If you live, work, or stay in Thailand for extended periods, the thought of buying health insurance has almost certainly crossed your mind.
Medical care in Thailand has the potential to cost a fortune, particularly in private hospitals where you are most likely to visit as a foreigner or expat. Even public or government hospital bills can tally up quickly for major procedures or long stays.
What You’ll Learn in this Article:
- What’s The Difference Between Travel Insurance and Expat Insurance?
- What Are The Health Insurance Options For Ex-Pats In Thailand?
- What Are The COVID-19, Retirement Visa, And Other Health Insurance Requirements?
- How Do You Make Sense Of Insurance Plans?
- How Do You Find The Best Expat Health Insurance In Thailand?
- What’s The Process When Applying For And Getting Approved For Insurance In Thailand?
- How Do You Use Health Insurance In Thailand?
From personal experience, I know the dangers of being uninsured in Thailand. In 2019, my father had a stroke while he was staying in Patong, Phuket.
It happened while he was alone and luckily, a passer-by called for an ambulance which took him to the nearest hospital. That hospital happened to be Patong Hospital, the only public hospital in the area.
He was treated there and ended up staying in the ward for a total of 12 days. His bill at the end of it? More than 250,000 Thai baht.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t insured either with travel insurance or ex-pat insurance and we had to pay the bill in full before he could leave the hospital.
Things could have worked out so differently if he had purchased an expat insurance plan. He would have likely been able to transfer to a nicer, private hospital while in recovery and wouldn’t have needed to worry about the bill.
The lesson has been learned and now he and the rest of my family are insured and tell everyone they meet about the benefits of health insurance in Thailand.
While the decision to buy Thailand ex-pat insurance is rather straightforward, the process of finding the best travel insurance plan, navigating the terms and paperwork, and getting approval are more difficult. This guide is designed to assist you with the most important points to consider when buying expat insurance in Thailand.
Travel Insurance Vs Ex-Pat Insurance
If you have recently arrived in Thailand as an ex-pat, or if you maintain insurance coverage, bank accounts, or credit cards in your home country you may already have travel insurance for Thailand.
Travel insurance is great for when you first arrive in Thailand and may be enough if you are staying in the country for a few months. However, many travel insurance plans have drawbacks for ex-pats in Thailand.
For example, many insurance companies will only provide coverage abroad for a maximum of three years. Also, foreign insurance plans may require you to pay expenses up-front before going through the tedious process of claiming money back.
Furthermore, with the recent coronavirus pandemic, many foreign insurance companies will limit the coverage they provide should you catch the virus in Thailand.
Expat medical insurance, meanwhile, is designed specifically for those living, working, or staying in Thailand for a long time.
Health insurance from a Thai insurance company or an insurance agent in Thailand will generally offer more benefits, quicker approvals, and easier claim processes than foreign insurance plans.
So while travel insurance is a good option for your first few weeks in Thailand, you should certainly look into local health insurance coverage once you feel more settled.
Health Insurance Options for Expats in Thailand
There is a wide range of options for ex-pats in Thailand seeking health insurance. In fact, the number of insurance providers and plan types can make you feel dizzy when all you want is some decent medical insurance coverage!
Let’s break down the main insurance options for foreigners in Thailand and what you can expect from each of them:
1. Health Insurance from Your Home Country
As mentioned above, health insurance, either as part of a travel insurance package or as a standalone plan, from your home country is an option for coverage in Thailand.
Despite some drawbacks, this option remains hugely popular among expats in Thailand for the simple reason that the insurance plans are easier to understand and more familiar. Besides, many foreigners may plan to go home at some point where their health insurance will continue working in their home country.
When compared to local Thai health insurance providers, these plans are generally more expensive. They also have limitations when it comes to claiming a stay in hospital with the majority of off-shore insurance providers requiring documentation and evidence for a claim.
Despite this, if you maintain a bank account or credit card in your home country you may already have health insurance coverage. You can give them a call and see if they provide international health insurance and what benefits they offer.
If you use an insurance company from your home country, double-check that you are fully covered for both in-patient and out-patient hospital visits in addition to any COVID-related coverage.
2. Employee Health Insurance or Company Health Insurance
If you are working in Thailand the chances are that your employer provides employee health insurance. For some, 5% of your gross pay is deducted each month up to 750 Thai baht and you will receive social security benefits. For others, your employer may provide private health insurance.
This is hugely convenient for any ex-pat working as an English teacher in Thailand with a modest salary. You won’t have to pay for private health insurance coverage and you can enjoy many benefits if you fall ill.
Usually, employee health insurance covers a minimum of social security. To use this, you present your passport and social security number at the hospital. However, those on social security may find the service at public hospitals is not as desirable as private hospitals.
Some bigger schools and companies may offer private health insurance plans for their employees. These plans allow you to visit private hospitals and receive treatment without ever paying a single baht.
That being said, employee health insurance has some drawbacks too. For instance, you have no say in the level of coverage you receive, and your insurance plan may not cover pre-existing conditions.
