Ricky Batten

Phuket's "Sandbox" scheme

It’s been a long time coming and I am ecstatic to announce that Phuket is now open to tourists again! Hooray!

It’s been a long time coming and I am ecstatic to announce that Phuket is now open to tourists again! Hooray!

Since July 1st, 2021, Thailand has been welcoming back tourists and visitors to Phuket, provided they have received two doses of an approved vaccine internationally and meet the criteria for traveling to Thailand. After a week of monitoring, I think it’s a good time to provide some details. But first, what is the Phuket “Sandbox” scheme? Let’s find out below!

At the beginning of 2020, tourism officials submitted proposals to allow tourists to return to Thailand from July 1st. Since Phuket is an autonomous island with international capabilities in managing visitors from abroad, the island was eventually designated as the location to initiate a pilot program and lead the country’s reopening. And so, the Phuket “Sandbox” scheme was born.

Through this promising scheme, vaccinated tourists and visitors are allowed to visit the popular island destination without having to undergo the standard quarantine requirement in Thailand. However, they must still stay in a Safety and Health Administration (SHA) Plus-certified accommodation/hotel in Phuket. All visitors and tourists must undergo three COVID-19 screening tests and remain on the island for up to 14 days. After which, travelers can travel domestically to other parts of the country until their visa or permit expires.  

Who is eligible to travel to Phuket from abroad?

According to my sources in the insurance and tourism industries, if you are looking to book a trip to Phuket, Thailand, then you’ll need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • You must be aged 18 and over.
  • You must be traveling from a medium/low-risk country.
  • You must have been fully vaccinated for more than 14 days before your departure and be able to show a valid vaccination certificate.

What about children you may wonder? The criteria clearly state that if you are traveling with unvaccinated children aged 6 to 18, they can enter provided they test negative on arrival. And if you have unvaccinated children aged 5 and below, they must also test negative on arrival. The good news is that COVID-19 tests will be offered on arrival, but you may have to pay a fee of around THB ฿2,800. Here’s my tip for those planning to travel to Phuket: “cash is king”, so be sure to carry a few thousand baht notes on you before you depart.

Interestingly, many of my expat friends abroad that haven’t yet been able to return to Thailand have said that they would be eligible too! After checking on the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) website, it turns out to be true as local Thais and foreigners who are already residents in Thailand can enter the scheme. However, they must also be vaccinated for at least 14 days before entering the country. In other words, this is a big win-win for locals and expat residents. Happy days!

What vaccines are accepted from abroad?

Many of my clients have also asked about the types of vaccines allowed for fear of being rejected. According to the TAT website, the vaccines with which visitors and tourists are inoculated must be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) or Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). From my understanding, these include AstraZeneca, Sinovac, John & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm, and Pfizer. So if you were fully vaccinated with one of these, then you are welcome to visit Phuket.  

What countries are classified as low- to medium-risk?

Before making plans to travel to Phuket, you have to do a number of things to prepare, which includes making sure that the country you are departing from is on Thailand’s low- to medium-risk list. I could list them all here but the nature of the pandemic changes every day across the globe. My best advice is to contact your local Thai embassy and receive word on the current status of your country. This way, you won’t be caught out during your preparations.

What do you need to do to prepare before flying to Phuket?

Other than checking whether your country is on the list, you should prepare the following:

  1. A Certificate of Entry (COE). You can obtain one by visiting COE Online.
  1. A medical certificate from your local doctor indicating that COVID-19 is not detected for more than 72 hours before your departure. The test must also be performed using the RT-PRC method for it to be valid.
  1. An insurance policy covering treatment expenses for COVID-19 for the duration of your stay in Thailand. The coverage must be no less than USD $100,000 and the policy wording should be in English. This applies to all travelers no matter their status or age.
  1. A copy of the payment confirmation for no less than 14-nights stay and RT-PCR tests at accommodations approved by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MoTS) or TAT. However, you can stay the 14 nights at the same hotel, or after staying the first 7 nights at one hotel, you can then move to another SHA Plus hotel/s for the rest of your stay. Whatever your choice, it must all be prepaid. So make sure you have confirmation from these accommodations to show to the officials at the airport. 
  1. A certificate of vaccination against COVID-19 with a vaccine approved by the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) or the WHO no less than 14 days before departure.

How is the scheme progressing since the beginning of July?

