Expats in Thailand know dual pricing all too well – whether it’s taxi drivers refusing to use the meter to fleece you or market vendors blatantly charging more because you’re foreign, discriminatory practices are far and wide here. But did you know that this extends to government-run hospitals as well? Our friends at Pacific Prime Thailand will tell you about dual pricing at public hospitals and what that means for you as an expat. 

Dual pricing explained 

As alluded to previously, dual pricing is when foreigners are charged more than Thai citizens for the same product or service. This practice has always been widespread at public hospitals in Thailand. In fact, one Dutch man even tried to sue a Hua Hin hospital over this. However, a new guideline that came into effect at the end of September 2019 changes the dynamics completely as it legalizes dual pricing.

Even though the new guideline enshrines discrimination at public hospitals, to the dismay of expats in Thailand, the silver lining is that it includes a new and improved tiered pricing structure for health services. It aims to bring increased standardization and transparency to the once confusing process at public hospitals. Under the tiered pricing structure, foreigners will be ranked into three price groups.

  • Tier 1: Thai citizens and foreigners from neighboring countries (Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam)
  • Tier 2: Foreigners working or studying in Thailand 
  • Tier 3:  Foreign retirees and tourists in Thailand 

Wondering how stark the difference in price is? Here are a few examples according to local news sources. If you were to go in for a spinal MRI, you’ll be set back THB 23,375 as an expat in Thailand. Conversely, your Thai counterpart would only pay THB 18,700, while the maximum charged to retirees and tourists will be THB 28,050. Likewise, for an HIV Test, the pricing structure is: THB 160, THB 240, and THB 320.  

Public vs. private hospitals 

For many expats in Thailand, who have made the country their home and are contributing to taxes like everyone else, having to pay more under the dual pricing rules may be off-putting. However, things aren’t as rosy at private hospitals either. Most private hospitals in the country overcharge for medical services and prescription drugs, with rates being 30% to 300% over the actual cost of production.

Nevertheless, private hospitals bring with it plenty of benefits. For starters, you don’t have to queue for hours to see a doctor. Next, hospital staff are more likely to speak English. This is something even Thai-speaking expats will be grateful for in a medical setting. And finally, when compared to the cost of healthcare in Western countries, private hospitals provide state-of-the-art facilities and VIP care at a fraction of the cost.

While the country attracts thousands of patients from abroad each year, forming a lucrative medical tourism industry, expats in Thailand have to think twice about accessing these hospitals if they are working and earning in the country. Costs at hospitals can quickly add up and spiral, leaving the patient with a monumental bill to shoulder. Fortunately, there are ways to save money whilst going to private hospitals. 

Save money on healthcare 

For expats who want to avoid dual pricing at public hospitals and access better care at private hospitals, securing a health insurance plan will enable you to avoid out-of-pocket payments. Rather than simply opting for the cheapest health insurance plan, which is a common mistake to make, it’s important to understand how the policy works. No matter how lengthy the terms are, make sure you’ve read it carefully and in its entirety. 

More often than not, health insurance plans with low premiums come with high deductibles or coinsurance. The former is a fixed amount you have to pay before the insurer will cover the cost, while the latter is when the cost is shared between you and your insurer. In addition to this, look at things like healthcare provider networks and direct billing options. 

Given that comparing plans is not straightforward, you should seek the help of a health insurance broker. Pacific Prime Thailand is one of Asia’s largest health insurance brokers and has over two decades of experience helping expats select a health insurance plan. Whether you’re working or a retiree, an individual or a family, you can contact their team of experts for a consultation or visit their website for a free quote. 


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