On July 15th 2021, the Samui Plus Plan, AKA the Samui Sealed Route (or less officially the ‘Samui Sandbox’), was launched. For travellers itching to get to Thailand’s most popular islands, it was the news that they had been waiting for.
These pre-arranged schemes allow fully vaccinated tourists to return to the islands in a way that minimises the risk of the spread of COVID-19. The first was the Phuket Sandbox, next it was time for Koh Samui.
UPDATE: Thailand’s Test & Go scheme is currently on hold. Until it reopens on 1st February 2022, the only way to enter Thailand without quarantine is via one of the four approved sandbox schemes: Samui, Phuket, Krabi or Phong Nga.
If you’re desperate to head to the Land of Smiles, you’re in the right place! By the end of this article, you will know all about Thailand’s Samui Plus Scheme, if you are eligible, how to apply and much more. And, as the rules are constantly changing, keep an eye on the TAT Sandbox Destinations page for updates as they happen!
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Disclaimer: COVID-19 travel restrictions are changing every day and the following information reflects South East Asia’s Backpacker’s understanding of the current rules for entry. While we update this article regularly to ensure the information is as current as it can be, we cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions.
1. What is Samui Plus?
Following on from the popular Phuket Sandbox scheme, the Samui Plus Plan allows fully vaccinated international tourists to enter the country without the normal mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
Through a controlled test and release system, international tourists will be able to travel to Koh Samui, where they are required to stay for a minimum of one night at a SHA+ Hotel. After completing this stay, they can then choose to stay on Koh Samui or head to Koh Tao or Koh Phangan on a specified tourist route.
Once tourists have stayed for at least 7 days on the islands, they are free to travel elsewhere in the country (local travel restrictions permitting).
Essentially, the system has been designed to reintroduce international tourists to Thailand while keeping coronavirus cases as low as possible. In theory, travellers will benefit from safer trips and locals will be more protected from foreigners bringing in the virus. It is hoped that schemes like Samui Plus will help to stimulate tourism in the country.
2. What are the current restrictions in the rest of Thailand?
Currently, Thailand is open to international tourists with a quarantine. Fully vaccinated travellers will be required to quarantine for 7 days, unvaccinated travellers arriving by air must quarantine for 10 days and unvaccinated travellers arriving by land or sea will be required to fulfil a 14-day quarantine. Read our in-depth Thailand travel restrictions post.
Related: Quarantine hotels in Bangkok.
Alternatively, if you’re fully vaccinated, you can enter the country on one of Thailand’s sandbox schemes. This will mean that you skip the Bangkok quarantine. In June 2021, it was announced that Thailand would fully reopen in 120 days. This timeline began with the introduction of the Phuket Sandbox and culminated with the launch of the Test and Go scheme which allowed quarantine-free entry to fully vaccinated travellers from specific countries. This scheme was suspended in December to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
At present, the only way to enter Thailand is by going down the AQ quarantine route or via one of the sealed route schemes such as Samui Plus or the Phuket Sandbox.
3. Who is Eligible for the Samui Plus Scheme?
To be eligible for the Samui Sealed Route you must meet the following conditions:
- Your passport must be valid for at least six months.
- If you are over 18, you must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- You must have booked or purchased return air travel. You must fly to Koh Samui direct or transit in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi using an approved airline on a sealed flight.
- You need to have tested negative for COVID-19 no earlier than 72 hours before travelling.
- Unvaccinated people under the age of 18 can travel as part of the Samui Plus scheme but need to fulfil the negative test criteria.
- Your medical insurance must cover COVID-19 treatment to at least $50,000USD. (We recommend SafetyWing for travellers.)
- You need to have booked and paid for your required PCR test/s and hotel/s.
Note: Although you previously had to be from an ‘approved country’ to travel via one of Thailand’s sandbox schemes, this is no longer the case. All travellers are now eligible.
4. What does ‘fully vaccinated’ mean?
To be eligible for the Samui Plus scheme, you must be fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine or vaccine which has been approved by the Thai Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). (See below).
