Countdown begins for Phuket Sandbox

PHUKET, 25 June 2021: Most of the hoops you will have to jump through to travel to Phuket Island on a “sandbox” holiday break are as clear as daylight except for the one that should identify chosen nationalities.

It gets a passing mention with a cursory, “please check the countries on the low to medium risk lists updated by the Ministry of Public Health every 15 days.”

As the countdown clock on the Tourism Authority of Thailand website runs down, basic information such as a list of nationalities eligible to visit Phuket under the Sandbox Project remains a mystery or just a guessing game. We are pointed to low to medium country lists that are not relevant.

How do airlines sell seats?

The News Bureau of Thailand’s website suggests travellers from the USA and Europe are eligible (see graphic). However, Qatar Airways and Emirates confirm they will offer four weekly flights starting 2 July. Do we assume UAE citizens are on the nationality list for travel to Phuket?  Likewise, Singapore Airlines flies three times a week to Phuket so are Singaporeans eligible for Sandbox travel?

A couple of websites refer to a mid-June PDF file published by Thailand’s Department of Disease Control under the county’s Public Health Ministry.

You open the file content sourced from researchers who compile the Global Covid-19 Index. It identifies low, medium and high-risk nationalities.

Do we assume the PDF file with GCI charts identify the low and high-risk countries applicable to Phuket? It’s a guessing game.

Low-risk nationalities
According to the PDF file they are Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Austria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Barbados, Brunei, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Dominica, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, Macau, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Mauritius, New Zealand, Norway, Qatar, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

But the PDF doesn’t specifically identify eligible nationalities for the Phuket Sandbox project, as can be seen by the fact Thailand is listed among the high-risk countries presumably to avoid at all costs (far-right on the PDF table).

Link to the MOPH PDF

The list of eligible nationalities for the Phuket Sandbox visit should be shouted out from government and official travel websites in languages in world travellers can read. We are just six days out from the launch date, 1 July, and travellers are none the wiser as far as nationality goes. TAT is not shedding any light on the subject either at the time of writing this post. (Update: As of 27 June, the official list of eligible nationalities for travel to the Phuket Sandbox has not been released.)

Instead, we have to settle for a vague reference: “Travellers must be from a low to medium risk country – and you must have been in your departure origin country for at least 21 days.”

Which airlines will fly to Phuket?

British Airways, Cathay Pacific, El Al, Etihad Airways, Emirates, THAI, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. Facebook comments suggested Cathay Pacific has cancelled plans to fly in July due to the delay in announcing the Sandbox conditions.

Hoops to jump through to land safely in Phuket

You must have a certificate showing full vaccination against Covid-19 (14 days to one year before the travel date) with a vaccine approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A valid visa issued by a Thai embassy or consulate. (Evisas and visas-on-arrival remain suspended.)

A Certificate of Entry (COE) issued online by a Thai embassy or consulate. It can take approximately three working days to process the application.

Proof you purchased Covid-19 health insurance with a minimum cover of USD100,000.

Show confirmation of flights and a hotel booking for 14 nights in SHA Plus-certified resorts. (Around 300 hotels qualify in Phuket).

Show a negative RT-PCR Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before your flight departs for Phuket. Submit your PCR test proof when obtaining your COE.

On arrival at Phuket International Airport

At Immigration, complete your arrival card, show your COE and passport. Take an RT-PCR test at the airport and then check in your pre-booked SHA Plus hotel to wait for the test results.
Download and install the SHA ThailandPlus hotel app and the government’s Mor Chana tracking app. After 14 nights, you are eligible to travel to other provinces in Thailand.

You can also stay on the island for shorter breaks of three to seven days, but you must depart on a direct flight back home without visiting other destinations in Thailand. You will need to take a PCR test certificate not more than 72 hours before you board the flight home.

During your 14-day stay in Phuket

Take two Covid-19 RT-PCR tests on day 6 or 7 and again on day 12 or 13. (You will need to take three tests — on arrival at Phuket airport and twice during your hotel stay.)

Onward trips from Phuket

Tourists who have stayed in Phuket for 14 nights and wish to explore the rest of Thailand must present the following documents at the departure gate checkpoint of the domestic terminal or the international terminal:

Passport showing visa stamp by the Phuket Airport Immigration (except Thai nationals);
Proof of Covid-19 tests showing that the disease was not detected during the 14-night stay in Phuket with the document issued by an agency of the Ministry of Public Health;
Evidence of staying at a hotel or accommodation that has received SHA+ (SHA Plus) standards.

Each province will have its own local requirements regards tests and possible self-quarantine so more RT-PCR tests could surface as the journey in Thailand progresses especially if you spend time in deep-red zoned Bangkok.

Where can I get a Covid-19 test in Phuket?

All hospitals in Phuket can provide an RT-PCR test. The cost of an RT-PCR covid test ranges from THB2,500 to TH4,000.

Rapid test – you can get a rapid test at hospitals, clinics, and private labs in Phuket. The cost of a rapid test ranges from THB450 to THB1,000 per person.

From end to end of your Thailand trip you will undergo four RT-PCR tests. It starts with a test before your flight departs your home country, on arrival at Phuket airport and two during your stay. (You will also need to take a test to board the flight home.) Factor around THB12,500 in your holiday budget just in test fees before you head for the beach bar for snacks and cool beers. This is not a cheap sandbox experience. It will also be a tough sell for the travel industry, but we have to make a start somewhere regardless of the negatives and reams of red tape.

Information from and with input from Red Elephant Reps