Readers' Submissions

Returning to Thailand as a “Normal” Tourist Part 1



 

  1. The “first” time I met Covid… 

 Christmas of 2018 was the last time I visited Thailand. Before Covid took over the west.  In mid-January 2019, I was holed up in my room in Bangkok with the nastiest dry cough I have ever had, low grade fever, swollen lymph nodes. Everyone is familiar with one of these “Bangkok Hacks”, the first day is the cough you can’t suppress, second day the same, only on the second day the lactic acid muscle pains creep up both sides of the abdomen…  The third day the muscle pains sharpen, it’s not just a cough now… it’s now painful to even think about the need to cough. The strong cough usually lasts about a week (for me), but then lingers on for upwards of 3 to 4 weeks before I’m fully back to normal.  

As usual, the very first day I knew another chest infection was imminent, I started the “Z” antibiotics. But by day three, the cough was dissipating, and on day four “I only coughed when I thought about it”. By day five… I was back in the bars… 

This was not the typical ”Bangkok Hack”… with the brownish and/or green phlegm.. which lasts much longer. It took me about 2 months to fully surmise what I had been infected with… I believe it was Covid… from our friendly Chinese tourists hanging around in the go-go bars  

By mid-February my 60-day tourist visa was running out. It was time to renew the visa for another 30 days. The tsunami wave was now hitting Europe and it was on its say to the states. At this time I started thinking “how is a country that took 14 days to find a bunch of noisy teenagers in a confined space (cave) going to be able to handle Covid?”… So instead of renewing my Visa, I went back to the states… had I renewed, I would have most likely been “trapped” in Thailand for the next 9 months. “Trapped” like a rat in a cheese store. Instead, I became the rat locked out of the cheese store for the next 9 months. 

 

  1. Taking the plunge to return to Thailand.

After the November 18th removal of the insane “bank account requirements” for normal 60 day tourists visas (NTV), the potential for a return to Thailand became a reality. The additional restrictions for the NTV became achievable, a negative PCR Covid test, Covid Insurance, 14 Day ASQ quarantine, along with LOTS of repetitive paperwork. I mean LOTS of repetitive paperwork.

I had not actually made the decision to return yet… but it’s now time to seriously contemplate and start collecting all the requirements… if I wanted to experience and enjoy a “tourist limited Thailand”.  Spending 14 days in quarantine (actually 16 by the time the hotel finishes with you) is not high on my list of want-to-do’s… nor is having to pay for it. However, my normal “summertime Thailand trip” had been scuttled, so I did have some budget from that lost trip to help finance the additional quarantine expenses of a trip now.

I’m fortunate from a work standpoint. I work full time in information technology, for a very large food conglomerate which is essentially covid-proof. Other than having some production level employees catching Covid… and being sent home, my company was impacted very little from Covid. I could continue to earn my existing paycheck and benefits. They sent all the “office workers” home in March.. they tried a partial “office re-opening” in Sept/Oct, but the resistance of my lazy American brethren to wear masks and social distance is just too powerful. I now expected that I would be working from home until April to June of 2021… when herd vaccinations would ensure that everyone coming back to the offices are vaccinated and safe. However, I did not want to be “mouse caught out” of Thailand until then.. not the end of 2021.

I regularly performed “remote support” from Thailand for my 2-3 month tourist visits. I took off every Friday and worked Monday night through Thursday night. That chewed up my vacation time and gave me “4 day weekends” (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday)… Monday night work started when the Sun rose in the states. I’m “on call” from 7-9PM until 2-4 AM Bangkok time. A true vampire. The people I work with are scattered between India, Europe and the states.. so most of my meetings are “morning loaded” meaning 7AM to 12AM U.S. time… 7PM to 12PM Bangkok time. The exact 12 hour time difference is very convenient. If I have no meetings after 10PM, I sometimes head out to the bars on a Tuesday or Thursday night… but I can’t spend every night in them (nor do I want to). Even when I do “cheat” like this I take my phone, signed into Microsoft Teams to provide any support should I be required. I’m also monitoring my work email from the bar… just like I do when I’m at the gym on “my time”. Rarely need to provide un-scheduled support, it generally only happens about once a month and the usual response is to “open a service ticket with the proper group to resolve it”.

