There’s a lot to love about Thailand. The markets, the massages, the beaches, the food that lights an afterburner in your mouth – not forgetting some of the best hotels in Asia, at prices that turbocharge our Aussie dollar. In 2019, Thailand was the sixth most popular holiday destination for Australians.
Thailand loves us too. In 2019, revenue from tourism was estimated at over 20 per cent of the country’s GDP. Since November 1, fully vaccinated Aussies have been allowed to enter Thailand without quarantine. You might think Thailand would be welcoming us back with open arms, but the country’s bureaucracy has other ideas.
Finding the Thailand Pass website
To enter Thailand as a tourist you now need a Thailand Pass, which you can apply for online, but if you Google “Thailand Pass” you’re going down the wrong rabbit hole. What you will not find easily is the official Thai Government website where you can apply for the pass. What you will get is pages of commercial entities that will help you get your Thailand Pass – for a fee. Note, applying for the Thailand Pass is free, however it’s so fraught with difficulties it seems designed to shunt you into the arms of the for-profit facilitators.
The website you need is this:
As an Australian, and provided you’re fully vaccinated and you’ve not been outside the country in the 21 days before arrival in Thailand, you’re entitled to enter Thailand under the Exemption from Quarantine program. Ignore the Sandbox and Alternative Quarantine programs, both are more restrictive.
The documents you need
You’ll need a scan of your passport, your certificate of vaccination and a prepaid AQ hotel reservation and PCR test on arrival. AQ, sometimes designated ASQ, stands for Alternative State Quarantine, one of the state-accredited hotels where you will need to spend your first night awaiting the result of your PCR test taken on arrival in Thailand. Once the test comes back negative you’re designated Exempt from Quarantine, and good to go, anywhere you like in Thailand. You can find a list of AQ hotels on Google, and there are hundreds in Bangkok alone, from budget cheapies to ultra-luxury marble-plated palaces.
You also need proof of an RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours before boarding your flight to Thailand. There’s a difference between a RT-PCR test and a PCR test. The RT-PCR test – and here I quote from learned journals – is reverse transcription PCR, involving an additional step that allows the detection and amplification of RNA. Although a negative PCR test will get you on board a Qantas international flight, you need an RT-PCR test for your Thailand Pass.
Something else you need is insurance with a minimum of $US50,000 ($68,000) medical cover. Fair enough you might think. Why should Thailand’s medical system bear the cost of treating foreigners who contract COVID-19? And just about any travel insurance policy should cover you for that eventuality now that Thailand no longer has a ‘Do not Travel’ warning from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But there’s a catch. To pass muster, it must be a policy that will be approved, and many applicants are reporting problems with travel insurance policies issued outside Thailand. According to Bangkok’s Siam Legal International, “Thai immigration officials are notoriously fastidious when it comes to paperwork, and will only accept policies from certain providers.”
Cigna has a 30-day policy that covers the mandatory health care element at a cost of just BHT1500, about $60.
AXA is another option
All documents must be uploaded as .jpgs, not .pdf files. That’s easy enough if you snap a photo using your smartphone camera, or just about any digital camera. If you’re stuck with .pdf documents, Smallpdf will let you convert them to .jpg:
If everything goes without a hitch you’ll receive a Thailand Pass and a QR code which will be scanned on entry. Waiting for approval is nerve wracking, especially since it can only be initiated in the 72-hours before flight time to comply with the RT-PCR test requirement. As soon as that window opens, get tested and make sure your test result will be available the same day.
Getting a Thailand Pass is not for the fainthearted. The Bangkok Post has branded the system ‘unstable’ and that’s a polite understatement compared with what’s being said on social media. Frustrated applicants are reporting problems with uploading multi-page insurance documents and with their middle name not recorded on their proof-of-vaccination documentation. Technical glitches are common. During the first four days of the scheme, which began on November 1, less than 13,000 of the 65,000-plus applications were approved. Some applicants have not received their QR code in time to make their flight. If you want some idea of the many ways this can go wrong, scope out the Facebook group ‘Thailand Reopening’.
One piece of good news – as an Australian passport holder you do not need a Thai visa for tourism purposes for stays of up to 30 days.
See also: Is it worth the hassle? On board the first travel-bubble flight to Singapore
See also: How can you get tested on holiday to be allowed back into Australia?