By Veronica Inveen
Jul 22, 2020
If you’re desperate for international travel, it looks like you might be left with few choices for the time being. Sure, coronavirus cases in Asia are on the decline and most governments have loosened lockdown restrictions, but that doesn’t mean we’ll see any semblance of a normal travel world anytime soon. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the places that are closer to welcoming tourists, and the ones where locals may have to get used to a few more months chilling at home.
This list was last updated on July 21, 2020.
With only 156 reported COVID-19 cases and no deaths since the start of the pandemic, Cambodia is one of the few countries to have begun welcoming tourists—though, not without a few serious caveats. Those flying into Phnom Penh International Airport will have to pay a deposit of US$3,000 upon landing for virus prevention services, and then to take a COVID-19 test. If negative, the remaining funds will be returned, minus US$160 to cover the cost of the test and a fully catered day in a waiting center. If you test positive, you and everyone on your flight will have to be quarantined for 14 days on your own dollar plus additional costs like more virus tests. Find out more on the Tourism Cambodia website.
China is still closed to non-residents and there is no timeline on when that might change, even though all signs point to the fact that the country has passed the peak of the outbreak. Special essential and business-travel trips have been allowed between Singapore and China with limited work-related flights from China to South Korea commencing soon. As for domestic travel, people who are proven healthy are able to travel around the country—though, they must check into their every destination through a cellphone app.
All non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas are still prohibited from entering until further notice. Likely, the first countries to be allowed in will be Macau, Taiwan and mainland China, as plans for travel bubbles among these countries are already underway. After nearly eradicating the virus, Hong Kong had another spike in cases in late July. Because of this, businesses (such as cinemas, gyms, spas and pools) are being forced to re-shutter, with restaurants closing at 6 p.m., until things are under control again. Comprehensive guidelines and updates can be found on the Hong Kong government’s COVID-dedicated website.
India’s borders are currently closed to foreigners but various states are gradually opening up to domestic travelers after having been closed; these include Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Although regulations for domestic travel differ per state, most states require visitors to provide a recent negative COVID-19 report. In Goa, domestic travelers can only stay at hotels that have been approved by the tourism department. Stay updated on Tourism India’s official COVID-19 advisory site.
Although Indonesia has been one of the most affected countries by COVID-19 in Southeast Asia (with more than 68,000 cases), the government plans to reopen the country to international visitors in September. Tourist destinations, beaches and hotels will need to follow strict guidelines to control the risk of another outbreak. After three months of lockdown, Bali is beginning to prepare to reopen to the public again. From July 31st, Bali will be ready to welcome local travelers and by September 11th international visitors will likely be able to visit the island, too. Learn more on Tourism Indonesia’s website.
More than 129 countries are on Japan’s entry ban, but arrangements are being made for travel bubbles with 14 different countries. While officials nail down the plans, they are also placing serious emphasis on domestic travel with a travel stimulus campaign called Go to Travel, which will provide subsidies of up to 50 percent off domestic trips. However, due to a recent spike in cases in the capital, Tokyo residents will be excluded from the campaign for the time being. It’s also worth mentioning that Japan is one of the few countries that never completely locked down and has been able to keep businesses open—albeit with lower customer capacity—throughout the pandemic. Find official information here.
Despite having faced multiple resurgences of cases, Korea has proven very efficient in their dealing with the coronavirus, thus becoming one of the nations in the region we can expect to be included in anyone’s ideal future travel bubble. For now, Korea is still suspending visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for most countries. Foreign residents of Korea can apply for reentry—if they are willing to pay the fee for 14-day government quarantine—but no leisure travel will be allowed until further notice.
Despite a low number of cases, Laos’s borders will remain closed to foreign visitors until further notice. Officials have mentioned they are in talks with Vietnam to potentially start a travel bubble between the two countries, but no dates or details have been released yet. Domestic travel has resumed with local airlines offering regular flights throughout the country.
