Thailand targets rich hospital patients to boost coffers

“Please fill in this form before the operation can begin.”

It’s an established fact that Thai authorities are moving heaven and earth to find wealthy foreigners as investors, expats or tourists.  There are revamps in the offing for the Elite visa which gives 5-20 years residence with perks such as free limousine rides to the airport.  There is even a 10 year O/X visa, even though it is festooned with massive bureaucratic detail.  Not many takers it’s said.

There have been suggestions of late that foreigners can buy new and expensive freehold properties with permanent residency a dangling-carrot possibility in the future.  The hi-tech, four year Smart visa allows computer programmers and magnificently-salaried executives to work without a separate permit and even avoid the tiresome 90 days immigration check-in.

The newest kid on the block is the Medical Treatment Visa (MTV), a non-immigrant and multi-entry visa which can be stretched to a whole year.  However, it can’t be renewed for a second year.  Naïve hopes that you can live here permanently by very regular trips to the dentist for one more filling are doomed.  Forget it.

The MTV instead targets visitors who need ongoing hospital treatment for themselves.  They will also hopefully bring along up to three assistants, friends or “followers” to boost income still further.  The modest catch is that each patient and group member must show bank statements of at least 800,000 baht, plus Covid and accident insurance of at least US$100,000.   Of course, you will need many, many millions more baht to cover the hospital bills for whatever operations you feel you need in luxury surroundings.

The pre-publication statement says that the medical tourists will be seeking services in subjects already mastered in Thailand.  These include anti-ageing medicine, complex dentistry, cancer treatment and cardiovascular issues.  There is also mention of plastic surgery: it is well-known that Bangkok is the world center for gender reassignment operations.  To obtain the visa, appointments must be made in public or private hospitals one month ahead.

The Cabinet has approved the new visa in principle, but those wishing to change sex etc. will have to wait for the detail in the immigration rules.  The visa will replace the pre-pandemic tourist medical permit which lasted only for three months, but could be extended “if circumstances so warrant”.  That visa did prove popular with Middle East hospital patients who typically brought family members along for company for periods they were not on the operating table.  The Thai health ministry stated in 2019 that over 11,000 medical tourist visas had been issued.  There could be a big market out there.


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