The healthcare system in Thailand

From general doctors and specialist treatments to who can access medical services, learn all about healthcare in Thailand.

A patient stands at the counter and discusses her script or medication with the pharmacist

By Gary Buswell

Updated 25-3-2024

Over the last 20 years, Thailand’s universal healthcare system has greatly improved the health outcomes of its residents. Most medical services and medications are available for free or very affordable rates, and the quality of care is high.

However, only certain expats qualify for healthcare coverage in Thailand (ประเทศไทย) without taking out private health insurance.

Keep reading to find out more about Thai healthcare for internationals, including:

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Overview of healthcare in Thailand

The healthcare system in Thailand

Since 2002, Thailand has had a universal public healthcare system (ระบบการดูแลสุขภาพ) that offers mostly free medical treatment to 98% of the population.

Healthcare in Thailand is very high quality, currently ranking 31st on the 2023 Legatum Prosperity Index and an impressive 5th on the 2021 Global Health Security Index. However, there are still major disparities in the access available between larger cities and rural areas.

A sign on the side of the road in Bangkok is written entirely in Thai except for 
Chatuchak, Bangkok, Thailand
Photo: justhavealook/Getty Images

The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH – กระทรวงสาธารณสุข) is responsible for healthcare in Thailand, while the National Health Security Office (NHSO – สำนักงานหลักประกันสุขภาพแห่งชาติ) issues funding across 13 health regions. Although most of the population uses the universal coverage scheme (UCS), there is also a sizable private health sector. Public services are delivered through a network of hospitals (โรงพยาบาล, rong phyābān), healthcare centers, and clinics operating across the country.

Life expectancy in Thailand has dramatically increased in the last few decades and currently stands at 74.4 years (PDF) for men and 81 years for women.

Who can access healthcare in Thailand?

Thai healthcare is accessible to both citizens and working legal residents through the following schemes:

Type of schemeWho it coversPercent of the population
Social securityUniversal Coverage Scheme (UCS)2%
Civil servant medical benefitThai civil service workers and their dependents7.7%
Social health insurancePrivate sector workers with health insurance19%
Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS)The general tax-paying population71.3%

However, some private employers providing social health insurance coverage don’t include dependent family members of employees, so they may need to get separate private insurance coverage. Check the situation with your employer to be sure.

On the other hand, short-term visitors and tourists will usually need to take out private health insurance (การประกันสุขภาพภาคเอกชน) to access medical services in Thailand. You can compare the health insurance packagages to see which suits your needs and budget best, and you can start with these providers:

How much is Thai healthcare?

Thai healthcare costs are generally very affordable but can vary depending on whether you have universal health coverage and if you’re a citizen or a foreigner.

Under the public healthcare system, doctors and specialists charge ฿30 to 500 for a basic checkup. If you decide to go to a private healthcare provider without insurance, you can expect to pay from around ฿700 for a basic health check to ฿500,000 or more for extensive surgery.

Before Thailand moved to its current universal public-funded system, the Thai government and the people made nearly equal contributions to healthcare costs. In 2020, however, government spending (70.4%) was far greater than out-of-pocket costs (10.5%), with the remainder mainly funded through insurance payments.

Thailand currently spends 4.36% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare (2020), which is less than half the average of 9.6% (2021).

Do you need health insurance in Thailand?

Healthcare in Thailand is partly insurance-based. Most private sector employees, whether national citizens or expats, make social security payments that include health insurance contributions.

This entitles them to public healthcare treatments. The remainder of the citizen population can access mostly free public healthcare through the UCS, funded through general taxation.

An expectant mother looks down at a print-out of the baby's sonogram
Photo: Twenty47studio/Getty Images

Short-stay visitors to Thailand and those moving to the country without the intention to work will need to purchase private health insurance. This is usually a stipulation of Thai visa applications

Even if you have public health insurance in Thailand, you may still want to supplement this with private coverage, giving you access to a wider variety of medical services.

How do you register for Thai healthcare as an international?

Employers register their expat employees for public healthcare in Thailand, giving them access to the same services as Thai citizens.

Your employer should enroll you in social security (ประกันสังคม) – either the social health insurance or the civil servant medical welfare scheme – once you start working in Thailand.

