The dark days of Thailand’s traveling scene are almost over as the highly-anticipated Phuket Sandbox, the government’s tourism-reviving scheme, kicks off on July 1. The island destination is welcoming back international travelers, who can now look forward to living it up in this sun-kissed paradise in the southern part of the kingdom.
The Sandbox program was conceived in response to the increased rates of COVID-19 vaccination in many countries across the globe. With many individuals having completed their inoculations, the authorities have deemed it appropriate to reopen the country to tourists without the need for quarantine, and Phuket was selected as the program’s pilot area because of its widespread popularity.
The initiative is not as straightforward as it sounds, however. Here’s everything you need to know about this government program:
What exactly is Phuket Sandbox?
Phuket Sandbox is a pilot program launched by Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in partnership with Phuket Tourist Association in hopes of reviving the country’s severely-affected tourism industry. Through this scheme, vaccinated tourists are allowed to visit the popular island destination without having to undergo quarantine.
Aspiring travelers are required to stay in an accommodation with a SHA+ (SHA Plus) certificate issued by the Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration and to undergo three COVID-19 screening tests during their stay.
Who is eligible to travel to Phuket from abroad?
- Tourists aged 18 and over from medium/low-risk countries (scroll down for lists) who have been fully vaccinated for more than 14 days before their departure and able to show a vaccination certificate (see the lists of countries below)
- Unvaccinated children from ages 6 to 18, provided they test negative on arrival at Phuket International Airport
- Unvaccinated children aged 5 and below traveling with fully vaccinated parents or guardians (also needs to get a test on arrival).
- Thais and foreigners who live in Thailand and are returning from medium/low-risk countries.
* Please note that "for now" all passengers must take a direct flight to Phuket International Airport, which means transits at Suvarnabhumi Airport are ineligible for Phuket Sandbox.
The authorities emphasized that all aspiring visitors must receive vaccines approved by the World Health Organization or Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration. So far, these include AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm and Pfizer.
In the meantime, those who do not meet one or more of the criteria above have to undergo a 14-day quarantine. You can check out the list of medium/low-risk countries at the bottom of this page.
What do I need to prepare before flying to Phuket?
Updated August 18
- Book a hotel room in Phuket for at least seven days. Make sure that the hotel is SHA+-certified.
- Once your booking is confirmed, you’ll receive a SHABA (SHA Booking Authentication) QR code. Have this code with you at all times; you’ll need to show it many times throughout the entire process.
- Schedule your PCR tests in Thailand through this link. You need your SHABA certification for this. Each visitor still needs to take three COVID tests and test negative during their first 14 days in the kingdom. The three tests will cost B8,000 (around US$240). This will be refunded if you are denied a CoE.
- You’ll need your SHABA certificate and RT-PCR schedules to apply for a Certificate of Entry (CoE) at the Thai Embassy/Consulate in your country of departure. Click here for information on how to apply for a CoE. Applications may take three to 15 days to be approved, so it’s best to apply at least 15 days before your departure date.
- Some tourists may need a visa to enter Thailand. Click on this link to check.
- Once your CoE is granted, then it’s time to start preparing these documents:
- Medical certificate showing a negative result on an RT-PCR test, issued no more than 72 hours before departure
- COVID-19 health insurance with a minimum coverage of USD100,000
- Proof of vaccination indicating that the individual has completed the required doses, issued no less than 14 days before departure
- Fill up the T8 form (download the PDF here) and print it out.
- Download the Thailand Plus app (available on App Store and Play Store) onto your smartphone. You’ll need this as a location tracker when traveling in Phuket—and beyond
- Go to entrythailand.go.th and follow the steps, which should take about 10 minutes.
- Now, you’re all set. So go on and book a flight. You’ll need to bring all the required documents in paper form to present at the check-in counter before boarding the plane. Welcome to Thailand, mate.
What do I have to do once I arrive in Phuket?
- Go through immigration and customs procedures (of course)
- Take an RT-PCR test
- Register with the Present the Thailand Plus app to the authorities
- Check-in at a pre-booked accommodation with a SHA Plus certification
- Go from the airport directly to your accommodation using the SHA+-certified transfer service. No stops or visits along the way allowed.
What if I test positive with COVID-19 upon arrival?
