Notwithstanding misleading information spread last week by some media, the vast majority of longstay expats in Thailand do not require health insurance to obtain or to renew their 12-monthly permits. In particular, holders of the yearly extension of stay for retirees over 50 years of age or for farang with Thai spouses, obtained at the local immigration office, are exempt from the latest developments.
Last week, the Thai Ministry of Health announced a Cabinet decision that health insurance was now mandatory for foreigners applying for or renewing a one year visa. However, this ruling applied only to aliens seeking a 12-month visa from a Thai consulate or embassy abroad. In reality, most of the 60,000 expats living in Thailand obtain their extension of stay – not technically a visa – by applying at the immigration office nearest to their home in Thailand.
The confusion is believed to have occurred because Thai embassies and consulates across the world are under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but immigration police come under a separate jurisdiction. The 12-month visa issued by embassies is known as “O/A” and is normally applied for in the foreigner’s home country. It requires a great deal of paperwork, in addition to the recently-announced medical insurance, and requires police clearance, proof of residence, detailed bank statements and a documentary audit trail of the sources of income.
It has also been clarified that the Elite Visa, issued by the Thai government for a period of 5-20 years for a one-off payment of between 500,000 and 2,000,000 baht, is also exempt from any requirement to obtain medical insurance. The Elite Visa is popular with wealthy foreigners who want to take advantage of reduced bureaucracy and to enjoy several perks which include fast-track airport services and discounts at hotels, restaurants, golf courses and spas.
Barry Kenyon, a former British embassy officer and current adviser to a group of Thai lawyers said, “Immigration rules are a very sensitive issue here and keep expats awake at night.
owever, all those dealing with the immigration office for their extension of stay can rest easy at the moment.”
However, he warned that the momentum was growing for compulsory medical insurance for all visitors, adding that a recent informal survey suggested that 80 percent of retired expats had no policy because insurance companies loaded premiums for the elderly, or refused cover altogether.
Thai government sources say that Thai hospitals in the public sector are losing many millions of baht a year because foreigners cannot pay their in-patient bills. But most of the publicized cases of stranded foreigners appealing for crowd-funding to pay for urgent operations or for air flights home are short-term tourists of working age.
“Certainly in Pattaya, the elderly are mostly a law-abiding lot,” concluded Mr Kenyon.