After registration, you will receive a social security card to take to any healthcare appointments to prove you are entitled to treatment. Everyone who uses public healthcare in Thailand is registered with health centers and hospitals within their district, though they can use any facility in the country.

Private healthcare in Thailand

Although public healthcare in Thailand is excellent, private services typically have shorter waiting times, provide a greater selection of treatments, and are more likely to have English-speaking staff.

However, costs are typically more expensive. You can usually cover treatments with a private health insurance policy. Some private employment-based health insurance policies may also cover some treatments in private facilities.

It’s good to check your insurance policy with the facility before agreeing to any medical treatment. If you don’t have insurance, you’ll need to pay the total costs yourself.

Private facilities in Thailand include hospitals and medical clinics (คลินิกการแพทย์). Some of the best private healthcare options in the country include:

Most private providers offer different packages and have details of costs and plans on their websites. You can shop around for good private health insurance plans that will help you mitigate these costs.

How do you find a doctor in Thailand?

Doctors are part of primary healthcare in Thailand.

The first time you use public healthcare, staff will register you to a primary care unit (clinic, health center, or community hospital) where you can see a family doctor or general practitioner. Most general doctors in Thailand offer appointments and walk-in services, though waiting times may vary.

A doctor takes notes on her patient's medical history while they sit casually at her desk
Photo: BongkarnThanyakij/Getty Images

In 2021, Thailand had 0.5 doctors per 1,000 people, below global averages. The majority of doctors in the country are specialists rather than general doctors. Specialists typically work in hospital settings, though some are in clinics.

Unless you go private, you usually need a referral to access a Thai specialist. There are many medical specialists in Thailand, including:

  • Oncologists (ผู้เชี่ยวชาญด้านเนื้องอกวิทยา)
  • Gynecologists (นรีแพทย์)
  • Cardiologists (แพทย์โรคหัวใจ)
  • Psychologists (นักจิตวิทยา)
  • Radiologists (นักรังสีวิทยา)

Women’s healthcare in Thailand

Public facilities in Thailand provide many free women’s healthcare services, including reproductive healthcare, maternity, and cancer screenings.

Women in Thailand can access gynecologists at clinics, health centers, and hospitals. The MOPH began a National Family Planning Program in 1976 to try and reduce the country’s birth rate. This increased access to birth control methods free of charge.

Abortion (การทำแท้ง) in Thailand was only legal under special circumstances until 2020, when the law changed to allow terminations until the 12th week of pregnancy. This was increased to 20 weeks in certain circumstances in 2022.

The NHSO provides funding of up to ฿3,000 towards abortion costs, although there is currently a lack of public facilities equipped to carry out abortions. Because of this, many are forced to go private. Reproductive technologies are available in Thailand but only through private healthcare.

There are many private providers of women’s healthcare in Thailand, including the Women’s Health Center based at Bangkok Hospital.

Children’s healthcare in Thailand

Children of Thai citizens automatically receive free healthcare through the UCS, including access to pediatricians (กุมารแพทย์), dental treatment, and specialist healthcare treatment. 

Schools in Thailand deliver health promotion programs around issues such as dental care, healthy eating and nutrition, and physical activity. Child health in Thailand is generally good, and the country has an infant mortality rate of 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, below Southeast Asia’s regional average of 30 (WHO, 2022).

A small newborn baby cries while laying in a hospital incubator
Photo: skaman306/Getty Images

Expats working in Thailand can often access free public healthcare for their children through their workplace health insurance plans. If you move to Thailand and your insurance policy doesn’t cover family members, you can look to take out private family health insurance or a separate child health insurance policy.

Most general public and private hospitals in Thailand include pediatric departments or children’s facilities staffed by specialists. There are also a number of high-quality children’s hospitals, for example, the privately-run Samitivej Children’s Hospital.

Thailand has a vaccination program for children which includes immunization against diphtheria, hepatitis B, and MMR.

Dentists in Thailand

You can access dentists in Thailand through the public and private sectors in health centers, clinics, and hospitals. 

Around half of dentists and hygienists work in the private sector. Public health insurance covers basic checkups and treatments up to a set amount per year. You will need private insurance to avoid paying the full fees for anything above this threshold or specific specialist treatments.

