When I wrote about my cost of living in Bangkok, a common question I got by email was:
“Hey Karsten, what health insurance are you using?”
If that’s all you want to know, that’s easy. I use ACS. If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry, neither had I until three days before I took out insurance with them.
Before ACS, I had insurance through a French company that I won’t name. They were pretty awesome–until they weren’t.
Two weeks before my insurance expired they sent me a message saying they’d raised their premiums by 30%—effective immediately.
I was tempted to reply to them stating I no longer needed their coverage using colloquial terms for body parts.
Given that I’m obsessive compulsive about insurance coverage, the fact that I only spent three full days researching, analyzing, and comparing insurance plans is a feat.
Saving myself—and you—some time for the next time an insurance company pulls a stunt like this, I’ve typed up this guide on the crucial points of health insurance in Thailand.
I hope this article answers your questions. If it doesn’t, feel free to send me an email and I’ll do my best to help you out.
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Before You Come to Thailand
When I first came to Thailand, I had German travel insurance that covered everything under the tropical sun.
There were no upper limits and barely any exclusions or restrictions on pre-existing conditions.
The cost? I’m glad you asked. I paid 2,238.75 baht a month.
The reason I stopped using them? They would only cover me for the first three years I was abroad.
Germans aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of home-country health insurance.
A Swedish friend of mine got into a severe accident. His insurance chartered a Bangkok Airways plane to fly him from Koh Samui to a hospital in Bangkok that was capable of treating him.
But his insurance is only for Swedes.
So what do these two cases mean for you? If you could get health insurance from your home country before you move to Thailand then you’ll get the best deal, usually if you’re a younger expat.
But if you’ve already moved to Thailand, then you can’t get coverage like this. The kind of coverage I talked about in my case and my Swedish friend’s case above is only for people in certain countries.
If you’re German, I can suggest a travel insurance company that I’ve used before, plus others. But you’ll need to become a Patreon to get access to this info.
Now, on to everyone else.
Your main reason for getting health insurance is that you want to safeguard yourself against costly medical care.
I know that’s why I have it.
Back in 2016 I had nose surgery at Bumrungrad Hospital for a breathing problem. The surgery costed me just under 300,000 baht. But my insurer paid for it.
Aside from worry-free surgeries, having insurance will also let you go to the hospital without a thought.
Since this article is about health insurance in Thailand, I cover the five common ways to get insured in Thailand:
- local insurance
- offshore insurance
- travel insurance
- Social Security
- group insurance
Local insurance is a type of private insurance you’ll find in Thailand.
Agents and brokers offer local insurance and it’s what you’ll see advertised in local media.
Coverage can be limited in terms of:
- the amount covered when compared with other countries
- your age (meaning a few will kick you out when you’re seventy-five)
- exclusions (don’t get into a motorcycle accident)
But if you get local insurance, you won’t have to worry about going over your coverage limits.
Costs at hospitals in Thailand are within the coverage limits of most insurance plans you’ll find in Thailand.
Another big upside to having local insurance is that hospitals regularly deal with local insurers. You show you card when you register, and the hospital and insurance company take care of the rest.
You also won’t have to fill out and send in so much paperwork with local health insurance.
You will need to go to a hospital in a local insurance company’s network. But if you go to a hospital or clinic outside of the insurance network, you can file a claim later and get reimbursed.
Your insurer updates the list of hospitals in their network every year. You can find it on your insurance brochure or policy.
One company I often suggest is Luma Health. They’ve partnered with many top-tier hospitals including:
- Bangkok Hospital
With Luma insurance, you can show your insurance card and the hospital in their network will take care of payments and paperwork.
Their Asia Care Plus plan is one of the best value-for-money plans out there.
One of the most well-known insurance companies in the local market is Aetna, which used to be BUPA.
Aetna is widely-accepted and I use a basic group plan for my staff. They seem to be happy with the coverage they get through Aetna.
From what I gather, if you have Aetna you can pick which hospital you want to go to.
I also heard about a number of banks offering health insurance. But it’s more of an accident insurance or life insurance than a comprehensive package.
The easiest way to compare and buy local insurance is through Mister Prakan. You can compare Thailand health insurance plans side-by-side in English
With offshore insurance, you get much higher coverage limits. This means you can get healthcare at top-tier hospitals while staying under your limits.
Offshore insurance companies will also renew your insurance without age limits.
My own insurance, ACS, falls into this category.
Insurance brokers in Thailand do offer offshore insurance. But brokers who sell only local insurance complain that offshore insurance isn’t licensed in Thailand.
So offshore brokers offer services to expats and tend to keep a low profile. But I can put you in touch with them.
I’m no lawyer, but I assume if you have a dispute with an offshore insurance company, you might not be able to pursue your claim in Thailand.
