The Ultimate Guide to Health Insurance in Thailand
You’re considering health insurance. You’ve decided it may be a wise choice and you’re curious about your options. Whether you’re a newcomer to Thailand and looking to get insured, or have lived here for a decade and owned a policy the entire time, there may be some aspects of the health insurance system that you’re unaware of.
Plain and simple, the policy you choose today, or in the coming months, could have a major impact on your life ten years from now. For example, if you choose a plan without a lifetime renewal guarantee, your provider could drop your policy and you may lose the ability to get coverage from any provider—anywhere in Thailand. However, if you choose the right policy, you can get outstanding coverage, equivalent to the best health insurance plans in your home country.
To help you navigate this minefield, we’ve created this guide to walk you through everything you need to know about choosing the right health insurance policy in Thailand—from understanding the pros and cons of different plans, to the questions you should ask about international coverage. Shall we begin?
There are two typical ways you can obtain health insurance coverage: through a personal policy or a policy through your employer. As you’ll soon see, there are pros and cons to both options, which vary depending on your personal circumstances.
Just like in your home country, if you choose to purchase private health insurance, you gain one major benefit: you have full control of what type of cover you receive. However, that’s not the only advantage of personal health insurance. If you obtain your own policy, you never have to worry about losing coverage because you leave your job. What’s more, you’ll have the choice to add a lifetime renewal guarantee, which ensures you can always renew your policy.
How does a lifetime renewal guarantee protect you? In Thailand, many insurance policies have the right to refuse renewing your policy or exclude conditions that developed while you were under their coverage. For example, if you are diagnosed with cancer, some insurance policies may drop your cover for the disease when your policy renews. With a lifetime renewal guarantee, such as the one offered with many LUMA plans, you’ll never have to worry about losing your coverage for any illness.
What about the disadvantages of private health insurance? The only downside is that you have to pay for it out of your own pocket.
No risk of losing coverage - when leaving a job, you’ll have peace of mind that critical illnesses and accidents will continue to be covered if something happens to you. If during your employment you contract a new medical condition or have an accident, this will be considered as a ‘pre-existing condition’ once you leave your job and re-apply for insurance. If you contract something serious, then it is probably not even possible to get another insurance policy at all as insurance companies won’t accept people with certain conditions (for example, cancer).
Choice of renewability - you have the choice of choosing plans that guarantee renewability up to a certain age, or even lifetime renewability. However, many personal insurance plans by some companies do not offer renewability, so it’s advised to enquire carefully to ensure your policy can be renewed.
Customisation of your plan - you pick the right coverage to match your needs and/or your family’s needs. The coverage offered by employers can sometimes be inadequate for your unique circumstances. Choosing your own plan will help ensure that you are fully protected where & how you need to be.
Time spent researching options - you need to do your own detailed research to find the right coverage for your needs.
More paperwork - you’ll have to fill out the application forms for your plan.
Cost - you pay for a private plan out of your own pocket.
If you’ve ever had group health insurance covered by an employer, you know there are some obvious advantages and disadvantages. A big plus is that the company pays for the policy. On the negative side, an employee does not typically have the option to customise the policy according to his or her individual needs. And if you leave your job, you’ll lose the coverage.
What about the not-so-obvious advantages to employee health insurance in Thailand? If the company you work for is large enough, you may be covered for pre-existing conditions. This is a major benefit to those who have chronic diseases or health problems.
It’s also worth noting that outpatient care (OPD) is typically included in your policy as part of your employee benefits. This, however, can be both a pro and con. If you buy a personal policy out of your own pocket, adding OPD coverage can double your monthly premium. So while it is true that business health insurance offered by your employer can save you money on outpatient care, the levels of OPD (and inpatient care (IPD) as well) are typically so low that it may not be much of a benefit. Will it be enough to cover your insurance needs? It depends on your health, age and the level of cover you’re comfortable with.
Paid by the employer - your company covers part or all of your health insurance premium.
Pre-existing condition cover - depending on the size of your company and policy, you may be covered for your pre-existing conditions.
Often adequate for routine healthcare - such as outpatient visits for seasonal flus; and some policies may even offer dental care.
Potential loss of coverage - you may not be able to get another private insurance policy when you leave if you contract a serious condition during your employment - as this condition will be considered a ‘pre-existing condition’, which if severe enough will be rejected by most companies.
Development of new pre-existing conditions - conditions developed during your employment, even minor ones, will be considered ‘pre-existing’ so they can be excluded from coverage when you apply for another insurance policy.
Non-customisable for individual needs - the coverage may not be adequate for the needs of you and your family. You need to consider if the limits are high enough to cover hospitalizations, medical emergencies, accidents and other serious illnesses. You need to also consider whether the coverage will be available at the locations where you want to have treatment. For example, if you’re an expat and want to have treatment in your home country. Or if you’re Thai, you may have a preference for medical treatments abroad, such as in Singapore.
