How Much Cheaper is Thai Healthcare?
by Brett Andrews
About Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand’s healthcare generally meets a high standard of service, particularly in Bangkok and larger cities. Medical care is cheaper here—about 20% of the US cost—making the country a medical tourism destination. Universal healthcare expands health access to nearly everyone here, though expats prefer private insurance for their medical needs.
Thai citizens and employees qualify for the universal health plan, funded by tax revenues and requiring no out-of-pocket costs in most cases. Thailand also has a surplus of specialists compared to general physicians. This wealth of specialists makes Thailand a destination for complex treatments such as cancer, dentistry, cardiovascular care, and hip replacement, all at affordable rates.
Service in the public system is often slow and overcrowded, especially in more rural areas. There’s also no guarantee that you’ll get treatment from an English-speaking doctor. Bring cash, your passport, and a Thai translator when seeking health care in the public sector; facilities often expect payment upfront if insurance doesn’t cover it.
Private health insurance fills in the public plan’s gaps or even replaces it entirely. As with many countries, private coverage pays for private clinics and hospitals, which offer faster service, more individualized care, English-speaking doctors and up-to-date technology. Thai physicians all have high educational credentials. You’ll need a qualifying private policy to get your long-term visa.
Pharmacies can be found throughout Thailand, most often in city centers or attached to hospitals. The government has invested heavily in generic drug production to keep medications affordable for the population. Pharmacies are usually open late, with some offering 24-hour access. Most pharmacists speak English here.
Finding a Physician
Finding your new general physician (GP) in Thailand is fairly straightforward. Many expats ask friends, family, or their pharmacist for recommendations, while others search online. Contact their facility directly to schedule an appointment; be sure to confirm ahead of time that they speak English.
Costs vary for GP visits, depending on public/private coverage, GP/specialist, and more factors. Out of pocket costs for doctor visits range from $15 – $60 USD. Get your medical documents translated into Thai and English for ease of communication.
Public Healthcare in Thailand
Public healthcare is available to all Thai citizens and employees for no or low cost. Expats may pay higher fees than Thai people, though the rate will be a fraction of US healthcare costs. Bring a Thai translator for best results.
Expats can register for Thailand’s universal healthcare by getting a social security card or universal coverage card. Consult your local social security office or health authorities to complete the process. Requirements may differ for expats on work permits; consult your employer if this applies to you.
Thailand’s public health coverage is strongest around larger cities; consider cities like Chiang Mai, Phuket and Bangkok for best results. Healthcare gets slower around smaller cities, though Thailand is working to overcome this. Government health facilities are preferred for their adherence to national healthcare standards and low costs.
Private health insurance offers many benefits, including shorter wait times, private care facilities, and reimbursement for healthcare services. Most expats in Thailand carry private insurance, either complementing or replacing the universal health system.
Private health insurance comes with the usual perks these plans have in countries with universal healthcare: private clinics and hospitals, shorter wait times, and offset out-of-pocket costs. When shopping for a private plan, confirm that pre-existing conditions are covered in a new policy.
Terms and conditions vary among private health insurers. Some companies require you to pay for care upfront and file for bill reimbursement. Others pay the costs for private healthcare immediately. Research your options carefully to understand their terms. Working expats will need private insurance for dependents, as payroll contributions will only cover the employee.
With dramatically lower health costs compared to the US, paying out of pocket for medical treatment is certainly an option in Thailand. Expats paying out of pocket may use both the public and private health systems, though the bill may be due before service. Walk-in clinics may provide a cost-effective solution for out-of-pocket care in minor situations. Uninsured expats are treated as private-pay patients under Thailand, including for emergency services. We strongly recommend carrying travel insurance during scouting trips and private health coverage during your time in Thailand.
- Schedule final appointments with your primary care physician and any specialists you see.
- Research your medications for availability in Thailand and find alternatives where needed.
- Stock up on prescription refills until you can get to the pharmacy in Thailand. It’s a dance because you’ll save money by filling your prescriptions in country, but it may take time for you to learn your way around.
- Print out and keep photographic records of all prescriptions. Bring meds in original packaging with a letter from your doctor detailing your condition, the drug, and its generic name.
- Request your medical records and, ideally, upload them to a cloud server where you can access them anywhere. Alternatively, printouts, desktop files, and thumb drives also work.
- Ask your providers for referrals abroad. You never know!
- People often find physicians by word of mouth. Ask for recommendations from your local pharmacist, neighbors, or expat Facebook group.
- For public healthcare, visit your local Social Security office. You may need to be employed by a Thai company for easy access.
- For private healthcare, apply for private insurance directly. Visit your expat Facebook group to get recommendations. This is the most common choice for most expats in Thailand.
- See your family doctor and get prescriptions and referrals.