The healthcare system in Thailand

The healthcare system in Thailand
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Updated 2022-05-17 13:07

Thailand is one of the most visited countries in the world. It is also home to a large number of long-term expats, living in the country full time, starting families, retiring, and more.

If you are a foreigner in Thailand, accessing healthcare shouldn't be too complicated. No matter where you are in the country, you will find both private and public hospitals. Finding English-speaking doctors is easier in big cities, but you should be able to make yourself understood in most places across the country.

With that, there are several important things to take into account before you make the move.

It is advisable for anyone moving to Thailand to purchase health insurance before traveling, as visitors who are unable to pay medical expenses cause a huge financial burden on the public healthcare system. Because of this, you can be refused treatment if you don't have valid health insurance.

English-speaking general practitioners, dentists and opticians can be widely found in Thailand, and most major provinces have at least one private hospital, while popular tourist destinations have more. However, most doctors in Thailand are specialists, which makes it sometimes difficult to find a reliable all-round general practitioner for minor medical problems. Most doctors and surgeons in government hospitals also do not have one specific place of work and can have a busy schedule that is spread across different hospitals over the whole of cities like Bangkok. These various factors should all be considered when making a decision about which doctor to have or where to go for medical care.

Unfortunately, emergency transport facilities are not fully developed in Thailand, and the main obstacle in medical emergencies is traffic in a city like Bangkok. If you plan to live in the capital and have a medical condition that may need immediate attention, it is, therefore, advisable to find accommodation that is close to a suitable hospital.

Types of healthcare in Thailand

Thailand's health service infrastructure consists of three components: government health services, non-profit health organizations (NGOs), and the private medical sector.

Government-funded healthcare is managed by the Department of Medical Services at the Ministry of Public Health, which oversees public health services, government hospitals, and medical services. Public health facilities in Thailand do offer good medical services, but most government hospitals can often be quite crowded, which means that waiting times can be long.

Treatment is entirely free for Thai citizens who hold a Universal Coverage Health card, which is issued by the National Health Security Office. In 2001, Thailand introduced the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS), which was described as 'one of the most ambitious healthcare reforms ever undertaken in a developing country. Other public fundings include the Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme (CSMBS), the Worker Compensation Scheme (WCS) and the Social Security Scheme (SSS). However, the UCS covers the majority of the population with outpatient, inpatient and emergency care. If you are not a Thai citizen, then you can expect to pay a fee for medical services at government hospitals, unless you have insurance or a Social Security Card.

The private medical sector in Thailand is booming, and the country is now one of the leading medical tourism destinations in Asia. Most private hospitals in Thailand have excellent staff, medical facilities, and hotel-like amenities that are arguably better than those in public hospitals, but fees are also more expensive.

A variety of non-profit health organizations, such as The Red Cross, World Vision and Médecins Sans Frontières, also operate in Thailand to help disadvantaged people.

Health insurance and fees in Thailand

As we've mentioned a number of times throughout this article, it's important to have proper health insurance when living in Thailand.

If you are legally employed in Thailand, you will have access to free public healthcare as part of the state social security scheme. Thai citizens as well as expats working in the country are required to contribute 5% of their salaries into the Thai social security scheme.

If you are enrolled in the public healthcare system, you will be assigned to a hospital, where you can get free treatment. You will just need to show your Social Security Number and ID.

In most cases, public health insurance works quite well and the quality of healthcare in most hospitals, including public hospitals, is very good. On the other hand, public insurance does have its drawbacks. You may have to deal with longer waiting times and you won't be able to pick your doctor.

If you aren't eligible for public health insurance or have one but would like to have access to a

wider range of coverage, you can purchase private health insurance. When purchasing insurance, you will typically have two options. You will be able to go with a domestic plan where your coverage will be limited to Thailand or an international plan, which will cover you both in Thailand and abroad.

Private healthcare in Thailand works really well and grants you access to modern hospitals and facilities. You will also be able to choose the doctors you want to work with and find English-speaking personnel relatively easily.

Whenever you seek medical care in Thailand, it is important to have your medical insurance documents with you. If ever you are admitted to the hospital, you will be required to pay upfront for any treatment and then be reimbursed by your insurance. Most hospitals will recognize international private medical insurance, but you will need to pay for any services that are not covered by your insurance before you can be discharged from the hospital.