"The bottom line is, you need to ensure you or your family are covered against critical illnesses and accidents in the long term. What you should get will depend on your personal circumstances."
For example, say you’re a short term expat residing in Thailand. You have access to a benefit package provided by your employer and a good healthcare system in your home country that fully covers you. In this case, your company health insurance plan may be enough (provided you are ok with the levels of coverage).
However, if you’re planning to be a long term resident of Thailand, you should plan for the long term to ensure you’re fully covered regardless of your employment status. In this case it will be worthwhile to purchase a second insurance policy that complements the plan you have with your company. Many companies will already offer adequate outpatient care coverage, so sometimes the only thing you’ll need to look for are essential plans, which are designed to cover the less frequent, more serious and more expensive illnesses/accidents.
Many expats will obtain private health insurance in addition to the cover offered by their employer. Doing so provides you all the advantages of both types of policies, with the only downside being the additional cost.
Here we will explore the most common health coverage plan options selected by expatriates in Thailand and what to look for in each plan option.
Health insurance plans favored by expats generally fall into the following categories:
Plans with inpatient cover only
Plans with inpatient and outpatient cover
Plans with inpatient and outpatient cover + other benefits such as dental care, vision care, maternity and health checkups
Plans that include only inpatient cover are often referred to as an essential health insurance plan or a basic health insurance plan. These plans typically only cover expenses when you are hospitalized overnight or during the day (also known as daycare).
Inpatient cover is often labelled as ‘essential’ for good reason as any event requiring inpatient treatment will often be a cause of trauma and can potentially be very costly. You need to ensure you have good coverage to ensure you have access to the treatment you need at the facility you are comfortable with.
Coverage of inpatient only plans, or essential health insurance plans, will typically include hospital expenses such as:
Cost of the room (as well as nursing charges & food)
Diagnostic tests (e.g. MRI, PET scans)
Doctor’s fee and medications
Cost of surgeries and cost of operating room
Here are a few scenarios where you may be hospitalized, either overnight or as a daycare patient:
Major accidents requiring long stays in an intensive care unit
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy
To ensure you have a good inpatient cover, ensure limits of the plan's coverage are sufficient for:
Serious illnesses (e.g. cancers)
Medical facilities in your area or medical facilities you are comfortable with
Some people will want to be covered for all health risks - not just major ones. Because of this, some expats prefer to have plans with both inpatient and outpatient cover. Outpatient refers to medical services not requiring a stay overnight in a hospital or as a daycare. Plans with both in- and out-patient cover are often labelled as comprehensive health insurance plans.
In addition to cover for inpatient medical expenses, comprehensive health insurance plans will typically cover hospital expenses such as:
Consultation & doctor’s fees
Here are a few scenarios where you may need outpatient care:
Seasonal health risks
Chronic conditions requiring long term treatment with regular supervision
Minor surgeries like cryotherapy, electrocautery, and curettage among others.
Outpatient care in Thailand is generally affordable and buying a comprehensive health insurance plan will cost more than an essential health insurance plan. Nevertheless, it may be worthwhile to purchase such a plan as it would be typically difficult to upgrade from an essential to a comprehensive plan with outpatient cover once you develop a new medical condition, especially a chronic condition requiring long term supervision and support. This is because health insurance companies will typically consider these problems as ‘pre-existing conditions’ and will exclude them from your policy; even if you have been with the same company.
Comprehensive insurance plans with other benefits
Many health insurance companies will offer comprehensive health insurance plus other benefits which may not necessarily be related to health risks, instead more akin to prevention, health screening and other medical services that are taken by the member’s own choosing (e.g. pregnancy).
These additional benefits may include (and the list could go on):
Alternative medicine (e.g. acupuncture)
These benefits can sometimes be affordable without insurance. However, here are some good reasons why you may want to include these benefits in your plan:
Your insurance plan may give you access to better deals than purchasing these services on your own
A good health insurance provider will be able to offer additional support such as guiding you to the right specialist
Many of Thailand’s health insurance policies may mention that they offer worldwide coverage, however, this is often referring to medical emergencies only. If you would like to get medical treatment abroad, you may be denied coverage. For this reason, check the policy carefully to see if you will be allowed to have your treatment outside of Thailand for non-urgent medical procedures, such as a planned surgery. Below are four of the most common areas of coverage found in many insurance policies:
If you select this area of cover, you may be denied coverage outside of Thailand. Many policies do not explicitly state the area of coverage, so check with your agent or the insurance company to see if the plan’s area of coverage is local.
Regional area of cover will allow you to be covered fully within those regions, even for non-emergencies.
These plans will allow you to be fully covered worldwide with the exception of the excluded countries. The most commonly excluded country is the USA, as medical expenses there can be very costly.
Not so common in Thailand as the cost of a policy (i.e. the premiums) will be very high.
Ask yourself these questions for the upcoming year.
What’s your budget? The more countries included in your policy’s area of cover, the more costly it will be. You can make your premium more affordable by limiting the amount of countries in your area of cover.
