Healthcare In Thailand for Expats

Healthcare Thailand illustration

Thailand is a key destination for Brits moving to Southeast Asia, with year-round warmth, island paradises and booming city economies attracting no less than 55,000 Brits.

However, one of the most significant concerns for new expats is the need to understand local healthcare, and to ensure they have the right insurance in place should the need arise.

Being used to universal free healthcare and medical treatments courtesy of the NHS can cause concern for UK expats moving overseas – and with different schemes and costs across the globe, it is one of the critical factors in choosing where to live.

Here we’ll explain the Thai public healthcare system, how to qualify as an expat, and which healthcare insurances are essential for British nationals.

How Does The Public Healthcare System Work in Thailand?

The good news is that there is a public healthcare system in Thailand and that it works similarly to that in the UK.

There are two ways to access services:

  • As a working expat in the private sector, by making social security contributions through your salary

 or

  • Through the Universal Health Coverage scheme – which is used by 70% of the country’s population.

Permanent residents who are working must subscribe to the National Insurance system (which is compulsory) and then have the same rights to treatment as a Thai national.

Social security contributions are charged monthly at 5% of gross salary, to a maximum of 750 baht (£19).

You can receive free treatment:

  • Limited to the facilities available in the area where you live.
  • Provided you can present your Universal Health Insurance Card – also called a Gold Card.

Public sector healthcare is of a good standard; however, you might find a significant difference in facilities and treatments on offer between metropolitan areas and rural regions.

Emergency healthcare is available, but ambulances are not always the fastest, and it can be challenging to make yourself understood if you don’t speak Thai and need urgent care. There are also private ambulances with services for English speakers.

Private hospitals often have their own ambulance services. The important numbers to know are:

  • 1669 for medical emergencies.
  • 191 for police assistance.
  • 1155 for emergencies for foreign nationals.

When you move to Thailand, you need to register for the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) to receive your health card – available to all permanent residents and citizens.

Expats are then assigned a local hospital where they can seek treatment.

Rules for Expats in Thailand Accessing State Healthcare

While public healthcare is free for permanent residents or working expats, you may still require private medical insurance.

Expats can also access state medical treatments without a medical card and if not making social security contributions but will be charged for treatments. 

The costs of public healthcare are significantly cheaper than through private practitioners, but there can be limits on the types of treatments available, and waiting times can be fairly long.

Different types of healthcare registration have different levels of service.

Social security payees receive free consultations and prescriptions. However, these are generic services, and you can only secure treatment from the assigned hospital.

It is a good idea to take out private insurance. This is mandatory for expats over the age of 50 on a temporary visa.

Some medical treatments may not be offered by your local hospital, in which case your UHC card will not provide coverage, and you will need to contact a private practitioner.

Most Thai hospitals include GPs, dental services, and specialists. It is rare to attend a separate clinic or surgery for a consultation since nearly everything is carried out in hospitals.

If you need urgent care, and the treatment required is not offered by your local hospital, you will be transferred to another facility – and must pay for the transport and further treatment.

Medical insurance usually includes ‘evacuation cover’ to provide for this scenario.

Public Healthcare Costs In Thailand

Currently, there are estimated to be around 3 million foreign nationals living in Thailand who are not eligible for the UHC scheme, and if not in paid employment and contributing via social security, have no healthcare coverage.

The costs of public treatments vary between facilities, but an indication of the average charge is as below:

TreatmentAverage Cost (baht)Average Cost (Approx. GBP)
Hip Replacement515,000£13,000
Heart Bypass455,000£11,300
Gastric Bypass510,000£12,700
Hospital Stay – per day3,000 – 20,000£75 – £500
Hospital Stay – VIP room20,000 – 70,000£500 – £1,700
GP Consultation50 – 3,000£1 – £75

Note that these costs are averages, and can change significantly in different areas.

For example, you might have access to a bed on a ward for a basic charge but be offered a VIP suite for an additional cost.

You can choose between medications, food options, and facilities, with the lowest room rates being much cheaper. The higher-rated hospitals also levy a premium, and state healthcare can be as much as 30% to 40% less expensive at a smaller facility.

Most hospitals will also ask for a deposit of between 20,000 and 300,000 baht on admission (£500 – £7,500), depending on the type of treatment.

Generally, the facilities are immaculate, rooms tend to be private, and the quality of care is excellent. However, in densely populated areas, you may find yourself waiting a long time for the next available appointment.

Medical tourism is also a factor, with the low costs attracting visitors from around the world, usually seeking cheap cosmetic surgery procedures – breast implants, for example, cost around 105,000 baht in a state hospital, which is approximately £2,600.

Costs compared to other countries are affordable; a heart bypass in the US would set you back over eight times more than in Thailand, for example.

Prescription Medications For British Nationals In Thailand

Thai laws around drugs and medications are strict, so it is vital to check if your usual prescription medicines contain a controlled drug before travelling.

Penalties for importing an illegal medicine can include steep fines or even imprisonment, and some drugs require a license that you’ll need to apply for before you travel.

