Foreign Ministry, Tourism Officials Clash on Pandemic Visas

Tourists wait for a ferry on Koh Chang.
Tourists wait for a ferry on Koh Chang.

BANGKOK — Confusion over a special visa program that would allow tourists to visit Thailand during the global coronavirus outbreak continued unabated Monday, with heads of two government departments contradicting each other on even the most fundamental question: has anyone actually applied for it at all?

Tourism officials previously told the media a group of Chinese tourists and businessmen from China’s Guangzhou province were due to arrive in Phuket under the Special Tourist Visas, or STV, but was postponed due to insufficient preparations. But the spokesman of the foreign affairs ministry dropped a bombshell revelation on Sunday that no one applied for the visa in the first place.

“The consulate in Guangzhou received the list of tourists from the Tourism Authority of Thailand on Oct. 5, but no one came to apply for the visa to date,” Natapanu Nopakun told the media.

“We have been notified that the tourists may fly to Thailand on a repatriation flight on Oct. 26, which the ministry is currently coordinating with Chinese authorities,” he was quoted as saying.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand governor Yuthasak Supasorn on Monday insisted that was not the case. He said multiple foreign tourists have applied for the STV program and they will certainly arrive in Thailand by the end of this month.

Yuthasak said all the preparations for the arriving tourists are now ready, and the holdup was just only a minor paperwork issue.

“They will definitely come within this month,” Yuthasak said by phone. “We have already received the applications and they have just to go through the process. Once the documents are submitted, they can fly into Thailand.”

According to the guidelines published by the Tourism Authority of Thailand, or TAT, foreign tourists need to apply for the Special Tourist Visa via TAT-owned Thailand Longstay Company, who will then process their application with relevant authorities.

If their application is approved, they will be asked to select their quarantine accommodation, post-quarantine accommodation, flight to Thailand, and declare medical insurance to the foreign ministry. If successful, the applicants will be called in to collect their visa at a Thai diplomatic mission in their respective countries.

They are also required to produce more documents at this process such as the proof of payment for the bookings, a fit-to-fly certificate, and a medical certificate clearing them of COVID-19 infection. Tourists can only fly to Thailand after having the visa stamped on their passport.

The special visa allows foreigners to visit Thailand for up to 270 days upon completion of a 14-day quarantine period.

Natapanu said every Thai embassy and consulate around the world can issue the Special Tourist Visa beginning Oct. 2. The ministry has issued entry certificates for more than 22,000 foreign work permit holders, experts, and students so far, he added.

Confusingly enough, Thapanee Kiatphaibool, deputy governor of the TAT, suggested it’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who’s causing the delays in the implementation of the STV policy.

“The TAT acknowledges the delay caused by the foreign ministry,” Thapanee said. “There’s increasing demands for tourists entering Thailand, which add more burden to their routine responsibilities and capability. I believe the ministry will muster the strength to provide convenience for the tourists.”