By Barry Kenyon

Anything and everything about Thailand
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Thailand wants to attract the very wealthy. I wonder just how many in that kind of financial position are all that interested in Thailand in the first place, let alone spending substantial amounts of time and huge amounts of money in Thailand. And even if their scheme works, who and where do they think that kind of money will be spent? On businesses and people who are in most need of it?

I'll say the same thing I've been saying. There are plenty of expat farang living in Thailand who have normal amounts of money, but are stuck with the 800,000 baht in a Thai bank requirement. You want money injected into the Thai economy and people spending it on more mundane things rather than the fabulously wealthy spending it on luxury accommodations, the finest restaurants, and exclusive country clubs? Very simple. Release us from the 800,000 baht requirement and let us spend our money instead of having to let it just sit there virtually untouchable in a bank account.
_________________________________________________________________

Plans to lure the ultra-rich with relaxed immigration rules still bogged down

By Barry Kenyon

June 8, 2021

The Thai government’s ad hoc committee to consider the future of Thai tourism yesterday presented a preliminary report to the Centre for Economic Situation Administration (CESA), but has been told to look again at the details. The committee is led by ML Chayotid Kridakorn, a former director for JPMorgan Thailand.

The general premise is that mass tourism isn’t coming back any time soon and that Thailand must seek to attract the world’s richest business people, investors and retirees with tax and immigration bonuses. For example, high-end retirees would qualify for a 10 year visa, be allowed to buy property on selected estates, work 20 hours a week without a work permit and pay just 17% tax on local earnings. But the qualifications are steep: an annual income of at least US$40,000 plus investment capital (eg government bonds) to the tune of US$250,000.

There are also proposals to lure wealthy investors in Thai companies, highly skilled digital experts and the global rich with time on their hands to have a base in Thailand without immigration hassles for a full decade. One suggestion is a 10-year visa for those of any age with $1 million in assets and an investment record in Thailand. However, the Finance Ministry is not happy about the low tax and exemption rates which could affect the government’s revenue collection. The Interior Ministry which houses the immigration bureau is also asking questions about trading entry and exit regulations for a cash-rich, privileged minority.

The ad hoc committee also proposed last April that the unpopular 90 days reporting system be abolished, although that idea did not form part of the recent presentation to CESA. Actually, the three-monthly reporting has already been ditched for the holders of the four-year Smart visa which allows experts in “S” curve industries to work without an employment permit. Other ideas still circulating are a rejigged Elite visa for the top spenders and even the possibility of permanent residency for long-term investors who stay the course.

Supporters of the committee say that Thailand must intensify its efforts to attract the world’s 200 million richest guys and gals. Critics argue that the recommendations are too complex to draw traction. There already exists a rarely-used 10-year “X” visa aimed at retirees and their families. Moreover, several rival countries are willing to sell citizenship to investors with several hundred thousand dollars to spend on a second passport. No chance of Thailand following that route.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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What is not mentioned in the article is the risk of could happen if there is yet another outbreak. I think we all remember what happened during an earlier outbreak when so many foreigners found themselves trapped in Thailand and couldn't go home because flights were canceled and entry restrictions imposed in their home countries. Many were forced to remain in Thailand for months, and you don't get to remain in Thailand for free. What was supposed to be an enjoyable holiday quickly became a nightmare. Don't convince yourself that it can't happen again.

Also, while people might be in Thailand having a marvelous time, if an outbreak occurs in their home country, that could also prevent them from being able to return home.

If you do plan a trip to Thailand, make sure you truly understand the risks involved when making your decision whether to go or not - and do your thinking and planning with your head, not your crotch.
____________________________________________

Thai Sandboxes jeopardized by British traffic lights

By Barry Kenyon

June 11, 2021

British travel gurus are describing as “unbelievable” their government’s reliance on traffic light colours to dissuade the population from travelling abroad this summer. ABTA chief Mark Tanzer said, “It is difficult to know why we have the highest vaccination rate in Europe and the fewest number of flights.”

