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Expat Story: Traveling from the Netherlands to Thailand During Covid-19

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Thailand, Covid-19, Quarantine

Thailand recently re-opened its borders to some foreign nationals after banning a international flight into the Kingdom in April 2020. Expat and health entrepreneur Theo de Vries from the Netherlands shared his story and traveling fro the Netherlands to Thailand during the covid-19 pandemic.

Theo shares his experience in the Netherlands arranging his visa and now being in Alternative State Quarantine Hotel for 8 days in Bangkok, Thailand.

My name is Theo de Vries from the Netherlands, I am 44 years old, married with my Thai wife Panwadee de Vriesfor over 5 years and we have 2 children together. I live permanently in Thailand since June 26, 2014.

When I gave up my shares in my rehab company in ChiangRai in October 2019, because I was on the verge of burn out. After giving up my shares I decided to have a little break and I went to South Africa for 10 weeks to get my energy back.

Opening New Rehab in Thailand

When I came back to Thailand in February, I started the process of getting a NON-O visa because of having a Thai family. The plan was and still is that I would open a new rehab center in Phuket in July – The Diamond Rehab Thailand –and eventually would go for a NON-O visa.

I was in the process of getting my NON-O and then the Country went into lockdown; still having a tourist visa, the Government gave an extension until the end of July.

When I read in the news somewhere around the third week of June that some foreigners were allowed to enter The Kingdom again under specific rules; having family in Thailand, medical tourism etc. I took my chances. I Packed my suitcase and left Thailand on the second of July to fly to the Netherlands.

Thinking “let’s do it now, maybe they will change it again in the nearby future”

The plan was to go directly to the Thai Embassy in The Hague and enjoy 10 days with my family. Then I would return with my NON-O; this way I was secured that after the first of August I would still be able to be with my family in Thailand.

The flight from Thailand to the Netherlands

I flew with KLM directly and noticed at the airport in Bangkok that at least 95% of the flights that evening were cancelled; I was lucky my, KLM was still flying. Furthermore I flew Economy class and had to wear my face mask for the entire 11 hours. In front of me was a plastic bag with some water and cookies and cheese and a sandwich. No other food or drinks would be served on the flight. I was on a repatriation flight without even knowing it.

It wasn’t the most pleasant flight I had, but I thought “it is what it is…”

I arrived on Schiphol airport and rented a car, drove straight to the Embassy in The Hague. Once there they told me I can’t enter the Embassy without an appointment. These were new rules since the coronavirus outbreak. To make an appointment I had to email them and wait.

I went back to my car and emailed them with my request to go back to Thailand ASAP and get a NON-O as well. That same Friday afternoon they emailed me back with a list of things I needed to follow to be able to fly back to Thailand, they call it: Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3; the appointment at The Embassy was set for the following Tuesday.

The first step was to gather the following documents:

1. A cover letter I have to write indicates the necessity and urgency for me to enter the Kingdom of Thailand.

2. A copy of my marriagecertificate.

3. A copy of my passport.

4. A copy of the birth certificates of my two kids together with a copy of their passports.

5. A valid health insurance policy covering all expenditures of medical treatment, including COVIDworth at least 100,000 USD (a statement in English)

6. A filled in declaration form I got in an attachment.

I had all of these documents luckily well prepared in Thailand knowing I would apply for a NON-O visa including a bank statement of THB 400.000 if the account is on my name only, otherwise THB 800.000 if the account would be on my wife’s name together with my name on it.

Tuesday the 7th of July, I went to The Thai Embassy, gave them all my paperwork and Step 1 was officially finished. I now went to Step 2 which meant that all my paperwork would go to the Ministry for consideration and I could not do anything at this stage besides waiting.

Hurry up and Wait

I left my passport for my visa behind and left with the announcement it could take up to 2-3 weeks and they would contact me. I was already a bit shocked with 2-3 weeks because I was planning to stay 10 days maximum in my own head, that turned out a bit different than the reality at the end.

Two weeks and 2 days later the Embassy called me and asked if I would be available on a repatriation flight with KLM back to Bangkok on the 7th of August. I said “yes I am” they told me it could also be on the 14th of August with EVA air; they weren’t sure yet. They would let me know later. That same day I got an email that the 7th of August was confirmed and I now went to the third Step and needed to gather the following document:

The ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) hotel reservation, arriving on August 8. They also told me in the email that they would contact me later about the ticket, visa, fit to fly and covid-19 test.

I emailed all 26 (at that time, now there are more) Alternative State Quarantine Hotels immediately and 24 of them were full, only two of them had 1 room left. By the time I wanted to book my first option that room was already sold, so I quickly called the second option – Anantara Riverside Bangkok – and paid as soon as possible 77.000 THB to make sure I had that room.

I knew before I left that I had to stay in an ASQ hotel and I expected that and was actually looking forward to two weeks of ME time.

Emailed the embassy that I had an ASQ and again I had to wait.

I spent time with my family and I started to get a bit nervous, thoughts like: “what if I have Covid, that means I can’t fly back…” around this time I also heard that the Government in Thailand was so nice to give foreigners longer time in Thailand until the end of September and I started to doubt my decision in my head; the decision to fly all the way to Holland for a NON O and all the money that this costed me as well while I could have stayed in Thailand until the end of September and who knows what plan would pop up than to renew my visa?