And disputes overseas would be a lot harder. Offshore insurers know that few people will have the funds and the will to fight a legal case in a foreign country.
As far as I know, you can dispute claims with local insurance companies with the Office of Insurance Commission without involving a lawyer.
As I said above, some insurance companies offer short-term coverage in the form of travel insurance.
Short-term coverage can range from a few weeks to a few years. You can get travel insurance if you apply from your home country, not while you’re in Thailand.
Their pricing is a lot more attractive than what you’d get for long-term coverage.
By taking out coverage under them, though, you’re facing two possible problems.
- Travel insurance companies don’t have to deal with expensive long-term care. If you need long-term care they could repatriate you and hand you off to the Social Security system in your home country.
- Travel insurance companies tend to offer emergency healthcare coverage. This means you’re covered for accidents or illnesses that need immediate care.
You should get travel insurance for short-term stays or vacations in Thailand.
Other than that, it makes sense to get long-term health insurance so you’re covered for severe medical problems.
If you work legally in Thailand, you’ll have insurance through Social Security.
Your employer will deduct 5% of your gross salary, but no more than 750 baht, for Social Security every month.
With Social Security, you can get medical care and medicine for free.
Starting in 2018, you no longer need your Social Security card to see a doctor. Instead, you can tell hospital staff your Social Security card number and show them your passport.
In practice, Social Security means free treatment. But the costs come in the form of long lines, limited medication, and rushed doctor visits.
And you might not be able to get some patented, more recent, drugs with Social Security.
It’s common for doctors at Social Security hospitals to see between eighty and one hundred patients during an eight-hour shift. This means they have a few minutes to spare for you.
You can’t pick a hospital, but you can pick three that you’d prefer. You have forty-three hospitals to choose from in Bangkok.
You’re assigned to a hospital for a year, too. You’ll need to choose a new hospital at the beginning of every year.
Most of the time you’ll get the same hospital unless it stops taking part in the Social Security System.
If you live in a small province, there might be only one hospital under Social Security.
Which hospital you get assigned to will affect the quality of care you’ll get. The difference between the hospitals can be significant.
You can get treatment at hospitals outside the one assigned to you but only in an emergency.
In this case, you’re covered for the first seventy-two hours of necessary care. But you’ll get coverage for lower than what basic local insurance covers.
And you’ll need to pay and get reimbursed later at the Social Security Office.
People tend to avoid some the smaller, for-profit clinics in Thailand. While they might be easy to get to or have shorter wait times, things might get hairy if you end up needing more costly healthcare.
This means you should pick a large hospital from the get go. If you pick a smaller hospital and your case is serious, a smaller hospital has to refer you to a larger hospital before you can get treated.
But referral processes can be awkward, making it much better to be with a large hospital like Lerdsin or General Police to begin with.
My Social Security hospital used to be Camillian Hospital in Thong Lor. It was one of the best Social Security hospitals for expats because of English-speaking doctors and the short waiting times.
But Camillian Hospital stopped taking part in the Social Security System. My insurer gave me a list of hospitals and I had to pick three.
My friend had surgery for a meniscus tear done there and it costed him 27,000 baht. He felt they handled the surgery well, but pointed out they didn’t speak a lot of English.
But at the time of writing this guide, every foreigner I know who moved to Bangkok got Kluaynamthai Hospital, no matter which hospital they picked when they signed up.
I’d link their website, but according to Google the site may have been hacked.
While I’ve never been there, their Google ratings will make you want to look for other health insurance choices if that’s your Social Security hospital.
I think in the future, foreigners will be able to register at other facilities for Social Security healthcare.
Because of this, I’ve put together a list of Bangkok hospitals that are available to Thais and recommended for their quality of care to me by friends in the medical field:
|Lerdsin||Silom||crowded, good for orthopedics (sports injuries)|
|General Police||Rama 1||one of the largest, lots of specialists on staff|
|Yanhee||Charan Sanitwong||social security allows you to use all their branches|
Please note that I’m not a medical specialist and can’t vouch for these hospitals.
You can get a discount on group insurance if you have a family of three or more people or run a company in Thailand.
For more info, read our group health insurance guide.
Insurance Plans Explained
Before you buy any insurance plan, be aware that prices aren’t the only thing to consider.
Take the time to read through the fine print of any insurance plan you’re interested in buying.
No matter where in the world you’re buying insurance for, there are some general things to be aware of.
We’ve listed each of them in a separate guide. Click on any of the links for more info.
- Age restrictions
- Areas of coverage
- Cancellations or non-extensions
- Coverage limits
- Pre-existing conditions
- Prior authorizations
Finding the Right Insurance Plan
When looking for insurance plans, don’t make the mistake of looking for the cheapest plan.