Unless you are lucky, the chances are that you will need to visit busy government hospitals with long waiting lines. For many working ex-pats, buying a private health insurance plan in addition to the one provided by their employer is the best solution.
3. Health Insurance from a Thai Insurance Agent
There is no shortage of independent Thai insurance agents offering a range of health insurance plans from reputable companies within Thailand.
Insurance agents in Thailand usually work with one or several insurance companies for a commission whenever they sign up a new customer.
Using an insurance agent in Thailand has several advantages. It is in their best interest to give you a good deal on your health insurance plan. Usually, you just need to provide details about what you require and they will provide several options for you.
There is also a personal touch. If you use an insurance agent in Thailand, they will become your main point of contact for everything to do with your health plan. Even if you are in hospital, they will usually sort out the claim on your behalf, leaving you free to leave the hospital without making any payments.
The only downside to using an insurance agent is the language barrier. The majority of agents do not speak great English and therefore communication is difficult.
If you have a Thai wife or a Thai friend who is willing to assist you with communication then finding a friendly insurance agent is an excellent option for local health plans.
4. Thailand Expat Health Insurance from an Insurance Broker
Another option for buying health insurance in Thailand is using an insurance broker or comparison website. Brokers such as these instantly compare health insurance deals based on your criteria, making it easy to choose a great plan.
There are a couple of differences you may notice when seeking Thai health insurance. For instance, coverage fees usually cover individual items such as equipment use, doctor’s fees, room rates, and other itemized options.
This is due to the way that hospital visits are billed in Thailand. Every single piece of medication, service, doctor visit, and equipment use is billed separately. Therefore, Thai health insurance plans provide coverage limits for each category.
Usually, when you use a comparison health insurance website you will find limits on what is available depending on your age, where in Thailand you live, and some exclusions like road accidents.
However, all in all, due to the ease of use and quick comparison between health insurance plans from major providers within Thailand, using an insurance broker or comparison service is the easiest and most hassle-free way to get local health coverage.
One of the most reliable and reputable insurance brokers in Thailand is Mister Prakan which partners with almost every major Thai health insurance provider. Their plans are also approved by the Thai government and come with instant certification to prove you have health insurance which can be convenient for the purposes of visa renewal.
5. Group or Family Health Insurance Plans
If you have a family in Thailand, own a Thai company, or want to get insured with two or more friends then group or family health insurance is a great option.
Usually, group plans include a hefty discount with excellent coverage for all members of the plan. If you have kids, this is particularly useful for claiming on regular check-ups and doctor visits.
For business owners, you will find that most insurance companies across Thailand provide special discounts regardless of the number of employees you are hoping to cover with a health insurance plan.
COVID-19, Retirement Visas & Other Medical Insurance Requirements
With the coronavirus pandemic, health insurance in Thailand has changed slightly. Proof of coverage for COVID is required for anyone entering Thailand at the time of writing.
While many health insurance plans now include COVID, it is always worth doubling checking that you are covered if you catch the virus.
You can also opt to purchase insurance designed specifically for coronavirus which includes hospital expenses and death caused by COVID. These plans are generally quite affordable at around 1,000 Thai baht per year.
New rules have also come in regarding health insurance for anyone living in Thailand on a retirement visa. As of 2020, and the time of writing, if you want to retire in Thailand you will need medical insurance.
The current rules for retirement visa insurance requirements state that you must have coverage of at least 400,000 Thai baht in-patient and 40,000 Thai baht out-patient.
While there are mixed reports regarding the enforcement of these rules, it is highly recommended to get local coverage before entering Thailand on a retirement visa or renewing a retirement visa at your local immigration office.
One of the easiest and most hassle-free ways to find health insurance for retired expats is by using the comparison service on Mister Prakan.
Understanding Expat Health Insurance Plans
When buying ex-pat health insurance in Thailand the number of options, coverage information, fine print, and options can overwhelm. However, there are some basic things to look out for that will assist you in making the right decision and buying the most suitable health insurance plan:
What Does Your Insurance Plan Cover?
Almost every health insurance plan in Thailand will come with exclusions and fine print. Some common exclusions in health insurance packages include:
- Natural disasters
- Acts of terrorism
- Road and motorcycle accidents
- Injuries from sports such as scuba diving or Muay Thai
- Chronic diseases
If you require health insurance coverage for something in particular (let’s say you like to practice Muay Thai on the weekends), then you should specifically ask your insurance provider if you are covered. If not, you should have an option to add coverage as an add-on.
Conditions for Pre-Existing Illnesses
Another common condition for health insurance packages is non-coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Usually, these are reviewed on an individual basis.
If you have a pre-existing condition, you should be upfront about it and inform your insurance provider to save hassle in the long run. Some companies will still insure you for the condition if it is not serious or offer you a package with a higher premium.
It is also common for older applicants to need to complete a medical examination before the insurance certificate is issued.
Annual Plans Without Extensions
A common tactic of insurance providers in Thailand is to offer yearly or even monthly plans with rolling extensions.
While these plans may seem very affordable and provide great coverage you should exercise caution when reading the fine print.
