Thai compulsory insurance for all foreigners threatens chaos

The 300 baht entry tax proposal still defies clarification.

The tourist ministry has clarified that a 300 baht controversial mandatory insurance fee for all arriving foreigners has likely been postponed to early 2023 because of implementation hurdles. Assistant permanent secretary Mongkon Wimonrat told the Bangkok Post that there would be no exemptions for expats or diplomats. He explained that the fee collection for air passengers would be built into the ticket price, but no way had yet been found to collect cash from those entering by a land crossing.

Because many millions of non-Thais enter the country by land every year, the fear is that massive queues would swamp immigration checkpoints as impatient entrants held aloft debit cards which didn’t work, or demanded change from their foreign currency or thousand baht notes. As regards air travel, the airlines Association of Thailand last month raised concerns that taxes on foreigners only might be held to be overtly discriminatory. Even after all the detail is inked in and published in the Royal Gazette, there would be a three months wait for collection to start.

What began two years ago as a simple plan to charge all visitors 500 baht (then reduced to 300 baht) to provide cash to improve tourist facilities, such as repairing monuments or building toilets, has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare which many politicians say just isn’t worth the bother. Part of the fee was said to be reserved for tourist insurance, but the latest announcement restricts cover for 30 days and lists only “accident, riot, terrorism and natural disasters” plus a cremation bonus. Most personal disasters such as Covid or in-patient hospitalization for diseases are not covered as common sense dictates with such a small premium. Expats hoping that the initiative would insure them for lifestyle diseases will be disappointed too.

Other implementation hazards are that airlines would have to decide who is a foreigner and who is not. Presumably, a dual national (many are children) booking a ticket would be charged if showing a foreign passport, yet escape with a Thai one. The details of handling passengers arriving by sea are still unknown even as cruise ships and private yachts become a common sight in the waters of Pattaya and Phuket. There is still no confirmation on any age limits for the compulsory insurance which could make it impossible for the advanced elderly to enter without an independent policy which they likely could not obtain in any case.

Given that many international airfares have already doubled in recent months, together with a host of other inflationary pressures, it seems odd that the Thai authorities are wrestling with a 300 baht (less than US$10) entry tax so fraught with difficulties. Maybe, they should just add the fee to the 700 baht Suvarnabhumi airport international departure tax already hidden in ticket prices. Or as Fagin concluded in the musical version of Oliver, “I think I’d better think it out again.”