Living in Thailand is a dream come true - until it isn’t. When everything’s going right, its beautiful white-sand beaches, one of the world’s tastiest cuisines, charmingly welcoming people and a fascinating culture, not to mention a very low cost of living without having to live in a place that’s practically pre-industrial revolution. But what happens when you get sick or injured?

Well, you will be delighted to hear that Thailand has one of the world’s best private medical services. In fact, it’s one of the top destinations for medical tourism. However, as with all private medical services, it is not free and, while it costs less than the equivalent in the US or Western Europe, it’s still not cheap. Unless you have a lot of disposable income to spare, you are going to need medical insurance.

There are always the government hospitals, of course. They cost a fraction of the price but provide a fraction of the service. In fact, if you get regular meals, you are doing well. Unsurprisingly, a good percentage of expatriates prefer to have some means on paying for a better quality of treatment without depending on the contents of their bank account, making good health insurance a must. This guide will give you a rundown of what you need to know when shopping for it.

Is there a version of Social Security in Thailand?

If you are in Thailand as a working expat, you will see that a small percentage of your salary gets deducted to pay for “Social Security Insurance”. You will also receive a social security number, just like you do in most western countries. The purpose of this insurance is exactly the same as it is in those countries - to pay for publicly funded healthcare. As you are paying for it, you are naturally allowed to use it.

For plenty of expatriates, the comprehensive personal health insurance they get through the Social Security Programis enough. You get to select the hospital you would prefer to be your primary care provider, but which you are actually assigned depends on which of the hospitals near you has space on their books. You might not get your first pick in Bangkok because the top hospitals get picked by so many people that they can’t take any more. On the other hand, Chiang Mai has only a few hospitals are on the program, so you might end up with no choice at all. When you go for treatment, you will need to show your passport and quote your Social Security number to receive treatment.

The program covers most minor ailments - anything you would ordinarily see a general practitioner for. If they determine that you need to be passed on to a specialist, that is also covered, as are drug prescriptions, blood tests, x-rays, MRI scans and various other minor procedures. By just providing your passport and Social Security number to the staff at the payment counter, you will not need to pay a single satang from your own pocket.

On the downside, dental coverage is extremely limited. At just 900 baht, you have barely enough allowance to cover check-ups every six months. If you need any further treatment like fillings or surgery, you’re on your own. A more significant downside is that the hospitals that medical tourists come for are rarely the ones on the program. You are using a program equivalent to the UK’s National Health Service, so you have to expect a similar sort of treatment - ie. overcrowded hospitals, long waiting times, over-worked doctors and limited access to the latest medications or medical tech.

What are the benefits of private health insurance in Thailand?

If you are retiring in Thailand or even if you are working in Thailand but want a standard of treatment better than what Social Security Insurance will pay for, you will need to get private health insurance. Fortunately, as healthcare in Thailand is considerably cheaper than it is in the US and Europe, the cost of medical insurance is also significantly lower, making it accessible even to those who don’t measure their personal wealth in millions.

The provisions of Thai private health insurance are largely similar to those you would expect anywhere in the world. Those above the age of 60 will have significantly reduced choices when it comes to getting covered and those over 80 will generally have no options at all as most companies set this as their upper age limit. Additionally, pre-existing conditions are usually not included in the coverage and the insurance company may go as far as investigating your past if they believe you lied on your application to conceal such a condition.

There are a couple of extra minor provisions to consider, too - namely, that your coverage only starts 30 days after you join a policy (so try not to get sick for a month or you will be paying for it from your own pocket) and plans are only available for those who are officially resident in Thailand. If you are in the country on a tourist visa, you will not be able to get private medical insurance in Thailand.

Those provisos aside, private medical insurance in Thailand gives you access to some of the finest hospitals, equipment, medication and practitioners available. At most private hospitals, you will receive a degree of care comparable to what you would get in any western country. In some of them, the level of care is beyond comparison.

Furthermore, the coverage will include a lot more treatments than Social Security covers. Depending on your plan, you could have a significantly greater allowance for both dental and optical care, as well as emergency treatment and specialist care. The hospitals themselves are nicer than some of the country’s finest hotels, with first-class service and food to match.

What options are available for private health insurance in Thailand?

If you are in Thailand as an employee of even quite a small company, the chances are that medical insurance will be a part of your employment package. In which case, you will be added to their group insurance and you will receive whatever benefits they decided were necessary. You will likely not have much option to customise the package to your own requirements, so you just have to hope that your employer picked a good one - most do. As a general rule, however, bigger companies will offer better coverage.