Instead, it’s better to look at:
- area of coverage
- coverage limits
- renewal guarantee
- company reputation
Area of Coverage
Does the plan cover you in Thailand or other countries as well? This is important for those who often move or travel to new countries.
How much is the plan’s coverage limits? And what are the limits of the benefits? Are they enough for your needs?
Are there exclusions that you should be aware of? Do you have a chronic disease or take part in activities that aren’t covered?
Are they going to let you go if you’re diagnosed with a chronic disease, make too many claims, or claim too much?
Is the insurance company easy to deal with? Do they raise premiums every year by a large percentage? How about people’s experiences with them?
The plan suitable for you might not be the cheapest, but it’s better than getting a plan that doesn’t give you enough coverage when you need it.
Reading the fine print, looking at reviews from customers and talking to a good broker will help.
You can research suitable insurance plans by checking out:
- comparison websites
Each of these methods have pros and cons.
Comparison websites let you search for insurance plans with filters and searches, rather than having to compare sales brochures and broker’s Excel sheets.
You can also fill out medical surveys and apply online for plans.
For expats, Mister Prakan offers the most comprehensive comparison of health insurance plans in Thailand.
The website covers major insurance companies and:
- sorts them by price
- allows you to filter them by coverage level
- gives details about coverage limitations
- displays editorial ratings of each company.
They also act as a broker and have English-speaking staff who can answer your questions.
In case you’d like to look into offshore insurance plans, you can give BrokerFish a try.
For international insurance plans, you can:
- compare plans
- filter results according to your needs
Sadly, they’re missing some of the more competitive offshore plans. And they don’t have any info about plans sold in Thailand, which may offer better coverage.
You shouldn’t have trouble finding a broker in Thailand. The rate you get when going through a broker is the same as when you go the insurance.
The main advantage of a broker is that they can offer you a wider range of plans than an insurance company.
If you don’t already know which plan you want, they can give you details on what best suits your needs.
In theory, brokers are neutral and act in your best interest. In practice, in Thailand that’ll be true for good brokers and not so true for others.
One thing to keep in mind is that sales commissions for brokers are recurring.
For every year you stay with them, they get between 15% and 18% of your premium.
If you go through an insurance company, the insurance keeps that sales commission.
This means brokers have an incentive to sell you an insurance plan and keep you as a client in the future.
This recurring commission payment means that the broker will have a financial interest to help you out when it comes to dealing with insurance.
But brokers only offer you limited help with claims or disputes.
Aside from the details of the claim and your individual case, it depends on their relationship with each insurer and of course on the insurance itself.
Whether or not your broker sends your insurance company a lot of business, and whether or not your insurance company cares can make a difference.
In case you’re not happy with the support of your broker, you should also know that you can change brokers without changing insurance plans.
In short, signing up for insurance through a broker means you have one more person you can talk to before signing, and one more person to complain to after signing.
On the other hand, a broker might not know every single detail about every insurance plan for sale.
If you’re looking for a broker, I suggest using Mister Prakan. They’ll allow you do to do the initial research yourself, making it easy to compare plan benefits and costs online at your own pace before talking to one of their agents.
If you’re looking for a locally licensed, Thai-baht insurance plan, they’re a one-stop shop.
For legal reasons they don’t offer any offshore insurance plans like ACS, the one I’m using.
But the Asia Care Plus plan by Luma Health may work for you.
Lastly, you can fill out our insurance form to get advice from a broker who is also an expat and has years of experience with both offshore and local insurance.
My Insurance Plan
As I said before, I’m insured with ACS. Below, I’ve listed the reasons why I chose them. Unless noted, conditions are from the time of signing up and based on my notes:
- HIV/AIDS treatment: included
- medical evacuation: included
OPD: $6,000 limit
- exclusions: common exclusions; donor costs in case of organ transplants
- overall limit: $500,000
- 2018 premium: $1,855.00 a year for a thirty-six year old male
The bullet points reflect my own grasp of their insurance plan and lists out attributes according to my priorities. It’s not meant to be an “official” or a comprehensive list.
After being with them for many years, I’d say I’m satisfied with their service.
ACS is easy to reach. They don’t work in a certain time zone. There are no cultural or language barriers.
The premiums tend to go up over time but stay in line with what other insurers charge.
There were a few minor claims they denied based on them being pre-existing conditions or outside the described coverage. But I wasn’t surprised and I’m pretty happy with the service I got from them so far.
But in the end I went with ACS. They offer the best value for money for the coverage I need.
Now, on to You
Are you left with questions about buying insurance in Thailand? Feel free to send me an email and I’ll help you out as best as I could.
Keep in mind I’m not a broker, lawyer, doctor, or professional proofreader, but when I wrote this article I did my best to research and fact-check.
I also can’t promise the info in this post is 100% true. Things always change with insurance. And although I do my best to keep this post up-to-date, you should check with a professional before buying insurance.