Pattaya expat retirees worry about their immigration future

Many elderly expats settled in Thailand for life, or so they assumed.

Thousands of elderly expats are concerned about the prospects for their one year extensions of stay, based on retirement, as Thai embassies abroad appear to be insisting on two insurance policies to return to Thailand. Many are fearful of leaving Thailand in case they don’t qualify to return.

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All entrants to Thailand, as is well known, now require Covid-19 insurance to the value of US$100,000 (just over 3 million baht) as part of the package of documents they require to obtain the certificate of entry from their local Thai embassy. This insurance is very easy to obtain online from the Thai General Insurance Association which levies a straight fee dependent, not on the age of the applicant as long as he or she is 0-99 years, but on the country of departure. As an example, a 12-months policy costs 23,040 baht if travelling from UK, or 4,480 baht for a two months’ tourist holiday. No matter whether you are 9 years old or 90.

A group of older farang tourists, shown in pre-pandemic times.

For most categories able to apply to come to Thailand – diplomats, business people, work permit holders, students, Elite visa holders, some property owners, farang with Thai dependants, film crews, tourists with a two months visa, etc., etc., – there is no further insurance requirement. The only necessity is cover for future coronavirus infection. Not hospitalization cover for any other reason.

However, a few categories do require an additional insurance for general (non-Covid) medical purposes to the value of 400,000 baht (inpatient) and 40,000 baht (outpatient). This requirement was introduced in 2019 for holders of the “O/A” one year visa, based on retirement, issued by Thai embassies abroad. As these retirees have tried to extend for a further year at Thai immigration, they have been told to obtain such insurance from a Thai company. The problem, of course, is that the Thai insurers do not welcome elderly foreigners trying to insure comprehensively for the first time. True, some companies will consider applications from those in their 70s, but usually require a comprehensive medical report and detailed questionnaire. Exclusions and get-out clauses are common and are hardly surprising.


The additional general medical insurance requirement also applies to the “O/X” ten-year visa (an expensive and complex choice) as well as the recently-announced Special Tourist Visa (STV), but that particular option is restricted to applicants from countries with low infection rates which rules out US, UK and most of Europe. Over the past two weeks, many Thai embassies have added the second insurance requirement to those seeking an “O” one year visa for retirement. The inference is that applicants will need Covid-19 insurance and a separate policy for other potential sickness.

Pattaya expat Charles Williams, who is 78, summed up the dilemmas. “I have an annual extension of stay, based on an “O” visa given to me five years ago at the local immigration. I do not need any kind of insurance to renew it. But if I leave Thailand and want to return, I am likely to run into the double whammy of needing two insurance policies. The Covid 19 one is no problem as it is available cheaply to anyone up to 99 years, but the general medical cover will be impossible for me at my age and with my heart condition. I do have my own British insurance but have been advised that the rule is now Thai policies only.”

If retirees leave Thailand, what are their options to return?

The net result is that Charles fears leaving the country because of problems ahead with the Thai embassy and wonders whether he will have to remain in Thailand for the rest of his life or lose his right to stay here.

Another elderly expat, American James Montgomery, said he was considering changing his status from retiree to Elite visa holder which would enable him to return to Thailand with coronavirus insurance only. There is no requirement then to have general medical insurance. James is currently applying for a five year Elite visa for 500,000 baht, knowing that the price rises to 600,000 baht in the new year.

A third expat from Norway said he was looking into the option, if he went abroad, of using his purchase of a condominium as the basis for a return visa instead of relying on his retirement extension.

It should be noted that each Thai embassy abroad is responsible for the content of its website. There are ambiguities. Thus the Thai embassy in London suggests that those who hold a current (not expired) “O” visa and a valid re-entry permit might be able to return with Covid-19 insurance only. But the embassies in Switzerland and in Denmark specifically rule out this loophole.

The whole confusion has likely arisen because several government agencies are involved in visa regulations: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (which runs the embassies), the Thai immigration bureau (which can issue “O” visas and annual extensions) and the Tourist Authority of Thailand (which regularly publishes visa updates). The time for them to start talking together is already overdue. No question about that.