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Trials and tribulations of returning to Thailand in the Covid era – a personal view



PHOTO: Ah yes, the copious Thai paperwork. More about that in the next instalment.

A series of articles by David Jackson

Sunday morning and I am sitting inside my viewless window in a Bangkok Hotel waiting in anticipation for a trip down to reception where, after five lonely days, I get to experience my first brief contact with a human – a nurse who will presumably force a swab up my nose. Welcome to my quarantine experience.

Following all the issues relating to teaching via online platforms, my school in Bangkok decided to close early for the summer holiday and, in my naiveté, I assured the owner that following a short holiday I would be back in Thailand promptly in order to resume my duties.  Like many I assumed that the economics of potential mass unemployment would force the Thai doors open facilitating my easy repatriation. How wrong was I?!

The process of re-entry is difficult, long and full of pitfalls and, despite having return tickets which were made invalid, the system has to begin with the Thai Embassy of the country where you wish to travel back to Thailand from.  In my case it started as a 9am internet scramble as many hundreds of ‘farangs’ competed with Thai to obtain a place on the limited Thai Airways repatriation flights. 

Quite rightly Thai citizens were given priority and, regrettably, the website could not cope with the volume of requests. Nevertheless, despite this technological setback, I was eventually allocated a place on a special Farang Express flight thanks in part to my boss and his diligence plus, presumably utilising the other forces in the name of pressure on the Ministry of the Interior from the numerous International Schools here in the kingdom.

I won’t go into the myriad of documents needed in order to actually be allowed on to the plane (that’s in my next story). Let’s just say that I had mixed emotions over the timing of this flight which fell at the end of a holiday period. So, I could feel my stress level beginning to build in anticipation of trying to obtain the 72 hour covid and doctor’s report when most of my country would have been in bank-holiday shutdown.  Soon, pressure from Thai Airways to pay for the flight balanced with my inability to find a reasonably priced quarantine hotel forced a classic Catch-22 style problem in that I could not pay for one without the other.  Luckily my kind boss came to the rescue and soon I had the flight, quarantine hotel plus report from the embassy confirming my work permit and thus meaning I would be able to return to Thailand.

Normally, the last few days of any trip back to the west is frantic with saying final goodbyes and packing, but not this year as the word frantic took on a new meaning.  A trip to the city for two separate covid tests plus a postal one for good measure was augmented by an eventually successful attempt to find a doctor to certify me fit-to-fly. However, with no testing company guaranteeing the 72 hour turnaround for the covid report, my prudence to use three companies paid off as two of them provided my negative result and certificate within this tight timeframe.

One could feel the tension in the subsequent check-in queue and I certainly did sweat as the staff scrutinised my documentation like a stern headmaster looking for trouble… let us just say that the relief from the simple gesture of simply being handed my boarding pass was fantastic.  After three long months overseas, full of despair, I was finally on my way to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and back to the school and children whom I love so much.

The flight was straightforward as the crew served the passengers whilst wrapped up in their PPE suits, masks and gloves.  After a couple of films on the In Flight Entertainment system, and a snooze, I was soon awake preparing for our touchdown. However, the juxtaposition of the wonderful repatriation flight with what was about to happen was quite a shock to the jet-lagged system. 

To be apprehensive of my arrival was the understatement of the year as I gawped at the enormity of what greeted myself and fellow red-eyed passengers.  A column of official looking Thais stood just off of the aeroplane ramp guiding all 300 or so of us into the arrivals corridor where, after the mandatory half a kilometre walk, we were provided with a chair, each placed in a beautifully socially distanced array worthy of any geometry exam paper.

The stress continued as the paperwork was scrutinised, once by medical staff and then again in much closer detail. Some people were asked to show digital copies to confirm insurance which has to cover any covid issues to a value of US$100,000 minimum.  Your name is subsequently found on a list and you are provided with a number to show to staff at the main door – the name of your quarantine hotel. 

Following yet another check, it was time to join the standard immigration queue… yes, that’s it, the one that can be one hour long on a bad day as half of China seemingly arrive at the same time as you, but much easier at this time!  In groups of ten you are taken to immigration and, to hear the noise of the date stamp landing on my passport was like music to my ears…yes…I had done it.

Scary…yes. Overkill… maybe. Safe… extremely. You are not getting into this country unless you run this gauntlet. Thailand wants, quite rightly, to keep covid out and its citizens safe.

So, collect your bags as usual and don’t even think about trying to use the ATM or visit a shop (they were all closed anyway). Welcome to your 14 days of social isolation and teetotal experience.  My hotel representative collected me from the main exit from the airport where I was placed with another customer in a semi-isolated van for our journey through the Bangkok familiarity. 

The check-in to my hotel was efficient and painless as it was done in the back of the van. You are then given a number and asked to find the room alone and just “make yourself at home”. And that is exactly what I am doing now as I write this article.

I wonder how boredom will affect me? How will I keep myself sane? Do I choose the farang or Thai food option? Will I pass the dreaded hotel covid test?

Find out more next time.

David Jackson in an English teacher and former headmaster from the UK working at St Mark’s International School, Bangkok.


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  1. Sami

    Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 12:05 pm

    David….your article is great but has given me depression…this was a place I would love to travel and would just take the next flight to BKK whenever I had a few days off in order to visit the beautiful islands and enjoy the culture of the country…really very sad…I doubt things will ever return to what it used to be…even if a vaccine comes bearing in mind the mentality of the Thai givernment…

    • Issan John

      Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      Thank God the “Thai government”, and the vast majority of the Thai people, take a more realistic view of the Covid-19 crisis than many Westerners both here and abroad.

