Even as many European countries reopened their borders in the spring and summer, Southeast Asia has remained largely closed to tourists. The region that was home to some of the pandemic’s early success stories is only now recovering from a massive Delta variant–driven surge of COVID-19 cases in August and September. But with vaccination campaigns gaining strength, some Southeast Asian countries have recently started announcing reopening plans, including the popular tourism destinations Thailand and Singapore. For the most part, however, Southeast Asian countries are taking their time and are opening their borders very slowly and carefully, so it might not be time to plan that multi-country, months-long backpacking trip through the region just yet.
Here is what you should know about traveling to Southeast Asia right now
Cambodia has teased reopening plans but remains difficult to travel to.
Thanks to the success of its vaccination campaign, which led to over 80 percent of its eligible population being inoculated, the home of Angkor Wat is now weighing a November reopening for vaccinated travelers. Details remain scarce, but for now the country can be visited only by prearranging a visa at a Cambodian embassy, passing a predeparture PCR test, and going through a 14-day quarantine at a government-approved facility. Additional information is available through the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia.
Indonesia’s Bali and Riau Islands have reopened to some international travelers, but not Americans.
The world’s largest archipelago is getting back on its feet after an especially severe second wave of COVID-19, which made it the pandemic’s Asian epicenter in July and August. Nonetheless, Indonesia has just reopened the holiday hot spots of Bali and the Riau Islands to fully vaccinated travelers from 19 countries. This list includes Italy, India, France, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates—but not the United States. Visitors must pass an on-arrival PCR test and undergo five days of quarantine before their holiday begins. International flights to Indonesia’s reopening destinations are scheduled to start at the end of October.
Despite a high vaccination rate, Malaysia currently remains mostly closed to international travelers.
Malaysia has been closed to international tourists since early 2020, but there’s hope on the horizon now that 90 percent of its adult population has been fully vaccinated. The Malaysian government recently lifted the local ban on interstate travel and is now considering the careful reopening of its borders from mid-November. If the plan goes into effect, the first destination to welcome fully vaccinated foreign travelers will be the Langkawi archipelago, which has already been receiving local tourists since September. Specific dates and protocols have yet to be released, but there are at least some hints of progress.
With a long quarantine still in place for travelers and on-and-off lockdowns, now is not the best time to travel to the Philippines.
The sunny shores of the Philippines have been in varying degrees of lockdown for more than a year, with only around 20 percent of the country’s population now fully vaccinated. Domestic tourism has restarted, though, with top attractions like Boracay and Cebu already accepting local visitors. The Philippines keeps a twice monthly updated list of low-, medium-, and high-risk countries, with only travelers from Romania currently banned. As far as the United States is concerned, visitors need to pass a PCR test while undergoing a 10-day quarantine for vaccinated folks, or a 14-day quarantine for those who have yet to receive their full dose. For those considering a trip, be aware that the lockdown situation in the Philippines is a constantly changing cycle of tightening and loosening restrictions that differ by province. Come at the wrong time and your holiday could suddenly turn into, well, a lockdown. Until things improve, better to wait this one out.
The United States and several other countries join Singapore’s quarantine-free Vaccinated Travel Lane program on October 19.
Southeast Asia’s most-vaccinated country (84 percent of the population is fully vaccinated) just put its reopening plans into high gear by adding 11 “low risk” countries to its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL). After establishing nonstop quarantine-free flights for fully vaccinated visitors from Brunei and Germany in September, the Lion City will add Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S., among others, to this list starting on October 19. Under the VTL, fully vaccinated travelers can book specially designated direct flights from the included countries to Singapore. Participating carriers include Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, and British Airways. (The complete list of airlines and the requirements are available online.) Pass the required prepaid on-arrival PCR test and you are free to explore the country without undergoing quarantine. Afterwards, two more PCR tests are mandated on the third and seventh days of your stay—these can be done at designated clinics throughout the island.
In addition to the VTL countries, visitors, regardless of vaccination status, from Hong Kong, Macau, China, and Taiwan may currently enter by applying for a Singapore Air Travel Pass.
Thailand opens to U.S. travelers on November 1, after several regional reopening trials.
The Kingdom of Smiles has by far been the most accommodating country for foreign tourists in Southeast Asia. In July 2021, it made its first move to reopen through the “Phuket Sandbox” program, which saw the famous resort island welcoming vaccinated travelers from all over the world. This was soon followed by other destinations in southern Thailand, namely Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao, Phang Nga, and Krabi, also opening to vaccinated visitors. To visit these spots, fully vaccinated tourists (from any country) need to pass the predeparture and on-arrival PCR tests before they can leave the confines of their prebooked accommodations. In addition, another COVID test is required on days 6 and 12 at an accredited testing center.
The Phuket Sandbox scheme also allows visitors to travel between the above-mentioned places after being in-country for 7 days as long as they have tested negative. However, the Thai government has announced its intention to reopen the entire kingdom to tourists from 10 “low risk” nations that include the U.K., China, Germany, Singapore, and the U.S.
Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha stated during the October 12 announcement that arriving foreigners “can travel freely like Thais” provided they pass the predeparture and on-arrival PCR tests. On the other hand, travelers from other ports of origin will be required to undergo a week of quarantine before they are allowed to explore Thailand. The latest details on Thailand’s reopening plan can be found at ThailandReopening.com.
It is worth noting that Thailand is still in the midst of surge of COVID-19 cases that peaked in mid-August and is slowly declining; only 35 percent of the population is fully vaccinated at press time.
For more see: AFAR’s Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide
Vietnam remains a wait-and-see situation with potential reopening plans still vague.
COVID-19 cases continue to decline in Vietnam even as its vaccination rate remains one of the lowest in the region (19 percent of Vietnam residents were fully vaccinated as of press time). Nevertheless, the sun-kissed beaches of Phu Quoc Island may be accessible to vaccinated travelers by November, according to an October 6 tourism ministry press release. Vietnam intends to follow this up by reopening Halong Bay, Hoi An, Dalat, and Nha Trang in December. The reopening plan remains a work in progress, though, and the government has yet to announce which countries would be given access to enter.
International travel during the COVID-19 pandemic
International travel requirements and restrictions continue to evolve throughout the pandemic. Check the U.S. State Department’s detailed COVID-19 travel information and country-specific advisories, which are updated regularly. We often cross-check these references with entry requirements that are published by each individual country’s foreign or public health affairs office for the latest.
Additionally, all international passengers age two and older flying into the U.S. (including returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents) must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test procured within three days before boarding their flight to the United States.
The CDC also has detailed recommendations for travel during the pandemic, both for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers.
>> Next: AFAR’s Ultimate Guide to Singapore Travel
Lester V. Ledesma