For me, a 14 day quarantine will not be that much different than “working from home” in the states. I have no life in the U.S., I save my money for my two 2-3 months of “working remotely” in Thailand, and then pack the bells and whistle away for another 2-3 months. I REALLY felt fortunate. I had the ability to spend 1/3 to ½ of the year working remotely in Thailand for a proper western conglomerate, with all the perks of a western job.

I have been blessed with ED (erectile dysfunction) and I always get treated (as per my Thai ED doctors’ orders). Like a good patient, I come back again in 6 months for another evaluation-follow-up treatment (as per my Thai ED doctors’ orders). Because of this, I can legally charge my flights for my ED Doctor visits in Thailand to my U.S. FSA (health Flexible Spending Account).. After my doctor visit, I stick around in Thailand for a few months to ensure my ED has been fully (but temporarily) cured. Unfortunately, when I return to the states, my ED also returns. I think it’s called “hibernation mode”. The FSA isn’t “free money”, but it is before tax or “tax free” and my employer even kicks in a nice chunk.. so, when you consider the tax burden and employer contributions, it’s almost 50% off compared to paying “out of pocket” and after taxes. I didn’t know about the Thailand medical visa (before Covid struck), I suspect I could also charge the costs of a Medical Visa to my FSA too. The medical visa now requires a hospital state quarantine (HSQ) at the same hospital as the visa, it’s not a valid option (for me) now in Covid Thailand. I wanted to be in proper HOTEL quarantine… not a hospital room. The NTV is only $40 anyway so in the grand scheme of things, that’s just my normal nightly bar bill.

I’m simply taking advantage of the benefits being offered to me by my FSA plan. An FSA expires after a year… so it’s a “use it or lose it” proposition. My doctor visits coincide with my return and subsequent prescription of ED drugs. I have receipts, I’ve never been challenged by my FSA plan and I have been doing this for a number of years.

Time to get back to the task at hand, returning to Thailand. The requirements for a tourist visa changes on a weekly basis, so be sure to check with your local embassy. At the time of this writing, the Chicago consulate links to the DC embassy via the following link https://thaiembdc.org/2020/11/05/trsingle_entry/

The link lists the following requirements at the time of this writing…

Visa and Certificate of Entry procedures for Non-Thai nationals wishing to enter Thailand for tourism purposes 

The following qualifications are for applicants who wish to apply for a Tourist visa TR (Single Entry only)
– Non-Thai nationals wishing to enter Thailand for tourism purposes

  1. At least 15 working days before the intended date of travel, the applicant must fill in the information and upload all required documents online here
  2. The Royal Thai Embassy / Consulates-General will review the application. If the applicant requires a visa, the visa officer will inform the applicant to submit the following documents through mail to the Royal Thai Embassy (ATTN: Visa Section) or Royal Thai Consulate-General in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York:

2.1 Passport

2.2 Two passport-size photographs (2″x 2″)

2.3 Visa application form (Download) (if the applicant doesn’t have a valid Thai visa)

2.4 Declaration form (Download)

2.5 Medical insurance guaranteeing that the insurance company will cover a minimum of 100,000 USD (or equivalent in other currencies) of medical costs incurred by the applicant in Thailand, including medical costs in the event that the applicant contracts COVID-19 (The insurance must cover the whole duration of stay in Thailand)

2.6 A confirmation of booking of Alternative State Quarantine (Please check the list of the alternative state quarantine hotels at www.hsscovid.com or www.thaiembdc.org/asq)

2.7 Self-addressed return envelope and visa fee (Money order – $40 for single entry only)  if the applicant doesn’t have a valid visa

2.8 A Copy of round trip flight confirmation/reservation showing going from the US to Thailand and leaving from Thailand (The name of the applicant must be indicated clearly)

2.9 Copy of recent bank statement ($700 per person and $1,500 per family).  The name of the applicant must be indicated clearly), In case of submitting a family bank statement, proof of relationship (i.e. birth certificate, marriage certificate) must be provided.

