Tourists in Asia navigate a mosaic of policies

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While fully vaccinated Americans can fly to hundreds of cities and towns across the country and 27 European capitals, border rules across Asia remain much stricter than in any other region of the world.

Asian governments have pledged to reopen their borders due to the improving Covid situation and advances in vaccinations. But they are lagging behind the rest of the world. Air travel in August to the region was still 10 percent from what it was two years ago, behind the US rebound. Travelers must navigate an inconsistent patchwork of border restrictions, visa rules and travel lanes – a patch that is likely to continue for months on end.

Travelers vaccinated a handful of countries, including Britain and Spain, will not have to quarantine themselves to visit Singapore. But Ireland and Portugal, which have comparable vaccination rates, were not on the list. And visitors from just four locations in Asia – Hong Kong, Macau, China, and Taiwan – can enter by requesting a special pass.

The list of eligible countries from which tourists can visit Indonesia is longer, with travelers from 19 countries allowed to visit Bali and the Riau Islands. Indians, who have vaccinated about a quarter of its population, are ready to travel. But those from Malaysia, which vaccinated 72%, or Singapore, 82%, are not yet welcome.

And the regulations in the Philippines have created some confusion. Two tourists were sent back to Singapore after arriving without the proper visas. They did not know that the Philippines had only opened travel for professional or humanitarian reasons.

Thailand takes a different approach, requiring visitors to make no stopovers. Tourists can travel to the island of Phuket without quarantine if they arrive on a direct flight, and they can visit other parts of the country after seven days. Arrivals without quarantine in the rest of Thailand will be open to vaccinated tourists from at least 10 countries from November 1, authorities said last week.

South Korea took another route: instead of allowing tourists to arrive from certain places, it allowed people of certain nationalities to visit without a visa. One of the tourists 49 nationalities may request a visit authorization.

But a separate list, based on the origin of the travelers, determines who must undergo two weeks of quarantine upon arrival in South Korea; Authorities are adding five countries to the list of those whose fully vaccinated travelers will not have to self-quarantine from next month.

Fully vaccinated people arriving from Malawi, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Zambia and Chile will not be required to self-isolate for two weeks starting in November. Visitors from 16 countries will still need to be quarantined, up from 20 in October.

South Korea also relaxed some social distancing rules on Monday, after several months in which it was at the highest level in the capital.

Most other countries in the region, including China and Japan, still require visas for foreign travelers who have been vaccinated. Tourists have not yet obtained permission to enter.


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