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Top 7 Features You Want from Expat Insurance

Expat Health Insurance Thailand

Expats face different risks than permanent residents. Here are 7 features of expat insurance that will help you get more out of your cover.

With so many options out there it is really hard to know which policy is the best fit for you. I have used many of these policies for many years (30+) and understand what works and what doesn’t work.

 Here I focus on the 7 features that I feel are most important.

#1. No hassle Insurance Coverage at Top Thai Hospitals

Long Waiting TimesAvoiding long waits while hospital staff try to confirm your insurance coverage, is to me a huge plus. I need to know that any of the top hospitals I go to will deal quickly with the claim and not surprise me with a “pay now, claim later” situation which puts me out of pocket. This is especially true of a condition that has you spending time in a hospital bed and you just don’t know big the bill is getting. 

A friend of mine was surprised recently when he was admitted with COVID-19 only to be released a week later to a 300,000 Baht hospital bill because his insurance company didn’t pay for the coverage he thought he had. 

Furthermore, if any of you reading this have ever experienced a Thai public hospital you had better bring along a book for the long waits and be sure to hook up your headphones to your phone to block out the incessant noise coming from the blaring TV sets in the waiting rooms. No hassle is my number ONE concern when it comes to picking a decent insurance provider. Note too that if you choose an insurance company in your own country that does not have representation in Thailand or has a very difficult and time consuming confirmation from Thailand, you could find yourself in a bind. Choose a company that has 24/7 phone support in your language so that you can check for coverage ahead of time (if you are able to) or a hotline for the hospital to call. Generally speaking, the cheaper package you pick, the more hassles and surprises you will get.  Choose wisely.

#2 Coverage over 75

This is super important for anyone wishing to retire in Thailand. The requirements now for insurance are on the rise and its often difficult to get insurance past the age of 65. More often than not, many packages do not offer coverage over 65 and I was only able to find one with coverage past 75 (as long as you have applied before the age of 75, you are covered). I have personally used William-Russell in the past and have had flawless support and a no hassle experience. I intend to use them again once I have completed my work contract here in Thailand.

What I look for is an insurance package that doesn’t end at 75 and leave you in a bind, like many do. My Mother is 83 years old and also lives here in Thailand but she now has a problem about leaving for a trip home (which she used to every year) and is worried about not being able to return unless she is properly covered by insurance.

For those wishing to retire in Thailand on a Non-Immigrant O-A visa the minimum coverage for health insurance on an O-A visa is as follows (as of 24-Oct-2021):

  • A minimum outpatient coverage amount of 40,000 Baht ($1,300 USD) is required on the policy.
  • A Minimum of 400,000 Baht ($13,000 USD) is required for inpatient care. This is a tiny amount that can easily be overrun just in a few days of inpatient care.

This minimum number is likely to increase, especially with the recent wave of COVID-19 infections and the government is now even requiring travelers to have at least $50,000 coverage to visit Thailand. 

#3 Emergency Repatriation Services

Emergency FlightsFor many expatriates, it’s important that you can be repatriated home in case of a dire emergency or serious medical condition. Especially if you are here alone. I like to see an option built into the package to pay for the flights home, if necessary. I also look for an option to pay for compassionate flights home in the case of the death of a loved one. When my birth mother died 2009, my insurance package paid for the flight home which was a great relief to me at the time. Some insurance packages will also repatriate your remains if you should die in Thailand and you or your family wish to have you interned in your home country.

#4 Comprehensive Coverage

In my personal exploration of health insurance packages, I am often confused by all of the different levels of coverage for different scenarios. To me, I look at the most expensive types of health coverage which is usually associated with Cancer or other debilitating conditions such as stroke, paralysis or kidney dialysis.

For that matter, even mental health conditions such as dementia. Many packages do not offer enough coverage to adequately cover the costs of long stay hospital visits and even care after the event. I can offer a couple of personal examples in my own life, one involving my own father.

My father simply didn’t give enough attention to proper health insurance and in his early 70’s he was diagnosed with cancer. Because he didn’t have any health insurance coverage, the extended family had to pay for the treatments and arrange for him to be sent home to Canada from Bangkok. He had to wait 6 months in Canada before the Canadian government health insurance kicked in.

