Before the waves of COVID-19, the tourism industry in Thailand accounted for the most part of the country’s economy, with Thailand’s destinations being some of the most famous travel destinations in the world. When the pandemic hit, it was deeply devastating to see the empty beaches of Phuket or Koh Phi Phi, restaurants and bars closed on the streets of Bangkok, which has been a hardship for the Thai economy and the locals whose income has dropped drastically ever since. However, the situation is now shifted.
On July 1st, 2021, Phuket became the first island in Thailand to reopen its borders for fully vaccinated tourists under the program called “Phuket Sandbox". There are many rules to follow if you wish to spend the holiday in this paradise this year, follow along as we at CabinZero have noted in this article.
Phuket Became the Pilot Destination to Restart Tourism in Thailand
Coronavirus cases still remain high across the globe, especially in Southeast Asia where the recent Delta variant has affected the region severely, however, the Thailand government proceeded with the plan to reopen Phuket, making it a pilot destination to restart tourism in Thailand as part of the economic recovery for this beautiful land.
If this plan is successfully carried out, Thailand will continue to proceed with other destinations in the country, including Koh Samui and finally Bangkok. Following Phuket, other tourist destinations in Southeast Asia will be introduced to this protocol potentially.
Phuket Sandbox Travel Advice During COVID-19
Before You Travel
Who Will Be Able to Visit Phuket?
Now you know that Phuket is opening up for vaccinated tourists, the first question in your mind is: Am I eligible for this “Phuket Sandbox”? Here are all you need to be able to visit Phuket from July 1st, 2021:
- Be fully vaccinated 1 jab for Johnson & Johnson, 2 jabs for other vaccines) 14 days before departure with a vaccination certificate. Your type of vaccination has to be registered with Thailand's Ministry of Public Health or approved by WHO (World Health Organization). These include AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.
- A negative COVID test, which needs to be issued no more than 72 hours before departure
- An insurance package for COVID-19, minimum coverage of $100,000.
- You must arrive on a direct flight from a country with a low or medium risk categorised by Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health and must have spent at least 21 days in that country/region before departure. You can find the full list here.
- Unvaccinated children under 6 years of age travelling with fully vaccinated parents or guardians.
- Unvaccinated children between 6 and 18 years of age travelling with fully vaccinated parents or guardians. They are required to take a COVID test upon arrival at their own expense.
Depending on your nationality, you might or might not need a visa to visit Thailand. Here are the most common types of visas:
- Visa Exemption (for visiting Thailand for tourism purposes not longer than 45 days)
- Tourist Visa (for visiting Thailand not longer than 60 days)
- STV or Special Tourist Visa (for staying in Thailand 90-270 days)
- Non-Immigrant Visa (for visiting Thailand based on different purposes of stay and the visa is valid for 90 days and it can be extended in Thailand up to 1 year
- Thai Visas with Re-entry Permit
- Thailand Elite Visa
What are SHA+ Hotels?
Although there will be no quarantine requirement when you arrive in Phuket, you are restricted to stay in one of the hotels that have the SHA+ certificate issued by the Thai government for safety and health measure standards.
The list of accredited SHA+ Hotels can be found here.
For travellers who want to continue their journey to other parts of Thailand, they must stay in Phuket for 14 days, and then will be allowed to visit other parts of Thailand.
Photo by Katie Musial on Unsplash
Certificate of Entry (CoE)
You need to apply for the Certificate of Entry from the local Thai Embassy or Consulate at least 5 to 15 working days before the intended date of travel.
To apply, you can register online here by filling in your personal details, and upload supporting documents such as a copy of your passport, a copy of the valid visa (if required), and COVID-19 travel insurance. The Embassy will screen and pre-approve the applicants who meet the requirements. You can check the status of your application after 1-3 working days
After you receive the pre-approval, you will have to upload a copy of the flight ticket and the SHA+ hotel booking confirmation. You can check the status of your application after 1-3 working days.
The Thai Embassy might require the COVID-19 test receipts when you apply for the CoE. If you are taking a COVID-19 test in Phuket, contact your SHA+ hotel to arrange your test in advance.
