As some of you may have seen in the news, Thailand is gearing up for a ‘soft reopening’ to vaccinated travellers a month from now on July 1.

It is official, sort of. After months of kicking sand around debating if it will really happen, the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA) has officially approved the Phuket Sandbox plan, an important step forward. The announcement, made late this afternoon, June, 4th, appears to answer the often-posed question if the sandbox plan would ever happen after the much more intense and deadly third wave of Covid-19 swept through Thailand.
Then, the island will be opening Phuket International Airport to foreign travellers as proposed by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.

The trial will be the first of its kind in the country, and if successful, may be rolled out across other parts of Thailand. The Thailand Authority of Tourism (TAT) has already earmarked Krabi, Pattaya, Bangkok, Buriram, Cha-am, Koh Samui, Phang-nga and Hua Hin as possible destinations to try out the scheme.

Each model will be slightly different, depending on geography, and international visitors will still have to get a visa in advance and fill out some paperwork (see details below). Nevertheless, this will come as promising news to those travellers desperate to visit Thailand!

If the Phuket Sandbox Scheme goes ahead, from June to September 2021, Thailand is expecting to receive up to 129,000 international visitors – will you be one of them? In this article, we’ll attempt to answer all of the questions you might have about the Phuket Sandbox and more!

Disclaimer – Information regarding the Phuket Sandbox Program is changing literally every day and is dependent on the COVID-19 situation across Thailand. While we update this article regularly to the best of our ability, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions.

Learn more about our travel guide for Phuket island here

What is Phuket Sandbox Model?

The Phuket Sandbox model was Proposed by Thailand Authorities in order to reopen the Country for International Tourists without the need of Quarantine Upon arrival. This Project will only be applied for Vaccinated Tourists and will be applied starting from the 1st of July. The Proposal States that the tourists arriving to Phuket must stay at least 14 days before moving to any other Province in Thailand. In addition to that, the project will only be applied if at least 70% of Phuket population has been vaccinated by that time. 

Updated June, 4th: We have just heard that the government have lengthened the required stay in Phuket from 7 to 14 days. You do not have to quarantine in your hotel room and will be free to move around the island, but you will not be able to leave the island until you have completed your 14 nights in a hotel. So we updated the above text from 7 days to 14 days (Source – Richard Barrow in Thailand.)

Who is eligible to travel under Phuket Sandbox Program?

Overview

  • Vaccinated Travelers from Low and Medium Risk Countries (As per the listing of The Ministry of Public Health in Thailand).
  • Travelers will have to be Vaccinated 14 Days to 1 Year Before the date of arrival.
  • For Children under 12 Years old and traveling with their Parents, they will not need to Present a Vaccine Certificate upon arrival
  • For teenagers aged between 12 and 18 years old (under 18), they will need to undergo a Rapid Antigen Test upon arrival at Phuket international Airport on their own expenses.
  • People traveling by air or sea are eligible for Phuket Sandbox.

“Fully Vaccinated“

In order to take part in the Phuket Sandbox scheme, you must be fully vaccinated with a vaccine that has been approved by the WHO or the Thai FDA (Food and Drug Administration). 

For most of the vaccines (such as Pfizer, the Moderna and AstraZeneca) you will need to have had two vaccines before you can travel, (apart from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which provides full immunisation after just one dose). Mix and match vaccines will not be accepted (for example, if you have had one AstraZeneca jab and one Pfizer jab).

You will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding the plane to Thailand. (It has not yet been decided what kind of proof is acceptable, especially as the ‘proof’ varies from country to country.) At least 2 weeks (but not more than one year) must have passed since you were inoculated before you can travel. 

Alternatively, if you can prove (with a medical certificate)  that you have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you do not have to show proof of vaccination.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you will still be allowed to fly to Phuket, however you will have to undergo quarantine in an ‘Alternative State Quarantine Hotel’ in Phuket for 14 nights and 15 days before being allowed to move around freely.

Travelling with children

Children under 6 years old who are not vaccinated will be allowed to travel to Phuket with vaccinated parents and do not need to be tested upon arrival. Those who are between 7 and 18 years old must be fully vaccinated OR be able to show a negative Rapid Antigen PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Phuket. (This has not yet been officially agreed upon and is subject to change.)

“Low Risk” Countries

The Phuket Sandbox scheme is only available to travellers coming from ‘low risk’ countries. A list of these countries has not yet been released, but it has been suggested that the risk factor will depend on the type of COVID-19 variants that are circulating in each country.

