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Summary of the Reopening of Thailand

Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
I hope you enjoyed the special dispatches about my preparations to fly to the UK and then back again to Thailand during the first week of the reopening of the country to fully vaccinated visitors. The special newsletter today is a brief summary of everything I went through over the last two weeks. There was a lot of anxiety, confusion and last-minute panic. But I got there in the end. As a side note, the weekly “Letters from Thailand” will return on Sunday. There will be a competition to win a copy of the latest Michelin Food Guide to Thailand. This special newsletter will be in six parts.

Part 1 - Going to the UK
Talking with the Minister of Tourism and Sports and the TAT Governor at WTM 2021
Talking with the Minister of Tourism and Sports and the TAT Governor at WTM 2021
This first section is about my experience of flying from Thailand to the UK to attend WTM 2021 at the invitation of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. I was only in the UK for around four days before I flew back home to Thailand.
Around 48 hours before I flew to the UK, I had to fill out a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) about my travel history, travel plans coming to the UK, and my vaccination status. I was lucky that recently the rules had been eased so that people from Thailand did not need to quarantine if they had been fully vaccinated with approved vaccines. In my case, I had been double jabbed with AstraZeneca. Friends who were vaccinated with Sinovac weren’t so lucky as they would need to quarantine.
I also had to book a Day 2 Covid-19 test in advance as the reference number is needed for the PLF. At the time of our booking, it was supposed to be a RT-PCR test. But this was later relaxed to be the cheaper rapid lateral flow test. This didn’t matter to us as we needed to get a RT-PCR test within 72 hours of our departure to Thailand. So, we were able to kill two birds with one stone. We booked one that came to the hotel to do it. I believe you can also do a walk-in at some Boots stores or even at the airport.
When I was doing research about the PLF, I saw many people complain about the form saying it was complicated and didn’t always work. Much the same as people are also complaining about the Thailand Pass form. However, my experience was pretty straightforward. I filled in all the details that were asked for and almost immediately I received back an automatic email that contained a PDF of my Passenger Locator Form. That was it!
USEFUL LINKS:
Part 2 - Flying on Thai Airways
Onboard the Thai Airways flight - safety first!
Onboard the Thai Airways flight - safety first!
When I checked in at the Thai Airways counter at Suvarnabhumi Airport, they asked for my Passenger Locator Form and for my vaccination certificate. I had both the hospital certificate and the yellow vaccine passport. I decided to show the hospital certificate and it was accepted. In fact, I never used the yellow vaccine passport during this entire trip. But that doesn’t mean it was useless. Other people told me it was accepted at all places that they showed it, including at the WTM event in London. I think it also has the advantage that it is small and slim and can easily slip into my passport. So, I would use that for future trips.
* As a side note, you used to be able to buy the vaccine passport at the airport, but they are not doing that anymore.
As you can see by the above picture, the Thai Airways staff on the airplane were all wearing protective clothing including mask and hairnet. However, on the return journey from London, they were wearing their regular uniforms with masks. I am not sure why they did that. None of the passengers were wearing PPE. But I guess it is a union thing. There have been some studies about plane travel which suggests that if you fly on one of the newer planes, like the Boeing that we were on, then you are safer than say standing in a supermarket queue. This is because they use HEPA filters which scrubs the air clean of nearly all the virus.
I also took my CO2 meter with me that showed the ventilation was good. On the first leg of the journey, when the plane was 80% full, the CO2 reading peaked at 1222 ppm which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. That’s lower than some supermarkets. Then for the second leg to London, when there were only 50 passengers onboard, the reading dropped to only 664 ppm. To put it in perspective, my taxi ride to the airport peaked at 3190 ppm. So the taxi ride was potentially more dangerous than the plane ride. Which made me feel better when I had to take off my mask to eat the two meals that they served. 
Part 3 - Experience in London
In a wet and cold London
In a wet and cold London
My arrival in London went very smoothly. We went through Immigration and picked up our baggage very quickly. No-one asked to see our Passenger Locator Form. I presume this is because it was checked in Bangkok and there was no need to check again. So, that was a very smooth arrival in the UK. On my return to Thailand, I would be detained in a hotel room while my RT-PCR test is at the lab. In London, we were free to go anywhere straight away. Our only obligation was to take the Day 2 RT-PCR test that we had booked in advance. In our case, we were allowed to do it on day three.