In many cases, there is no obligation for the insurance company to continue coverage after the period has expired. So, for instance, you could find the insurance company decides not to renew the policy if you are ill around that time.
Always choose a reliable insurance provider and ensure you will maintain coverage and have the right to continue renewing your policy.
Plans with Age Restrictions
Some health insurance plans may come with age restrictions, particularly if you are applying when over the age of 60.
Keep an eye out for any terms in your insurance plan stating a maximum age limit or increasing the premium after a certain age.
It is well known that people of retirement age will find premiums much higher in general, however, you should ensure that your insurance provider has not set out conditions about increasing costs or canceling plans once you celebrate a certain birthday.
Health Insurance Thailand Cost – Finding the Best Plan
In-Patient Only Health Insurance Plans
The most basic and affordable option for expat health insurance in Thailand is the in-patient only policies. Essentially, these cover only major accidents and overnight stays in the hospital.
These include major incidents that may require you to stay in the ICU, cancer treatments, food poisoning, and other major injuries or illnesses.
Usually, any in-patient health insurance plan will cover high hospital expenses such as:
- The cost of the room, food, and nurses.
- Equipment used for tests such as MRI scans.
- Doctor’s fees for consultations and visits while staying in the hospital.
- Medication fees during and after your stay in the hospital.
- Surgery and operating room costs.
Should you choose an in-patient only health insurance plan it is important to make sure you are properly covered for all serious illnesses and major accidents.
Also, ensure that your insurance provider allows you to use hospitals in the area where you are staying in Thailand.
Comprehensive Health Insurance Plans
If you prefer more extensive coverage for your health plan, you can choose a policy that includes in-patient and out-patient visits to the hospital.
These comprehensive health insurance policies are usable for all sorts of illnesses such as seasonal touches of flu and colds, chronic and long-term conditions, minor surgeries, and general doctor visits.
In addition to the in-patient expenses mentioned above, your insurance plan will also cover other hospital expenses such as:
- Doctor consultations and visits without overnight stays.
- Tests and examinations during check-ups.
- Any medication prescribed by the doctor.
You may find it worthwhile to purchase out-patient health insurance in a comprehensive package if you are living in Thailand for a long time.
Health Insurance Add-Ons & Additional Benefits
In addition to the options above, you can usually choose additional benefits and add-ons to your health insurance plan. Some of the most popular additions include:
- Dental check-ups
- Eyecare and vision check-ups
- Maternity care
- Use of alternative medicine and treatments
If you go for additional benefits on your health insurance policy you will generally get a better deal than regularly using the services without insurance. It is always worth asking about potential add-ons and benefits when buying health insurance in Thailand.
Process of Approval for Health Insurance in Thailand
The process of approval from the time of application to being insured varies from person to person, depending on a range of factors such as age, previous conditions, etc.
Firstly, it is essential you don’t lie on your application. If you have previous conditions you should state them on the application to reduce any delays.
You might find some insurance companies ask if you have been previously rejected by other health insurance providers. If you have, answer honestly. If you feel at risk, apply for several insurance policies simultaneously.
If you are over 60 years old or have a previous health condition, the insurance company may request you go for a medical at an approved facility. You should undertake the medical as soon as possible to avoid any delays.
Once you are approved for health insurance you will receive a policy with all of the information on it. Read it carefully to make sure the insurance coverage is what you expect. If it isn’t talk to the insurance provider and get it changed.
Once you are happy with the policy you can sign the paperwork and make the first payment. Usually, you will be insured as soon as the first payment is made to the insurance company.
Make sure you maintain payments on time to keep your coverage.
Using Your Health Insurance in Thailand
For the majority of cases, using local health insurance in Thailand is a breeze. When you enter a hospital, the staff will request your insurance information.
The hospital and insurer will then hash out the details between themselves and generally the bill is already paid when you are ready to leave the hospital.
In some cases, insurance companies require pre-approval before they will pay the bill. Again, this is usually discussed between the insurer and hospital without the need for your involvement.
The only issue that may crop up is a denial of the claim for a pre-existing condition or something not covered by your insurance policy. It is difficult to know how often this happens, but if you have fully researched and purchased a solid health insurance plan there should be no such issue.
Top Tips for Buying Expat Health Insurance
- Know the Difference Between Travel Insurance and Expat Health Insurance
- Understand the Options Available and Choose the Right Type of Health Insurance
- Find a Reliable and Trustworthy Local Health Insurance Provider
- Check Your Insurance Plan and Understand Your Coverage Limits
- Know Which Hospitals Your Health Insurance Plan Covers
- Understand the Difference Between In-Patient and Out-Patient Coverage
- Read the Small Print and Exclusions from Your Policy
- Ask About Add-Ons for Extra Coverage
- Always Carry Your Health Insurance Details Around with You
- Remain Honest When Filling in Your Health Insurance Application
Now you have the knowledge to go and find the perfect expat health insurance policy for your need in Thailand. Remember to compare different offers and always check the fine print.
If you feel we missed any important details or any information in this article is out of date, please let us know in the comments below.