Thai PM Proposes Schengen-Style Visa for Southeast Asia

Hoping to bolster regional tourism, Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin last month proposed a unified visa program for six Southeast Asian nations. The ambitious plan, which takes inspiration from Europe’s Schengen visa, seeks to simplify travel for international visitors by allowing them to move freely among Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Vietnam with a single visa.

Officials hope a common travel bloc would attract tourists who can remain for longer and spend more, further boosting the region’s tourism sector, a vital component of its economy that accounts for some 20% of regional employment.

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In 2023, these six countries collectively welcomed around 70 million tourists, of which Thailand and Malaysia accounted for over half. The unified visa would make it easier for tourists to explore multiple destinations in Southeast Asia by removing the need to apply for separate visas.

The Thai government has set an ambitious goal of attracting 80 million tourists by 2027, more than double its current arrival volume. Since assuming office, Prime Minister Thavisin's administration has already signed a reciprocal visa waiver deal with China and offered temporary visa waivers for travelers from India, Taiwan, and Kazakhstan. The single-visa proposal represents the most ambitious among his tourism initiatives to date.

Implementation efforts, however, will face challenges. The need for coordinated approvals and the lack of standardized immigration criteria among the participating countries will pose obstacles. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has a checkered track record in terms of carrying out multilateral policy frameworks. Most of the intra-regional mobility advantages Southeast Asians enjoy today are the result of bilateral agreements rather than joint accords.

While a Southeast Asian travel bloc remains on the drawing board, the world already has 10 genuine Supranational Settlement Blocs, which not only allow for visa-free regional travel for its citizens but also provide the right of settlement.

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Christian Henrik Nesheim AdministratorKeymaster

Christian Henrik Nesheim is the founder and editor of Investment Migration Insider, the #1 magazine - online or offline - for residency and citizenship by investment. He is an internationally recognized expert, speaker, documentary producer, and writer on the subject of investment migration, whose work is cited in the Economist, Bloomberg, Fortune, Forbes, Newsweek, and Business Insider. Norwegian by birth, Christian has spent the last 16 years in the United States, China, Spain, and Portugal.

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