      • Sami

        Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 7:22 pm

        Best of luck to you and your mentality…lets see for how long

    • Richard Thomson

      Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 5:26 pm

      The only way the Thai government can keep Covid19 out of Thailand is to permanently seal off the country from the outside world. Even when the worst of this pandemic dies down in other countries due to herd immunity, the Thai population will have built up no such immunity. Thailand is effectively in lockdown with the outside world just now but when it decides that the economic pain is too great and ends this lockdown, then it will have its pandemic. It will just be a year or two later than the rest of the world.

      • Issan John

        Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 7:21 pm

        “Herd immunity”.Unbelievable.

        Thailand is far from alone in closing its borders to the masses. Many countries in “the rest of the world” have done the same, for the same reasons: economies don’t boom when the populace are dying exponentially.

        In “a year or two” it’s probable there’ll be a vaccine – considerably more probable than “herd immunity” which has zero scientific basis.

        • Richard Thomson

          Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 1:32 pm

          Herd immunity is a well known concept which is why it was penned by the medical and scientific community in the first place. It’s why all pandemics die down eventually and if it didn’t exist viruses would simply go round and round unabated. Covid19 is a relatively mild virus and only those who have other health issues or compromised immune systems are seriously affected. Most healthy people are either asymptomatic or have relatively mild symptoms. This is no different from the hundreds of different flu viruses circulating the world. Nevertheless world governments have instigated lockdowns which have destroyed their country’s economies, destroyed millions of businesses and livelihoods and jobs. PS – just watching Thai TV. Four presenters in the studio. No masks, no social distancing ???

      • John Hope

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 4:58 am

        I have the same fear.
        Like New-Zealand after 100+ days locked down a large area again after 5 or so ‘cases’.
        And when their delayed wave hits, it will be the rest of the world that will declare those countries as deep red ironically…

      • John Hope

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 4:58 am

        I have the same fear.
        Like New-Zealand after 100+ days locked down a large area again after 5 or so ‘cases’.
        And when their delayed wave hits, it will be the rest of the world that will declare those countries as deep red ironically…

      • Terrence

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 5:35 am

        Immunity after infection or a vaccine is required for herd immunity – COVID-19 has neither of these.

        • Don R

          Friday, September 11, 2020 at 1:36 pm

          “Immunity after infection or a vaccine is required for herd immunity – COVID-19 has neither of these.”

          Right, and yet the immune system has cleared the virus from millions of people. I guess the immune system is a conspiracy now…

          As for vaccines, existing flu vaccines are only about 40% effective. Not exactly the silver bullet you people seem to think it is.

      • Don R

        Friday, September 11, 2020 at 1:32 pm

        Yes, exactly. As the rest of the world develops immunity, Asian countries will find themselves more vulnerable than ever.

        There is, however, a real chance that the virus will continue to weaken naturally. Most viruses do weaken over the course of a pandemic. So by the time Thais are finally exposed in mass, it might not be as deadly.

        As for a vaccine, wealthy countries will get it first.

  2. Mahmoud

    Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 12:29 pm


    I am going through this now kindly i have question how many months
    Was your insurance is it 06 months or for 1 year

    Thank you

  3. Nicholas Andrew Lorimer

    Tuesday, September 8, 2020 at 11:14 pm

    I have insurance covering covid 19 and well in excess of the 100000 usd. I have a condo in Bangkok and a retirement Visa but cannot get back. I have been away since March. Fortunately I have obtained work in Malaysia since my retirement Visa has just expired. Could not renew at the thai embassy in Kuala Lumpur. When I can come back to Thailand may indeed be into spring or summer of 2021. What I once called home is slowly becoming less and I may plan to move on from Bangkok at somepoint. I have no thai wife or family to come in for. Had lived there for six years. Malaysia is becoming more my home now. I know already a few expats who are no longer looking at Thailand as their home now.

    • James

      Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 1:07 am


      How can Thailand be any farangs home?

      You are all here on temporary visas. With a retirement visa you get a visa renewed every year.

      You could pay 1,000,000 Baht for a 20 year visa but there is no guarantee it will be honoured when governments change.

      Malaysia I understand give much longer visas and is more stable.

      • J West

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 1:04 pm

        Spot on James. Always have an exit strategy. Be prepared to walk away, regardless of residence status and be thankful for your G7 passport.

      • Nicholas Andrew Lorimer

        Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 5:41 pm

        Hey James. Totally agree with you. Since I had left Thailand to Malaysia at the beginning of march I had considered Bangkok my home for 6 years. Actually worked in Thailand from January 2009 to March 2016. Took on a condo in 2014. The covid 19 hit home as it were and I am ok here in Malaysia working at least to the end of the year. Initially did not have plan B precovid but now I do. Malaysia is a great place and I have many friends in both federal Malaysia and Sarawak. Thanks for your post.

  4. David Alan

    Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 3:52 am

    I bet more thai people will suffer and die from the economic damage caused by lockdowns than the actual virus could ever cause. Wake up sheeple.

  5. Luigi

    Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 12:32 pm

    Thailand has the right to regulate the return of tourists as it pleases but these rules seem more like a deportation to me. As long as they are like this I don’t think many people will think of returning to Thai. Very high costs including permits, screening, stays (!?) In hotels of 14 days and a cold is enough to send you to Covid wards to suck the insurance. It is better to wait and hope that the Thai people can endure this isolation

  6. Toby Andrews

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm

    A dictator and his gang have convinced a country of peasants that there are being protected from a dangerous pandemic.
    58 deaths in a country of 70 million!
    How many deaths on the roads this last four day weekend?
    Something like 80, but does the dictator close the roads?
    This dictatorship have grabbed total power with a fraud.

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