Under the traffic lights system, the British government heavily discourages, or bans outright, all leisure travel to countries graded amber or red. Thailand is amber alongside most countries. There are only eleven countries graded green-for-go but most of them (for example Singapore and Australia) are not allowing foreign tourists at present. The traffic lights are virtually an instruction to remain in UK.

The only two green countries on the list which actually welcome British tourists are Iceland and Gibraltar which account for 0.5 percent of international flights and are not dream destinations for most vacationers. In other words, Brits are all ready for fun in the sun but have nowhere to go. This matters because the UK in 2019 sent more tourists to Thailand than any EU country except Germany.

But China sent 40 percent of all international arrivals in 2019 and the figure rises to 50 percent if you include India. Those governments have banned leisure travel for now. So their nationals will not be present for the three Sandboxes which Thailand is preparing to open this year for fully vaccinated travellers: Phuket (July), Chiang Mai (August) and Pattaya (October).

Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) spokespersons have said that the early Sandboxes will be reliant on tourists from Europe and the USA, although it should be noted that America provided fewer arrivals than did the UK in 2019. TAT speaks of a possible travel bubble with South Korea, but that would mean four hundred passengers a week at best, not the umpteen thousands/millions needed to justify Sandboxes.

Thai Airways and other airlines have stated that they have planes ready to take off to Thailand from London and other European destinations starting next month. But, of course, flights can be cancelled if demand is non-existent or insufficient. Both France and Germany have warned their nationals to holiday in Europe this year, as indeed they did in 2020, because of the dangers posed by virus variants

Greg Watkins, of the UK’s Last Minute Travel, said, “The Brits simply won’t be coming this year. They have to risk the wrath of their government and have to deal with a complex and expensive vetting process by the Thai embassy in London. It’s not even clear which facilities will be open and which still closed once the planes land in Thailand.”

He suggested that Europeans would return to Thailand in big numbers only when the whole situation was much easier. “My customers want sun and fun and in Thailand you can’t even enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner right now.” He concluded, “As for myself, I’ll come to Thailand when all you need is a passport, an air ticket and a vaccination certificate to flash at immigration.” Sadly, that won’t be anytime soon.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Gaybutton wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 5:59 pm
If you do plan a trip to Thailand, make sure you truly understand the risks involved when making your decision whether to go or not - and do your thinking and planning with your head
That's exactly what I will do when winter comes.
Currently the UK government has Thailand as "amber", which means when returning, I would need some covid tests and need to "isolate" at home for 10 days. Exactly the same as I did when returning from the last trip and not a big problem. A little extra expense, but for a long holiday, it's not a deal breaker.

In the event that Thailand were upgraded to "red", that would mean over priced hotel quarantine. In such circumstances, I would probably investigate spending 2 weeks in a third country when returning.
I believe the government only discourages and does not stop outbound travel to "amber" countries. If I have got that wrong, I shall investigate all the loopholes when the time comes (education, business, going via a third country etc).

If anyone questions the ethics of my approach, well looking at the results, the current UK government rules are inconveniencing travelers, but not actually stopping the import of covid variants.

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Re: By Barry Kenyon

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Jun wrote:
Sat Jun 12, 2021 7:43 pm
That's exactly what I will do when winter comes.
Certainly for you a holiday in Thailand is different from most people, if not all, who are reading this. You spend months in Thailand while most people spend a couple weeks.

In your case, unless the UK forbids travel to Thailand, your problem is not at the beginning of your holiday. Your problem is what the circumstances will be at the end of your holiday. Obviously no one can predict that. I suppose the same is true for anyone traveling to Thailand, whether they are going to be in Thailand for a short time or long time.

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Proposed Pattaya Sandbox: what will “sealed routes” really mean?

By Barry Kenyon

June 13, 2021

As Thai authorities firm up the detail of the proposal to welcome fully-vaccinated foreign tourists to Phuket from next month, Pattaya authorities and businesses don’t want to be left out in the cold. Pattaya Mayor Sonthaya Kunplome confirmed over the weekend that the Pattaya Move On scheme will indeed comprise a Sandbox for the resort starting in October.