By that time, it was too late and the cancer was firmly rooted in his body. During that difficult time, our savings were effectively wiped out. Although we had help from some charitable organizations in Thailand, he succumbed to his disease. It was so unfortunate because had he been properly covered, we could have caught the disease earlier and he would likely be alive today. 

#5 24/7 Emergency Support and No Call Centres or Annoying Phone Menus

Having a support line that is 24/7 and is answered by a competent person is incredibly important. Many offer call support centers that, in Thailand, aren’t always staffed by people with competent English skills.

I have heard the horror stories of calling BUPA and left wondering if there is anyone there with any competence at all. I once used BUPA and to be honest, I would never use them again.

Many do have international call centers but again, you end up with hassles poking at numbers on a computer generated menu system and all you want to do is talk to a PERSON. When you enquire about a health insurance package, pay close attention to the level of support you will receive and how they will offer it. 

#6 Coverage for Underlying Conditions

Coverage for underlying conditions is often not covered by many insurance products. Be careful to select one that will allow you to have coverage for these conditions or past conditions so that you do not get excluded.  

Many (actually most) plans will require a medical history and will not cover for various conditions that happened in your past and that you have completely recovered.

As an example, if  you had a stomach ulcer back in 2007 and it completely healed with no reoccurrence, your insurance company may decide not to include coverage of this condition in the future.

I remember admitting to a ligament injury I received on my knee from playing rugby and the insurance company refused to cover me for any knee injuries I might have in the future. The injury was completely healed but the insurance company refused to cover me for any injuries again – ever.

This seems completely nonsensical to me since a slip and fall could cause such an injury on anyone. Most insurance companies will not cover for serious illnesses or injuries in the past but some will offer support but for an extra premium.

Make sure to ask and get a very clear answer.

#7 Income Protection for Long Illnesses or Injuries

This is particularly important for those expats with families they need to support. Its not an insurance package that is usually covered by most, but in my opinion its very important.

One of the few that do offer it is William-Russell and its worth the extra premium. They offer a package to people under the age of 55 to cover up to 75% of wages if you are debilitated from an injury or illness at work and the payments begin 3 months after the event.

This is so important because there have been many cases where the expatriate breadwinner becomes incapacitated and loses his job, thereby unable to pay for basic costs at home as well as insurance premiums.

One of my closest friends had a stroke recently and he was left unable to work. He has 2 pre-school children and a wife to support and although the company he worked for kept him on for a few months they eventually found a reason to release him, leaving him in a total bind. It was absolutely tragic.

William-Russell charges about $2000 a year for this coverage and I think its vital to have (depends on age and potentially other factors).

Now I have mentioned William-Russell a few times in this article but there are also some other very good options. At present, I am covered by Aetna here in Thailand by the company my wife works at and I can say that they do offer a very good local package. I have never been disappointed with Aetna so I can definitely recommend them.  I have also heard good things about Pacific Cross but the website doesn’t give too many details on the coverage. They do have an expatriation capability but the details I have received are not very clear. 

If you remember one thing from this article, it’s the story of my father and his under insurance. He would be alive and well today and enjoying his retirement had be just planned out a decent insurance package. If it’s one thing I have learned, do not skimp on good coverage and DO NOT choose your insurance based on the lowest bidder. You just never know when health can fail and you can leave yourself and your family in dire circumstances. 

Top 3 Expat Insurance Companies in Thailand

Here are my Top 3 Health Insurance providers to consider:

  1. William-Russell – for full coverage, no hassle and great services. I also like their repatriation coverage and additional Income Protection package. 
  2. AETNA – Also hassle free full coverage at all the best hospitals in Thailand. They also offer a Freelancers package for Digital Nomads but be sure you have the right coverage for your visa.
  3. Cigna Global – Prior to the change to AETNA, my wife employer used Cigna and I can also attest to a great experience with them. The plan we had didn’t offer country repatriation nor many of the other plans offered by William-Russell but I was happy with the local services. Very comprehensive and quick.

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