Will you be travelling for extended periods of time? If you need to travel for an extended period of time, either for work or leisure, then it may be wise to ensure those countries are included in your area of cover. However, many health insurance plans offer coverage for medical emergencies & accidents for treatments outside the area of cover. For example, Luma offers 60 days coverage for medical emergencies and accidents outside the area of cover, meaning if you’re travelling for less than 60 days, you’ll be covered.
Do you want the option to be treated elsewhere? For expats, if your home country is not included in the area of cover and you’d like to be treated there, then it’s worth talking with your health insurance provider about adding the option to your policy. Whether you’re an expat or a local, you may also want the option and flexibility to be treated by the best doctors, wherever they may be.
Disclaimer: The following medical centers are typically used by western expats in Thailand. Hospitals are listed in no particular order, and we neither endorse or recommend them. If you choose to receive medical care at any of these facilities, that is at your sole discretion, and LUMA assumes no responsibility in relation to their management of care.
When choosing the right hospital in Thailand for you, there are three factors to consider: the facility’s quality and special medical treatments offered; and the service. Below is a list of top hospitals in Thailand, broken down by region.
Central Thailand, consisting of 22 provinces, is home to many of the country’s premier medical facilities. If you’re looking for the best hospital in Bangkok, these hospitals are some of the most well known and many specifically cater to expats:
Samitivej hospital, Bangkok - over 2,000 health professionals and 400 specialists treat patients at this 275 bed tertiary care hospital.
Bangkok Hospital - this hospital has a long history of treating international patients.
Siriraj hospital, Bangkok - though not specifically catering to foreigners, many expats often cite Siriraj as one of the best government hospitals in Bangkok.
BNH - this medical facility is recognized as Thailand’s first international private hospital, and has been serving expats for over 120 years.
Bumrungrad - one of South East Asia’s largest hospitals, this 580 bed medical center has a long history of treating international patients.
Consisting of 7 provinces, East Thailand is bordered by Cambodia to the east, Central Thailand to the west, and the gulf coast to the south.
Bangkok Pattaya Hospital - one of the best known hospitals in Pattaya. This 400 bed facility is a JCI accredited, multidisciplinary hospital.
Pattaya International Hospital - another option for expats searching for a hospital in Pattaya, this 80 bed private hospital offers emergency services and some common medicine and surgery care. Some of Pattaya International Hospital's specialties include plastic surgery and state of the art orthopedic and dermatology centers.
Pattaya Memorial Hospital - offers emergency services, medicine and surgery care.
Also known as Isaan, northeast Thailand is the country’s largest region and is home to 20 provinces. Laos borders the region to the north and east, and Cambodia borders the south. Here are some of the best known hospitals in Isaan.
Bangkok Hospital Udon - a JCI accredited hospital located in Udon Thani.
Sri Nagarind Hospital - The main tertiary medical referral center in Isaan, this hospital in Khon Kaen is the principle teaching hospital for Khon Kaen University’s faculty of medicine.
Ake Udon - this hospital in Udon Thani has 350 beds and has been in operation since 1997.
Home to 9 provinces, north Thailand borders Myanmar, Laos, Isaan and Central Thailand. Here are some of the best known hospitals in Chiang Mai.
Bangkok Hospital, Chiang Mai - JCI accredited, multidisciplinary hospital in Chiang Mai that is part of the Bangkok hospital BDMS group.
Chiang Mai Ram Hospital - this Chiang Mai hospital is well known among local expats.
Maharaj Nakorn Chiangmai hospital - a government tertiary care hospital that has 1,400 beds and 69 intensive care units.
Kasemrad Sriburin Hospital - established in 1996, this Chiang Rai hospital offers a broad range or medical specialties, as well as a dental clinic.
Bordering Malaysia to the south and connected to Thailand’s central region via the narrow Kra Isthmus, Southern Thailand is home to 14 provinces.
Here are some of the best known hospitals in Southern Thailand, including the top hospitals in Samui and Phuket.
Bangkok Hospital, Samui - a 50-bed multidisciplinary hospital in Samui that is part of Bangkok hospital BDMS group.
Bandon International Hospital Samui - offers 24-hour emergency services and has departments in cardiology, neurology, general surgery and other common medical practices.
Koh Samui Hospital - located on the west side of the island, this is the only public hospital on the Samui.
Siriroj International Hospital - previously known as Phuket hospital, this is a 150-bed, multidisciplinary medical facility.
Vajira Phuket Hospital - a tertiary government hospital in Phuket.
Dibuk Hospital - opened in 2015 as a 29 bed hospital, this medical facility will expand to 224 beds in the coming years.
Considering the health risks and growing medical expenses in Thailand, it is imperative that both Expats and Thai nationals get health insurance in Thailand, whether this is through your employer or privately. Here at Luma we have a wealth of specialists to ensure you get access to the best plan and coverage for you and your loved ones, wherever and whenever you need us. For brighter health, get in touch with our personal solution consultants.