The problem is that sprawling Pattaya, now virtually a satellite of the Bangkok metropolis, is not an island. There are literally dozens of highways and exit routes for those determined to escape unobserved. During the lockdown last March and April, local authorities discovered just how difficult it is to question every driver on the roads. Sooner or later you have to accept that 100 percent surveillance is impossible.

Another difference is that Pattaya does not have a truly international airport like Phuket. Of course, there is U-tapao – about 40 miles away – but this facility is still mainly for short-haul and charter flights. The Thai tourist authority says that most Sandbox passengers this year will be from Europe which means that the crowds, if any, will be touching down at a Bangkok airport.

A basic principle of Sandbox is the sealed route or isolation bubble, at any rate in the early stages. One assumes that landing passengers will have their own dedicated channel for immigration officers to examine their voluminous paperwork and maybe to receive a test health check on arrival. A charter group could then be loaded onto a waiting bus to be whisked away to the specially-adapted hotel without mixing with the general public.

But the intention is to allow independent travellers to be Sandboxers too. Presumably they can’t use a private taxi, or hop on any bus, as neither option would be a sealed route. The assumption is that they would need to wait for “authorized” transport. The issue of charter- versus-independent clients in this type of scheme needs a close scrutiny if serious arguments are to be avoided at Thai airports. People want minimal bureaucracy when they are tired after a long flight.

Once safely in their hotel, which must meet SHA+ (Amazing Thailand Safety Health Administration Plus) standards, the Sandboxers will have to remain on the premises for the first three days, enjoying specified facilities (such as gyms) on offer there. On the following four days, they will be allowed out to visit local sites but, again, must not mix with the general public. This notion does appear to be the equivalent of the old adage, “Everyone back on the bus in 10 minutes please!”

After one week, the tourists will be able to roam freely, but only in parts of the province. This will likely include Pattaya, Naklua and Sattahip. After a full two weeks under restrictions, they will be free to travel anywhere in Thailand at their sole discretion. Current expectation is that Sandboxers will be expected to use daily (rather than simply download) a track and trace app. It has to be said that Thailand does not have a happy recent record when it comes to the monitoring and enforcement of similar devices.

Pattaya’s neighboring island of Koh Larn has been suggested as a Sandbox base, particularly for the first week of the holiday. Pattaya authorities say they are not sure whether 70 percent of the host population can be vaccinated in time for the Sandbox opening but, in any case, the island is more suited to day trips rather than to an extended stay.

Almost all of the effort which Thai authorities have put into the Sandbox concept has been to try and ensure that “Thailand is ready.” Not much work appears to have been done on which countries are likely to send tourists under the scheme, especially in 2021. Even less effort has been put into the all-important question of what the end user (the tourist) will make of the experiences which will await him or her. In particular, what exactly a “sealed route” is requires a lot of clarification. And soon.

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Pattaya’s tourist recovery program likely to be delayed

By Barry Kenyon

June 15, 2021

The latest evidence concludes that large numbers of European sun-worshippers are unlikely to visit Thailand any time soon. The Long Haul Travel Barometer, published by the European Travel Commission, says that the advice of virtually all EU governments to their citizens is to avoid long-distance travel because of the problems associated with virus variants.

France has now banned all non-vaccinated nationals from travelling long-haul unless they can prove “pressing grounds” and obtain a special permission known as a certificate of international travel. The British government strongly recommends holidaying at home for all this year, whilst the largest UK tour operator TUI has cancelled virtually all of its holiday flights.

TUI has also announced the cancellation of booked holidays with non-TUI flights, including Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the UAE. A spokesman said there is still a lot of uncertainty about foreign travel because Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that step four of the UK lockdown-relaxation roadmap will not now go ahead.

Meanwhile, Pattaya’s plan to be selected as a pilot Sandbox project has run into roadblocks according to the Chonburi Tourism Council. Acting president Thanet Supornsahasrungsri said, “The first few months may be patchy as the flip-flop on regulations may derail holiday plans for Thailand,” in remarks made to the Bangkok Post.

