The worsening trend of Brits unable to pay their bills in Thailand

The tragic scooter accident of Jo Hoffman illustrates a far wider problem for British visitors to Thailand and neighboring countries. (Photo: Geneva Hoffman)

As UK vacationers return to Thailand in big numbers, an old problem has resurfaced with new urgency. What happens when you owe a lot of money and have run out of cash in the Land of Smiles? The most recently publicized case is Wolverhampton social worker Jo Hoffman whose face is smashed after a horrible scooter accident. The estimated medical bill is 50,000 pounds with only a third so far raised via gofundme, the best-known crowd cash-raising platform.

Her case is far from unique as a cursory glance at Google will reveal. 2022 is the worst year in recent memory. There are currently at least seven British accident casualties awaiting collective cash to get back home together with a mortuary corpse. Not to mention two much-loved dogs who somehow missed their flights from Bangkok airport. And the tragedies are not only medical. Thai immigration police are refusing to let a healthy Liverpool tourist leave the country until he offers compensation to a comatose Thai driver injured in a skid accident which appears to have been nobody’s fault.

Understandably, victims and their relatives turn to the British embassy. Not much joy there. British government websites make it abundantly clear that there is no cash handout, or even a loan, no matter how desperate the situation. Diplomatic posts will offer a list of hospitals, translators and morticians and even phone relatives with the bad news, but there is a concrete zero budget for hard-luck stories no matter how grim. To be fair, other embassies sing from the same hymn sheet although a few – notably the Norwegian – offer far better counseling and care.

The parrot call, of course, is to be properly insured when abroad. Nobody knows how many travelling Brits are uninsured or inadequately covered. Global Protection says it’s around a third, some say a half. The vulnerable total certainly runs into hundreds of thousands every year. Some like Jo Hoffman thought they were covered by credit card travel insurance, only to discover the truth too late. Others fail to pay the premiums to cover emergency operations or fall foul of restrictions which preclude the elderly from claiming. Not to mention catchall phrases like “pre-existing conditions”, “evidence of alcohol or drugs”, “dangerous sports” or “high horsepower vehicles” which can doom even the most expensive policies.

Thailand does not insist on prior medical insurance except for one or two longstay visas. That’s true of most of her regional competitors for the tourist dollar. No mandatory insurance for the Philippines, Cambodia or Laos for example. All these countries, including Thailand, did require Covid-specific insurance during the pandemic but no longer. They are currently in competition to pack in as many visitors as possible in the name of marketing. Thailand does have a small discretionary fund for unfortunate foreign deaths on its soil, but it is limited to selected coach crashes and sunken vessels. Realistically, nothing will change. Of course, chances of any individual ending up on the gofundme register are remote. But stuff happens.