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7 Healthcare & Health Insurance Tips for Expats in Thailand

By Betsy Burlingame

Summary: Expats in Thailand share tips and advice about healthcare and health insurance in Thailand. Advice about hospitals in Thailand, the availability of prescription medicines, using Tricare in Thailand and more.

Expats in Thailand - 7 Healthcare & Health Insurance Tips for Expats in Thailand

Expats living in Thailand offer insight into the quality of healthcare in Thailand, health insurance, emergency medical insurance and the cost and availability of prescription medicines. Since many expats in Thailand are retirees, the quality and cost of healthcare in Thailand is a popular topic on our Thailand Expat Forum. Below are 7 healthcare tips from expats in Thailand to help those preparing to move and newcomers in Thailand.

Hospitals in Thailand

"Go to either St. Louis Hospital or Bumrungrad. The latter is a bit more expensive, but far, far cheaper than the USA and the care is just as good if not better," said one expat in a report about healthcare and health insurance in Bangkok.

"Many excellent hospitals in Chiang Mai ranging from cheap to moderately expensive. Many inexpensive street clinics everywhere you can just walk into for less complicated problems," explained one expat who retired in Chiang Mai.

An expat in Pattaya shared his private hospital experiences with a broken hand that required multiple surgeries. He said, "I live near Pattaya and have visited the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital many times. All of the doctors I have seen speak English. I broke my hand in two places. I had to wait 3 days for the hand surgeon to come from Bangkok. The emergency rooms are huge. There are no curtains that I saw. Any necessary medical tests required were administered and the results were known within minutes. Because I am older they were reticent to give me a general anesthesia. They wanted to give me a spinal block. I informed them that I had more than 6 surgeries and tolerated the drugs well. Of course, the costs are a lot less. All of the hospital rooms are private. There is an extra bed for a guest. The food was Western and prepared well. Wound care, after release, was daily. They set up appointments to come in daily for bandage changes. The bills had to be paid upon release. If you use American Express, they give a 10% discount on the drugs."

Health Insurance in Thailand

"We purchased medical insurance, called Thai Life, we have hospital stays only, as we are both healthy and don't take any kind of meds. And we feel that it is very cheap for doctor visit, teeth cleaning, etc. We can pay out of pocket," said one expat in Nonthaburi.

If you are interested in private expat health insurance in Thailand, get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

Finding a Good Doctor in Thailand

An expat in Bangkok offered the following advice for choosing a hospital or doctor, "1. compare hospital costs for same procedure 2. use hospital web sites to review medical bios of their doctors 3. consultations are inexpensive and a good way to evaluate doctors 4. use private hospitals for faster service and less waiting times 5. check availability of 3rd party billing for in-patient procedures. I have not needed to travel outside of Bangkok to see specialists or for serious health issues."

Emergency Medical Care in Thailand

"There are many private hospitals close in Bangkok; I use four ranging in distances of about 1 to 10 kilometers - Bangkok Medical Center; Bumrungrad; Mayo; and Vibhavadi. ER services so far have been very good and inexpensve. Traffic is a problem, so I have taken a taxi when possible to save time. Hospital care has been professional and more user friendly than US. I always use private, if available, for faster service," advised another expat.

Cost and Availability of Prescription Medicines in Thailand

"So far all the meds I have needed are available locally; if not in drug stores then at the hospitals. Some are available without prescritpion while others are not; not sure why? Non generics are just as expensive as in the US," commented one expat living in Bangkok.

When a newcomer asked for advice about his move to Thailand asked, "I take meds for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, thyroid and my heart. I read that you are only allowed to bring in a 30-day supply of medications. It mentions narcotics and/or psychotropic substances and has a list of forms and letters you need to provide for them. Does this mean that my daily medications don't require these strict guidelines since they aren't what they called Class 2, 3 and 4. Would I consider mine Class 1? Can someone tell me how to find out what medications fall into what class number?"

One expat responded, "[I am] not familiar with the classes, but I am permanently on medicine for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart. What are the names of the medicines you use and I can find out if they are available. You should be able to take your prescription to a hospital here, get a checkup and necessary tests and get a prescription that you can use over and over again here, and no need to order from abroad. I just get a checkup every three months or so and the doctor adjusts the medicine if necessary. Don't buy the medicine in the hospital unless you are too far from well stocked pharmacies."

Bringing Prescription Medicines into Thailand

In a topic entitled, taking prescription meds, another person asked, "I read online that only a month's worth of prescription meds can be brought into Thailand. However, I am of course going to be there for a year. Is there any way to get around this rule? Any other options worth considering?"

An expat replied, "Both gout and diabetes medications are plentiful, cheap and don't require a doctor's prescription. Pharmacists not carrying certain meds can order almost any medication from the major pharmaceutical companies. No sleeping meds."

"Buying the medication in Thailand may be legal, but bringing in a years supply of a drug without full documentation I would suspect would be illegal in any country. If they were to check and find a years supply, which must be a lot of pills, they might accuse you of smuggling in prescription drugs to sell on the black market, not a good idea at all. I did bring in an aweful lot of pills for diabetes and gout. I also was not questioned, but it's a risk," added another.

"Most pharmacists know enough English and can read the names of the medicines in English, and almost all medicine is packaged in Thai and English. You can also look up the medicine on the Internet and take screen captures to show to a pharmacist. The availability of medicine may, however depend on where you are located, so if you provide the city where you will be and the list of medicines, I may be able to locate pharmacies that carry a lot of prescription drugs," said another expat in Thailand.

Tricare for Retired US Military

Many retirees in Thailand are retired military. In a discussion about Tricare use in Thailand, one expat advised, "If you are referring to JUSMAGTHAI, it stands for the Joint United States Military Advisory Group, Thailand. It is a part of the U.S. mission to Thailand under the Embassy and is staffed with military personnel from Army, Navy and Air Force. There is a Retired Affairs Office (RAO) at the compound, which is located at 7 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok. There is also a Thai nurse at JUSMAG who should be able to answer questions about Tricare for Life (TFL), which is what Retirees overseas are on. The RAO Office is staffed by retiree volunteers and is only open limited hours. Be nice to them. They are under no contracts or obligations - strictly guys who want to help. The nurse or the RAO should be able to give you information about which hospitals accept Medicare (actually Tricare for Life), and how to transition from Medicare to TFL. I am pretty sure (but not positive) that Bangkok General Hospital and BNH (formerly known as Bangkok Nursing Home) accept TFL, but get that verified by Khun Pranee, the nurse at JUSMAG or someone at the RAO. You may also be eligible for a retiree mail box where you can get prescription drugs at JUSMAG, but I do not know the rules on that."

Another expat commented, "If you are eligible for Tricare for Life you can get coverage, but you have to pay up front and then file forms to get reimbursed amounts in excess of the deductible and co-pays. Tricare used to be accepted here at some hospitals, but because the U.S. Government was so slow paying, the local hospitals stopped accepting it. There are health insurance policies available in Thailand from a number of local sources, and if you live overseas you are not required to get Obamacare."

For more information about Healthcare in Thailand, read healthcare reports submitted by expats in our Expat Health Insurance & Healthcare Guide to Thailand.

Need more information on living in Thailand?

Login or Register and visit our Thailand Forum. Talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Thailand.

About the Author

Betsy Burlingame Betsy Burlingame is the Founder of Expat Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.

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First Published: Jun 07, 2017

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