FOREIGNERS aged 50 and above living in Thailand on a long-stay visa will likely have to buy health insurance from July onwards, as authorities are preparing guidelines to enforce the new rules.
Approved by the Cabinet last month, the new regulation will require ex-pats on the long-stay non-immigrant O-A visa to have health insurance that offers Bt40,000 coverage for outpatient treatment and Bt400,000 for inpatient.
The requirement was introduced because foreign expats have piled up unpaid medical bills of more than Bt300 million since 2016.
Notably the government do not reveal how much the same foreign ex-pats have introduced into the economy since 2016.
“We will ask the Immigration Bureau, the Foreign Ministry and the Insurance Department for additional details and implementation guidelines next week,” Saowapa Jongkittipong, who leads the Health Service Support Department’s International Health Division, said yesterday.
She said that once the rule is implemented, applicants for the non-immigrant O-A visa, which is valid for one year from the date of issue, would be required to buy health insurance.
“Current holders of this visa will have to produce proof of their health insurance for visa renewal,” she said.
According to Saowapa, this requirement is necessary because medical treatments provided to many elderly long-time foreign residents have weighed heavily on the state coffers.
Last year, foreigners incurred Bt305 million in unpaid medical bills. Foreigners in 2017 left Bt346 million in unpaid medical bills. If categorised by the number of medical visits, statistics show about one-fifth of foreign patients did not pay their bills.
However, it appears this does not affect anyone who stays in Thailand on an extension of stay based on retirement, which is often incorrectly referred to as a ‘retirement visa’.
Extensions of stay are not visas. Most retirees who stay in Thailand do so on an ‘extension of stay based on retirement’.
A Non-Immigrant Visa OA can only be applied for at Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate overseas.
Anyone who has a Non-Immigrant Visa OA typically applies for this at the Thai Embassy or Consulate in their home country.
An extension of stay based on retirement can only be obtained at any immigration office within Thailand.
It’s the extension of stay based on retirement which have recently been the subject of the much publicised change in the financial requirements which need to be met in order to be granted the extension.
For example, a Non-Immigrant Visa OA looks like this and is valid for 3 months (long term) from the date of entry;
An extension of stay based on retirement looks like this and is valid for 12 months from the date of issue;
The announcement made by the Ministry of Public Health does not mention ‘extensions of stay based on retirement’, only that mandatory health insurance is a requirement for those applying for a (three-month) Non-Immigrant Visa OA.
Long-term retirees do not need to apply for an OA Visa every year and therefore, by definition, will not need to show evidence of expensive health insurance just to renew their ‘extension of stay.’
Further evidence of this distinction comes with the release of data revealing there were 38 million Non-immigrant (O-A) visa holders in 2018 and 35 million in 2017.
These are clearly held by foreigners who visit Thailand for 3-6 months a year and NOT retired permanent residents holding extension of stay stamps.
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