It was nice that we had the freedom, but there are risks involved in that. Particularly as none of us had done an RT-PCR test before leaving Thailand. (That’s not a requirement for flying to the UK.) When we arrived at our hotel, I was surprised to see no-one at the front desk wearing a mask. Especially as we had just stepped off the plane and hadn’t done any tests yet. Their attitude seemed to be that they are fully vaccinated and so there were no risks. In fact, when we went out and about, most people weren’t wearing masks. Even on public transport where there were announcements to wear masks. I think only Asians and tourists were wearing masks.
Part 4 - Preparing to Return to Thailand
Back in Thailand
Back in Thailand
Compared to flying to the UK, my return trip to Thailand was nerve-racking. Very nerve-racking. But like I said many times, it is not a good idea to fly to Thailand during this transition period between the Certificate of Entry (COE) and the new Thailand Pass. My original advice was to wait at least two weeks. In fact, if you are not in a rush, I would advise to wait until December or January as the Thailand Pass system is still buggy. In addition, there could be an update on 15th November and on 1st December that will ease some entry rules. For example, the TAT is pushing to drop the requirement for the pre-flight RT-PCR test. This is because in some countries, it is difficult or even impossible to get this test done. They also want the RT-PCR test on arrival to Thailand to be changed to the cheaper and faster lateral flow test like they already do in the UK. If this happens, then it will be a literal “Test and Go” at the airport and no need to wait at a hotel. But I cannot see that change happening before December. Maybe in January.
Last week I originally applied for the Certificate of Entry as I didn’t think there would be time for me to apply for the Thailand Pass. The system was being launched on the 1st of November and I was flying back on the 3rd of November. The COE was relatively easy to do though it was done in two parts. After the initial pre-approval, I then had to upload plane tickets and hotel booking. Which I did straight away. The next day, I then received the Certificate of Entry. Total time was three days. I then decided to apply for the Thailand Pass just for the experience to see if it was easier to apply, and easier to enter Thailand compared to people arriving with CEO. I also wanted to see if they would accept my social security digital card as the rule to allow this was changed the day after I had applied for my Certificate of Entry. As you probably know already, the process to apply for the Thailand Pass was far from smooth.
The Thailand Pass was due to go online at 9:00am which was 2:00am in the UK. I set the alarm to wake myself up. At first, I thought it wouldn’t take too long. After all, I had all the documents ready on my iPad. The only thing I had to do differently was to do screenshots of the PDF files as the system only accepts JPG images. (By the way, they will update this soon to allow to upload PDF files). The other problem is that you can only upload one file. So, if the PDF has multiple pages, then you need to do a photo collage.
For the Thailand Pass I needed to upload these five documents:
  1. The photo page in my passport
  2. My medical insurance
  3. My vaccination certificate
  4. The QR code for my vaccine certificate
  5. My hotel booking (including RT-PCR testing)
I also had to enter personal details like passport number and date of birth and the date of arrival in Thailand. Unlike for the COE, I didn’t need to upload my visa or my flight ticket. On the last page I clicked submit and….. Nothing. It came up with a server error. Like other people, I tried multiple times before giving up. The next day I took the advice of some people and entered four spaces after my passport number and straight away I got the “success message”. Around 13 hours after this, I received an “automatic email” from the consular department in Bangkok saying my registration had been received and the results would be sent to me within seven working days. I was due to fly to Thailand the following day.
Twelve hours after the receiving the automatic email, I then got another email with my QR Code. Great news for me and other expats as that also meant that they had accepted my social security digital card (the link for applying for the digital card is below). Then a minute later I received another QR Code and then eight emails saying my application had been rejected due to duplicate registration. I panicked at first as I thought that they had rescinded my original QR Code. But I scanned that on my smartphone and it went to a website that said it was verified.
The email clearly said that I only needed to present these three things on check-in and on landing in Thailand:
  1. Passport with visa (if required)
  2. Thailand Pass QR Code (on mobile device or printed copy)
  3. Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID-19 is not detected through RT-PCR test (issued within 72 hours before departure).
