New financial headache for some retirement visa holders

Retirees could be facing new cash hurdles.

A news report that some visas based on retirement could now require two insurances has stirred confusion on social media.  Deputy public health minister Sathit Pitutecha, in comments first relayed by ThaiPBSWorld, is quoted as saying that applications for one year 0/A visas would carry the extra requirement of “health” insurance of US$100,000, or over 3 million baht.  However, the minister did not provide any backup information.

O/A visas are one year (usually multiple entry) permissions of stay issued by Thai embassies abroad to wannabe retirees aged 50 and above.  In 2019, a pre-pandemic era, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs introduced a general medical insurance requirement of 400,000 baht (inpatient) and 40,000 (outpatient).  The Thai insurance companies and consortia offering such a specific deal imposed an age limit of 75.  However, some retirees had their own foreign-based policies which covered these requirements.

The 400,000 baht insurance was made mandatory in 2020 for renewals (actually extensions of stay) of the 0/A visa at Thai immigration offices.  This has caused great difficulty for elderly expats who found that the insurance was simply not available, or was subject to exclusions, which meant that claims were impossible as the self-payment conditions amounted to the totality of the policy.  However, some immigration offices allowed a flexible interpretation which permitted acceptance of insurance policies designed to cover accidental injuries or death payouts.

The deputy health minister appears now to be requiring a second policy, specifically for Covid-related illness, to be added to the required 0/A documentation.  This is the same US$100,000 cover presently required of all entrants to Thailand, no matter what visa or permission they apply for.  However and crucially, we still do not know what, if any, changes will be introduced from November 1 when the Thailand Pass replaces the Certificate of Entry.  So the minister seems to be referring to renewals/extensions of stay of 0/A visa holders already here.

Most expat retirees with one year extensions do not in fact have 0/A visas, but 0 visas based on retirement.  What concerns them is whether the latest 0/A regulations apply to them when they attend immigration for their annual extension of stay.  Currently the answer is no.  Many 0/A visa holders have sought to transfer to an 0 at their immigration office, only to discover that they cannot change without first leaving the country in a complicated procedure.

The Covid-specific US$100,000 insurance is available outside Thailand for entrants up to the age of 99, for example at a Thai consortium which bases the cost only on duration of stay and country of departure.  However, that popular policy is not available for retirees applying from within Thailand, whilst some other companies have a cut off age date around 75.  So the whole insurance issue for foreigners based in Thailand is now extremely complex.  Some commentators believe that Thai authorities are attempting to move retirees as a group from one year extensions to the Elite visa which lasts for five years, or more, but requires a non-refundable registration of at least 600,000 baht.  Whether the squeeze is now taking root without escape tunnels remains to be seen.