Photo by Arkady Lukashov on Unsplash
Prepare Your Documents
You will be required to present the following documents to your airline before departure, so make sure you print and bring them with you:
- Certificate of Entry (COE)
- Valid visa in your passport (if needed)
- Vaccination Record/Certificate/Card
- Printed Medical Certificate with a laboratory result indicating that your COVID-19 test is negative. The COVID test must be by the RT-PCR method, within 72 hours before departure.
- COVID 19 travel insurance certificate
- Confirmation Letter of SHA+ Hotel booking
- Confirmed of travel itinerary
- T8 Health Form
- Download ThailandPlus mobile app on your phone
What’s Open Next in Thailand?
Thailand is planning to open its borders to fully vaccinated tourists from October 2021 onwards, starting first with Phuket, followed by:
- Phase 2: Koh Samui (open from 15 July)
- Phase 3: Krabi and Phang Nga (open from August - to be confirmed)
- Phase 4: Chiang Mai, Chonburi (Pattaya) and Buriram (open from September - to be confirmed)
- Phase 5: Bangkok, Hua Hin, Cha Am and any other destinations that are ready (open from October onwards - to be confirmed)
Advice from Airlines
At the moment, there are several airlines that are permitted to operate flights to Phuket on a daily and weekly basis. These include British Airways, El Al Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Airlines, THAI, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Emirates, and other major airlines.
Photo by Arkady Lukashov on Unsplash
If you are planning to travel to Phuket and other destinations in Thailand, keep in contact with your airlines or travel agency for their advice and updated information.
After you have decided to follow all the many rules to enter the partying paradise of Thailand this summer, then it’s time to pack your bag and get prepared for the trip.
The first thing to bear in mind is the weather in Phuket. As in most parts of Thailand, Phuket has tropical weather which is generally hot and humid, and the monsoon season is between May and October. The dress code in Phuket is casual and simple. So the key is to bring light and comfortable clothes along with your swimsuits to enjoy some bathing hours under the sun. If you’re planning to visit temples in Phuket, don’t forget to pack pieces of clothing that cover your shoulders and legs, or you can get one of those sarongs in the shops when you arrive there.
Phuket is one of the famous tourist cities of Thailand, which is why you don’t need to freak yourself out if you forget one or two items, because markets and shops are everywhere on the island.
Don’t know where to start? See our full travel packing checklist.
Top 6 Things to Do in Phuket
Nai Harn Beach & Promthep Cape
Looking for the best sunset viewpoint in Phuket? You might want to try Promthep Cape (or Laem Promthep) - it’s the spot where locals and tourists go for a magnificent sunset view. Although it gets a bit crowded and touristy during the golden hour, arriving here early will help you secure a good spot.
Source: Digital Travel Couple
Nai Harn beach is just 10 minutes away - a seaside resort area with a village atmosphere and hippy vibes. This beach is famous for its restaurants specialising in Thai cuisine and local souvenir shops that sell beachwear and Thai craft products.
Located in the very southernmost area of the island, Nai Harn Beach and Promthep Cape are definitely worth checking out.
Phuket's Big Buddha is one of the most important spots on the island. From here you can have a bird-eye view of the whole island while immersing yourself in the peaceful atmosphere of tickling bells and soft dharma music. The Buddha statue is layered with stunning Burmese white jade marble that shines in the sun.
Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash
Soi Dog Foundation
If you’re an animal lover, don’t forget to check out the Soi Dog Foundation - the largest rescue organisation for vulnerable dogs and stray cats. There are tours for visitors to come play and socialise with these furry friends.
Photo by Justin Mott Photographer
This is the place to go after sundown for nightlife folks. A 400-metre street full of neon lights, loud music, street performances and cheap beers - Bangla Road is the most famous walking street in Phuket that never stops buzzing with tourists at night. They say “Your trip to Phuket is not complete without Bangla Road.” - the heart of Phuket nightlife.
One of the prettiest beaches in Phuket - with its white-sand beaches and clear blue water. Surrounded by a tropical jungle with high coconut trees, this is the “pearl of Phuket” and located not very far from Patong Beach. There are some restaurants serving local simple Thai cuisine, fresh tropical fruits and snacks on the beach, a perfect spot for some relaxing time under the sun!