The TAT says that a list of ‘low risk countries’  will be posted soon on their website so be sure to keep an eye out there for updates. (We will also update this article when the list is released.)

COVID-19 Tests Required

You will need to have a COVID-19 PCR test showing a negative result no later than 72 hours before your arrival in Phuket. 

All visitors to Phuket will have to take a COVID-19 test on day five of their stay (This has now changed. See update below.) The test(s) will be carried out at your SHA Approved Hotel. (Guests will be expected to cover the cost of the test(s), but we’re not yet sure how much this will be.) If at any point during your stay you test positive for COVID-19 you will immediately be taken to the hospital in Phuket and treated there.

UPDATE: Since the required proposed stay on Phuket was increased from 7 to 14 days, the required COVID-19 tests have now changed. You will now be required to take a COVID-19 RT-PCR test on day 6 and day 12 of your stay before you will be allowed to travel to other parts of Thailand.

Thailand Plus App – Track & Trace

It appears that all visitors to Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox Scheme will have to download the Thailand Plus App on their mobile devices so that they can be tracked throughout the duration of their stay in Thailand (in case of a COVID-19 outbreak).

What happens when you arrive in Phuket and during your stay?

Upon arrival at Phuket International Airport

Upon arrival at Phuket international Airport, The Immigration will check your Papers and The Validity of Your COVID 19 Vaccine Certificate. In addition to That, you will have to Download and activate the Thailand Plus Mobile Application.

You will be allowed to go to your Hotel (with SHA Plus Certificate) after finishing the immigration Process. Transfer From Phuket International Airport to the Hotel must be operated by a SHA Approved Tour/ Bus Operated. (Royal Vacation is SHA Approved).

Activities and sightseeing during the stay.

Guests are allowed to do activities and tours only with a SHA Certified tour Operator. (All tours must be inside the Phuket Island). When traveling within Phuket, Guests must behave with the standards of DMHTT (Distancing – Mask wearing – Hand Washing – Testing – Thailand Plus)

All Guests will have to undergo RT PCR test on Day 6, and Day 12. If the test result is Positive, they will be transferred immediately to the hospital. If tested negative, they can continue to visit the surrounding of Phuket. NO DAY TRIP TO PHI PHI ISLAND OR PHANG NGA BAY IS ALLOWED

You may want to know what to do in and around Phuket here

Requirements during and after the Stay

Tourists must report Daily on the Thailand Plus mobile application

The Owner of the Hotel has to report the guests names to the Immigration during their Stay at the property

Guests must stay at least 14 Nights in Phuket before traveling to any other Province around the Country. They will need to do an RT PCR test 72 hours prior to Departure. In addition, they must present it with the COVID 19 Vaccination certificate to the Checking Point at this Destination.

Tourists are allowed to stay less than 14 days in Phuket and travel back to their home country or any other country. However, they are not allowed to travel to other provinces in Thailand before finishing 14 nights in Phuket.

Preparing for your Phuket trip

Visas and other Paperwork for entering Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox

Entering Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox scheme, unfortunately, comes with a few requirements. (Sorry folks, travel just ain’t as easy as it used to be!) Here is a list of all of the requirements you will need before entering Thailand. You can also find more information on the Entry Thailand Portal here.

  • Certificate of Entry – To enter Thailand via the Phuket Sandbox scheme (or any other way) you will need to apply for a Certificate of Entry, which should take no more than 72 hours to process.
  • Thailand Visa – You will need a valid visa for Thailand, either a Special Tourist Visa or a 60-Day Tourist Visa. 
  • SHA hotel booking – You will need to show proof of payment for your 7-day stay in an SHA* Approved Hotel in Phuket. (*See full explanation on this below.)
  • Proof of accommodation after 14 days – Right now, all travellers to Thailand have to show proof of accommodation for the entire duration of their stay in Thailand. It is not yet clear whether this will be a requirement for the Phuket Sandbox Scheme. 
  • Negative COVID-19 PCR Test – Taken within 72 hours of travel. (See more info below)
  • T8 Health Declaration form  – You will need to complete this form upon arrival in Phuket.
  • Proof of personal funds – You will need to show proof of at least 20,000 THB per person or 40,000 THB per family.
  • Travel insurance – You will need travel insurance with at least $100,000 USD of COVID-19 cover.

Flight to Phuket

Direct flights

Flights to Thailand are pretty cheap right now! For example, right now, you’re looking at around 400-500 GBP for a return flight from London to Phuket mid-June. Most of the flights that we found (on Skyscanner) are not direct to Phuket and involve two stops. One in Europe (usually Frankfurt or Vienna if you are flying with Lufthansa) and one in Bangkok, before arriving at your final destination of Phuket.