There are many insurance companies to choose from, according to your needs and budget. Some of the leading health insurance providers are:

When choosing your healthcare insurance plan, make sure it covers the health risks that often come with living in Thailand such as motorcycle accidents. If you plan to have a baby when you are in Thailand, it's definitely preferable if your plan includes a pregnancy package.

Consider having a look at their offers according to your needs and get a free quote on Expat.com's Health Insurance for expatriates in Thailand page.

Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payments or a high deposit from foreigners. Private hospitals may even ask to see proof of funds before treating you if you are not insured.

Medical risks in Thailand

Before flying to Thailand, it is advisable to consult your nearest travel clinic about which vaccines are recommended and to be sure you are vaccinated before departure. Do also be aware that there is a risk of malaria in some parts of Thailand, so consult your doctor to help you decide whether you wish to take malaria tablets, depending on the duration of your stay. Other mosquito-related illnesses of which to be mindful are dengue fever and chikungunya, so whether you decide to forego malaria prophylaxis or not, then it is still advisable to apply repellent and sleep under a mosquito net or with the aircon on.

Retiring in Thailand: mandatory insurance

As of 2021, you are officially required to have health insurance if you want to retire in Thailand and apply for a retirement visa. If you are getting insurance for this specific purpose, it can be both local or off-shore insurance.

Good to know:

Recently, the Health Ministry of Thailand has introduced a new policy. Under it, foreigners aged 70 living in Thailand on the one-year non-immigrant O-A visas have access to health insurance with a minimum THB 3 million coverage ($100,000). The initiative is meant to attract expats with high purchasing power to stay in the country long-term.

In general, it's a good idea to have your insurance arranged as soon as you can. Health issues can pop up when you least expect them. Plus, the health issues you have may also affect your ability to purchase insurance. So, it's always better to get yourself “covered” sooner rather than later.

Pregnancy in Thailand

If you plan to have a baby in Thailand, you will find that you have a wide choice of facilities available. You can choose to have your baby in either a private or public hospital.

Note that most private hospitals in Thailand will offer you the so-called “pregnancy package”. Pregnancy packages include a set of services from prenatal care to delivery and postnatal care and are offered at a set price.

Purchasing a “pregnancy package” is often more cost-efficient than paying for each of the delivery services you might need one by one.

It's okay essential that you have health insurance in Thailand — especially if you decide to have a baby. If you don't have insurance with comprehensive coverage of pregnancy-related services, you will see the costs adding up quickly. In addition to the delivery costs, you will need to factor in the cost of various tests (ultrasounds, fetal tests, etc.) and regular check-ups.

The total cost of having a baby in Thailand depends on the pregnancy package you have chosen and the hospital you plan to have your baby in. If you need additional services (like a C-section or more days at the hospital), you should be ready for additional costs.

The cost of the standard baby delivery packages in Thailand starts at about THB 95,000. If the mother needs a C-section, the cost of the package will go up to THB 133,000.

Health emergencies in Thailand

In case of an emergency, you should call 1669, Thailand's free state-operated ambulance service. You can also choose to call a private hospital instead. If you call a private hospital, you will need to pay an ambulance service fee, which is around THB 5,000.

However, as we've mentioned above, ambulance services in Thailand may not be reliable. This is why a lot of locals as well as expats prefer to use their own transportation to get to the hospital in case of an emergency.

When you arrive at the hospital, make sure you inform the hospital staff of any insurance you may have.

If you arrive at a government hospital and you have social insurance, you won't be charged for treatment. However, be mindful that you may find lawn cues and a limited choice of available doctors and medication. This is why most expatriates prefer using private hospitals and having private insurance when living in Thailand long-term.

Pharmacies and medication in Thailand

Medication is sold over the counter and doesn't require a prescription: this includes antibiotics and anti-malarial medication. If you have a minor ailment, you can always consult a pharmacist on the best medication to take. However, keep in mind that mild symptoms may also be a sign of something more serious and, if they persist, it's strongly advised that you see a doctor instead of self-medicating.

A lot of pharmacists in Thailand do speak basic English. However, to be on the safe side, it's best to find the medication you need online first and use a translator so that you have something to show to the pharmacist in case they don't speak English.

Useful links:

Thailand Social Security Office

MSNA Group Social Security Workmen Compensation

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Thailand

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.