Government AffairsOnce laggards in the reopening game, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines are all catching up now.

The race is on! Southeast Asian countries vie for 'most open' title

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More countries in Southeast Asia are gradually removing pesky Covid-19 regulations to make room for tourists.
More countries in Southeast Asia are gradually removing pesky Covid-19 regulations to make room for tourists. Photo Credit: GettyImages/joyt

Move over, Thailand and Singapore.

While these two countries were among the first in Southeast Asia to reopen their borders to quarantine-free travel last year, albeit with some restrictions in place, they are no longer the most open destinations for travel — at least for now.

Because the rest of of the region has caught up this year — and fast.

Cambodia retains its open nature

Cambodia is one of the few countries in Asia with the least Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Cambodia is one of the few countries in Asia with the least Covid-19 travel restrictions. Photo Credit: GettyImages/sergwsq

Just look to Cambodia, which has been widely acknowledged by industry members as "ASEAN's most open destination" when it reopened in November 2021 with the least amount of entry restrictions — all that's needed was negative test results.

In a further sign of its openness, Cambodia announced 17 March that all fully vaccinated travellers will no longer be required to show a PCR or rapid test result while visa on arrival for passengers arriving by land, air and waterway will also resume.

Vietnam: no more uncertainty over its opening status

Vietnam welcomes tourists with open arms starting 15 March.
Vietnam welcomes tourists with open arms starting 15 March. Photo Credit: GettyImages/NgKhanhVuKhoa

Vietnam, which earlier offered scant details about its 15 March reopening date, has unveiled that welcomes fully vaccinated travellers without quarantine or tests upon arrival.

Incoming international travellers to Vietnam just need to submit a negative PCR test result certificate issued 72 hours before departure, or a rapid antigen test result issued 24 hours before departure, effective from 16 March. Those who cannot submit a pre-departure test result must take a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of arrival and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

It's becoming more fun in the Philippines again

There won't be a limit to the number of travellers allowed to visit Philippines' shores any longer.
There won't be a limit to the number of travellers allowed to visit Philippines' shores any longer. Photo Credit: GettyImages/R.M. Nunes

Come 1 April, the Philippines will throw open its door to all foreign tourists, with the resumption of visa issuances by Philippine embassies and consulates, according to the the Department of Tourism.

"This latest development opens the country to all fully vaccinated tourists from all countries and means the country's tourism industry is well on its way to recovery," said Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat in a statement.

The arrival quota will also be lifted from 1 April, removing any limit to the number of international passengers arriving in all ports of entry in the country. The Philippines had earlier reopened its doors to foreign leisure travellers from visa-free countries on 10 February.

Arriving travellers just need to submit a negative laboratory-based antigen test result taken within 24 hours from departure, In place of the initial requirement of an RT-PCR test taken 48 hours prior to departure.

Malaysia goes full throttle for reopening

While Malaysia was one of the slowest countries in Southeast Asia to unveil a national reopening plan, but it's now going full throttle when it reopens its borders on 1 April with travellers needing to do a RT-PCR test two days before departure and a professional rapid test upon arrival.

The much-anticipated 1 April reopening day also marks Malaysia's transition to the Covid-19 endemic phase, bringing much relief for the Malaysian travel industry which has now stepped up marketing efforts to bring back tourists to make up for lost time during two years of closure.

Similar to Thailand's Sandbox model, Langkawi had since November 2021 reopened to vaccinated travellers without quarantine provided they stay on the island for seven days.

Indonesia: Quarantine-free Bali paves way for broader reopening

Indonesia plans to lift all requirements by April if Bali's quarantine-free trial programme goes off without a hitch.
Indonesia plans to lift all requirements by April if Bali's quarantine-free trial programme goes off without a hitch. Photo Credit: GettyImages/NicoElNino

Bali's reopening to international tourists without quarantine is expected to pave the way for a broader reopening of Indonesia’s borders. Indonesia is on track to lift all quarantine rules in April or earlier, as foreign tourists in Bali now only need to wait for a negative test result on arrival before being released.

Since reopening in February, Bali is building back its flight connectivity although initial reports suggest that tourists from Australia, the island's top visitor source market pre Covid, are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to booking their Bali holiday.

Elsewhere in Indonesia, Bintan and Batam have also introduced sea vaccinated travel lanes (VTL) with neighbouring Singapore since 25 February.

Thailand's Test & Go be Test & Gone soon?

The fast reopening moves with fewer restrictions by its neighbours have clearly added pressure to Thailand, where the travel trade has been clamouring for easier entry rules since its revival of its Test & Go programme in February.

The Thai government has indicated that plans are in the works to allow tourists to enter Thailand without the need to show proof of a negative RT-PCR test within 72 hours of travel as required by the Test & Go scheme.

If the proposed revised entry rules go through, tourists will only need an RT-PCR test upon arrival and an antigen self-test on day five, while health insurance coverage for foreign visitors will be reduced from at least US$50,000 to US$10,000.

Singapore hints at new vaccinated travel lane model

Singapore's authorities have hinted at plans to fully open up to travellers from all countries, beyond its established VTLs, once the Omicron wave subsides.
Singapore's authorities have hinted at plans to fully open up to travellers from all countries, beyond its established VTLs, once the Omicron wave subsides. Photo Credit: GettyImages/leungchopan

There are growing signs that Singapore is gearing up for wider resumption in the near future.

Not only does Singapore have VTL arrangements with 32 countries and territories, the city-state has progressively simplified requirements for VTL travellers. Since 14 March, VTL travellers just need to take an unsupervised rapid test within 24 hours of arrival in the country, replacing the previous requirement for supervised test.

The Singapore Tourism Board, in a LinkedIn post dated 11 March, said the latest move "is part of reparations for a new Vaccinated Travel concept in the coming weeks, where all fully vaccinated travellers can enter Singapore without quarantine".

Reopening pace gathers momentum across Asia Pacific

Overall, East Asia has lagged Southeast Asia in its travel reopening efforts but that is expected to change soon when South Korea reopens to double jabbed travellers without any quarantine on 21 March.

New Zealand, on track to reopen by July 2022, has brought forward its reopening efforts to accelerate economic recovery. The country will reopen its borders to Australians starting 12 April, and to international tourists from visa-waiver countries from 1 May.

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