If you’re about to apply for a Thailand tourist visa, 2020 is probably the strangest year to do it. (I imagine that 2021, at least the first several months of it, won’t be much different.)
The good news? As of November 2020, foreigners from any country can now apply for a visa to enter Thailand (and, as of December 2020, can apply for their “Certificate of Entry” entirely online!) for the purpose of tourism. The bad news? A lot of red tape stands between you and the pearly gates of Suvarnabhumi Airport, even if you are eligible to travel using the newly-reinstate visa-exempt and visa on arrival schemes.
Thankfully, I’m here to help you navigate the complications of this process, and to give you hope about it becoming simpler as time goes by.
Are Thailand’s Borders Really Open Now?
Assuming you are willing to jump through the hoops of getting a Thailand tourist visa (I’ll describe them below—just wait a moment), Thailand’s borders are indeed open to travelers from around the world, at least in theory, as of December 2020. Please note that since I haven’t attempted this myself yet, I can’t say with 100% confidence that this is true in all circumstances.
One barrier that may stand in your way is finding a flight. While regularly scheduled flights to Thailand have finally resumed, they have done so on a very limited basis. Depending upon where you originate, flights may be difficult or even impossible to find. The good news, particularly if you’re reading this in early 2021, is that more airlines are being granted authorization to resume Thailand flights with each passing month.
How to Get Your Single-Entry Tourist Visa
Visit the Thai government’s official registration website
Visa exemptions and visas on arrival were previously suspended, but have just re-opened for application using this link. Note that in some cases, you must still apply for visas to Thailand in your home country. Even if this doesn’t end up applying in your situation, I recommend contacting a Thai mission in the country that issued your passport to verify with them, one way or another. If you’re reading this in English, you will likely need to contact the Royal Thai Embassies in Washington, London, Canberra, Wellington or Ottawa.
Prepare all required documents
If you do end up having to apply for an actual Thailand tourist visa, 2020 will definitely prove a most complicated year. In addition to needing a completed application, proof of finances and a passport-sized photo, you will also need additional documentation. Notably, you will need to provide proof that you have purchased medical insurance and also, to complete a medical declaration you can download here.
Arrange quarantine accommodation
Whether you enter on a visa exemption or with a single-entry tourist visa, you will need to agree to stay in quarantine for 15 days, at your own expense. You need to finalize a booking under this arrangement, known as “Alternative State Quarantine” (ASQ), prior to submitted your application for a single-entry tourist visa.
Be (extremely) patient
While getting a Thailand tourist visa (or an exemption from one) was before a matter of waiting for the stamp of an immigration officer, it now takes some time. Notably, you need to do one of two things. If you qualify for an exemption, you need to visit this site as soon as possible and submit your materials. For a proper visa, you’ll need to apply and upload your materials no less than 15 days before your intended date of travel; getting the physical visa may take several days, particularly if you intend to apply by mail or will need to travel to the Embassy.
Get a medical exam and a Covid test
Before boarding your flight, you will need to get a medical exam, where the doctor will need to write out a certification deeming you “fit to fly.” Additionally, you will need to test negative for Covid-19 and receive written or printed proof of this. Both of these must take place no more than 72 hours before you depart for Thailand.
Tourism to Thailand Post-Covid
I’m thankful that Thailand’s border has finally begun to re-open in a broad way, after months of total closure and months, after that, of extremely limited re-opening. However, it will be a long time—many things will have to happen—before we can all just roll through immigration in minutes, as we were able to do as recently as March of 2020. Most importantly, the Covid vaccines now seeking early approval will need to become globally ubiquitous.
Once that happens (and, also, once most of Thailand’s own population is immunized), I imagine the Thailand tourist visa on arrival will be reinstated, and many of the Covid-era safeguards will be rolled back, or even abandoned all together. As far as when that will occur, it’s anyone’s guess, although I personally imagine that the world of 2022 (in travel and otherwise) will look much as the world of 2019 did.
FAQ About Visiting Thailand During Covid-19
Is Thailand safe in 2020?
If you trust official numbers, Thailand has experienced among the lowest rates of Covid-19 infection and death in the entire world. As a result, from a pandemic perspective, Thailand is totally safe to visit in 2020. On the other hand, many pre-pandemic hazards of traveling in Thailand remain, including some of the most dangerous roads on the planet, diseases like dengue fever and rabies and run-of-the-mill street crime.
Is it a good time to go to Thailand?
Assuming you don’t mind jumping through the hoops required to get a Thailand tourist visa in 2020 (or early 2021), this is a fantastic time to visit the Kingdom. Crowds are non-existent in most places; businesses (at least those that are still open—many were forced to close) will be offering incredible deals on lodging, meals, souvenirs and more. On the other hand, top destinations like Koh Samui and Phuket now feel like empty shells of their former selves.
Can I visit Thailand now?
If you can prove you are negative for Covid-19 and are willing to stay in—and pay for—quarantine for two weeks, you can visit Thailand in the coming weeks and months. However, being able to visit Thailand as was possible in the “before time” (i.e. with little premeditation, easing through Suvarnabhumi Airport with simply your passport in tow) likely won’t be possible until sometime in 2022, or maybe even later.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve never had to apply for a Thailand tourist visa, 2020 may present your first chance! I’m being facetious, obviously—the suspension of visas on arrival was nothing to celebrate, even if their recent (albeit partial) reinstatement is quite joyous. On the other hand, given that Thailand’s border was completely closed to tourists for more than half a year, the nascent re-opening is significant, particularly if you are extremely motivated to explore the Kingdom after months or years away. I encourage you to consider hiring me to plan your Thailand trip if you feel intimidated by all the barriers that still likely stand in your way, and to explore my guide to Thailand’s best destinations to get inspired, no matter when you think you might visit.