.S. (as of Nov. 8) and require only a test before flying, or the U.K. which requires tests before flying and after arrival.
No one-night quarantine hotel.
No Thailand Pass.
No QR code.
What It Means for Reopening
That seems unlikely to happen any time in the forseeable future, however. So what does that bode for the success of Thailand’s reopening and hopes for a revival in foreign tourism?
The reasons for those two programs’ failures were not only the semi-quarantine of being limited to one region for one or two weeks. It was the outlandish cost for four tests (one before departure), the exorbitant cost of hotels and the incredible hassle of the previous Certificate of Entry process. It also was the fact bars were closed and alcohol banned at restaurants for nearly the entire four-month experiment.
While Thailand Pass has replaced the CoE, and people don’t have to upload their before-journey Covid-19 test result before flying, not much has changed.
They still need to pay thousands for insurance and at least one night of a quarantine hotel. They still must deal with all the hassle of collecting and uploading documents, then waiting for approval.
Why bother? There are much cheaper and easier places to visit, with more opening their arms every week this month and into December.
Thailand is going to count the numbers come Dec. 31 and wonder what went wrong. And they only have to look at the pointless demand for paperwork and the avarice of selling tourists unneeded insurance and hotel packages.