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Guide to buying Expat Medical Insurance in Thailand

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Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 20/05/2024, 19:00

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

Living in Thailand is a bliss. The people, the weather, the food – it’s easy to forget about things like going to a doctor and looking after your health. Buying expat medical insurance in Thailand is crucial to having a great time in the Land of Smiles. It will take your mind off of things and you will be able to enjoy yourself even more. Find out more about the cost of the medical insurance in Thailand for expats and how to buy a medical policy if you live, or want to live, in Thailand and choose the right option for yourself.

I was recently diagnosed with melanoma. It was like a slap in the face. Everything ended well. The cancer was cut out in time and I was left with a 4cm scar on my back – a small price for something that could have ended badly.

Luma offers a wide range of health care plans suitable for both expats and Thai nationals residing in Thailand. Benefits such as lifetime renewal guarantee and full cover for cancer, both in- and out-patient are just some of the features. Get your quote

Straight after my surgery, while I was still in pain, I started frantically looking into expat medical insurance for Thailand. I read countless posts, articles, I sent a couple of emails to brokers and health insurance companies. My problem was: who was going to insure me and cover my pre-existing condition? I will give you a quick answer to this: No insurance company will agree to insure you for pre-existing conditions, especially if you recently have had cancer, or something similar. Bummer! However, I am now wiser and here is some advice about expat insurance and quotes from different companies.

Why do you need an expat medical insurance in Thailand?

Thai healthcare system is free for people to use if you pay taxes here. If you are working in the Land of Smiles, you are covered. That’s the theory. In practice, you will face long queues and waiting times in public hospitals. There’s lack of specialists and everything takes twice as long. Public hospitals are overcrowded, doctors are overworked and the system is just not great (like in any other country nowadays, really).

People who don’t work in Thailand and are not covered by the government scheme, will have to pay out of their own pocket for medical treatment and that’s not cheap. One day in a hospital, without any major surgeries, might cost you as much as $20,000!

Some visas, like the retirement visa, require you to have medical insurance for expats. If you’re planning on staying longer here on such a visa, you need to buy a policy.

Yes, you can live here without private insurance, you can even go to the doctor and pay nothing, but it might not be easy, or it might turn out to take all your savings.

It’s really better to spend some money and not to worry about ‘what ifs…’.

But I have travel insurance. Do I still need expat insurance?

If you are only going away for a little while and planning to travel around the world then buying a normal travel insurance should be enough. Travel insurance covers you in case of accidents and emergencies, delayed flights, lost luggage, damages done to your property, or if you happen to damage other people’s possessions. This type of insurance is usually cheap. I use SafetyWing at the moment, which is a travel health insurance for digital nomads and I pay around $50 per month. The reason why I have expat medical insurance in Thailand and travel insurance is that I do travel to different countries once in a while and the travel insurance does come useful in case my flight is delayed or the airline loses my luggage.

Travel and medical incident insurance built specifically for digital nomads. It can be purchased while already abroad, covers home trip visits and operates like a monthly subscription.

Learn more

If you decide to stay somewhere longer and get a job in a foreign country then buying a full medical insurance is a good idea.  These kinds of insurance, most of the time, cover you for hospital inpatient services, not only if you are in an accident, but also if you fall ill, get a dengue fever, heart attack, or cancer and you need to stay in a hospital for a long time. Some of them also cover maternity leave and dental procedures. Outpatient services quite often are not included and you need to buy them as an extra, so if you have a rash and you want to see a dermatologist then your insurance might not cover that.

Expat medical insurance - a woman looking into the future.
With an expat medical insurance you can look ahead to the future without fear.

Types of health insurance for foreigners living in Thailand

The cost of health insurance in Thailand for expats can be high and you need to shop around to find the best option for yourself. The most affordable options are companies that are based in Thailand or in Asia. They are reliable, so you don’t need to worry that something will go wrong. It’s worth considering these if you want to live in the Land of Smiles only.

Luma

Luma offers lots of great benefits, whether it’s the second-medical opinion from their in-house expat doctor or their member privileges. They also have a comprehensive cover that includes cancer care, inpatient care, and maternity care. The policy is valid worldwide provided you are within your initial coverage zone for at least 185 days a year and they have direct billing with hospitals within their network, meaning you can get cashless hospital visits.

Luma is also all about prevention. They educate their members on how to be healthy and look after yourself. On top of that, they provide you with an app, which helps you with your healthy lifestyle.

Pro Tip: Insurance companies from Thailand or Asia are cheaper and normally they are very good. However, they don’t cover you in other countries if you travel or move.

What I really like about Luma is that they offer preventive tests, like mammograms. You can buy this as a part of your policy.

Check out my post about having a check up at one of the hospitals in Chiang Mai.

This is also a great health insurance for digital nomads that like to reside in Thailand.

Premiums start from 25,000 Baht per year.

Luma provides full cover for COVID-19. Please check their website for more information.