Your medication packaging will detail the drugs included, and you need to check those drugs against the list of controlled substances.

If in any doubt, consult a UK doctor or pharmacist for advice about whether any controlled drugs are included in your medicine.

The required action depends on what category of drug is contained within your prescription:

  • Drugs listed on schedules two, three, or four, must be accompanied by evidence that the medication is for your personal use.
  • A license is required if travelling for three months or longer, or if carrying sufficient medication to last over this period.
  • Medications containing drugs on schedule one require a consultation with the British Home Office Drug and Firearms Licensing Unit before travel.

To prove that a medication belongs to you, you’ll need a letter from your GP including:

  • Your name.
  • Where you are travelling and when.
  • What medications you have been prescribed.
  • Details about the dosage.
  • A signature from the prescribing medical practitioner.

Licenses can take around 10 working days to issue, although it is wise to apply as far in advance as possible.

If you have a UK prescription and are moving to Thailand permanently, you should request details from your GP, including medical records where appropriate.

On registering with a local doctor or private practice, you can request a prescription of the same or an equivalent medication. Note that hospital pharmacies are usually more expensive than independents.

Thai Health Insurance For UK Expats

Whether or not mandatory for your visa type and age, it is strongly advisable to take our private health insurance.

For example, even if you are entitled to state healthcare, if the treatment you need is not available in the specific hospital you have been assigned to, you will need to finance your treatment elsewhere personally – even if it is another public health facility.

If you were assigned to a smaller hospital without a dental ward, you would need a private dentist to carry out any emergency treatments.

Medical insurance guarantees private treatment, and there are multiple hospitals to choose from, including some listed on the stock exchange.

If you are entitled to state healthcare, you can hold private insurance at the same time – this can be a cheaper option, as the insurer is covering you for ‘top-up’ treatments outside of the state provision.

However, insurance can be expensive:

  • If you are over 70 years old, many international insurers will not offer a policy.
  • Premiums increase sharply past the age of 60.

For short-term expats, insurance is essential since there is no reciprocal agreement with the UK.

Where mandatory, insurance policies must cover, at a minimum, 40,000 baht for outpatient costs (about £994) and at least 400,000 baht coverage for hospital treatments and admissions (approx. £9,935).

Insurance premiums depend on your age, location, pre-existing medical conditions and number of people covered, but the average costs are:

  • 83,000 baht a year for a single person (about £2,100)
  • 330,000 baht a year for a family (about £8,200).

Local providers often offer much cheaper policies, from as little as 600 baht a person a year (about £15) although the coverage might not be as comprehensive.

You can choose from several insurance options and products, with the optimal policy depending on your duration of stay and whether you expect to remain in Thailand or travel overseas:

  • Private local insurance is available through local insurers, agents and brokers. It will offer benefit limits on each type of care – usually doctor’s fees, hospital stays, surgical costs, and emergency treatments. Local insurers will usually cover you for treatment at any hospital in the network, and you don’t have to complete any paperwork other than providing evidence of your cover.
  • Private Offshore Insurance is best for expats who expect to travel or move between the UK and Thailand. This sort of policy usually offers worldwide coverage, although there can be exceptions. Note that offshore insurance is not licensed in Thailand, so if you choose this sort of policy, you should purchase it at home from an appropriately regulated provider or broker.
  • Travel insurance policies can include short-term medical cover for the duration of your stay.

It is also essential to understand the terms of your policy, as most medical cover includes deductibles, co-insurance, and co-pays.

Deductibles are like insurance excess and show the amount you have to pay yourself before your coverage kicks in. Co-insurance and co-pays are a percentage of treatment costs that you need to pay for each procedure.

Some of the most popular expat insurers are Bupa Thailand, Allianz and Pacific Prime, and it’s well worth shopping around and comparing prices.

Costs Of Private Healthcare In Thailand

Private healthcare offers an advanced level of care, with innovative technology, modern hospitals and efficient treatment options. Waiting times for any treatment, including operations, are low.

In terms of value for money, if you don’t qualify for public healthcare or the treatment you need is not available, having a robust insurance policy can be cost-effective.

The best-rated private hospitals are in Bangkok, and all offer English-speaking staff.

If you seek private treatment and do not have insurance, you are very likely to be asked for a deposit or to provide evidence of your finances to verify that you can afford to pay.

Currently, Thailand has over 400 private hospitals (compared to around 1,000 public facilities offering a range of treatments:

  • General check-ups
  • Dental care
  • Hip replacements
  • Laser eye surgery
  • Kidney transplants
  • Heart surgery
  • Cosmetic procedures
  • Hernia repairs
  • Knee replacements

The sector is booming, given the cheaper costs of private treatment, including cosmetic surgery, compared to western countries.

However, insurance is vital for expats who are living in Thailand who become unwell, as a long-term hospital stay could be prohibitively expensive without cover.

Thailand is a popular tourist destination, and the country offers some of the best medical tourism hospitals and clinics in the world.

There are many opportunities to experience luxury health retreats. The health resorts in Thailand come with luxurious spas, wellness treatments, personalized diet programs and even ice baths and breathwork.

