Thailand Offers World-Class Health Care
Medical care is available at a great value in Thailand. The country is one of the top spots in the world for medical tourism. Expats are often (sometimes embarrassingly) eager to share stories of the medical care that they received in Phuket, particularly. They commonly point out that their procedure averaged 20% to 80% less than it would have cost in Northern America or Europe and the quality of care that they received was far superior.
Whether you are in need of a routine check-up, a complicated dental implant or just want to brighten your smile, the dental clinics here also offer high-quality care at very low prices. It seems like there are dental clinics on practically every block of major cities, and you will find at least one in every small town. Patong Beach Dental, for example, charges just 300 baht for x-rays and 12,000 baht for ceramic crowns. Prices are even lower at the dental clinic in Phuket International Hospital. Many foreigners go to Phuket for dental care, combining the need for dental treatment with a vacation that pays for itself in savings.
Thailand does not offer universal health care, though medical costs are extremely reasonable and many people choose not to obtain medical insurance at all. However, with the cost of insurance so reasonable, it makes sense to have coverage.
Most medications available in the west are sold in Thailand, and prescriptions are generally not required other than for narcotics. Pharmaceutical prices tend to be a fraction of what they would be in the United States for the exact same drug. If you need to take a specific medication that cannot be substituted, you may want to check first to make sure that drug is available locally.
In Bangkok, there are two hospitals of international standard in Phuket—Bangkok Phuket Hospital and Phuket International Hospital.
Expats rave about the quality of care provided at Bangkok Phuket Hospital, and are quick to point out that Bangkok Phuket Hospital shares many of its doctors with Phuket International Hospital—the quality of care at both hospitals is superb. These two hospitals treat tens of thousands of foreigners and locals every year. English speakers should have no difficulty communicating with the staff at either of these foreigner-friendly hospitals.
Health Care in Thailand Information
With its long relationship with the United States, dynamic economy and its many natural wonders, Thailand is a common destination for Americans interested in working and living abroad. However, like anyone considering a move to a new country, you probably have questions about the state of Thailand health care and the services it offers to expatriates.
Among the developing countries, Thailand health care has been a success. Average life expectancy is now around 70 years. There has been significant progress in the control of communicable diseases, though travelers should continue to take all normal precautions. 2002 saw the introduction of a nationwide system of universal health care in Thailand that covers 99.5 percent of the country’s population. This public system, which also involves many private hospitals, is overseen by the Thai government’s Ministry of Public Health.
What is the situation with Thailand’s health insurance for Americans? There have been reports of Thai facilities inconsistently charging foreigners who lack health insurance, so it pays for you to be prepared ahead of time. Tourists will be familiar with normal travel insurance coverage, but the situation is different for someone who is planning a relocation or long-term stay in Thailand.
Health Care in Thailand for Americans
Is health care free in Thailand for expats? The answer to this question depends largely on your employment status. If you have a work permit in Thailand, your employment should allow coverage under the national health care system. Social security costs will be deducted from your payroll as in the United States, and you’ll have access to the normal health care options available to Thai citizens. If you were to leave your job, it is possible to extend coverage or switch to the voluntary system for those not otherwise covered.
On the other hand, if you are not eligible for coverage under the Thailand health care system, there are a number of other options available. The low cost of most services in Thailand tempts many foreigners to pay out of pocket, and others rely on hospital exemptions for example for emergency services. Unfortunately, worries about lack of coverage, the language barrier and other issues may lead uninsured foreigners in Thailand to avoid treatment except as a last resort. Therefore, if you are ineligible for coverage under the Thai system, the best option is private insurance. Unfortunately, there are no tax relief options from the Thai government if you go with this option.
The situation is more difficult for expats with pre-existing conditions since private insurance in Thailand will usually not offer coverage in these cases.
If you do have private insurance, up-front payment is usually not necessary. However, you should check with your insurance company first to make sure that the procedures you need will be covered. You should also make sure that the Thai facility or practitioner is prepared to accept your insurance information and process your claim without immediate payment.
Numerous reputable insurers operate in the country and offer health care in Thailand for expats. Assuming you do not need coverage for a pre-existing condition, you should have no trouble finding a policy that meets your needs.
Costs of Health Care in Thailand
If you have coverage under the Thai national health system, you will avoid almost all costs. For those electing to purchase private insurance, Thai premiums are generally around $2,000 per year for foreigners.
If you prefer to pay out of pocket, the costs of Thai health care are very low by American standards. This is one of the reasons Thailand has become a hub for medical tourism, especially for other Asian countries: Costs are low but quality is relatively high.
Nonetheless, unless you are covered under the Thai system and receiving care at one of its registered facilities, health care is not free. Even emergency services will require some payment if you cannot provide insurance information.
Prescription drug costs can vary greatly depending on facilities. While prices will be generally lower than in the United States, better-quality, private hospitals in Thailand will generally have the highest prices. The Thai government has recently moved to regulate the sale of prescription drugs more closely, and this may have had some impact on prices.
Facilities and Services
With affordable coverage from a private insurer or the Thai public system, you can take advantage of Thailand’s relatively modern health care infrastructure. The country’s facilities include over 1,000 hospitals and almost 10,000 health stations. These are divided into Regional, General, and Community facilities, amounting to 22 hospital beds for every 100,000 people. There are about 2.98 doctors for every 10,000 people.
The best facilities, including private hospitals, are found in the major cities like Bangkok. Health care in rural areas is adequate for routine needs, but physicians and providers may not speak English. Public hospitals even in major cities will be the cheapest (and free for those covered under the national health care system), but may also be crowded, uncomfortable and less developed. The private hospitals, often catering to expats excluded from Thai health coverage, offer world-class services and staff, but costs may be as high as those in Western Europe, especially if you lack adequate private health insurance.
Some details on other services for expats:
Many Thai dentists have western training. Prices can be extremely low, perhaps half or less of normal costs in the United States. On the other hand, major Thai cities often have a surplus of dentists, so choosing the best practitioner can be difficult.
Thai pharmacies offer drugs at generally much lower prices than those found in the United States. The only major difficulty is finding a pharmacy open at night, even in the major cities.
Services for seniors are generally high-quality. Hospitals, especially the modern private facilities, have excellent health care options for older expats. Home nurses and private health care aids are also widely available.