Credit: Joey Santini
Phuket Travel: FAQs
1. What is a Certificate of Entry (CoE) and where do I get it?
A Certificate of Entry is a required document before your departure to Thailand. You can fill in the form here.
2. Is the COVID-19 insurance mandatory?
Yes, you need to have COVID-19 insurance with coverage up to USD 100,000 for your entire stay in Thailand. If you’re travelling with children, COVID-19 insurance for the children is also required.
3. Do I need a visa to visit Phuket?
You do not need a visa to enter Thailand if you are a UK or Irish passport holder and you’re travelling to Thailand in under 45 days. If you wish to stay longer, you can apply for other types of visas listed above.
4. If I haven’t been vaccinated or only received 1 shot of vaccination, am I still able to visit Phuket?
Yes, but you will need to follow current entry procedures and quarantine requirements upon your arrival.
5. Can I book my own flights to Phuket and hotels or do I need to book via a travel agency?
You can book them independently, but make sure you follow all the requirements. Once you know which SHA+ hotels you want to stay at, it might be easier to contact the hotel to get everything you need, including the COVID tests during your stay in Phuket.
6. Can I fly to Phuket via Bangkok?
It may be possible, but the Thai authorities are still sorting out the arrangements at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport.
7. Do I have to stay in one hotel or can I stay in different hotels?
You must stay in the same hotel for the first 7 nights. After that, you can stay at 2 different hotels for the next 7 nights. Make sure all of your accommodations are certified under SHA+ hotels.
8. I hold a UK passport, but I am currently abroad working. Can I fly to Phuket from there?
It depends on the country you are flying from if it is classified as low or medium risk by the Thai government, and you need to make the Certificate of Entry in the country that you are flying from. You must also have stayed in that country at least 21 days before your departure to Thailand.
9. Are there any COVID tests on arrival?
International travellers are required to take an RT-PCR COVID-19 test upon arrival. Once you arrive, you must travel directly to your SHA+ hotels and await the results, which should arrive within 8-12 hours. If you test negative, you are able to travel anywhere in Phuket.
10. What are the procedures for testing and tracing?
You will need to download the Thailand Plus and MorChana apps as a part of the safety protocols and keep them on your phone during the time you are in Phuket. Upon arrival, you will also need to fill out a card at the Phuket airport.
11. Do I have to take a COVID test during my stay in Phuket?
If you are staying in Phuket for 14 days or more, you will need to take 3 tests during your stay:
- Test on arrival
- Test on day 6 or 7
- Test on day 12 or 13
The cost is approximately 8,000 baht for 3 tests. As part of the conditions to obtain a Certificate of Entry (CoE), visitors are required to pay for their COVID-19 tests in Phuket in advance. In most cases this can be arranged by your SHA+ plus hotel, you can contact them to make payments and obtain the receipt to apply for your CoE. Children under 6 years old will not require a PCR test.
You can also get a PCR test from hospitals in Phuket, with the price range from around 2,500 to 4,000 baht. Rapid tests are also available in hospitals, clinics and private labs in Phuket, and the prices range from 450 to 1,000 baht.
12. What if I test positive for COVID during my stay in Phuket?
You will be taken to the hospital via transport arranged by your hotel at your own expense, which is why COVID-19 travel insurance is mandatory.
13. I own a property in Phuket, can I stay at my own house or do I need to stay at an SHA+ hotel?
All international arrivals are required to stay at an SHA+ hotel. Staying at a private property is not allowed. The only exception is you can stay at your own residence if it has been issued with SHA+ certificate.
14. Can I travel to other islands like Koh Phi Phi?
You can visit other islands in Phuket province like Ko Racha and Ko Maprao during your stay in Phuket. However, Koh Phi Phi is in Krabi province and James Bond island is in Phang Nga province, so you will need to stay in Phuket 14 days and test negative 3 times before going to the other provinces. For the island excursions, it is advised to book them via the SHA+ certified tour companies.