Thailand appears to change policy on medical insurance for visitors

The latest insurance regulation for international visitors poses a lot of new questions.

The latest notice from the Department of Consular Affairs and the Tourist Authority of Thailand specifies that the medical cover required of all foreigners entering the country must be widely based: it mustn’t relate only to coronavirus illness.  The text in English reads, “Medical insurance with a minimum coverage of US$50,000 should be a broad policy, not specific to Covid-19 only, and cover hospitalization expenses.”

Previously, government announcements had restricted future cover to Covid-related sickness or had simply stated “medical insurance” without amplification.  The announcement has caught the Thai and foreign insurance companies off-guard.  For example, the website of the Thai General Insurance for Foreigners website, 72 hours before the new rules take effect, was still offering Covid-only insurance and cover for a minimum of US$100,000 (not half that).  Yes people are confused.

If confirmed, the latest “clarification” means that Covid-only insurance will no longer be valid for entry to the kingdom via the Thailand Pass portal.  People already here, who take a short trip abroad and fly back, may find their former insurance cover does not allow them to return.  The elderly may find that they cannot get medical insurance which is “general” rather than “Covid-specific”, or must buy worthless policies.  To add to the confusion, some immigration offices are already informing customers that annual extensions of stay for “non-immigrant O/A” holders will require cover of US$100,000 to qualify.

Foreigners who have work permits have been told that they may not need any extra insurance because they are already payees into the Thai social security system which covers hospitalization.  However, their exemption apparently requires approval at the highest level of government.

It seems that the latest US$50,000 bombshell requires general medical cover for the period of the visa, or permission of stay, actually granted which can vary between 15 days (visa on arrival) to one year (0/A annual visa) with multiple alternatives in-between.  There is no indication yet whether the insurance cover requirement will carry forward for extensions at immigration bureaux.  In the past, most foreigners have not needed to show insurance documentation for extensions.

Many social media bloggers are already arguing that the new rule is acceptable as travelling without medical insurance these days is ridiculous.  But the point here is that the rules could simply create a vast, boiling cauldron of confusion and dissuade many international travellers from even thinking of applying for a visa.  Additionally, general medical insurance is expensive and Thailand could price herself out of the market unless she keeps in step with competitors.  Much ordinary travel insurance for vacationers does not cover high amounts and certainly does not guarantee to cover hospitalization willy-nilly.  There are lots of insurers’ conditions, exceptions and loopholes.

As regards the elderly, Thailand has a formal policy of encouraging “rich” pensioners to come and live in Thailand.  They will be offered long-term visas in return for buying new condo units or investing lavishly in Thai bonds.  Not to mention being excused from 90 days reporting.  But it looks like an 80 year old billionaire arriving in a private jet may be barred from the program because he or she cannot buy limited medical insurance.  Whatever happened to the concept of self-insurance for the well-to-do?  Surely a rethink is required.