Not everyone’s experience with the Thailand Pass registration system was the same. Some had no problem from the start. Some got their QR Code straight away. Some, like myself got it within 1-3 days. Others were panicking that it wouldn’t come and wondered if they should cancel their flights. For most people I don’t think it was the best of experiences. The main problem is that you cannot check on your registration status. And when you get an email back that says something was not correct, you must then apply again from the start. So that would potentially mean another seven days. I have already heard stories of people missing flights or just giving up. But the problem is, you cannot apply for the Thailand Pass unless you pre-book the accommodation and your insurance. It is such a gamble at the moment. Who would risk it?
Going back to my story, we headed to the airport early to check-in in case of delays. Like in Bangkok, the airline must check that you have all your documents before you fly. The people I was travelling with had COE. I had Thailand Pass. I really thought that my check-in would be simple as I only needed to show three things. It wasn’t so. Although this was now the 3rd of November, they hadn’t seen a Thailand Pass before. They knew it was coming but they didn’t know what to do with the QR Code. So, they asked me for print outs of all my documents. I gave them the negative Covid-19 test that I had just done and told them that the rest is on the QR Code. But they didn’t have a QR Code reader. I said you can use your phone, but she didn’t have an app.
Luckily, I had print outs of everything already. But my problem came with the insurance. She wanted to see the insurance policy where it said I have Covid-19 insurance coverage up to $50,000. All I had was my social security digital card. I showed it to her, but she wasn’t happy. I told her that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wouldn’t have issued me a Thailand Pass if they hadn’t accepted my social security. After a while, she found a colleague that had a QR reader on his phone and he scanned my QR Code. This then went to the website which said I was verified. She still wasn’t convinced but finally let me go. Hopefully, people who fly out in the coming days and weeks will have an easier time at check-in. But all was good in the end.
USEFUL LINKS:
Part 5 - Experience in Bangkok
At the Grand Palace
At the Grand Palace
After all the preparation, now was the big moment. Would the Thailand Pass give me automatic entry into Thailand? Would I test positive for Covid-19 and be sent to hospital for ten days? There were a lot of worries and uncertainties before I arrived in Thailand. But it wasn’t over yet. I keep asking myself, what kind of tourist would put themselves through this kind of thing? Surely it is the opposite meaning of a holiday?
I must admit that the arrival went much more smoothly and quicker than I thought it would. I disembarked from the airplane at 6:05 a.m. and was in the van heading to my hotel by 6:49 a.m. I arrived at my Bangkok hotel at 7:31 a.m., did the check-in and Covid-19 test and was in my room by 7:43 a.m. So, about one hour and 45 minutes from the airplane to my hotel room. Some people told me they did it quicker than me. Others said they were unlucky as several planes landed at the same time and it took more than two hours just to get out of the airport.
I arrived in Thailand on 4th November. At that time, not many people had the Thailand Pass. I think most were still using the Certificate of Entry. Arrival with a COE is more time consuming as they must go through all your documents check every detail. The idea with the Thailand Pass is that they just scan the QR Code and then they get a verification message that all my documents were in order. That was the theory anyway.
When I went up to the counter, I flashed the QR Code and said I had the Thailand Pass. But I was kind of saddened that he didn’t seem that interested, nor did he scan it after all that effort. I handed him my passport together with my TM6 arrival card and boarding pass. I also gave him the negative Covid-19 test results. He then asked me for my vaccination certificate. I told him it was on the QR Code but for some reason he still didn’t want to scan it. So, I gave him the vaccine certificate given to me by the hospital. But that was it. He let me pass. For those coming with a COE, he checked all their documents including insurance which he didn’t for me. I am presuming as it was still early days, they weren’t scanning the QR Code yet. Maybe they are doing so now. I would hope so, otherwise it would be a bit pointless.
Next was Immigration which was completely empty. Like when I departed, I had to put my hands on the fingerprint scanner. But someone cleaned it for me before I did that. I would have been in and out of here in a minute but there was a problem with my re-entry permit. The Immigration officer who stamped this for me last week got the date of issue and date of expiry stamps the wrong way round. So, she had to call her supervisor and it took about 10 minutes for them to sort out. I always tell people to always double check the stamps in their passport as they do make mistakes sometimes. Once they gave me a two-year extension of stay. If I had waited two years before I went back, they made it clear to me that I would have been fined for overstay, deported and then probably blacklisted. So, check and check again.