From what I have gathered, the scheme has been progressing pretty well since it began. As of writing, 2,000 foreign travelers have arrived in Phuket from Europe and the Middle East. So far, the process on arrival is relatively smooth but officials will be tying up some loose ends to speed up checks and whatnot. Also, the TAT expects 100,000 foreign travelers to visit Phuket by the end of September and generate THB ฿8.9 billion for the local economy. All in all, it seems the pilot program is working well and sets the right tone for other reopenings like the ‘Samui+’ program, covering Ko Samui, Ko Pha-ngan, and Ko Tao. Exciting developments if you ask me!

5 FAQs about the Phuket “Sandbox” scheme

Since the beginning of the scheme, I have been inundated with questions from my clients. In case you have some of your own, here are the top five questions I get asked and my answers to them:

How long does the COE application take after applying via the COE Online website?

As long as you have provided all the necessary documentation, it takes 3 working days for your local Thai embassy or consulate to process.

Do I need to bring all the required COE documentation with me on arrival to Phuket?

Yes. It’s a safer bet to carry all your documents with you in case you are contacted and need to show proof. My tip is to keep electronic copies on your phone too, in case you lose them! Trust me, nothing is certain when traveling.

Once I have passed the screening, can I take public transportation to get to my accommodation?

No. During the process of booking your accommodation, you should have provided notice to arrange transport from the airport to the accommodation. Double-check your booking or speak to a representative from your chosen accommodation for details on transport. 

During my stay, if I test positive, what will happen?

If a test comes back positive, you’ll be sent to the nearest hospital for appropriate treatment. Do note that you will have to pay for the hospital expenses, which should be covered in your insurance plan. Now we know why it’s a requirement to secure insurance before arriving in Phuket. You just never know, right?

Where can I get an RT-PCR test done in Phuket?

Luckily for you, Phuket has several top hospitals and all of them can provide an RT-PCR test. Do take cash with you as the cost ranges from THB ฿2,500-4,000 Baht per person, which you have to fork out yourself.

I hope I have provided you with some useful information about the Phuket “Sandbox” scheme. I am very excited about the developments down south and hope they will benefit the rest of the country. The future is bright!

For more information, you can visit the TAT website here.

If you’ve got any questions at all about the Phuket “Sandbox” scheme, COVID-19 insurance plans, or about securing the best travel insurance plan, then you’re more than welcome to reach out to me at ajarn@pacificprime.co.th or contact my team at Pacific Prime.  


I understand. No harm to ask I guess:) Thanks anyway

By Jake, China (21st July 2021)

Jake, no disrespect but you're asking immigration and TEFL course questions to a guy who specializes in health insurance.

By Phil, Samut Prakan (21st July 2021)

Hi. I'm trying to get some clarity on a couple of points. Hopefully you can do that for me. I'm planning to travel to Phuket in the next month or so to visit a friend who is not well. I'd like to stay for at least 6 months or longer. I can get a visa on arrival, but it's only for 30 + 15 days (quarantine time), so not long enough to make the trip worthwhile. I spoke to the Thai embassy here and asked about extending the "visa on arrival" after I arrive. I asked is it possible (it used to be) and if it is, how many times can I do that. They said that this was at the discretion of Thai immigration in Thailand and the embassy here couldn't answer the question. They did say that it might not be possible due to the virus and I would have to provide a good reason why I would want to extend. So my first questions are as per above - is it true that its hard to extend a "visa on arrival" now? Do I have to provide a good reason for doing so? What would be a good reason? If it's possible, do you know how many times it can be extended (approx)?

I was told I could apply for a ST (special tourist) Visa - valid for 90 days. But to get that I need to have 90 days of accommodation pre-booked. This sounds a bit much.

So I am now considering enrolling in a TEFL/TESL course in Phuket. It seems that many of the companies/schools offering these courses also offer internships/jobs after completing the course. That sounds like a good plan. The embassy said it was not possible to do that unless I was studying at a university in Thailand. This seems to contradict what the businesses/schools are saying.

So my second question; after I arrive in Phuket, is it possible to enrol in a TEFL/TESL course that offers internships/job after completing the course? And, if it is, can the business/school I study with arrange a student or work visa (in Phuket) that lasts for at least 6 months?

Apologies for the length of my comments. I will be very grateful for any clarity you can throw on these issues.

By Jake, China (21st July 2021)

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