  1. 3.At the departure airport, the approved applicant is required to present

3.1 A “Certificate of Entry” issued by The Royal Thai Embassy or the Royal Thai Consulates-General;

3.2 A “Health Certificate”, Fit to Fly, issued no more than 72 hours before departure.

3.3 Medical insurance or letter from employer guaranteeing that the insurance company or employer will cover a minimum of 100,000 US dollars (or equivalent in other currencies) of medical costs incurred by the applicant in Thailand, including medical costs in the event that applicant contracts COVID-19 (The insurance must cover the whole duration of stay in Thailand); and

3.4 A Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected, issued no more than 72 hours before departure

  1. Upon entry to Thailand,

Travelers arriving in Thailand during the COVID-19 pandemic must present the following documents to be granted entry:

4.1 COE and Declaration Form

4.2 Medical certificate with a laboratory result indicating that COVID -19 is not detected, using RT-PCR test, issued no more than 72 hours before departure

4.3 Fit-to-fly/Fit-to-travel Health Certificate issued no more than 72 hours before departure

4.4 Medical insurance guaranteeing that the insurance company will cover a minimum of 100,000 US dollars (or equivalent in other currencies) of medical costs incurred by the applicant in Thailand, including medical costs in the event that the applicant contracts COVID-19 (The insurance must cover the whole duration of stay in Thailand)

For hotels,  Thailand has a website which you can visit. It has been conveniently set up in mostly Thai language, with clickable pictures which cannot be translated. The links lead you nowhere (on my browser). Feel free to waste your time…. http://www.hsscovid.com/ another link I found has all the quarantine hotels in a google spreadsheet. On one of my computers, this spreadsheet is clickable and brings up the ASQ brochures in both English and Thai. On another computer… this did not work for me. Good luck. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1z9a0-ROZXm1OJX13LHxkanKCS0h5O60sCfhx5LuMHoY/edit#gid=2132420569 . In the end I just emailed my hotel to make sure I got the most recent and accurate information. I responded to their brochure and asked if an ASQ room was available starting Dec 27th. That was well after the 15 day lead time required by the Thai Consulates (they don’t want to deal with schedules inside of 15 working days…21 calendar days… because of the massive demand for the Visas ; ).  I also had to delay another week because of the Christmas high-price blackout fares. It was now November 27th, so plenty of spare time for delays… and I could still charge my flight to this years’ FSA.

My preferred airline (Emirates) is offering double miles for travel right now, I also just got an airline related credit card from them. If I spend 3000 in 90 days, I get another 30,000 miles for upgrades for my 22 hours of total “time in the air”. This is going to work out perfect for me, my travel costs are expected to be right around 3500 USD. My FSA pays for my plane ticket. It would have also paid for my hospital quarantine costs.. but I was just not prepared to do that hospital quarantine.. plus.. there was not enough money left in this years’ FSA kitty for hospital quarantine anyway..

I went online and purchased the air-ticket first, this was going to be the second most expensive part of the trip. As a yank, I can request a hassle-free refund from the airlines within 24 hours. I should be able to secure the ASQ by then. My ticket is free to change (this was going to be very useful later on), $200 each way to refund. I’m not expecting the necessity for a refund. Ticket prices on Emirates are the normal non-covid price anyway. I could get cheaper fares from other airlines, but I know the drill with my airline since I fly them all the time. I have silver status due to 2 round trips every year, so I get to use the Business Class lounge for 3-7 hours to eat and get drunk 2/3 of the way through the trip. Ticket price is $1500 and I get 30,000 airline miles total from double miles on the reservations… another 30,000 airline miles from the credit card offer, another 4,500 bonus miles credits for buying the ticket on my airline credit card. I’ll get another 3300 miles for charging my HSQ and Insurance to the new credit card too. In total, that’s 68,000 miles… so almost enough to upgrade half of my ticket to business class (in the future). Not now though… no way. When I booked the ticket there were about 10 people on a Boeing 777. I’ll be sleeping on the 4 seats in the center rows of seats. I did not choose a “repatriation flight” nor did I go bargain shopping for the lowest priced ticket I could find. I’ve probably overpaid a bit, but I will have a whole center row to myself on both legs of the journey to Thailand. That’s actually better than business class… and “nobody in the middle seat” to give me Covid. I’m practically “flying solo” for $750 one way and getting almost 34,000 in miles each way…. In the past I would have received only 7500 miles each way. I book the flight. My ante is in.