Website: Luma

Thai banks

Most of Thai banks offer medical insurance for expats in Thailand. You need to have a work permit that is valid for at least a year as well as a valid visa. The insurance is usually valid after a month, so you need to wait 30 days before you visit a doctor. Thai banks usually offer cheaper insurance than any other companies. They also make it easier for their customers to claim the money. You receive an insurance card and give it to the cashier at the hospital.

They then call the insurance company and deal with everything for you – no hassle, no stress, easy-peasy. Before you buy an insurance from a Thai bank you need to remember that it covers you only in Thailand, so you need to be sure that you will still live here in a year time. The prices start at around £200 a year.

If you’re a resident in Thailand and have a bank account, ask at your local branch about the insurance.

Government cover

If you work in Thailand, pay your taxes (which is usually between 500-750 Baht a month) and have a work permit then you can use government insurance. You need to talk to your employer first and see if there are any hospitals in your area you can go to. Once you choose it and see a doctor you will have to pay from your own pocket and claim the money later – your employer should be able to help you with this.

However, remember that government hospitals are overcrowded, the queues are long, the doctors and staff very often don’t speak English and the hospital might not have the medication you need – if you think about it, these are problems that many western countries struggle with, too.

International companies are more expensive, but they offer a wider range of services, plus they insure you not only in Thailand, but other countries as well. The advantage of using these companies is that you can extend the cover to other places you travel to. The big disadvantage is the cost. If you’re only staying in Thailand, you might want to consider going with a company that is more local.

SafetyWing

SafetyWing is mostly targeted towards nomads and freelancers, but will be a good expat medical insurance in Thailand, too.
It covers you abroad and in your home country without any exclusions for pandemic.

I wrote a full review on SafetyWing before. I highly recommend them if you’re planning to move to Thailand.

At the moment the premium for people living abroad is $153 per month.

Website: SafetyWing

Researching insurance providers – What to consider?

When you buy your first expat medical insurance in Thailand, you need to remember about few things. Below I combined a list of the most important things worth considering. They influence not only the care that you will receive, but also the cost of your health insurance for expats in Thailand.

Inpatient, outpatient or both?

There are many policies on the market at the moment. You can have an inpatient insurance, which covers you in case of longer stays in hospitals, or outpatient insurance for short check ups and seeing your GP. You can combine both of them as well.

This all depends on what the most important aspect for you is.

How would you like to pay?

Normally, you buy a policy for a whole year and pay in advance. This seems like quite a cost for just one policy of expat health insurance because you have to spend a larger sum of money at once.
If you don’t have that, then there are options to pay per month. Paying for the whole year is usually cheaper.

International vs. Asian companies

I think there’s nothing wrong with Thai companies, or Asian companies. They are reliable and normally provide service in English. Normally, they are cheaper, too.

The only disadvantage is that very often they don’t cover you for any other country than Thailand, or can cover you in other countries for a certain amount of time. So, if you’re planning to travel, or go home to visit, then it’s best to for a an international insurance, or buy a travel insurance policy.

Out of pocket sum

The important aspect of buying health insurance in Thailand for foreigners is the out of pocket amount. This is the amount of money you will have to pay when you get sick.
The larger this sum the smaller your premium and cheaper the insurance.

How would you like to claim?

Check if there are any limits on the hospitals the insurance company works with. Sometimes they limit this to specific places and you can’t go anywhere else, which is a problem if you live away from bigger cities.

To me the most convenient is to go to a hospital or a doctor, get the test and leave. I don’t want to worry about any costs and bills. The administration then calls the insurance company and they settle your bill.

Quite a few companies work like that. Others require you to pay and then claim the money back.

Other benefits

I like to have some extra benefits with my insurance. For example, it’s good to have free annual check ups, or consultations with dietician, or other specialist.

Another good thing to have is an online portal, where you can put your details and you can see all your bills, claims and your policies.

When you first talk to any sales people and encounter the service, pay attention to the quality of it. Are they nice and polite? Do they know the answers to your questions? It will be important in the future, when you need to contact them.

A boat standing at the shore in Thailand in front of a big rock.
Enjoy your life in Thailand. Buy an expat medical insurance.

Please remember that there are some aspects of insurance and you won’t be covered if you:

  • Have pre-existing conditions, which you haven’t declared.
  • Have had a motorcycle accidents. This is quite common. A lot of insurance won’t cover you in case you had a road accident. Check with them first. You might be covered if you have a Thai driving licence, or international driving licence, were wearing a helmet, hadn’t drunk anything and the accident wasn’t your fault.
  • Were drunk and caused an accident or were a victim of an accident.
  • Were a victim of a natural disaster or an act of terrorism.
  • Have had an accident that was caused by dangerous activities like scuba diving, or rock climbing. If you do any sports like that, it’s best to check with the insurance or take out travel insurance.
  • Contract a sexually transmitted disease.