Most businesses in Malaysia have reopened after a nationwide shutdown in March, but tourists are still banned from entering the country. In fact, even if you hold a residency visa you’ll be barred until at least August 31. According to officials, reopening the borders is the last thing the country will do as it eases restrictions.
Out of the few countries that are welcoming tourists again, we’re pretty glad the Maldives is on the list. The dreamy island nation began lifting border restrictions July 1 as global travelers—including those from hot-spot areas like the U.S. and Brazil—were allowed to enter without needing any mandatory quarantine or even proof of a negative COVID-19 test. The only catch is that international visitors will have to book their entire stay in one registered establishment and won’t be able to resort hop, at least for now. Maldives Tourism officials are viewing each stay as its own form of quarantine since most resorts are on private islands. Stay up to date here.
Myanmar’s borders are closed to foreigners until at least the end of July. Officials will give an update on July 31 to announce whether they will begin to ease the restrictions. Domestic travel has resumed as normal, but the population is obligated to wear a mask in all public spaces. The country has seen less than 400 cases since the start of the pandemic.
All the latest information will be posted on the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism website.
The Philippines has one of the highest numbers of active cases in the region—tallying 36,000 as of this week— with fairly continuous growth. Different islands and regions of the archipelago are reopening at different rates (for more info on the status of specific states visit the Department of Tourism’s guide). Domestic travel will commence between states with low numbers of cases starting in August. However, foreigners hoping to visit the Philippines solely for tourism reasons will probably have to hold off on making plans for a few more months.
While internal lockdown measures are easing up, hotels have begun slowly reopening based on individual government inspections, and the number of active COVID-19 cases in the country dwindles, Singapore’s tourism board has not yet announced any steps towards reopening or welcoming tourists. They did however issue a statement mentioning that they are in ongoing discussions with various countries and regions on developing bilateral arrangements for safe travel. For the most current updates on the reopening status, visit the tourism board’s official website.
While there is no official date set yet and the country’s main airport, Bandaranaike International, remains closed, Sri Lanka’s reopening seems imminent. The tourism authority has been laying out safety measures in preparation for the day they open borders—which is rumored to be sometime in August. All visitors—even those typically visa-exempt—will need to be approved for a visa online and have proof that they’ll be staying a minimum of five days in the country. Approved applicants will only be allowed entry after showing proof of testing negative for the virus within 72 hours of their flight to Sri Lanka, and will also need to get tested for the upon arrival to the country, as well as once every five days. Sri Lanka Tourism has laid out extensive guidelines and protocols for visitors and the hospitality industry here.
Taiwan’s response to coronavirus is among the best in the world with only 449 reported cases. Although the country’s borders have been closed since March, they never had to completely lockdown— restaurants and nightclubs have stayed open and domestic travel remains as normal. While there are few signs on the ground that the rest of the world is in the midst of a pandemic, Taiwan will keep its borders closed to tourists or “social travelers” until at least October 2020. The government is now considering people visiting for reasons other than leisure (think business and education), though they will have to apply for a special entry permit and be tested for the virus before flying and upon arrival at the airport.
Thailand is another one of the region’s COVID-conquering champions, with no new domestic cases since April. The country is all but back to normal after three months of lockdown, however, you likely won’t be able to travel into the country for leisure by August 1, as rumors had slated the reopening date. The government has just begun to allow foreigners with work permits, residency or families in Thailand to return, though anyone entering—foreigner or Thai—is subject to a 14-day government quarantine on their own dollar. However, officials have approved of a domestic tourism package worth 22.4 billion baht to revitalize the sector. As with the other countries with few to no cases, Thailand has announced plans to form travel bubbles, but hasn’t yet released any concrete details.
One of the region’s coronavirus success stories, Vietnam has tallied only 369 cases—no new cases since April— and no deaths. The country has resumed domestic flights and hotels have reopened. Recently a few special flights have been arranged by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam allowing Japanese businessmen to visit for work purposes. The two countries announced they are working to ease travel restrictions, though solely for business purposes; tourism is not yet in the plans. Vietnam remains closed to foreign travelers.