Thailand has 2.7 dentists per 10,000 people, above the Southeast Asia average of 1.5 (WHO, 2022). However, the country has had low levels of dental usage among the population, measured at only 9% in 2011. The Dental Council of Thailand regulates the dental industry to ensure minimum standards.

Thai hospitals

There are almost 1,300 hospitals in Thailand, 80% of which are public and run by the MOPH.

Bangkok Hospital in Bangkok's Chinatown sits on the corner of a busy street
Bangkok Hospital(Photo: tang90246/Getty Images)

In Thailand, hospitals generally provide inpatient and outpatient care, plus emergency treatment and maternity services. Community hospitals are smaller, usually with a maximum of 120 beds, and provide primary care services.

General and regional hospitals provide secondary and specialist care, often via community hospital referral. Specialist hospitals in Thailand include children’s, psychiatric, and cardiac hospitals.

Public health insurance covers most standard treatment in MOPH hospitals, and some private hospitals also provide services under public insurance.

Thai health centers and clinics

Health centers are generally the first level of localized primary healthcare in Thailand and where you will typically find medical professionals, including:

  • Nurses (พยาบาล, payabaan)
  • Doctors (หมอ, mor)
  • Physicians (แพทย์, paet)
  • Dentists (หมอฟัน, mor fan)
  • Pharmacists (เภสัชกร, paysachagon)

The MOPH runs almost 10,000 health centers at the sub-district level that cover around 5,000 residents each. In addition to this are a number of clinics and community medical centers operated by local government authorities. When you register for public healthcare in Thailand, you will be allocated to your nearest health center or clinic, which will act as your first port of call when it comes to medical needs.

In addition to public sector facilities, there are over 17,000 private clinics where you will find private general doctors and other specialist medical professionals.

Pharmacies in Thailand

Thai pharmacies (ร้านขายยา, raan kai yaa) provide a range of medications, with some also offering advice and information on health issues.

A man orders a prescription medication refill online while sitting on the couch with his laptop
Photo: skaman306/Getty Images

There are essentially two types of Thai pharmacies. These are:

  • Type I pharmacies – accredited pharmacies licensed to sell prescription drugs as well as over-the-counter products, usually found in primary healthcare units (e.g., health centers or hospitals) as well as in other areas. They are typically staffed with at least one medical expert
  • Type II pharmacies – can only sell over-the-counter medication and may not be able to provide expert advice, found on the main street as well as within supermarket stores

Some expats may be surprised to find that many Thai pharmacies sell medications like antibiotic drugs over the counter. Type II pharmacies often also sell unregulated alternative and herbal remedies. In Thailand, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO – องค์การเภสัชกรรม) oversees drug regulation, and all official drugs need a license from the Thai Food and Drug Administration (TFDA – สำนักงานคณะกรรมการอาหารและยา).

Public health insurance in Thailand covers most prescription medications. You can also take out private insurance to cover out-of-pocket costs if you take expensive medicines regularly. However, medication prices are low in Thailand, even without insurance. It is the least expensive of 50 countries on the 2019 Medicine Price Index.

There are over 17,000 pharmacies in Thailand, easily identified with a green cross logo. Many have late-night opening hours, with 24-hour pharmacies in urban areas.

Thai mental healthcare

As with so many countries, Thailand’s mental healthcare (การดูแลสุขภาพจิต) provision falls some way below that of physical healthcare. Focus has improved recently, and the Department of Mental Health (กรมสุขภาพจิต) advises the MOPH on what is needed.

Unfortunately, Thailand severely lacks preventative mental healthcare and has a shortage of professionals available to help those with serious problems.

If you experience mental health issues in Thailand, you should contact your doctor, who will refer you to specialist services if needed. There are numerous hospitals and health centers in Thailand that deal specifically with mental health. Through private insurance, you also gain access to therapy and wellness services.

COVID-19 in Thailand

As of 2023, Thailand has no COVID-related travel restrictions or social distancing measures in place, but the government still recommends booster vaccines for all residents over 18.

A man stands on a Thai subway train wearing a protective face mask and looking down at his phone
Photo: Krisada tepkulmanont/Getty Images

When COVID-19 was first reported, the Thai government acted swiftly to restrict the spread of the virus, including screening, immigration controls, contact tracing measures, and partial lockdowns. Although restrictions are lifted, at-home COVID-19 tests are still widely available at pharmacies across Thailand, and hospitals offer PCR tests.

