Last updated October 26, 2020

Today’s Status, Looking Towards Spring 2021 — Blue

Thailand borders opened July 1st to foreigners, but is only processing certain types of visas (and unfortunately the list does not include visas needed for ILP volunteers). Apart from that caveat, things are looking good — Major tourist attractions started opening in June and Thailand has been the #1 or #2 country on the World Covid recovery index. We’re waiting for flights and visas to be re-opened and hope that will happen in time to send a semester for Spring 2021.

Check below to get more details on some key aspects that we’re watching. Each of these components help us determine when we’ll be able to send volunteers to Thailand again (it’s stuff you’re going to want to know). Also, this info can change frequently. Our goal is to keep things current with weekly updates, so check back often!

Getting There

As of July 1st, US travelers are welcome to enter Thailand, but it is limited to certain classes of travelers such as those on employment visas.The Thai government has said that they will gradually re-open to more classes of travellers soon. Entry to Thailand has been barred for a few months, so it was pretty exciting when it was announced that foreigners would be able to return.  

The twist is that right now, all travelers are currently required to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for their first 14 days in-country. We are hoping they will eventually move to a test-on-arrival system instead of quarantine. If this doesn’t change it may add around $750-$1,000 to the costs of the program in Thailand, which would be cost-prohibitive for many, so we are hoping it will change.

Thailand did recently announce they will be issuing a long-term (90-day) tourist visa. This is a great step forward! But it is starting small (see below) — Additionally, the Thai government again extended the emergency decree until October 31st, which limits the entry of foreigners that don’t fit the limited categories.

The long-term Special Tourist Visa (STV) is currently available to travelers from a select group of countries (not announced yet, but probably will include Chinese and Australian travelers) and will be limited to 300 per week. This is an extremely small number given that before Covid, more than 750,000 tourists a week were entering Thailand. But opening to tourists is a big step forward, even if limited.

Being able to obtain visas for our volunteers is a pretty big piece to the puzzle that needs to be checked off before we can start another semester in Thailand.

Six of Thailand’s airports opened on July 1, including the international airport servicing flights from the United States. US and other carriers had scheduled flights and are selling tickets. Then on July 6th, commercial flights were stopped and the restriction was extended again until October 31st. The number of commercial flights is very limited and must be arranged with one of several approved travel providers.

Limited non-commercial flights are available through the consulate, and outbound flights to the US have been ongoing for months, despite restricting inbound commercial flights. We’re anxious awaiting updates on the flight (and visa) situation for this country.

Daily Life

Things are looking good for Thailand, and have been for quite some time.  Thailand has fluctuated between ranking #1 or #2 in the world on the Covid Recovery Index.. 

And as of October 26th, Thailand currently has 0.2 cases per 100,000 people.

The Thailand healthcare system was ranked in the top three countries in Asia being prepared for a pandemic before it happened. Thailand is the world’s capital for medical tourism due to the combination of better quality at a low cost.

We’re excited to report that schools reopened in July for in-person ILP classes, after briefly hosting classes online.

Malls, grocery stores, public transportation, popular temples, museums, and more are open!  Almost all activities that were previously closed have gone back to the (new) normal, which is something we’re thrilled about.

Out & About

Part of Thailand’s success with keeping COVID-19 cases low is linked to precautions that locals have been following as an effort to slow the spread of the virus. While many businesses were closed for a time, we’re seeing that many have now reopened. There’s lots of good news about returning to the new normal.

There are also some other restrictions and policies to keep in mind. Thailand has issued health and safety standards for the public to follow that may sound familiar: standing at least 1 meter away from others, avoiding touching your face, wearing a mask in public places, etc.

However, there are some standards that may be new to you like limiting conversation and speaking quietly when in public or especially on public transportation like buses or taxis. It’s encouraged that you don’t spend more than 1 hour with others (reducing your contact time), and you reduce time in enclosed spaces.  Curfews from 11 PM  to 4 AM are currently in place.

For the most part, things are open, just with exceptions. For example, there are parameters in place for salons (like limiting appointments and keeping them under 60 minutes) and taxi drivers (who are recommended to take no more than three passengers at a time).

Lots of our favorite tourist spots have been opening! Domestic tourists have been relaxing at a beach resort just south of Bangkok (Hua Hin) and visiting other popular spots around the country.

During the first week of June, many top spots reopened to travelers including the Grand Palace in Bangkok and Chiang Mai’s famous walking street (this is the spot to shop for rad souvenirs).

The first group of tourists since March entered Thailand in October.  41 Chinese visitors arrived in late October for their stay, undergoing a 14-day quarantine in Bangkok. More flights are scheduled for other Chinese tourists later in the month as a way to softly start opening the country back up. In November, a group of Norweigan tourists are set to come visit the popular coastal getaway. We’ll have to wait and see how successful these tourist pilot programs go and hope it’s a step in opening the country further.

While travel around Thailand is looking good, traveling to another country isn’t realistic right now. 

Remember how there’s currently a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Thailand? If volunteers left the country they would need to quarantine for 14 days after returning, not including quarantine time in the country they would be traveling to. We’ll be updating this as it changes, but don’t plan on being able to leave the country for vacations.

The goods news is that Thailand has oh-so-much to do and there’s really no reason to leave for a vacation anyways. You have everything from cities, to jungles, to beaches (and more).  Most volunteers in the past have missed out on some amazing Thai vacation spots because they chose to jet over to other countries instead. But trust us, even if you spend all of your vacation time in Thailand, you still won’t see it all.

Okay, now what?  Should I still apply for Thailand?

If you’re thinking “that’s all really good to know, but what does that mean for me?” we have some good news to share: time is still totally on your side.

We’ve seen policies change without notice that have made the difference between us thinking we’ll need to wait longer and helping us determine that a Spring 2021 semester in that location is something we’re pretty optimistic about. Sometimes that has happened in the span of just a couple of weeks or even in a single day. Departures for Spring 2021 are still months off and a lot could be decided before departing … and even more could change for Summer 2021 volunteers. 

So we say start your application now so that you’re ready when the time comes. We are going to need volunteers who are ready to go right when things change for the better, which is why we think it’s a good idea to have your application in (even if things potentially look uncertain right now). Time really is on your side.

We’re also here for all of your questions. We’d love to talk about deferring to a later semester if things still need more time or finding a country right now that’ll be a good fit for you. You can bet that once things open up, you’ll be the first to know!