He added that 80 percent of hotels on the Eastern Seaboard remained closed and that only a handful of Pattaya’s near-60 tourist attractions had managed to keep open. Meanwhile, Chairat Rattanopas, president of the local spa and wellness association, said that Pattaya’s best plan was to concentrate on the mass vaccination of 450,000 people in the Greater Pattaya area. Without that, he surmised, international tourism in the resort could not resume.

The macro problem for Thai tourism is that the governments of huge potential markets – China, Russia, India and Japan – are either banning their citizens from travel abroad or laying down very strict re-entry rules such as 21 days supervised quarantine. UK and EU authorities are strongly discouraging vacations in the Far East and other long haul destinations. The US State Department advises wannabe tourists to Thailand to “reconsider their plans”. Polite but firm.

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Thai expats desperately searching for Covid-19 insurance with mixed results

By Barry Kenyon

June 17, 2021

The recent decision by the Thai Cabinet to approve “in principle” compulsory Covid insurance of at least 3 million baht (US$100,000) when extending annual O/A visas at Thai immigration has certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons. But the whole complex issue remains unclear as the immigration police now have the truly unenviable job of filling in the detail prior to the new rules appearing in the Royal Gazette. That will likely take months.

The important distinction is whether you are in or out of Thailand when making your insurance application. Much easier if you are abroad. The website http://covid19.tgia.org/ offers Covid insurance to anyone aged 0-99 years entering Thailand. The cost is based exclusively on your country of departure and how long your visa is for. As examples a person boarding in London will pay 23,040 baht for one year’s cover and someone travelling from the United States 6,400 baht for 90 days.

That cover, under the auspices of The Thai General Insurance Association, does incorporate the government’s requirement of virus cover of 3 million baht. However, there is a warning notice on the website that the insurance is for visitors to the country “and not for residents of Thailand at this time.” So expats already here can forget this particular escape route. Additionally, some countries with very high infection rates (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc) are excluded from the list of departure points.

So expats are looking for domestic virus cover in Thailand. The website Roojai.com offers Covid insurance to expats who have a work permit or “who have resided here for at least six months.” The cost is a sliding scale between 350 and 850 baht annually. However, the policy details obviously would not cover the government stipulation of 3 million baht. For example, inpatient Covid cover is limited to 200,000 baht, subject to approval.

Yet another option is to link Covid cover with general medical insurance covering other diseases accidents etc. Those going to https://longstay.tgia.org can study several the integrated policies of several Thai-based and international companies. However, there are age restrictions npw that illnesses other than Covid are covered. Expats applying in their 60s might need a prior medical examination and those in their mid-70s and above will have grave problems trying to register the first time.

Of course, the internet is chock-o-block with offers of Covid cover for all ages. It’s a case of Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware. There is no universal definition of Covid cover and it’s down to each company to make its own offer. Expressions such as “pre-existing conditions”, “non-recognized quarantine center” or “hospitalization without a doctor’s recommendation” can and do mean you can’t actually claim if you catch the disease. It’s a wise course to consult a local insurance agent with a good reputation unless you are very confident about deciphering deliberately obscure language in policy-speak.

The streetwise know full well that insurance brokers can arrange policies for the advanced elderly, but there will certainly be heavy exclusion clauses demanded by the company for obvious reasons. It would be tragic if any new immigration rules were designed simply to raise revenue for insurance companies and had no relevance to the health of the expat population. If, as we are told, the Thai government is looking to attract hundreds of thousands of retirees, investors, digital nomads and property hunters in a revamped immigration policy, the authorities had better watch their step. They could actually empty the place.

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The ultimate Sandbox question: who is actually coming to Thailand?

By Barry Kenyon

June 25, 2021

Everyone hopes that the Sandbox initiatives are successful. But the latest travel advice and regulations from the obvious source countries for Thai tourism are far from positive and can change suddenly. It should be noted that all countries require their residents to take various PCR-Covid tests before and after the return flight. The countries listed here provided over 90 percent of all international holiday visits to Thailand in 2019.