The third Step requires the following documents:

1. A proof of confirmation that ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) has been arranged.

2. A confirmed plane ticket (if your flight is cancelled, you will need a new COE (Certificate Of Entrance), you may need a new fit-to-fly health certificate if the one you have no longer meet the 72 hrs requirement.)

3. A fit-to-fly health certificate issued no longer than 72 hrs. before departure.

4. A COVID-Free Health Certificate issued no longer than 72 hrs. before departure.

This is where it all got a bit tricky in my head. First of all, I already paid the ASQ hotel but they would not refund me if I would cancel less than 72 hours before arrival. The Covid test and Fit to fly test needed to be done within 72 hours before departure, so if I came back positive, I would have lost my money that I paid to the ASQ and had to go through the same process again with more costs as well.

I called the Dutch Government for a free Covid-19 test, but they wouldn’t give me the result through email, only through the phone, this meant I had to do the test at KLM Health services for Euro 149.- Secondly I did not have a GP in Holland that could give me a Fit to Fly document so I called my parents GP and she was so friendly to sign off on the document for free.

Testing for Covid-19 Before Flying to Thailand

The 72 hours before departure were hectic, I had to go to Amsterdam to get a Covid-19 test, I had to go to The Hague to get my passport back with my NON O stamp in there – they would only do one entrance at the moment instead of multiple entrances and I had to see the GP of my parents for a fit to fly document as well, besides that I had to book my ticket through a travel agent approved by the Thai Embassy.

It was stressing waiting for the result of the KLM Covid-19 test and the next day (36 hours before departure they called me and told me they lost my test somewhere and if I actually showed up yesterday…?

I got totally stressed and I could hear the woman on the phone got stressed as well and she told me she would call me back and hang up the phone without telling me when she would call. I waited like 1,5 hours in the car but it felt like a day and she called back and said “I have double good news; we found your test and you are negative”

I send all the documents to The Embassy and they replied with a last email with an attachment “Certificate Of Entrance” and that I needed to take the following documents to the airport:

-Certificate of Entry.

-Covid-19 test result. (English)

-Fit to fly document from the doctor. (English)

-Insurance letter indicating that Covid-19 is covered.

-My ASQ confirmation.

I printed out everything and on the 7th of August my father brought me to Schiphol to catch the flight back to Bangkok and knowing I wouldn’t return to Holland for at least 6 months I felt a bit emotional.

When I arrived at the airport of Bangkok on the 8th of August around noon, I was lucky I could leave the plane as one of the first people. I walked out of the plane and what I saw was surrealistic, like being in a movie. Men and women in fully covered white suits and over 300 chairs lined up for the passengers to sit on and wait.

I was sitting on the front row and immediately a woman covered in a white hazmat suit came to me and asked me for all my printed documents. The next step was to go to the next hall were we had to sit in lines of 5 people to get another check, than we had to go to immigration.

After two immigration officers were finished doing my passport check, I went to the arrivals area to collect my suitcase. Eight minutes later I was in a hospital van with drivers also in white hazmat suits that brought me to my hotel.

The New Normal in Thailand

When we entered the hotel, it was the same story everything went like I was in a movie; nurses checking my temperature, the reception taking my credit card, the doorman cleaning my suitcase, I had to put on a plastic cover around my shoes and they brought me to my room.

I first took a shower then lay on my bed overlooking the Chao Phraya River realizing the impact of the new Covid-19 normal. Even more reflecting on the total cost of my trip – over 300.000 THB. Besides that, I had been away from Thailand for a total of almost 8 weeks. The realization really kicked in and I was missing my wife and children.

On the third day I got a Covid-19 test in the hotel and that was negative. I was allowed 1.5 hours to go to the relaxation area of the hotel. I walked for an hour to get the blood flowing and had drink a soda water. Alcohol was forbidden to drink in the ASQ hotel, which I totally understand.

I get three meals a day and can order room service if I want to. My room get cleaned every 3 days by a cleaning lady in a white suit which looks like she is cleaning an ICU room.

I read books, watch a bit of Netflix and call with my wife and family to keep me busy. It is challenging I can say, but I noticed that once I accepted the fact that there is no other way, it became easier being in a 35sqm room 22.5 hours per day.

Tourists cannot go through the same Covid-19 process

I also have a lot of time to think about the future. On one side I am very proud of Thailand keeping Covid-19 outside the Country, the other side in me says its a little over kill. Furthermore I was planning to open my rehab in July, now it will definitely not be before January or maybe even later.

I am completely dependent on foreign patients that travel to Thailand to get help.

How is the future going to look like even when they open the borders again? I noticed that as a frequent flyer, flying wasn’t fun anymore. We can’t ask tourist to go through the same process as I did to enter Thailand.

I don’t think they will come if we do that. I can’t ask my patients to do so, that’s even dangerous looking at the aspect of detoxing as well.

Then I think to myself, I am still lucky to have my wife and kids, also some money on the bank to survive. A new visa, and new rehab that will open in the future. Above all I’m healthy and I am certain that in the end everything will be Ok, because if not, it’s not the end…

By Theo de Vries

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