With that commitment I start getting even motivated to return. I email the hotel and specify my dates. First, I need to send my passport and paid airline ticket to them, I sent them all the required documents and they sent a Bangkok bank online payment link. That failed. Failed again. Failed again. Called the credit card company… no rejection or request had come through from Bangkok Bank. Something was wrong on the Thailand end. After some careful planning I decided to try a different approach, rather than selecting the credit card from a drop-down list of cards, I would select “other” cards, and just type in the same name as the drop-down list… It went through. The hotel is paid for and non-refundable… but completely changeable.. as long as they have availability. I got my ASQ certificate/confirmation from the hotel. Next, the hotel sent me an invoice for the hospital costs (ASQ and Hospital costs are separate). From the 55,000 for the hotel charge, 39,000 was actual hotel and another 16,000 was for the hospital testing fees. GREAT !!!!  I can charge the hospital costs for my covid testing to my stateside insurance plans (or FSA if the insurance won’t pay). My actual out-of-pocket (OOP) costs are now just 39,000 for the hotel and whatever my Thai Covid insurance is going to cost. I paid the hospital costs in the same way as the hotel costs… via Bangkok bank. I receive no certificate for hospital costs, all that was needed for paperwork was the ASQ certificate, which I already had. On to the last obstacle,  Thai Covid Insurance.

I’m not trusting the Thai Covid insurance process, it would just be too easy to put together a fake insurance and payment website,  so I’m only using well-advertised, reliable links from the Bangkok Post, TheThaiger etc. I found the AXA links and got their price… about 8000 baht for 90 days. AXA was a bit screwed up, I have high blood pressure and cholesterol, but if I clicked the existing illnesses box and mentioned this.. I was not eligible for the online insurance, I had to call them… that’s a hassle, surely there are other options. Another TAT link would cost 12,000 with no questions asked and apparently the same coverage… but no existing illnesses box. It didn’t say what the company it would actually be from, but it was an official government website. I thought about it. I didn’t really have an “illness” I was successfully being treated for a medical condition. A pre-existing condition, not an illness. To be honest, I wasn’t planning on using the Thai insurance anyway, I could use my stateside insurance… but I would be responsible for the deductible. I looked around for other popular insurance websites that did not appear to be dodgy, Chubb, Bangkok Life, Thailand Life, etc… I could not find any good links to online payments, and only about ¼ of the sites had anything in English about the Covid insurance. Once again, Another “great” idea from our friends in Thailand and another dismal execution. I backtracked and decided to answer the AXA questions “like a good little farang should”, another payment link page… not Bangkok bank, but comparable, 2c2p payments for 8000 baht. I chose the “other” card option again and it worked… I was emailed my Covid Insurance Certificates.  My total OOP expenses would be 39,000+8,000=47,000 baht $1,566 USD. Another $40 for the Visa fee and some express mail postage would put the total at about $1650.. around 50,000 baht.

It’s Saturday evening, tomorrow I need to fill in the Visa and declaration forms. I think that’s all I need to request the Certificate of Entry. I want to get this into their system by Sunday night so the COE process can get started. They say it takes up to 15 days, during that time they will request me to send everything in paper format to my local consulate. The COE submission is performed by the Washington DC Consulate, not my local consulate.

Sunday night arrives and I have filled out all the other forms… a declaration… which is just a subset of the Visa Application data, the visa application itself, and 8 pages of repetitive online COE questions… duplicates of everything else I have been asked and filled out before. I think the only new questions were irrelevant ones (do you have fever now… do you have a runny nose now). Thailand is just a short step away from being the “Vogons” from hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

… They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders – signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.

If that doesn’t sound like an exact copy of the proposed “Phuket Model” for “re-opening Thailand”, I don’t know what does.

I have to now upload everything that I would normally send to the embassy to the COE website… along with the few new extras:

  • My Photo
  • Passport Photo
  • Declaration
  • Visa Application
  • Bank Statement
  • ASQ Certificate
  • Covid Insurance Certificate
  • Flight Itinerary and receipt

On Sunday night at 2 AM I press send, and take a deep breath . It could take one week maybe two weeks… for the consulate to approve and respond… then request me to send in my hard-copies. I hope 30 days of lead-time will be enough.

Monday morning about 10:00 AM I get the response from my local Consulate…

The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]