When it comes to getting coverage for yourself, your options are:

-     local insurance

-     offshore insurance

-     travel insurance

What is private local insurance?

Private local medical insurance is exactly what it sounds like - private medical insurance provided by a local company. This could be an insurance broker or a service provided by a Thai bank.

There are plenty of upsides to using this option, chief among them being that the hospitals are used to working with such companies. That means all of the paperwork can be processed much quicker than they would be for an overseas company. Furthermore, the packages are usually specifically designed for use in Thailand. That means that the allowances and coverage levels will be appropriate for the cost of treatment in Thailand.

The downsides, on the other hand, include certain limitations on who and what is covered. Older folks may find it hard to get coverage in the first place and might find that their coverage is abruptly ended once they hit 75 years old.

Additionally, certain jobs and activities may not be covered by your insurance, specifically those with a certain amount of risk inherent in them. While a lot of hazardous jobs are protected occupations that foreigners are not legally allowed to hold, you may find yourself paying for injuries suffered while scuba diving, rock climbing, boxing or bungee jumping. Drink-driving, aside from being illegal and incredibly unwise, is also highly unlikely to be covered.

Finally, assuming the insurance policy even covers overseas travel, you may find that the coverage is a bit lacking in other countries. Since the cost of treatments in Thailand are so low, emergency treatments overseas might not be fully covered by Thai insurance. If you move out of Thailand permanently, your coverage will certainly not follow you as it might with an overseas provider.

Top private local insurance providers in Thailand include:

-     Luma Health

-     Aetna

-     AXA

-     AIA

-     LMG

For a more comprehensive comparison of the best health insurance providers in Thailand, visit Mister Prakan. Enter your details and they will provide a rundown of the available options in English, with side-by-side comparisons to make it easy to pick the policy that’s right for you. They also check the banks for their best offers.

What is private offshore insurance?

While local insurance is coverage provided by a company in Thailand, offshore insurance is coverage provided by an overseas entity. This comes with a number of benefits, particularly for those who are in greater risk categories, such as those of more advanced years. Unlike Thai policies, overseas companies rarely have a cut-off age at which your coverage will simply cease.

Additionally, since offshore insurance companies gear their policies to cover a wider selection of countries, you will generally find that the coverage limits are much higher. This means that you will not only be able to get excellent treatment if you suffer an accident outside of Thailand, but the low cost of care in the Land of Smiles means that you will be able to afford healthcare at the very finest hospitals available.

However, such services are not without their downsides. A major concern is that pursuing any kind of dispute with an offshore insurance company will be a lot harder than it would be with a local company. If, for example, you are forced to pay for treatment out of your own pocket and want to reclaim the funds from your insurance, you may be limited to contesting the case by email and may have difficulties taking the case to court. If the company is in Thailand, that problem is reduced.

Among the more reliable overseas insurance providers are:

-     Allianz

-     Bupa

-     Pacific Prime

-     ACS

Will travel insurance work as medical insurance in Thailand?

In the short term, travel insurance will provide you with a limited degree of medical coverage. Few travel insurance companies expect their customers to use their policies as their primary form of medical insurance, so coverage is generally geared towards only accident and illness coverage. You will generally not be covered for the likes of dental or optical care, annual check-ups or any illness or injury that requires long-term care. They are far more likely to repatriate you and hand your coverage over to your own country’s social security system.

On the bright side, you can generally find policies with a good level of coverage that last for as much as a year or more with a fairly low cost when compared to other forms of private medical insurance.

While it is plausible to use travel insurance as medical insurance in Thailand, it’s largely impractical and is not recommended for anything longer than a short stay or holiday. Proper medical insurance will provide you with better coverage and more peace of mind. Additionally, as of 2019, you will need to have proper health insurance in order to obtain certain types of visa, including a retirement visa.

How much should I expect to pay for health insurance in Thailand?

Regardless of whether you use it or not, you will be obliged to pay for Social Security Insurance. About three per cent of your income will be taken directly from your salary every month. If you join a group policy with a larger company, you will probably not have to pay anything additional, though you may need to pay for dental and optical care yourself and claim the money back from the insurance company. In some cases, the policy may only provide a fixed percentage of coverage, so you may only get part of the money back.

However, when  it comes to buying personal medical insurance, how much you pay will naturally depend on who you are and the degree of coverage you get. The average annual cost for international private medical insurance is US$2,728 for individuals and US$10,842 for families. At the time of writing, we were unable to find reliable figures for the average cost of local insurance. You will get a far more accurate estimate than we could provide here from Mister Prakan.

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