BANGKOK -- Thailand will start accepting visa applications online in February, first from China, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Monday, as the government tries to boost tourist numbers.
The Department of Consular Affairs said online visa application will be made available to all countries with which Thailand has diplomatic relations within three years. For now, tourists will still have to go to the embassy or consulate to get their passports stamped after the online applications but the government hopes to make the entire process electronic soon.
Beijing will be the pilot city for the online application starting Feb. 15. The service will be offered in other Chinese cities from March 1 and expanded to Europe in April, with the U.K. and France the first to go online.
Visitors can complete the visa application form and submit the required documents through the system. The ministry will collaborate with Kasikorn Bank, one of Thailand's four largest banks, to collect application fees electronically.
The payment system will accommodate cross-border transactions of over 126 currencies, and also will accept payments through credit cards, QR codes and internet banking. The ministry said that the QR code payments provided by Kasikorn Bank will cover WeChat Pay, Alipay and China Union Pay in hopes that the newly introduced system will help attract more Chinese.
This move is the junta's most recent effort to encourage foreigners, especially from China, to visit Thailand, as tourism broadly accounts for over 20% of gross domestic product.
"Last year, there were more than 8 million applicants for Thai visa," said Chatri Archjananun, director-general of consular affairs department. "Of this total, 85% applied for the tourist visa, and Chinese travelers constituted the largest group of applicants."
In October, Thailand experienced a drop in tourist arrivals for the first time since early 2017. The number of Chinese tourists has slowed since July when a boat sank near Phuket, killing 50 Chinese.
Thailand has been working hard to draw more travelers and it recently waived fees for visas-on-arrival for tourists from 21 countries, including China, for the months of December and January.
"We will conduct a roadshow in January to make sure the world is aware of the new service, and also we have to prepare for the system," said Chatri. The ministry may have decided to begin the system on Feb. 15, after the Lunar New Year high season of Feb. 4 to Feb. 10 to avoid any glitches that come with new technology adoption.