You will not be considered fully vaccinated until at least 14-days from the date of your last vaccination. For most of the vaccines, you will need to have had two doses, with the exception being the Janssen vaccine as you are considered fully vaccinated after just one shot.
Proof of vaccination status is a requirement of entry under the Samui Sealed Route scheme. Even if you have had COVID-19, you will still need to be fully vaccinated to qualify for any of the sandbox schemes.
5. What vaccines does Thailand recognise?
According to the TAT, the following vaccines have been approved in Thailand.
- AstraZeneca or Covishield
- Sputnik V
- Sinopharm or COVILO
6. What are the vaccination rules for people under 18?
Travellers aged between 12-17 who are travelling unaccompanied must be vaccinated against COVID-19 with at least one dose of an approved vaccine. If your children are travelling with parents who are fully vaccinated, they are exempt from this rule.
Travellers aged between 6-11 who are travelling with their parents are also exempt from this rule.
7. What visa can I use to enter Thailand on the Samui Plus scheme?
There are two options for travellers arriving on the Samui Plus scheme. You can arrange your 60-day tourist visa in advance at your local Thai Embassy. Alternatively, you can receive the visa exemption entry pass when you arrive. This gives travellers 45 days to spend in the Kingdom.
Visas can be extended at a local Thai Immigration centre for an additional 30 days. For more information on visas, see our guide to the region.
8. What documents do I need for my Samui Plus application?
- Thailand Pass (see below)
- A negative result from an RT-PCR test taken no earlier than 72 hours before travelling. (Children travelling with parents who have negative test results will not be required to present PCR test results and will have a saliva test when they enter Thailand)
- Payment confirmation for approved accommodation for at least 7 days
- Proof of travel insurance which covers at least $50,000USD
- Proof of payment for 2 X PCR tests. This will be paid for at the same time as the accommodation.
- COVID-19 vaccination certificate
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9. How do I get my Thailand Pass?
If you are an international tourist who is eligible for the Samui Plus plan, you will need to apply for a Thailand Pass (previously Certificate of Entry). You can do this here. This must be done at least seven days before the date that you intend to travel.
Thailand Pass applications usually take around 3 working days to be processed initially. Once you receive the pre-approval, you will need to submit and upload your documents. Bear in mind that you only have 15 days to do this from when you receive the pre-approval email.
To obtain the Thailand Pass you will need the following documents, translated into English (no other language qualifies).
- Vaccination status proof
- Return air tickets
- Pre-payment of covid tests throughout the stay
- Fully paid hotel bookings
- Visa (if required)
Once your Thailand Pass has been fully approved, you will be sent a QR code. You will use this to enter the country.
You will need to download both the Thailand Plus application (App Store/Google Play)and the MorChana application (App Store/Google Play) on your phone. The latter of these will allow you to register your Samui Health Pass to track your journey to Koh Samui. If you are worried about your phone battery lasting the duration of your journey, make sure you pack a portable charger!
10. What is the timeline for Samui Plus?
Day 0: Once you arrive at the airport, you will be taken by private transfer to your pre-arranged SHA+ hotel. You will have to take a covid test on arrival and quarantine in your room until the result is returned.
Day 1-7: If your test result is negative, you can now travel around the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. However, there are some caveats to this. You must follow ‘sealed routes’ and are only allowed to choose from pre-approved tours. On day 4, you must take an RTK test. You’ll receive the result the following day. If it is negative, you are free to travel elsewhere in Thailand with a Release Certificate.
Note: Previously, in the 14-day version of the Samui Plus Scheme, visitors were not allowed to drink alcohol for the first 7 days of their stay. In the latest version of the programme, visitors can now drink alcohol at their leisure.
11. Should I fly directly to Samui?
You can either fly direct into Samui International Airport or transit via Bangkok’s International Airport. The flight you take from Bangkok must be a ‘sealed flight’. This will only transport other sandbox travellers.
