Healthcare in Thailand for expats in 2024
According to the Global Health Security Index (GHS Index), Thailand is ranked 5th out of 195 in health systems performance rankings. Thailand is one of the leading countries in medical tourism and the price-quality ratio of medical services. According to aggregated statistics, Thailand accounts for up to 22% of the global medical tourism market.
Citizens of the country receive free medical care in public hospitals. Employed expats pay contributions to the Social Security Fund and receive an insurance policy with attachment to one of the public hospitals. For all other foreigners, medical services are provided on a paid basis. The insurance covers the treatment in part or in full.
Olga Anttonen, a well-known Russian-speaking medical assistant in Phuket, helped us to understand the healthcare system and treatment options in Thailand. Olga is a doctor who worked for several years as a coordinator in one of the island’s private clinics, and then became a medical assistant for foreigners.
Clinics and healthcare services in Thailand
There are about 1,000 public and 500 private clinics in Thailand. Private hospitals meet the best international standards and employ local doctors trained abroad. 59 of these hospitals are accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI), which is more than in Italy, Japan, and Israel.
Olga Anttonen, medical assistant in Phuket:
Thailand has a legally defined list of professions in which foreign specialists are allowed to be employed. Doctors are not included in this list. There are foreigners in the Thai healthcare system, but in different positions.
More than half of the JCI-certified clinics are located in Bangkok; some are in Pattaya, Chiang Mai, as well as on the islands of Phuket and Samui. Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Asia’s largest international hospital, has the best reputation in the country. It was the first hospital in the region to receive the JCI certificate. Up to 500,000 foreign patients are treated here annually. Also popular among foreigners are the Bangkok Hospital and Medical Centre, the Bangkok International Hospital, and the multidisciplinary Bangkok Nursing Home Hospital (BNH).
Medical tourists often come to Thailand for plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures, as well as dentistry, cardiac surgery and joint replacement.
Thailand clinics specialising in cosmetology and plastic surgery:
- Siriraj Hospital;
- Phuket Plastic Surgery Institute (PPSI);
- Bumrungrad International Hospital;
- Yanhee Hospital.
Thailand clinics specialising in cardiology:
- Bumrungrad International Hospital;
- Samitivej Hospital;
- Bangkok Heart Hospital;
- Vejthani Cardiac Centre.
Thailand clinics specialising in dentistry:
- Yanhee Hospital;
- Bangkok Hospital Phuket.
In Thailand, you can buy essential medicines without a doctor’s prescription, even antibiotics.
Certain classes of medicines, such as hepatoprotectors and metabolic medicines are not registered in Thailand and cannot be purchased. Some medicines can only be purchased at the hospital after consulting a doctor, such as heart rhythm and anticancer medicines as well as insulin.
Healthcare in Phuket
Private hospitals in Phuket are part of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS), the largest hospital network in the Asia-Pacific region. The quality of service in the BDMS clinics meets the highest international standards.
Some doctors, mostly specialty doctors, come to Phuket from Bangkok and work in shifts for several days. Therefore, healthcare in Phuket is on par with the one in the capital.
The level of medical services provided in hospitals is so high that in many cases it takes just one day to run a complete diagnostic and get results. Such package services are called Health Check-up packages: on the same day you agree on the necessary list of diagnostic procedures (any tests, ultrasound, etc.), go through all the tests and get your results. Moreover, the packages are designed for different needs of different patients and are cheaper as clinics provide package cuts. Foreigners come to Phuket specifically for these Check-up packages; you can often meet Australians here, because a complete diagnosis in their home country can take up to 6 months.
MRI, gastroscopy and colonoscopy are not included in the Check-up packages and must be prescribed by a doctor.
Phuket’s mild tropical climate is an added bonus to the island’s healthcare system. The scenery and the weather help reduce stress, so Phuket is often visited during pregnancy to spend the time before childbirth; also many people come here for the IVF procedure.
I have been living in Phuket for over 16 years and interact with people a lot. More than once I have witnessed the delight of women who come to spend their pregnancy and give birth in Phuket. Medical care is at the highest level here. Babies are immediately brought to their mothers after childbirth in local hospitals.
Medical assistants will help you choose the right clinic and make an appointment
It is difficult for foreigners to interact with hospitals on their own: choose doctors, make appointments, and organise complex treatment. Without an understanding of the local healthcare system, mentality, without up-to-date knowledge of doctors’ schedules and service availability, treatment can be tedious and protracted.
Foreigners’ interaction with clinics is complicated not only by the language barrier and foreign mentality. The main difficulty lies with an unfamiliar system. For example, infectious hepatitis is treated in Thailand by gastroenterologists, while in some other countries it may be treated by infectious disease specialists. An appointment with an endocrinologist is possible only after the appropriate diagnosis is made by an otolaryngologist. In other words, it is difficult to know which doctor you should make an appointment with.
Medical assistants help you get professional medical care quickly and efficiently. They will make an appointment with the right specialist, accompany you to the clinic, translate and explain medical information. A medical assistant will not only speed up the whole process and facilitate communication, but also help save money: such assistants are usually aware of promotions and special offers of clinics and can help avoid unnecessary procedures and tests.