Transit in Bangkok

International travelers will be able to transit in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on their way to Phuket. Plans are underway to create a dedicated section of the airport and special flights for those transiting via Bangkok. More info on this soon.

Accommodation in Phuket

You do not have to stay at a particular quarantine hotel in Phuket. You are allowed to stay at any hotel or guesthouse, as long as it has been approved by the Thai Health and Safety Administration (SHA). (More explanation on this below.) You are not allowed to stay at a hotel if it is not SHA Approved nor are you allowed to stay at an Airbnb or your own property if you do happen to own one in Phuket.

Be sure to look out for a rosette badge saying ‘SHA Approved Hotel’ on the website and social media pages of the hotel you are considering. See the full list of 440 hotels in Phuket that are so far ‘SHA Approved’ here.

You’ll be pleased to hear that all hotel facilities in SHA Approved Hotels will be open. Guests can freely enjoy the hotel swimming pool, gymnasium, restaurant, bar and spa. You will also be allowed to leave the hotel and move freely around the island to visit places and go to bars and restaurants and take part in activities (see more below). 

(Apparently, if you like, you are allowed to stay at two or more different hotels in different parts of the island during your stay in Phuket, as long as any hotel that you stay at is SHA Approved.)

If you own property in Phuket: If you have your own property on the island, you will still have to book and pay for an SHA Approved hotel in order to enter Phuket. However, you are allowed to stay at your own property if you wish. You do not have to stay at the hotel you have booked. This is only a requirement for entry.

Activities in Phuket

You can partake in any activity in Phuket as long as it is operated by a company that has been approved by the Thai Health and Safety Administration (SHA). Gymnasiums, Muay Thai gyms and golf courses will be allowed to open as long as they are SHA approved. You will not be allowed to take boat trips to outlying islands, such as James Bond Island or Koh Phi Phi Island.

If the company is approved by the SHA you will see a rosette badge on their website and social media pages. (Technically, only SHA Approved companies will be allowed to open.) 

Travelling to other parts of Thailand after Phuket

After your stay at an SHA approved hotel in Phuket and after providing two negative PCR tests, vaccinated visitors will be allowed to travel freely to other parts of Thailand. (This will be subject to local restrictions in other provinces of Thailand at the time.) They will also be allowed to visit other non-vaccinated people who live in other parts of the country.

Some extra information to know

What does “SHA Approved” mean?

The SHA is the Thai Health and Safety Administration. You can check out their website here. All hotels and activities in Phuket must be SHA Approved in order to accept visitors. (You obtain the SHA Approval by having at least 70% of your staff vaccinated.)

Bars and Restaurants in Phuket

Once in Phuket, you are allowed to move freely around the island and visit bars and restaurants as you wish. Officially, the restaurants where you dine must be SHA Approved, however it is very unclear how this rule will be enforced.

Face masks

We expect that all visitors to Phuket will still have to wear a face mask when in public places on the island. Of course, you will have to wear a face mask during your flight and at the airport. At the moment there is a strict rule in place that face coverings must be worn at all times in Phuket when leaving the house. Those not adhering to this rule will be fined. We are not sure if this will change after July 1st 2021.

Renting a car in Phuket

You are allowed to rent a car in Phuket. You are allowed to pick it up at the airport when you arrive and use it to get from the airport to your hotel. (As always, you must have an International Driving License.)
Receiving Visitors in Phuket

You are allowed to have visitors in Phuket or meet friends in Phuket, who have already been in Thailand, as long as they are fully vaccinated. (They will need to provide proof of vaccination before being allowed to enter Phuket.)

Phuket’s Target & Preparations for Sandbox

Opening Phuket under the Sandbox Project is planned based on 4Ts model. This 4Ts model is Designed to Make sure that the island is well prepared to receive International Tourists with no Risk. (Targeted Segment – Testing Protocol – Tracing Application – Treating Capacity).

Targeted Segment

The Thai Government is Expecting to receive 129,000 PAX from the Phuket Sandbox Project between July and September. That would generate around 11,492.2 million Thai Baht.

The TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) is expecting more tourists from the long-haul markets more than the ones generated from the neighboring market. This can be justified for many reasons. First of all, the vaccination rollout in the long-haul countries is much faster than in the Neighbor Countries. Second, the restrictions for entering the neighbor countries are hard and quarantine is still required. However, in the long-haul markets the situation is different and more flexible.