China. No travel bubbles or charter flights are allowed from China at the present time. Chinese individuals are not banned from visiting Thailand, but must undergo quarantine of between 14 and 21 days on their return. They may also face domestic travel bans or delays.

India. Not applicable. Thailand has graded India as a country with high infections and not eligible for entry under the Sandbox.

Japan. Not applicable. Thailand has graded Japan as a country with high infections and not eligible for entry under the Sandbox.

Russia. Russian authorities are not artificially restricting travel abroad, including Thailand, but the Federal Tourism Agency is warning that air and land borders are not open and that no guarantees of return entry can be given to anyone, including Russians.

UK. The British government “heavily discourages” travel to Thailand and currently insists on self-quarantine on return with the specific time dependent on testing and vaccination. UK authorities are warning that if Thailand became “red” rather than “orange” under the traffic lights grading system, compulsory quarantine in a hotel at a cost of 1,750 pounds would be required.

US. The State Department “actively discourages” international travel for unvaccinated Americans and suggests even vaccinated individuals should avoid visiting Thailand because of rising infections. On return, home quarantine (7-10 days) is required for unvaccinated travellers, or for those whose post-return test is positive.

EU. Although the detail varies a little from country to country, the EU recommends that no holiday trips be undertaken, especially beyond Europe. Most countries do not insist on strictly monitored quarantining for returning nationals unless there is a positive PCR test.

Singapore. The Singapore government recommends no holiday travel be taken in the region, including Thailand, and has a system for returnees known as SHN (Stay at Home) or SDF (Stay at Dedicated Facility) which is dependent on recent travel history.

South Korea.
The Seoul authorities are discouraging vacation travel abroad and are urging 14 days self-isolation on return.

Norway. The Oslo government has more or less outlawed non-essential foreign travel (outside Scandinavia) until August 10 at least. Returning Norwegians must quarantine in a hotel until they have a negative PCR test.

South Africa and Ukraine. Not applicable. Thailand has graded both countries as having high infections and not eligible for entry under the Sandbox.

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Thai Sandbox colour classification of countries likely needs updates

By Barry Kenyon

June 26, 2021

Allocating a traffic light colour to every country in the world to assess its Covid-19 health dangers has become very popular since its introduction by Britain seven weeks ago: green, yellow and red represent (in ascending order) low, medium and high risk. At least 40 countries or shared groupings now have their own flashing travel lights to protect their domestic audiences.

Thailand issued its first list on June 16 in preparation for the Phuket Sandbox launch with the promise of bi-monthly updates. The methodology has not been disclosed, but hopefully takes account of infection rates, reliability of data, prevalence of variants, genomic sequencing capability, vaccine roll-out and airport transit issues. The UK has been equally silent on its detailed analysis – that is assuming there has been any.

The Thai list is issued by the Department of Disease Control (DDC) and does exclude a few countries, perhaps because they do not send many tourists here. Examples are Vatican City, Gibraltar, the Dominican Republic (perhaps confused with Dominica) and several island groupings such as Cayman and the Falklands. On the other hand, Haiti and South Sudan are included even if interest in travelling to Phuket from there must be hovering around zero.

A curious feature is that Thailand is listed by the DDC as a red or high-risk country which looks like a curious and unnecessary own goal. Sandbox applications are welcome from countries graded green or yellow, but banned from those labeled red. Cambodia and Vietnam are both green, whereas the UK traffic light list says they are yellow and the EU actually stipulates red. Thailand, by the way, is yellow for entry to both the UK and the EU. At the moment anyway.

It’s fair to say that the Thai list is mostly in line with other classifications, although there are certainly some oddities. Japan is red to Thailand but appears as yellow for the UK and green in the EU. Qatar is green in Thailand but red in both the UK and the EU. Another contradictory status is Poland which is red in Thailand, yellow in UK and green in the EU. There are about a dozen more differences. China is yellow in both Thailand and the UK, but red in the EU. And so on.