My clients include both those who intentionally travel to Phuket for medical procedures, and those who are caught off guard by illness or injury on the island. Due to my experience, I most often help organise plastic surgeries. I try to give my clients a realistic picture of what they can expect. Feel free to contact me! (+7 952 226-89-25).
Cost of healthcare in Thailand for foreigners
Only foreigners employed in Thailand are entitled to free medical care in public clinics, provided that they pay insurance contributions to the Social Security Fund and have a Social Security policy.
Treatment in private clinics in Thailand is much cheaper than in Europe or America. For example, a high-tech heart valve replacement surgery in the USA costs about 160,000 US dollars, while in Thailand — about 10,000 US dollars; hip replacement (arthroplasty) in the best clinics in Thailand costs 12,000 US dollars, which is 3 times cheaper than, for example , in the UK. Doctors’ consultations in private hospitals cost between 45 and 90 US dollars per session, and a follow-up consultation is usually free. An ultrasound costs 73–150 US dollars.
Many foreigners highly appreciate the level of dental services in Thailand, while the prices for such services here are much lower than in Western countries. For example, an implant insertion in Thailand costs about 2,000 US dollars, a filling — about 50 US dollars, while similar services in the USA cost an average of 4,000 and 200 US dollars, respectively.
Conversely, the cost of individual services and care in the best private clinics may still be too high to pay out of pocket. Thus, a day of hospitalisation in one of the best clinics in the country, Bumrungrad International Hospital, will cost 510 US dollars, and in a hospital in Pattaya or Phuket — about 200 US dollars. As a rule, diagnostic and treatment procedures are added to the cost of hospitalisation, so one day in the hospital can cost up to 800 US dollars. However, you can be sure that you will receive quality medical care and related services.
In public clinics, treatment is several times cheaper than in private ones, but visiting a public medical institution for foreigners can be complicated by a language barrier as knowledge of English is quite rare among staff and doctors. In private clinics, doctors are able to consult in English, and if the patient speaks another language, an interpreter will be provided.
Olga Anttonen, medical assistant in Phuket:
Visiting a public clinic can prove difficult for foreigners because there is a huge flow of people. Due to that, consultations last no more than 10 minutes, and it is impossible to make an appointment in advance. Patients are treated on a first come, first served basis, so you will have to spend 3–4 hours waiting.
In order to be treated in the best private clinics in Thailand at affordable prices or even get full cost coverage, you need to take out insurance.
Health insurance in Thailand for foreigners
Foreigners permanently residing but not working in Thailand, or foreigners who frequently come here on vacation, can take out insurance from a local operator. There are 35 insurance companies operating in the country; the largest of them is Bupa International.
The insurance policy’s cost varies depending on the patient’s age and general health condition. A basic programme for a person aged 30–35, including consultations with a therapist and specialty doctors, and, if necessary, inpatient treatment, can cost up to 1,500 US dollars per year.
Extended insurance programmes, which include expensive examinations and treatments, regular check-ups and screenings, as well as dental care, can cost more than 5,000 US dollars per year.
For short trips, it is better to purchase insurance in advance, before arriving in Thailand. In some countries, you can choose and buy an insurance policy online on the websites of those insurance companies that work with Thai ones.
If you plan to ride a scooter, make sure that injuries from scooter accidents are included in the list of insured events. Do not forget that insurance will not work if you do not possess the licence for the appropriate category of vehicles.
The insurance will cover the treatment, however you need to be prepared that during hospitalisation, the clinic will most likely require an advance payment. This payment will be returned only after the clinic receives a reimbursement agreement from the insurance company. It usually takes no more than a week.
If you need treatment or hospitalisation, you first need to call your insurance company (the telephone number will be on your policy) and ask which clinic you should go to. In general, your insurance company will quickly direct you to the right hospital based on your location and the nature of your illness or injury.
Olga Anttonen, medical assistant in Phuket:
There are many nuances with insurance. The key here is to read carefully what exactly the insurance covers. You should also keep in mind that medical illnesses and insured events are two different concepts.
Emergency and house calls in Thailand
In Thailand, it is not customary to conduct medical consultations and examinations at home. Patients who are able to move independently should come to the hospital, where they are examined and, if necessary, hospitalised.
An ambulance comes only in life threatening situations; however, their mobile teams do not have a doctor. They can provide emergency care and help transport a patient to a hospital. Calling an ambulance costs 2,000 Thai baht (about 60 US dollars).
For emergency medical services in Thailand, call 191.
Disease prevention and health resort treatment
In Thailand, there are thousands of sanatoriums and resorts offering a variety of services: from traditional Thai massage, herbal medicine, and aromatherapy to Ayurvedic treatments. The best spa resorts in Thailand are located in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin and Pattaya, as well as on the islands of Samui and Phuket: for example, Amatara Wellness Resort and The Lifeco Phuket.
Such sanatoriums most often offer various stress relief, detox, and weight loss programmes as well as yoga, pilates, and spa treatments. However, comprehensive medical rehabilitation programmes are rare here. A week of accommodation with a wellness programme at one of these resorts costs from 900 US dollars.