Thailand and China to Introduce Visa-Free Travel From March

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Thailand and China to Introduce Visa-Free Travel From March

The move extends makes and permanent a temporary visa waiver that the Thai government introduced in September.

Thailand and China to Introduce Visa-Free Travel From March

Tourists walk along Patong beach on the island of Phuket, Thailand.

Credit: Depositphotos

Thailand and China will permanently waive visa requirements for each other’s citizens from March in a bid to boost travel between the two countries, Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced yesterday.

The move follows Thailand’s introduction of a  temporary visa waiver for Chinese nationals in September, which was due to expire at the end of February.

“Right now we’re ready to open the country and to take good care of tourists in both countries mutually. This is welcoming news,” Srettha told reporters, according to BBC News. “This is an upgrade to the relations between Thailand and China and a boost to the significance of Thai passports.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin likewise told the media that “competent authorities of both sides are communicating closely on the matter and we are looking forward to the implementation of the relevant arrangement.”

The move is the latest attempt by Srettha’s government to revive its economically pivotal tourist sector after the ravages of COVID-19. Since taking office in September, it has introduced visa waivers for visitors from Kazakhstan, Russia, India, and Taiwan, and taken steps to reduce bottlenecks at the country’s airports.

The pandemic saw international tourist numbers fall from more than 40 million in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, to 6.7 million in 2020 and then to just 428,000 in 2021.

While the sector has since rebounded heartily, and the country appears likely to reach its target of 28 million visitors for 2023 (the final figures for the year have not yet been published), numbers from China continue to fall short of projections. Around 10 million Chinese nationals visited the country in 2019, but recovery has been sluggish since, due in large part to China’s stringent “zero COVID” policy, which ended only a year ago this week. The country’s current economic downturn has since limited the speed of the recovery, as has the relative paucity of low-cost flights.

Safety concerns have also played a role, following a shooting in October at an up-scale Bangkok mall that left two people dead, including a Chinese national. Indeed, so desperate has the government been to allay Chinese visitors’ fears that it even backed an ill-advised policy to allow Chinese police to be stationed at popular Thai tourist spots – one that it was later forced to retract.

After receiving just 270,000 tourists from China in 2022, the Thai government set a target of 5 million Chinese tourists for the coming year, but it was later forced to downgrade this to 4 million. Even then, only around 3.5 million Chinese visitors are projected to have visited Thailand last year.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has announced aggressive and optimistic targets for 2024, hoping to attract 35 million visitors from abroad, including 8.2 million from China. This mutual visa waiver, unlike the aborted Chinese tourist police plan, goes a long way to ensuring that this goal is attainable.