Study abroad and international travel presents unique challenges and risks during this current pandemic.
We have, however, been able to run our fall semester in Thailand in-person with a small cohort of students. We have learned a LOT doing this, and this page is here to answer some of the questions that students, faculty, partner schools and others have about the process. We will update this as needed.
What is the process for getting a visa to Thailand? Is it different than before COVID-19?
The visa and arrival process is more complicated than in the past, but it is possible. In addition to a visa, all travelers to Thailand must be issued a Certificate of Entry, which indicates that they meet the COVID-19-specific requirements set by the Thai government.
Here is an outline of the process:
- Students receive a letter of invitation from Payap University (ISDSI’s partner school in Chiang Mai). With that, an intended flight itinerary from one of the approved repatriation airlines, and proof of health insurance that specifically covers COVID-19, they submit an online application for a visa and Certificate of Entry.
- Once the visa request is approved, students mail their passport, visa application and materials, and visa fee ($80) to their assigned consulate.
- Once the visa is officially approved, students submit documentation to show that they have purchased a seat on a repatriation flight and arranged for their quarantine at an Alternative State Quarantine (ASQ) hotel. ISDSI arranges the flight and quarantine hotel. The cost of the flight will be added onto the students’ semester bill, but the cost of the ASQ is covered by the semester fees.
- Based on #3, students are issued a Certificate of Entry.
- Within 72 hours of departure, students must have a COVID-19 PCR test (negative) and a Fit to Fly certificate issued. Because testing availability and turnaround times vary across the country, our Fall 2020 cohort flew to Los Angeles (their departing city) a few days before their flight to complete these requirements. ISDSI organized the COVID tests, hotel, food, transportation, and Fit to Fly certificate appointments. For Spring 2021, ISDSI intends to follow the same process, including a staff member present in LA to guide students through the pre-departure requirements and check in at the airport. We also ask the students to do a COVID test before they fly to LA so they don’t get stuck there if the test positive.
- Students then take all the paperwork to their international departure at LAX, check in, get documents checked, and fly to Bangkok where they do a 2 week quarantine (actually 15 days).
- Students are tested for COVID two times while in quarantine. By the time they are out of quarantine they will have at least 3 and maybe 4 COVID PCR tests.
Does Thailand have any restrictions in place for Americans entering the country?
No, at this time Thailand has not issued travel restrictions for incoming American citizens.
What kind of health insurance is required?
In order to be issued a Certificate of Entry, students must show proof of health insurance coverage that will cover COVID-19 treatment in Thailand for a minimum coverage of 100,000 USD for their entire stay in Thailand. Most colleges and universities that ISDSI partners with provide health insurance coverage to study abroad students which meets this requirement and can provide a coverage letter. If a student does not have insurance through their college, we can make recommendations for insurance options they can purchase individually.
I am committed to the program. Should I purchase my flight to Thailand?
No, do not purchase a commercial flight to Thailand. Thailand has suspended all incoming commercial flights. The only approved flights into Thailand are repatriation flights purchased through the Thai consulate travel agents. ISDSI will coordinate flights. Commercial airlines will still show regular flight availability on their websites, even though it is not approved by the Thai government. If you purchase one of these flights and the restriction is still in place, the airline will cancel your flight and make it difficult for you to receive a refund.
Can ISDSI provide a flight itinerary for our flight from the US to Thailand?
Because the only approved flights are repatriation flights coordinated through the Thai consulates, ISDSI cannot purchase flights until the Thai government approves them. Most likely, this means that flights will be purchased 2-3 weeks before the students depart for Thailand. We have relationships with the airlines offering repatriation flights and can provide a good idea of the expected dates of travel, but nothing will be confirmed until Thailand approves and releases flights.
Is COVID-19 testing available in Thailand?
Yes, COVID-19 testing is easy and available throughout Thailand and Chiang Mai.
What is the protocol if a student tests positive for COVID-19 while on the program?
All students will have single rooms. If a student is ill and has COVID symptoms they will get tested for COVID. The Thai government requires that if they are positive they are taken to the hospital, even if asymptomatic. (This is part of the reason Thailand has done such a good job with COVID.)
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, how will their academic experience be disrupted since they will not be able to attend in person?
If a student is remote, we will either Zoom the lectures or assign alternative work for the experiential field work part of the program. If there is a second wave we have a plan to run the entire program either online or in our isolation bubble.
Will students travel outside of Chiang Mai?
Yes. We are experiential and community based so travel is built into the curriculum and program. This is not primarily a classroom based program. To manage the inherent risk we are reducing the number of villages we visit, as well as housing (avoiding home stays when possible). Students will be COVID tested as needed or requested by communities. Villages and areas we travel with are COVID free (Thailand hasn’t had an outbreak for more than three months). Experiential learning activities are outdoors, and we have a comprehensive policy for how to do this in a COVID safe manner (universal mask wearing when appropriate, etc.). We review this and talk with each community we work with on an ongoing basis, and are able to switch activities and locations as needed.
The problem is not the risk from the villages, to be honest. In Spring 2020, villages closed themselves to outsiders — they will refuse American students if they feel we are risk to them. We we are doing everything we can to keep the students COVID free and tested so we do not pose a risk to our community partners.
Are there any travel restrictions within Thailand between different provinces or cities?
Not at this time. There were in the past, but those have all been lifted.
Will students be required to wear masks at all times?
Students will be required to follow all government requirements. At this time, masks are required in malls and other indoor spaces. In general, ISDSI students will not be required to wear a mask when on the ISDSI campus in their “bubble” but should wear one when in public or if there are public events at ISDSI. Thai people often wear a mask when they are sick, even before COVID-19, and view it as a sign of respect for Thai people and Thai culture when foreigners choose to wear a mask.
What is ISDSI’s refund policy?
If a student withdraws at any point before or during the semester, we will issue a full refund less any non-recoverable expenses (e.g. the cost of the ASQ, etc.). Depending on the date of withdrawal, this could include the cost of housing for the semester since we don’t own our own housing.