Is Schengen Style Visa System in Works for Southeast Asia?

Local reports from Thailand suggest that a new visa initiative, akin to the Schengen system, could significantly enhance tourism and stimulate broader economic growth in Southeast Asia.

Thailand is spearheading efforts to revitalize tourism throughout the region by proposing a Schengen-style visa in collaboration with five neighboring nations. Under this proposal, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Laos could experience heightened accessibility from Thailand, potentially fostering increased tourism and economic activity.

Recent media coverage indicates that the Prime Minister of Thailand has championed this initiative as a strategic measure to bolster the nation's prospects of reaching its ambitious goal of attracting 80 million tourists annually by 2027.

Is Schengen Style Visa System in Works for Southeast Asia?

What is a Schengen visa?

A 'Schengen' visa grants travelers the freedom to traverse seamlessly among countries like Austria, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Greece, eliminating the necessity of obtaining multiple visas each year. Serving as a key to the Schengen Area, this visa facilitates unrestricted movement across European nations that have abolished passport and other border controls at their shared borders.

What would a Southeast Asian version of the Schengen visa system look like?

Thailand's Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin, is actively advocating for a joint-visa program aimed at attracting high-spending tourists from distant corners of the globe. Reports suggest positive outcomes from discussions with leaders of neighboring nations. Last year, these six countries collectively welcomed approximately 70 million tourists, with Thailand and Malaysia hosting the majority.

Amidst economic challenges, particularly in its manufacturing sector and export trade, Thailand heavily relies on tourism, which contributes around 12 percent to its GDP and sustains roughly 20 percent of its workforce.

The potential inclusion of other countries in the Schengen-style scheme could bring mutual benefits. Presently, European visitors to Thailand enjoy a 30-day visa exemption, with limited extension options at additional costs and select locations. Similarly, Cambodia and Laos offer 30-day e-visas or visas on arrival, while Vietnam permits a visa-free stay of 45 days and Malaysia allows a 90-day stay. European tourists must apply online for a 28-day tourist visa in Myanmar.

Experts in regional travel suggest extending visa durations to 90 days, facilitating longer stays and exploration across multiple countries. However, the implementation process may encounter complexities, given the intricate political landscape of Southeast Asia. Bilateral agreements are expected to require time and negotiation.

Is Schengen Style Visa System in Works for Southeast Asia?

Impact on Indian Travelers

Thailand's ambitious efforts to establish a joint-visa program are unlikely to affect Indian travelers significantly. This is because Indian travelers already enjoy visa exemptions, visa-on-arrival facilities, and e-visa options in these countries.

Also read: 8 Places to visit in Thailand that you can’t miss

Thailand's visa-exemption for Indians

In November 2023, Thailand implemented a visa waiver for Indian travelers. This exemption, effective from November 10, 2023, to May 10, 2024, permits Indians to stay in Thailand for up to 30 days without needing a visa. The Tourism Authority of Thailand reports that this visa exemption has led to a rise in daily Indian arrivals from 4,000 to 5,500 individuals.

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