After Immigration there was another delay with the bags and then out through customs. They seemed bored and so asked many people to have random bags x-rayed. I am not sure what they were looking for. Then out to the arrival lounge where people in PPE suits were sitting at tables holding names of hotels. Someone asked me before if their girlfriend could meet them here and go with them to the hotel. The answer is definitely no, as this is a restricted area. Plus, you are basically under quarantine until you get your test results back. My hotel had organised a shared van as part of the package. You could also pay 2,000 baht extra for a private limousine service. Our driver wore a PPE suit and there was a plastic screen between him and us. I noticed that he had the recirculating air button turned on which meant after a while, I was starting to breathe in air that had been in the lungs of the other passengers. So, I quickly asked him to turn this off.
Not all hotels are the same. The bigger hotels had partnered up with local hospitals and they have a nurse on standby to do the RT-PCR test at the hotel. Smaller hotels use a swab centre at a hospital or medical clinic. The driver takes you there first and then to your hotel. In my case it was done at the hotel after I had checked in. I was then escorted up to my room where I was to remain until the results came out. They didn’t give me a keycard. They also told me that the lifts wouldn’t work without one. Which meant that when I wanted to check out, I would have to call down to the lobby to ask someone to come and take me down. Obviously, I could leave the room in case of a fire and go down the fire exit.
The amount of time you need to wait also varied from hotel to hotel. My hotel told us during booking that if we arrived before 8:00 a.m. then the results would be back by the evening of the same day. Meaning you could check out if you want to and go home or continue on your journey if you are a tourist. But when we arrived they said the results wouldn’t be back until the following day. In the end it took 28 hours for me to get the telephone call to say that I had tested negative and could check out. I can tell you, that was a really long 28 hours. Particularly as I was hearing from people on the same plane as me, at a different hotel, being released much earlier than me. This is definitely something that needs to be sorted. In Phuket, it is much faster and more efficient.
When I arrived in my room, I scanned a QR Code to order my three meals and to choose the time that I wanted it delivered. Again, the three meals were part of the package. When the meals arrived, someone knocked on the door. When I opened the door, there was no-one in sight, but the food was on a table. They had a TV on the wall with international channels. The mini bar was empty, but I had brought some snacks along with me and some beer from the plane. I had also brought my Firestick so I could watch Netflix and Disney Plus on the television.
I got the call from reception at 11:28 a.m. that I had tested negative and was free to go. That was a big weight off my mind. I was being careful in London but you never no. Just because I am vaccinated, it doesn’t mean I am immune. This morning I tweeted the statistics that said out of the 12,810 people that had landed at Suvarnabhumi airport over the last seven days to do the Test and Go program, three people had tested positive. What happened to them? Well, one of them contacted me already to tell his story.
They are a family of four who came here for a 13-day holiday. The father tested positive and was sent to a hospital for ten days. The mother and the two children, aged two and four, are close contacts and so were told to stay in the quarantine hotel. Obviously at their own expense. He believes they will have to do another test on day 3 or 4 and if they test negative, then they might be able to go. But they would have to go without him as he is expecting to stay in hospital for at least ten days. He doesn’t have any symptoms and he is really hoping his insurance will cover the cost. He thinks it will cost him around 350,000 baht. What a nightmare and not really a good advertisement for coming to Thailand.
I think quite a few people will rightly decide not to take this gamble. Particularly if they are coming with children. If you are not desperate, then maybe it would be better to wait until more of the rules are eased. Or at least wait for the Covid-19 situation to stabilise more. Which might mean waiting until January or so. If you do come, then come with your eyes open and be prepared for this gamble. Though admittedly, the odds are in your favour. Out of 28,832 people who arrived in Thailand over the last week, only 0.09% tested positive. Those are good odds.
Part 6 - Update about the Thailand Pass
The Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent out this update the day before yesterday which includes a phone number that you can use to contact them.
Mr. Tanee Sangrat, Director-General of the Department of Information and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that the difficulties encountered by some of the registrants of Thailand Pass who were unable to receive their QR Codes may be due to the following reasons:
1. Registrants did not upload vaccination documents according to the recommendations in the application form, hence the documents uploaded were not clear requiring officials to check the documents manually instead of digitally.
2. The information and documents attached were incorrectly filled in, including information on the hotel used which was not connected to the hospitals offering the RT-PCR tests.
3. The same information was entered multiple times leading to confusion in the consideration process. Some names were registered multiple times but with different information. For example, one name was registered to enter through the EQ scheme and then registered again to enter through the Sandbox Scheme.
