Thailand remains one of the most popular retirement destinations in the world. Great culture; great food; great people. And as U.S. citizens age, Thailand also offers access to excellent health care, provided at world-class private hospitals by internationally trained doctors. But you need to be able to afford it.
Sadly, we at the Embassy in Bangkok have seen many instances where U.S. citizens discover, too late, that essential, high-quality health care is out of financial reach and their options are limited. As you contemplate your own preparedness, we urge you to plan for a few key expenses: medical treatment, nursing care, and, if necessary, medical evacuation.
Do You Have a Plan to Receive Treatment in Thailand?
Access to healthcare in the United States and Thailand differs. When you live abroad, Medicare cannot pay for your healthcare. U.S. healthcare programs that can sometimes be used overseas, such as private health insurance, TRICARE, and VA-provided care, work differently and may require upfront payments. As a non-Thai, you do not enjoy the same subsidized access to the public healthcare system as your Thai neighbors. While Thai law directs hospitals (both private and public) to provide emergency life-saving care, they are not required to provide care for routine or chronic conditions and may require full payment in advance.
Tragically, some of the most common challenges we witness relate to home healthcare and long-term hospitalization. Even the most prepared retirees in Thailand, capable of withstanding several medical emergencies, may not realize just how expensive professional care can be if they develop a debilitating condition in retirement. You may wish to consider purchasing long-term care insurance and having a written plan in place in the event you become incapacitated.
Do You Have a Viable Way Back to the United States?
If you lack a caretaking option in Thailand and/or your only access to treatment for a chronic condition is Medicare, your best option is likely to return to the United States for healthcare. Medical evacuation and medical insurance are often covered through different programs. Many do not realize, however, the obstacles to flying once you are sick. Trips back to the United States can be arduous due to the distance and required transits, and airlines can refuse to board anyone who does not appear to be of health stable enough to endure a flight.
What the U.S. Embassy Can and Cannot Do
When contacted for help we can point you toward a number of medical service providers or put you in touch with friends and family who may be able to assist. We can then assist those family members and friends in transferring money to you, or directly to a hospital or nursing home. The U.S. government has no ability to pay for your medical costs overseas. We urge you to take steps now, while you are physically and financially able, to prepare for medical eventualities: budget for long-term care and consider purchasing health insurance that covers emergency medical and dental treatment abroad, as well as medical evacuation to the United States. Having appropriate medical insurance and sufficient personal savings can prevent your destitution or the denial of necessary care and keep you happy and healthy in the Land of Smiles.
This article was drafted by the American Citizen Services unit of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, part of an advice column for U.S. citizens permanently living in Thailand.
Disclaimer for medical insurance providers: The Department of State assumes no responsibility or liability for the professional ability or reputation of, or the quality of services provided by, any provider.
For more information that could assist you in planning for your family’s future, please visit “U.S. Citizen Services /Medical Emergencies.” (click here.)
Older travelers may wish to contact Medicare, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), or a travel agent for information about foreign medical care coverage with private Medicare supplement plans.
For the Department of State’s checklist for older travelers please visit this page (click here).
Stay on top of the latest news and current events with the U.S. Embassy homepage (click here), which includes links to homepages of other U.S. government agencies.