With an estimated value of US$28.5 billion by 2025, the private health sector generates over 4% of Thailand’s GDP with most hospitals in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Surat, Thani, Pattaya and Hua Hin.

Bumrungrad International in Bangkok is ranked as one of the top ten hospitals in the world, with private wings for English speaking patients.

As an example of costs, the below table indicates private clinic costs for dental work – per tooth:

Treatment:Average Cost (baht) per toothAverage Cost (GBP) per tooth
Crowns7,000 – 20,000£174 – £500
Root Canal5,000 – 16,000£124 – £400
Dental Implants33,000 – 85,000£820 – £2,100
Braces38,000 – 195,000£950 – £4,800

Privately owned clinics are available in malls in Bangkok, or branded dental clinics offer a cheaper alternative for private dental work.

Dental schools also offer lower-cost private treatment, but with long waiting times.

Some state hospitals also offer private treatments, available at a premium if you do not have public healthcare cover.

Healthcare In Thailand For Expats FAQ

Do I need private healthcare insurance to move to Thailand?

You do, yes, depending on your visa and age.

The Thai government has made healthcare insurance compulsory for expats aged 50 and over with an ‘O-A’ one-year visa.

Insurances should cover the duration of your expected stay, and carry the below minimums:

• 40,000 baht coverage for outpatient costs (approx. £994).
• 400,000 baht coverage for inpatient medical care (approx. £9,935).

The reasoning for this rule is that retirees or older foreign nationals are more likely to require medical care.

Insurance means that the public health system will not struggle to cope with treatment requirements for expats moving to Thailand.

Is public healthcare free in Thailand for expats?

As a permanent resident or an expat on a long-term work visa, the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS) will usually cover you.

This scheme entitles foreign nationals to public healthcare services through the Ministry of Public Health.

To qualify, you must make contributions to the UCS scheme through your salary and should be conscious that some services are not available free of charge, and additional insurance may be wise.
What is the quality of private healthcare like in Thailand?

Private healthcare is of an excellent standard and is often significantly cheaper than you would expect from a private practitioner in the UK.

The benefits of using private healthcare facilities, either with the funds to pay or with appropriate insurance, are:

• Shorter waiting times.
• Advanced medical equipment and facilities.
• Wider choice of care and locations.
• Higher likelihood of having an English-speaking doctor.

You will usually need to provide either proof of insurance or proof of funds to access private healthcare and can experience delays in treatment while insurance coverage is verified.

Do I need a prescription to get medication in Thailand from a pharmacy?

Depending on the medication, yes, you might do. There are multiple pharmacies in the cities, many open 24-hours a day, but in more rural areas you might need to travel to find the nearest dispensary.

Some medications are available only with a prescription from a medical professional, whereas others can be purchased over the counter.

It is essential to know whether prescription medications you have taken in the UK are permitted in Thailand. The regulations around drugs are strict, and in some cases, you may need to apply for a permit or be restricted to bringing 30 days worth of supplies with you.

What are the health risks of moving to Thailand from the UK?

As with any international relocation, the medical dangers in Thailand differ from those in the UK. The primary risk factor is contracting an illness from a mosquito bite.

Some of the precautions you can take include:

• Taking malaria tablets before you travel.
• Sleeping under a malaria net.
• Wearing long sleeves and trousers.
• Drinking bottled water.

The other significant risk is with air pollution in the cities, which can be particularly harmful to people with respiratory conditions. You should wear a suitable pollution-filtering mask during commutes if living in bigger cities, especially in Bangkok.

What happens if I get ill when living in Thailand?

Suppose you have state coverage, through social security contributions or by registering for a Universal Health Insurance Card. In that case, you can receive treatment at the hospital assigned to you (usually reviewed each year).

Should that facility not offer the treatment you need, you have three choices:

• Evacuation to another public facility who can treat your illness.
• Private treatment by using a private hospital – paid for either personally, or through insurance cover.
• Medical repatriation to your country of origin, also usually covered by insurance.

While public healthcare is free, it can be limited.

Even if you have a local hospital and have the right to state treatment, an insurance policy is critical to provide cover if you require urgent care, cannot wait on a list for an appointment, or need treatment not available in your assigned facility.

Can I get maternity care through the Thai public healthcare system?

You can – maternity care, including delivery, is included in state healthcare. Maternity services rolled out in healthcare reforms mean that 100% of Thai babies can be delivered in a hospital environment.

Alternatively, maternity insurance is an addition to expat health insurance or can be purchased as a standalone product.

This cover usually includes testing and pre-natal check-ups, labour, delivery and post-natal care for up to 30 days.

If you opt for private maternity care, without insurance, the costs can be high. The average charge for delivery in a private hospital is 100,000 baht (£2,500), rising to 200,000 baht (£5,000) for a Caesarean section delivery.

Is emergency treatment available through state healthcare for expats in Thailand?

It is – however, you might need to pay upfront or provide credit card details for the hospital to recoup the costs from your insurer.

The funds are usually claimed back after you have been discharged.

Below is a list of some related articles, guides and insights that you may find of interest.

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