I have been putting away buying my expat medical insurance for Thailand for a long time now. I always thought it was an unnecessary expense. I had my travel insurance after all and I just didn’t really want to spend an extra amount of money on something I wouldn’t use. I was immortal and I was having way too much fun in Thailand to actually be bothered with finding a proper insurance. Nothing bad could have happened to me, right? Well, I kind of forgot that I was over 30 and it was time to start looking after myself.
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.
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.
Difference between travel insurance and 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 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.
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.
Insurance companies and costs of expat insurance
This varies from company to company, but it is usually quite expensive. The prices start at just under £1000 per year and that’s just a basic cover. Let’s look at some companies:
Insurance available only in Thailand and Asia
This is a much more affordable option. The insurance companies below work in Asia or only in Thailand. 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.
They offer 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.
This is also a great health insurance for digital nomads that like to reside in Thailand.
Premiums start from 25,000 Baht per year.
They are extremely competitive and cover you for most things, including outpatient services. I heard a lot of good things about them. Premiums for 35-year-olds start from around 6000 Baht per year. Good thing is that you can buy the insurance online and don’t need to speak to an overly excited salesperson (my personal nightmare – don’t they talk too much?).
Website: Thai Health
Most of Thai banks offer medical insurance for expats. 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 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.
These companies probably have branches in your home country. They insure expats living in Thailand and other countries worldwide. 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.
It is one of the most popular choices among the expats, I think it’s mainly because people trust them as they are an international brand. They hold over 33% of the insurance market in Thailand. I contacted Bupa Thailand and asked them for a quote.
I waited around 2 weeks for someone to get back to me and they sent me a couple of documents, which included a table with some prices and another one with, what I assumed, was a list of exclusions, but it was all in Thai, so I can’t really confirm that.
The prices for people aged 30-35 start from $1,000 for the basic cover, that’s all I know. The good thing about Bupa Thailand is that it covers you from the day your payment reaches them, which is not the case with some of the other companies I looked at.
Website: Bupa Thailand
I received a quote from them through an insurance broker, so this might be a little higher than what they offer directly. The premium costs £1900 per year and includes outpatient services, prescribed medication (over £300) and semi-private room in a hospital.
AXA offers many options, including insurance for seniors, for company’s executives and insurance for a whole family. I looked at their prices and almost had a heart attack. The cost for an insurance for a 35-year-old is around 150,000 Baht. However, it does include things like maternity cover, dental care and health screens. I still think that the price is too high.
They are quite popular here in Thailand, although not as well-known among the expat community. My quote from them was £1298 per year.
Website: Aetna International
What did I do?
After looking at many options and thinking this through for a couple of days I decided to buy insurance from Siam Commercial Bank. I paid 18,000 Baht for a whole year, which is around £330 – I think that is a fair price. The insurance covers me for inpatient and outpatient services, surgeries and disability. The process of buying it was pretty straightforward. I went to their branch in Chiang Mai (Kadsuan Kaew shopping mall), where I knew they spoke English. Most of the documents were in English and I had already read all the exclusions on the internet.
The form with personal details on had to be completed in Thai, so the lovely lady that served me did that all for me. I was asked for the work permit and visa and then pay with cash – the cards were not accepted. Siam Commercial Bank doesn’t require to go through any doctor’s examinations, which is a good thing in my case. The whole procedure took no more than 30 minutes and I am now fully insured – phew!
Do not make the same mistake…
…and wait with buying an insurance. 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!