In other words, the traffic light approach is by no means universal. Yet the labeling does have consequences. In the UK, you might lose the cost of your air ticket and hotel booking if the country of your intended vacation suddenly turned red. Not to mention the need to quarantine for 10 days at a cost of nearly two thousand pounds, irrespective of vaccination status, on returning home.

In Thailand, individuals cannot apply for the Sandbox scheme if their country has been graded red, but they can presumably still apply at their local Thai embassy for an ordinary non-Sandbox visa if they are prepared to stay in a nominated quarantine hotel here at their own expense for two weeks. In the EU, a national of a red-listed country is not even allowed to board a plane to any of the community’s 28 member states.

There seems little hope of standardizing the traffic light scenario for international travel. The lofty ideal would be an ongoing list, perhaps prepared by the World Health Organization, to which UN members would subscribe. Brutally, the Covid pandemic has thrown the whole world into disarray and confusion. That includes traffic lights.

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I have been saying all along that sooner or later immigration is going to require proof of vaccination in order to obtain or extend visas, including the retirement visa. It certainly looks to me like that is what is going to happen. The more the powers-that-be deny it, the more I expect it. The only question in my mind is when. And meanwhile most of us have been unable to get the vaccination at all.

We've all seen how it sometimes works at immigration. If there is a requirement you can't meet even though it is no fault of your own - no matter whose fault it is, the requirement hasn't been met, therefore no visa. No soup for you!

"Your fault, my fault, nobody's fault - we won't be sympathetic and we won't be understanding."
- Richard Boone (John Fain), 'Big Jake'
__________________________________________________________

Most Pattaya expats expect their Covid-19 jabs sometime next year

By Barry Kenyon

July 1, 2021

The vast majority of Pattaya expats say they are very frustrated by the confusion about enrolment for coronavirus vaccination in the city, with just over half prophesying they won’t have their jabs anytime in 2021. This according to a random survey conducted by Pattaya Mail with 100 expats questioned around the Jomtien immigration bureau area between 28 June and 1 July.

The expats’ main grumble is that they have totally wasted their time turning up at hospitals and vaccination centers, or filling in application forms on the internet, only to discover that they were making no progress whatsoever. Ray Dole, an American retiree, said, “There’s so much fake news out there. I fell for the Twitter nonsense in May that I could get vaccinated if I turned up at the Sports Stadium, only to discover that the vaccines hadn’t even arrived and were reserved for Thais anyway.”

Some European expats said they had managed to get their names on lists at the private sector Pattaya Memorial and Pattaya International Hospitals but without any firm guarantee of dates and time. The Bangkok Hospital Pattaya did open a formal application system on July 1 for the Moderna vaccine, with a promise of appointments late this year or early next. However, the site seems to have been overwhelmed by desperate foreigners and was not operational by afternoon of the same day. One farang said he was told the quota was full.

Two British expats told Pattaya Mail that they had been successful at the publicly-run Pattaya City Hospital, but only because they were in possession of valid work permits for teaching. Other categories of foreigners apparently able to queue-jump include permanent residents (who don’t need any type of visa), those with their names on a blue house book (impossible for most) and people who “help” the government, including court translators and some volunteer police. However, the procedures seem to be of the hit and miss variety.

About 40 percent of those questioned had applied for registration on one of several government-inspired websites in the past two months. Only one appeared to have had positive feedback, with the remainder complaining the site had leaked their private details or totally collapsed or told them to try again later, or even to turn up on March 30 1972. Italian expat Gino Bratti said, “I reckon to have wasted 40 hours on my computer over the past month dealing with impossible online bureaucracies.”

Rumours abound in the city about what will happen to unvaccinated farang even if they stay free of the virus. However, the immigration division in Bangkok has categorically stated that there are no plans at present to require a vaccination certificate or Covid19 insurance of US$100,000 to obtain an extension of stay. That said, an immigration bureau working party has been ordered by the Thai Cabinet to examine these issues. Their report is not expected for several months.

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