4. Some registered their emails incorrectly or because their mailboxes were full, they were then not able to receive their confirmation emails and QR Codes. It was later discovered that the Hotmail accounts in particular did not receive confirmation emails which the government is now addressing with the Microsoft Company. For the time being, it is recommended that registrants use another email besides Hotmail.
5. Travelers should ensure time in advance to check vaccination certification documents. Even though the announcement states that the consideration process takes up to 7 days but on average the officials of the Ministry of Public Health are able to check the vaccination certification documents within 3 days. For those who have an urgent necessity or emergency, please contact the Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate in your country.
6. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Digital Government Development Agency and the Department of Disease Control are in constant communication and coordination in order to address all of the technical issues and improve the Thailand Pass system to facilitate travelers into the country, namely
-to improve the system to enable registrants to upload pdf files,
- to provide a drop down list for choosing hotels that are connected to hospitals and to add a function to check on progress in consideration of your application without having to register again,
- to speed up coordination on adding to the list of 30 countries for which the digital vaccine certificate is available, which will reduce the burden for officials in checking documents and minimize consideration time.
For any additional queries, they can be addressed to the call center of the Department of Consular Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs at 02 572 8442, which has added 30 additional lines for this purpose.
I will be having a meeting with the Director General at the consular department this week. I want to talk to him about my experiences and frustrations with the Thailand Pass and also to forward to him some of the problems noted by others. Once this meeting has been confirmed, I will post on my Twitter and Facebook and I will invite people to send in their questions and suggestions.
Useful Tweets
Richard Barrow
I’ve landed safely at Suvarnabhumi Airport. We disembarked from the airplane at 6:05am and were in the van leaving the airport at 6:49am. This is a THREAD of my experience of arriving with Thailand Pass and then the hotel. Overall, it was fast and efficient. I give them 10/10. https://t.co/mGu7JFSegD
Richard Barrow
Top 10 “countries of origin” for people travelling to Thailand from 1-7 November:
1 🇩🇪 Germany 2,666
2 🇺🇸 USA 2,665
3 🇬🇧 United Kingdom 1,475
4 🇯🇵 Japan 1,449
5 🇰🇷 South Korea 987
6 🇷🇺 Russia 959
7🇨🇭 Switzerland 949
8 🇸🇪 Sweden 817
9 🇫🇷 France 774
10 🇦🇪 UAE 565 https://t.co/G5X4rpMEPq
Richard Barrow
Arrivals to #Thailand from 1-7 November:
📌 Test & Go: 14,278 (7 infected/0.05%)
📌 Sandbox: 7,483 (8 infected/0.11%)
📌 Quarantine: 1,071 (5 infected/0.47%)
📌 TOTAL: 22,832 (20 infected/0.09%)

♦️They flew into Suvarnabhumi (14,431), Phuket (7,937), Samui (381), Chiang Mai (83) https://t.co/6tHev6ho4E
Richard Barrow
Here are the latest statistics for Thailand Pass as of Sunday 7th November 2021 at 9.00 a.m.
📌 Total registered: 92,240
📌 Total approved: 50,231
📌 Out of which, 16,798 were auto-approved
#Thailand https://t.co/4YP3ENLeK1
Richard Barrow
Video clip released by the Department of Consular Affairs at the @MFAThai about the steps that need to be taken to enter #Thailand from 1st November onwards.
✅ FAQ: https://t.co/UIXT04D6qU
✅ Registration: https://t.co/KrQrIoxQQJ #Thailand https://t.co/Rt1uJ19QM9
Richard Barrow
Big day for #Thailand as it is now being made easier for tourists to visit and for expats and Thais to return home. Out of the three schemes, Test and Go is the best option if you are fully vaccinated and are coming from one of 61 countries and territories https://t.co/KYE51XT31V https://t.co/LiRlzxLrVE
Thanks for reading this far and for subscribing to my newsletters. My regular Letters from Thailand newsletter will return on Sunday. However, whenever there is something important to go out, I will of course send it out straight away. For example, if I learn anything of interest with my meeting with the director-general of the consular department, I will send out a special newsletter. I might also send out a special newsletter about the father who had tested positive and of his experience. Make sure you subscribe so that you don’t miss any issues. Thank you for your support and see you next time.
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Richard Barrow's Letters from Thailand
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