- Download our Moving to Thailand Guide (PDF)
Healthcare in Thailand is generally of good quality, especially in Bangkok. The city has a thriving medical tourism industry, and many hospitals offer excellent care for a much lower price than would be charged in Western countries. Many doctors and other specialists speak English and have often studied abroad, though admin staff are less likely to speak English.
Private hospitals are recommended over public hospitals in Thailand, as they will generally be more comfortable and service will be faster. That said, public hospitals still offer a good standard of care.
Health insurance in Thailand
Expats are legally required to have health insurance if they are working in Thailand. Legally working expats qualify for the Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS), which is funded by monthly salary deductions. Social security holders get free consultations and medication, but consultations are usually brief and medications are limited to generics. Policies are generally limited to certain hospitals – if needing to go to an out-of-network hospital, treatment is usually not covered.
Some expats opt instead for private health insurance, which provides access to an excellent standard of care at a range of private facilities. For those choosing this route, there are international companies that can provide health insurance for expats in Thailand.
Public healthcare in Thailand
There are more than 1,000 hospitals in Thailand's public sector. Public hospitals have a good standard of care, and the majority of Thai nationals use these facilities. That said, lines can be long – especially in the larger cities – and there are fewer creature comforts than in private hospitals. Waiting times in more rural hospitals may be shorter, but the standard of care is often lower.
A commonality between city and rural hospitals is that consultations are often brief and hurried. For convenience, and because treatment at private hospitals is well priced, most expats use private healthcare.
Private healthcare in Thailand
Private hospitals in Thailand are first-rate and often employ staff that have been educated at Western universities. While private treatment is about double the cost of public treatment, it's still much cheaper than what expats coming from Europe or the United States may be used to.
Despite the reasonable cost of treatment, expats should ensure they have medical insurance in the case of emergencies or when major procedures are required. The best private hospitals are in Bangkok, and in the event of a severe injury or medical condition, travelling to one of these world-class medical institutions is the safest option.
The quality of care and low treatment prices have led to Thailand's rise as a medical tourism destination for operations such as cosmetic surgery, eye surgery and dental care. Some hospitals catering to overseas medical tourists resemble hotels more than hospitals, especially those in the south, which market medical operations alongside beach holidays.
Pharmacies in Thailand
There is an abundance of pharmacies in Thailand, in cities and smaller towns. Many are independent stores, but chain pharmacies do exist. Pharmacies are easily recognisable because they display a white sign with a green cross and green lettering. Most pharmacies are open seven days a week, although only for a few hours on Sundays.
Formal prescriptions are not always necessary for medication, and many people go straight to a pharmacist if they are feeling unwell – which has led to antibiotic overuse becoming an issue. Expats are advised to see a doctor for any medical ailments but should remember that hospital pharmacies are often pricier than independent stores in town. Most qualified pharmacists should be able to give medical advice in English.
Health hazards in Thailand
The tropical climate is a comfortable environment for viruses and bacteria, which means that expats should be aware of numerous health hazards in Thailand. These include mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and Japanese encephalitis.
The monsoon season can also bring about heavy rains that can lead to flooding. Expats are encouraged to monitor official lines and follow the recommended safety precautions in the event of an emergency.
Vaccinations for Thailand
There are several vaccinations required to travel and live in Thailand safely. Routine vaccinations for chickenpox, flu, polio and shingles are recommended. Additionally, Hepatitis A and B, Yellow Fever and Typhoid vaccinations are also recommended.
Expats who will be living in areas where Japanese encephalitis, malaria and dengue fever have been reported should take the necessary precautions. Parents travelling with infants must ensure they receive a measles shot before travelling. This dose will typically not form part of routine childhood vaccinations.
Emergency services in Thailand
There are private ambulance services in Thailand that cater to English speakers, but it's better to get a Thai speaker to make the call if calling a government ambulance. Ambulance response times can be slow as other drivers will only rarely give the ambulance right of way.
The public emergency numbers for Thailand are 1154 for medical emergencies and 1155 for the tourist police.
►For more on staying safe and healthy in the country, see Safety in Thailand.
►Healthcare in Bangkok gives more info about hospitals in the Thai capital.
What do expats say about Thai hospitals?
"The hospitals are world class. At one point I had to do bloodwork, get vaccinated, and even get a CT scan. All very affordable, all very professional. My only disparaging point is that the quality does vary from one hospital to another – as does their cleanliness." Read more of Mike's expat interview about living in Thailand.
Are you an expat living in Thailand?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Thailand. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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