In a further opening up of visa-free travel, China has announced a reciprocal visa waiver agreement with Thailand.
From 1 March 2024, citizens of the two countries will benefit from a permanent visa waiver, which Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said would upgrade the countries’ relationship.
Thailand previously had a 30-day visa-free travel waiver in place for Chinese tourists. Now the Chinese are set to reciprocate. Though exact details of the mutual visa requirements are still to be finalised, Skift noted the move could be a “game-changer” for Thai travel.
Ambitious Thai targets
The country is gearing up to hit some ambitious targets in 2024, looking to achieve 3.5 trillion baht ($100 billion) in tourism revenue. As part of the strategy to help the country pocket that, Thailand is simplifying the way tourists can claim back value-added tax on Thai purchases. Tourists will be able to buy up to 20,000 baht (527 euros) worth of goods without having to produce them in front of officials for the refund.
Where do the Chinese come in? Chinese tourists have been a significant part of the Thai travel sector in recent years. They were the largest group (10 million) of incoming tourists in 2019 and made up 12.5% of Thailand’s 28 million foreign tourists in 2023, providing the second biggest tranche of inbound visitors, after Malaysia.
What’s in it for China?
For the Chinese meanwhile, there is a wider goal to their strategic “opening up”. Travel Tomorrow recently reported a flurry of loosened visa arrangements for European countries and Malaysia which signals not only a focus on re-invigorating the Chinese tourist market. The stated aim, according to a briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning is “to facilitate the high-quality development of Chinese and foreign personnel exchanges.” It’s also notable that heading up the list of reasons for permitted travel under many of the new visa waivers is “business”.
The approach seems to be working. China saw a 28.5% increase in incoming visitors from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia in December 2023 compared to the previous month. Around 91,000 of those 214,000 were visa-free entries “made for travel and business,” according to National Immigration Administration figures announced on Tuesday.
In the wake of this success, Singapore and the US are also seeing simplifications to rules governing travel to China. Singaporeans are now permitted 30 days of visa-free travel in a reciprocal arrangement between the two countries. And US citizens will no longer have to go through so much bureaucracy, with the requirement for evidence of round-trip air tickets, hotel reservations, itinerary, or an invitation letter, dropped.