The Thai government continues to urge residents to get COVID-19 booster vaccines, even as cases drop to all-time lows in 2023.

Thai support for long COVID

People who contract COVID-19 can often experience lingering after-effects, including fatigue, concentration problems, body aches, and long-term loss of taste/smell. This condition is known as long COVID and has gained growing attention over the past couple of years, but there is so far still limited research.

According to the Department of Medical Services (กรมบริการทางการแพทย์) in Thailand, 10 to 20% of COVID-19 patients develop long COVID. Private medical facilities have led the way in the response to the condition, including:

Public facilities are catching up, and the MOPH has issued guidelines to regional health authorities on setting up long COVID Clinics. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has now established nine clinics in the area.

There is a lack of long COVID support networks in Thailand. However, those wanting advice or support can reach out to the Survivor Corps, which is a worldwide online support group.

Physical therapy in Thailand

Most physical therapy available through public facilities in Thailand is focused on rehabilitation from illness or injury.

You can find therapists such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, sports therapists, or cardiorespiratory therapists at some community hospitals, health centers, and general hospitals.

Typically, you will need a referral for treatment.

A physical therapist bends down to tend to her patient's bandaged knee in a hospital waiting room
Photo: Akarawut Lohacharoenvanich/Getty Images

Private facilities tend to offer a wider range of treatment options. Prices are higher – starting at around ฿2,000 per hour – but you can cover costs using many private insurance packages.

Most registered physiotherapists are members of the Physical Therapy Association of Thailand (สมาคมกายภาพบำบัดแห่งประเทศไทย), which has a list of physical therapy facilities in the country.

Alternative medicine in Thailand

Thai traditional medicine (TTM – การแพทย์แผนไทย) is widely available in Thailand. This includes practices such as Thai massage, sauna, and herbal compression. Around 90% of public hospitals and 55% of health centers offer some form of TTM treatment.

TTM is more widely accepted and available than other forms of alternative medicine in Thailand and is the only form of complementary therapy that is fully regulated in the country. You can also find practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) treatments, including acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy, and chiropractic therapy. However, these are less widely available through public healthcare and usually need private insurance coverage if you want to avoid paying full costs.

Thai community-based health and wellbeing

Thailand has a strong culture of community health volunteers that assist with health promotion and disease prevention in the country. These volunteers are largely based in rural parts of Thailand and number approximately one million – around 15 per 1,000 inhabitants.

Volunteers work to assist public health professionals and perform duties such as:

  • Disseminating health information and advice
  • Promoting health activities and initiatives
  • Running small community wellness projects
  • Assisting with data collection and record keeping, like helping with health surveys

Community health volunteers were also praised as heroes in Thailand for their support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do you do in an emergency in Thailand?

The number for a medical emergency in Thailand is 1669. You can also call 1155 to reach an emergency (ฉุกเฉิน, chuk cheun) advice line for foreigners.

Alternatively, travel to the nearest general or regional hospital, as these usually have emergency rooms.

An ambulance drives down the streets of Bangkok
Wanghin Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Photo: justhavealook/Getty Images

Thailand has a somewhat unique emergency response setup that consists of three levels. The first is staffed with volunteers trained to respond to non-life-threatening situations. Level two is basic life support, and level three is advanced life support. The level you require will be determined when you make the initial emergency call.

All hospitals in Thailand offer emergency care regardless of financial or insurance situation. However, you may receive a bill for payment if you don’t have insurance coverage. This is more likely if you receive treatment in a private facility.

How do you make a complaint about Thai healthcare?

If you have a complaint about a healthcare provider in Thailand, you should contact the provider directly in the first instance. They may be able to resolve the issue so that you don’t have to take it further.

If this is unsuccessful, you can contact:

  • For public healthcare providers: Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) Tivanond Road, Nonthaburi 11000, Thailand (if you are complaining about a public healthcare service)
  • For private healthcare providers: Foundation for Consumers: 4/2 Soi Watthanayothin, Thanon Phaya Thai, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400, Thailand (if you are complaining about a private provider)

Alternatively, you can take legal action through the Thai courts. However, this can be a long, expensive process, so it’s a good idea to seek advice from an attorney first.

Useful resources