12. Where can I stay in Samui?
For the duration of Samui Plus, you can only stay in SHA+ hotels on Koh Samui, Koh Tao or Koh Phangan. These hotels have been certified because they meet high cleanliness standards in regards to COVID-19.
One of the requirements of SHA hotels is that 70% of the workforce has to have been fully vaccinated, making these hotels safer for tourists and locals. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has since decided to encourage businesses to apply for SHA Extra Plus Certification. This means that approved hotels have a partner hospital.
If you are travelling via the Samui Sandbox, you are permitted to change accommodation three times within the first week. However, you will need to stay the first night on Samui and wait to receive a negative test result (from the test taken at the airport) before being allowed to move to new accommodation, either on Samui or on the other islands.
Bear in mind that if you plan to travel elsewhere after you complete the mandatory 7-night stay on the islands, you may be asked for proof of your booking/s at a SHA+ hotel/s to verify this.
13. What are some well-recommended Samui Plus Hotels?
Here are five options for your Samui Plus hotel. These get good reviews among travellers:
- The Code Samui (Mae Nam): The facilities, staff and rooms are rated highly. This resort provides a superb experience for sandbox travellers.
- Rocky’s Boutique Resort (Lamai Beach): This secluded beach resort is a great family-friendly option.
- Chaweng Regent Beach Resort (Chaweng): This clean and comfortable resort is a favourite with sandbox travellers. Families will appreciate the kids club.
- Amari Koh Samui (Chaweng): Located just 5km from Samui Airport, this resort is an ideal choice for those who want to split their first week between the islands.
- Bo Phut Resort & Spa (Bo Phut Beach): Situated in the northern part of Samui, the relaxing vibe of this resort offers relaxation and escapism.
14. What happens if I test positive on any of the covid tests?
If you test positive on any of the covid tests, you will be sent to a hospital for treatment. These expenses should be covered by your insurance but you should always check the policy wording and chat the customer care team to confirm.
If you are a close contact of a confirmed covid case somewhere on your journey, you will need to enter quarantine.
15. How much are the required RT-PCR tests?
- 1 test: 2,200 THB
- 2 tests: 4,400THB
16. Are there restrictions on what tours or transport I can use? What about restaurants?
Visitors on the Samui Plus programme are not allowed to rent private vehicles or use public transport. You are only permitted to use approved transportation and tour operators.
When it comes to dining out, you are recommended to use SHA Plus certified restaurants, however, this is only an advisory, not a compulsory requirement.
17. How can I fly to Koh Samui on the Samui Plus scheme?
If you can’t fly direct to Samui, you can travel via Bangkok Airways from the capital. There are daily flights (in both directions) to Samui for Samui Plus visitors. They are sealed routes which means you will not be able to detour from these paths or visit shops in the airport.
The flight numbers for these Bangkok Airways flights are: PG5125, PG5151 and PG5171.
18. Will everything be open in Koh Samui?
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some businesses have had to close their doors forever. However, many are now reopening thanks to the gradual easing of travel restrictions to international tourists.
19. When I arrive in Thailand, is this day 1 or day 0?
If you arrive between 18.01-00.00, this is day 0.
If you arrive between 00.01-18.00, this is day 1.
20. Do I have to wear a mask?
Participants of the Samui Plus scheme are asked to adhere to local rules. This may mean you have to wear a mask in public areas.
All visitors should follow DMHTTA protocol to protect themselves and others against the spread of COVID-19.
- D – Distancing
- M – Mask wearing
- H – Handwashing
- T – Temperature check
- T – Testing
- A – Alert Application
21. When can I leave the islands?
As a requirement of the scheme, you must stay in a SHA+ hotel on either Koh Samui, Koh Tao or Koh Phangan. Your first night will need to be in a Samui SHA+ hotel as you won’t be released until the result of your first PCR test is returned. After this comes back negative, you can move to the other islands. It is only after a week that you can move elsewhere in Thailand.
- Richard Barrow in Thailand
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