The biggest news over the weekend was the last minute increase of the number of approved countries and territories to 63. Great news for anyone planning on flying to Thailand during the upcoming high season. Like I said before, I don’t advise for you to rush to come during the first half of November, as there will undoubtedly be teething problems during the transition. Anyway, the best time to have a holiday in Thailand is December and January when it doesn’t usually rain and it isn’t so hot. From what I have heard from tour operators, they are already getting bookings for late December and the first quarter in 2022. For the UK market, they are expecting 20-30% of their usual numbers which isn’t a bad start.
My entry to the UK was quite simple and straightforward compared to the amount of paperwork and hoops that are needed to jump through for my return to Thailand. For the UK, all I had to do is fill out a passenger locator form 48 hours in advance of my flight and also book a RT-PCR test. Please note, that since I booked my test, you now have a choice to do the cheaper lateral flow test. However, I need the RT-PCR test for my return to Thailand which must be done no more 72 hours before departure. Which in my case worked out quite well as I will be doing the test for UK authorities on Monday afternoon and I will use the same test results to re-enter Thailand.
For the UK passenger locator form, all I had to enter were details about my passport, travel history, address of accommodation, booking reference number for the Covid-19 test, and vaccination details. They didn’t ask for insurance. After I had submitted all of my details, I received an automatic email back with a PDF of the information I had filled out and also a QR-Code. That was it. Unlike in Thailand where you have to wait 3-7 days for a response. When I checked in at Suvarnabhumi airport, the airline staff asked to see my vaccine certificate (I showed them the green one issued by the hospital) and my passenger locator form. When I arrived in the UK, Immigration didn’t ask to see anything. By the way, I have my yellow vaccine passport with me, but so far, I haven’t used it. At the WTM 2021 travel fair, I just showed the certificate issued by the hospital. Others showed their yellow vaccine passport. They didn’t really care which one.
To go back to Thailand I need a Certificate of Entry or COE for short. This was done in two parts. It can take up to seven days and so I had to do it quickly as I am only away for six days. I had to upload things like passport photo page, visa page (in my case the re-entry permit), and insurance. The following day, I received an email from the Thai embassy in London saying I was pre-approved. I then had to go back on their site and add extra details such as travel plans, flight tickets and proof of paid accommodation. Then the following day, I received another email to say that my application was approved and they gave me a link to download my COE. So less than three days and not really a hassle at all. I wasn’t expecting it to be that quick. But still, the passenger locator form for the UK wins hands down as the results were instant. I did speak to a senior tourism official about this and he said that in the coming weeks and months we could see the process being simplified even more. So, hopeful at some stage it will be quick and simple like in the UK.
Which brings us to today, the 1st of November. This morning, the Thailand Pass went online. This basically replaces the COE for most people, though any COE already issued remains valid. There were two reasons that I woke up early to apply for this. Firstly, I wanted to see how much easier and quicker it will be compared to COE. And secondly, for my COE, I had to buy an expensive one-year insurance policy to cover the length of my remaining visa. The day after I had bought it and uploaded it to the COE site, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs came out to say that expats can now use their social security or regular private insurance. So, I wanted to use my social security number to apply for the Thailand Pass and then, if it was successful, quickly try and cancel my insurance before it is activated on Wednesday. But things didn’t go to plan.
The system went online at 9:00 a.m. Thai time, which was 2:00 a.m. here in the UK. I had to enter personal information about myself and my passport, vaccination details including my certificate, contact details and accommodation booking, and finally my insurance information. This time I entered my social security number. But on the last page I got this message: “Error from API server”. I tried multiple times over the following 12 hours but still no luck. Many people had the same problem as me. However, some managed to get it to work. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs say they are aware of the problem and they are working on fixing it. According to one spokesperson, it should be up and running for everyone by tomorrow, the 2nd of November. Let’s see.
UPDATE: several people suggested putting spaces after my passport. I tried one space first, but it didn’t work. Then I tried four spaces and it did. Now I’m waiting for the email to say my application is approved and for the QR-Code. I will let you know in my next special dispatch.