Testing Protocol

To enter Phuket from July to September, the below testing rules will be applied:

A) International Travelers:

  • Vaccinated Adult (Over 18 Years), will need a RT PCR Test on Day 5 during Stay.
  • Non Vaccinated Adult (Over 18 Years), Will need to stay at ALQ Hotel for 14 days (Alternative Local Quarantine).
  • Youth aged between 12 and 18 Years, Will need to undergo a Rapid Antigen test at Phuket International Airport upon arrival on his own Expenses
  • Children Under 12 Years, Can Enter Phuket with their Parents with no need for Tests.

B) Domestic Travelers:

  • Vaccinated Adult (over 18 years), Can enter Phuket without the need of Doing any tests.
  • Non-vaccinated adult (over 18 years) will need to do a Rapid Antigen Test at the Check Point on his own expenses.
  • Youth aged between 12 and 18 years, Will need to do a Rapid Antigen test at Phuket International Airport upon arrival on his own expenses.
  • Children under 12 years can enter Phuket with their parents with no need for tests.

Tracing Application (Thailand Plus Application)

That said, all travelers must Download and Activate the Thailand Plus Application on their Phones. This Application will keep You updated on your current Situation by Changing the QR Code Color appearing on the App. Green Means Safe, Yellow Means Low risk, and Red means High Risk. The Application will be able to track whether during your journey you have been in contact with a COVID 19 Patient or not. In case you have been in Contact, then you will receive a Message on the Application to recommend you to be investigated and get tested by a surveillance Rapid Response team as Soon as Possible.

Treating Capacity

  • The Island is well Prepared for receiving Patients in case of Any COVID 19 Infections. Total of 9 Hospitals are Operating, 5 Public Hospitals and 4 Private Hospitals with Total of: 20 Beds for ICU (Intensive Care Units), 40 Beds at Cohort Ward, 300 Beds in Field Hospital, 120 Beds for Hospitals, and 500 Beds for Local Quarantines.
  • Risks of Infections should be Very Low by the Time of Operating the Phuket Sandbox Project for multiple reasons. Firstly, All international arrivals will either be vaccinated or in quarantine. Secondly, most of Phuket population should be vaccinated by that time and herd immunity should be already achieved.

Other Phuket sandbox FAQs

Q. Do I have to stay 14 days or 14 nights for the Phuket Sandbox?

You have to stay a minimum of 7 nights before moving to any other provinces in Thailand

Q. Can I stay in Phuket less than 14 nights?

Yes, you can, but you will have to depart to an overseas country, and you won’t be able to visit other provinces in Thailand in that case.

Q. Can I split my 14 nights stay into 2 hotels?

Yes, you can split the stay into 2 or more hotel during your 14-night stay in Phuket.

Q. Can my Thai girlfriend join me at the same hotel room?

Yes, your Thai girlfriend can join you at the same hotel room during Sandbox Program if she is vaccinated or have COVID Test to be able to enter Phuket.

Q. Can I travel to anywhere in Thailand after 14 nights?

Yes, after completing your first 14 nights in Phuket, you can travel to other provinces in Thailand. (tests may be required)

Q. Can I book my flight to Bangkok and connect to Phuket?

Yes, you can book the flights to Phuket through Bangkok (transit in Bangkok). But, make sure that your flight from Bangkok to Phuket is from the same airport of arrival

Q. Can I stay in my condo or house in the 1st 14 nights instead of staying at the hotel?

No, you only can stay at a SHA approved hotels in the first 14 nights after arriving Phuket. After that, you can stay anywhere you want.

Q. Can I use hotel facilities during the 1st 14 Nights?

Yes, you can use hotel facilities during your stay such as: swimming pool, fitness center, … under the new normal.

Final thought

Phuket has cleared the first major hurdle towards approval and with momentum, it looks like the floodgates to tourism will reopen, for better or for worse. Time will tell if it opens a stream of economy-boosting tourists to the sandbox or opens a Pandora’s (Sand) Box of the fourth wave of Covid-19.

DON’T PACK YOUR BAGS YET! Despite all the buzz around the Phuket Sandbox, if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that things can change in an instant… (For example, the very next day after writing this article, the required stay in Phuket changed from 7 to 14 days!) We highly recommend that you hold off booking flights and accommodation in Thailand (unless they are fully refundable) until the final details of the scheme have been ironed out.

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Hello, my name’s Jordan and I’m obsessed with travelling overland. Seeing how cultures change while travelling slowly captivates me; and doing so in an eco-friendly way, preserving the cultures and landscapes that so many travellers yearn to explore, has given me my travelling purpose.

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