So what I’d like to do would be to find somewhere to go and sit out this winter of discontent, somewhere warmer (not just a personal preference; the cold, damp weather is starting to seriously affect my mobility), somewhere with no Brexit-induced food shortages/price hikes to look forward to but mostly, of course, somewhere with lower virus levels, or at least more space to isolate and avoid it.
A great buzz went around the travel community a short while ago when Thailand announced a new nine month ‘tourism’ visa.
The visa would require you to isolate for fourteen days on arrival (using a selection of Bangkok hotels), but ok that’s fine; give me a wifi connection and I’ll occupy myself for a couple of weeks if I have to.
Then you’d be free to remain for nine months (or actually three lots of three months), enjoying a country with a low rate of infection, an excellent medical service, warmer weather and lower prices.
Sounds too good to be true? Probably because it is.
This visa costs 2,000 Bahts or around £50/US$63 (since it is a three-months-then-renew deal, it is assumed that you will have to pay again every three months).
However you can only apply for the visa (known as the STV, or Special Tourist Visa) through a third party company, and this company charges a further 10,000 Bahts. Ok, price is mounting up but probably still not a bad deal if you intend to spend the whole winter in Thailand.
Right, then you have to pay for one of their approved hotels to do your quarantine (undisclosed fee but most people suggesting it will be around £2,000). Then you have your flight; Skyscanner are showing flights to Bangkok from London for a reasonable £300, normally with a quick stop in Austria or Germany. However this visa requires you to book your flight via this third party website (again no real indication of cost).
Then you have a medical insurance requirement and at least 90 days worth of ongoing accommodation (after they release you from quarantine) to show.
The trouble is that you can’t lower your costs by shopping around for a better deal on all these things because so many of the costs are controlled by this agency.
Even if you decide that it is still worth it, they do rather make you jump through hoops to get in. Basically the process is:
- Let the Thai officials know that you intend to apply (this gives them chance to look you up and make sure that you aren’t undesirable to them)
- Apply for visa. Pay fees. Produce evidence of suitable flight, insurance, quarantine hotel and onwards accommodation for at least 90 days
- Collect visa from nearest consulate (must be done in person)
- Obtain negative Covid test result and fit to fly certificate. In UK this costs from £150-200. There has been a lot of problems with test results not coming through in time and people losing money through being unable to take their flights.
- Arrive in Thailand. Temperature and health screenings.
- Go to your quarantine hotel for 14 days
- After quarantining for 14 days you are now free to download a track and trace app on your phone (compulsory, or you can opt for a wristband) and you can then travel to your pre-booked onwards accommodation, which can be anywhere in Thailand.
Thailand has long been lamenting how it attracts the wrong kind of tourist; they want to move away from the backpacker and towards the wealthier traveller. Thailand call this kind of traveller the ‘super-rich’, someone who will be staying a while and spending a sizeable chunk of their money in Thailand.
Possibly the Thai authorities see this as an opportunity to re-brand the country. I’m sure there are a few people with love/business interests in Thailand who have been eagerly awaiting the chance to go back in (Thailand has been effectively closed to pretty much any foreign national who was outside of the country when this all kicked off in March).
However It does seem unlikely that a lot of other people are going to want to take up the option as it stands with these rules and the (often unquantifiable) expense. The super rich (so beloved by Thai officials) would probably have better options to spend their money.
I won’t be going to Thailand right now anyway. Back to the drawing board, I think.
Note: the photos are from 2013-14