Understanding expat medical insurance policy

There are certain phrases that are used when buying medical insurance for expats in Thailand. They will be used in your Ts&Cs. It’s good to know what they mean. Here are the most important ones:

  • Outpatient care – this means that you are treated without having to stay overnight in a hospital.
  • Inpatient care – hospitalisation. This means that you are treated while staying in a hospital overnight.
  • Deductible – the amount that remains after reimbursement, to be paid by the insured. It can be expressed as a percentage, an annual fee or a fee per procedure.
  • Legal protection – coverage providing for the payment of legal fees (a lawyer, experts, mediators, translators, etc.) in a dispute between the insured and a third party. Policies generally also cover legal assistance services to provide first level answers or help the insured find a local professional.
  • Pre-authorisation – prior agreement from the insurer to grant coverage. In expat health insurance policies, this generally concerns recurring expenses, such as physical therapy sessions or non-urgent hospitalisations.
  • Waiting period – period during which coverage is not provided. The insured will not be reimbursed for expenses incurred during the waiting period. Waiting periods vary from one policy to another, so it’s important to read the conditions of your policy carefully.

Applying for your insurance policy

When it comes to buying expat insurance policy if you want to, or already live, in Thailand, the application process is not as straight forward as it is with travel insurance. First of all, these policies are expensive, so it will take you some time to decide on the best one. Analyse your pros and cons and decide on what you’d like to do. Remember not to wait too long though as you need a policy if you’re already in Thailand, or moving soon.

Dealing with insurance brokers

Most companies have insurance brokers. On their websites you might be able to check the price, but before they send it to you, you’ll need to provide your contact details. More often than not, an agent will contact you. Please remember that they are sales people and their job is to sell you the policy. To me, they are sometimes too pushy, so I had to clearly communicate to them that if I decide on buying their insurance, I’ll contact them directly. Otherwise, they would keep calling me.

Sometimes you can buy a policy online and this saves you a bit of time. However, a lot of insurance providers use their sales team to close the deal.

A health questionnaire

When buying the policy, the insurance broker will ask you a couple of questions, including your date of birth, nationality, country you are moving to or living in. Then, they will want you to fill out a health questionnaire. I had a policy with AXXA once and they sent me to a doctor and for some tests before I could actually buy insurance.

Don’t disclose anything. If you smoke, put that on the form. The same comes to any other unhealthy habits. Remember that once you want to use your policy and it turns out that your information was untrue, you might not get your money back or your insurance provider will decline to cover your expenses.

Ts&Cs

Before you close the deal, ask the insurance broker to send you a sales prospect. This should include all of the Ts and Cs, which I recommend reading thoroughly. It’s really important to know what your’e singing and what your rights are. Many people avoid reading the small print and then they are in for a surprise.

Closing the deal

After that, the agent will send you a payment link. Once you pay, you’ll receive your policy by email and access to any other benefits. Your policy will be a subscription, so it will renew automatically after a year. Pay attention to the date. Cancel your policy ahead of time if you don’t want to extend it.

Cost of health insurance for expats in Thailand

Expat medical insurance is not cheap. I pay around $1,000 – $2,000 per year.

Your age and pre-existing conditions will be major factors in assessing the final cost of your policy. The older you are the more expensive it gets. If you have been sick, or have some conditions such as diabetes or heart problems, the price will be higher, too.

If you’d like to reduce the premium, you can increase your deductible. This is the cost you will have to cover out of your pocket for any visit and check ups. Your company covers the rest.

Every insurance offers different tiers. There are basic ones that offer only what’s necessary and there are more expensive ones that include things like dental care or maternity cover. Choose the one that is most suitable to your needs.

Negotiate – remember that you’re speaking with sales people, so ask them for a discount or a special offer. In some cases you will be able to bundle insurance policies (home, car, accident etc. ) and get a good price for that.

What did I do?

At first I decided to use an insurance from Siam Commercial Bank, which was around $300 per year. However, this didn’t insure me for when I was leaving Thailand.
I needed something that would offer insurance for other countries, too as I became a digital nomad soon after the incident with melanoma.
I tried Luma, which I really recommend. They insure for not only Thailand, but other Asian countries and also for your home country if you don’t stay there for very long.
After I started travelling more and moving around, I decided to use first SafetyWing. At the moment I have the insurance policy with the latter. It’s not cheap, but it provides me with high quality service and a wide range of medical treatments all over the world.

Do not make the same mistake…

…and wait with buying an insurance in Thailand for foreigners. If you go away to travel, buy the travel insurance. If you decide to stay in the Land of Smiles then get the expat medical insurance for Thailand.

Don’t be as stupid as me and think that you are immortal, or you don’t have money/time to shop for a proper expat insurance. Anything can happen. You might get a skin cancer and end up paying over £500 hospital expenses, just like me. Look after yourself. The most important thing you have is your health!