The latest notice from the Thai tourism ministry lists the exceptions to the rule that all foreigners must pay on arrival 300 baht at airports and 150 baht by land or sea. The fortunate ones are diplomats, infants under 2 years, those with work permits, single day and transit passengers and that famous expression: foreign residents in Thailand.
The latter phrase is optimistically being interpreted by some expats to include themselves as they see themselves as “residents” by virtue of their annual, renewable extensions of stay based on retirement or marriage or because they are learning Thai. But the contextual meaning of “resident” here is “permanent resident” or that category of foreigner who holds a red police residency book and has no visa expiry date in his or her passport. Needless to say, it is a much sought-after status with a complex application procedure which can take years.
The scheme has been delayed until September because of the publicized reluctance of airlines to include the tax in most airfares whilst skillfully excluding the 300 baht from the tickets of Thai nationals and the foreign exempt groups. It is not yet clear whether this dilemma will be resolved by taxing everybody and instituting a post-arrival refund policy, or by training travel agents what documentation to look for when deciding whether to include the tax. Of course, establishing a payment system on arrival at Thai airports would risk macro crowd control issues.
Taxable foreigners arriving at land border crossings have their own issues such as needing change, paying in foreign currencies or offering online payments. How to avoid long queues of discontented travellers has not yet been resolved, according to the Tourist Authority of Thailand. The proposed solutions have included advance payment online, cash booths at immigration checkpoints and, latterly, the establishment of a private company to sort everything out.
The Thailand Tourism Fee (TTF), according to the latest publicity circular, is to develop and keep up tourist destinations – presumably renovations and improvements – and “to provide medical insurance for tourists”. Without clarification, this seems to suggest that tourists – whoever they are – are automatically covered for medical emergencies and do not need their own insurance cover. But previous announcements suggested that government cover would be restricted to discretionary help in mass accidents such as cremation costs and compensation to family members. A spokesman at the tourist ministry said further information on TTF might be delayed until after the general election in mid May. Can’t come soon enough.