You’ll be isolated at one of the ASQ (alternative state quarantine) hotels, which may not be the same hotel you’ve booked, at your own expense. Your insurance (see above) should cover this, though.
What can I do during my stay in Phuket
Updated August 18
If you tested negative at the airport, you’re free—relatively—to start your vacation on the island. You will have to undergo two more RT-PCR tests, on day 6 and day 13 of your stay, at your hotel’s partner hospital. You’ve pre-paid for these, so there shouldn’t be any additional expenses.
You would need to stay in Phuket for at least 14 days before traveling to other domestic destinations in Thailand.
In Phuket, you will need to stay at one hotel for at least seven consecutive days. If your second test comes out negative, you’re free to transfer to another SHA+ hotel in Phuket for another seven days. Bear in mind though, that you will still have to take a third RT-PCR test at your next destination. If your third test comes out negative on your 13th day, then you’re free to travel to other domestic destinations in Thailand.
In case of stays less than 14 days, you can only fly out of Phuket or Koh Samui to an international destination.
During your stay at SHA+ hotels, you are required to meet the SHA+ Manager at your hotel every day regarding your itinerary. Wearing a face mask is required when out in public.
I've heard about the Phuket Sandbox 7+7 that allows me to hop between islands. What is it
Updated August 18
Under the new Phuket Sandbox 7+7 Extension program, launched last 16 August, fully vaccinated international tourists can fly into the popular island destination and stay for only seven (7) days instead of the previously mandated 14 days. After spending a week in Phuket, they can travel to nearby destinations, including Krabi, Phang-Nga or Surat Thani (which is home to Koh Samui, another well-known destination and host of a similar Samui Plus tourist initiative). They would have to stay in these new destinations for another seven nights.
To be able to travel within this program, you must apply for a special CoE for Phuket Sandbox 7x7. If you are a regular Sandbox CoE holder, you can't hop between islands yet, sorry.
Can I travel to Phuket from Bangkok?
Updated August 16
No, you can’t. Phuket has just elevated its COVID-19 “wall” to the highest level. The province isn’t even allowing domestic visitors to fly in until the end of August. All domestic flights from Bangkok have been suspended and the main road access has been sealed off.
Not even by car?
Updated August 16
No. Phuket only allows certain individuals to enter, such as residents (with a house registration), those bringing in food supplies and owners/workers of essential businesses on the island.
How is Phuket doing?
Updated August 18
Currently, Phuket is seeing an increase in the number of COVID-19-positive cases per day. As a result, the authorities have implemented several measures regarding the operations of certain venues to contain the spread.
- The following venues have been ordered to shut down:
- Entertainment venues, such as pubs, bars, karaoke, massage parlors and bathhouses
- Fighting cock/bull/fish venues, horse racetracks and racetracks of all types
- Snooker and billiard venues
- Arcades and Internet cafés
- Boxing stadiums, boxing gyms and martial art gyms
- Public and private swimming pools
- Educational institutions of all types, except private schools where the number of students per class does not exceed five people
- Shopping malls and community malls are still allowed to operate as usual.
- Convenience stores can operate between 04:00 and 23:00.
- Restaurants can provide services for diners but cannot serve alcoholic beverages.
- All kinds of indoor sports venues are allowed to open until 21:00, but no activities requiring physical contact are permitted. Audience and gatherings are prohibited.
The Phuket Sandbox is in many ways an experiment designed to rejuvenate the Thai tourism industry amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the organizers have prepared five worst-case scenarios that would lead to the cancellation of the scheme.
- More than 90 positive cases are logged within one week.
- Infections are detected in at least three districts or more than six sub-districts of Phuket.
- More than three clusters are found without indication of origin.
- The number of infected individuals doesn’t exceed 80 percent of available beds in Phuket hospitals.
- The outbreak is uncontrollable.
A four-step measurement is also in preparation in case of inevitable cancellation:
- Reduce the number of activities allowed on the island.
- Narrow down the list of areas tourists can go to in order to contain the spread.
- Designate accommodations exclusively for quarantine.
- Cancel the Sandbox program.
Get more information on Phuket Sandbox from the TAT’s official website. Below is the list of medium/low-risk countries according to the Department of Disease Control (updated on June 16, 2021):