Insurance companies exaggerating cover requirements for Thailand

There’s a lot of insurance misinformation on the internet aimed at visitors to Thailand.

There have been several complaints to Pattaya Mail that some local and foreign-based insurance companies have been guilty of misinformation when advising both tourists and expats. What follows is a summary of the requirements of both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Thai Immigration.

The rules are very different for those foreigners entering the country as opposed to those seeking an extension of stay once here. Applicants for entry, mostly Test and Go and Sandbox aspirants, are required to obtain a minimum US$50,000 cover to cover the period of their visa. This can be solely Covid-related or general medical insurance or a combination of both. The obvious exceptions are work permit holders who come under the health ministry’s social insurance scheme without separate cover.

But most extensions of stay obtained at Thai immigration offices do not require an insurance certificate. Nor currently are they required to show proof of vaccination, contrary to some internet reports. As examples, holders of 30 days visa exempt stamps or 60 day tourist visas do not need insurance to claim their extra month. Nor do eligible foreigners applying for the two months “Covid” extension, although this well-used facility is on life support already as the March deadline looms.

The obvious exception to all of the above is the contentious O/A retirement visa (awarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and the subsequent annual renewal (given by Immigration). These both currently require a separate general health insurance of at least 400,000 baht inpatient and 40,000 baht outpatient, to be upgraded to US$100,000 or 3 million baht from October 1, 2022. There will also be a new facility for O/A visa holders to use self-insurance if they are refused by insurance companies, although the fine print of do-it-alone is yet to be announced.

But the O/A visa rules do not apply to other expats such as retirees with an initial O visa, holders of marriage or family extensions of stay or Elite card holders. Some commercial advertisements on the internet seem to be deliberately blurring the distinction between retirees holding different kinds of permission in order to maximize insurers’ income. However, it is true that holders of the little-used Special Tourist Visa (which offers a stay of up to 9 months) and the OX ten year visa (introduced in 2016 but complex and bureaucratic) do require health insurance for both entry and extension.

The immigration bureau hotline confirmed that there are currently no plans to extend medical insurance beyond the parameters listed. However, the goal posts can certainly change and there is discretion vested in immigration bureau and individual officers when it comes to handling a particular case. Equally, generalizations by commercial income generators such as “all retirees need insurance” or “you need insurance to stay in Thailand” are speculative baloney.