Thailand to issue one-year visas for medical tourists

Thailand is trying to attract more rich tourists by promoting itself as a destination for medical treatment, with hospital operators such as Bangkok Dusit Medical Services and Bumrungrad Hospital among the companies expected to profit the most from the new visa.

The latest attempt to lure so-called high-quality visitors comes with just as many unfathomable restrictions as previous attempts to woo the super-rich.

In this case, while billed as one-year visas, the maximum allowed stay is only 90 days, a pretty short time in terms of sufferers of the kind of expensive-to-treat diseases Thailand hopes to attract. Meanwhile, the visa is only available for those who require more than 90 days of continuous treatment, a state of affairs that demands clarification.

In an invitation, three additional “immediate family members” can be included in the visa, apparently without further financial conditions. How this will function in practice remains to be seen, but the potential for abuse is obvious.

Applicants will need to produce evidence of a hospital appointment, health insurance, and proof of financing of at least 800,000 baht (US$22,000).

Hospitals will need to outline a concrete treatment plan and expenses for each applicant. Applicants can seek an extension beyond one year if they can provide further medical certificates.

Dubious “medical” procedures such as cosmetic surgery and anti-ageing treatment are expected to be behind a significant portion of applications.

To help ensure that only those who can afford expensive treatment will enter the country, the visa will cost US$140 (5,000 baht).

The country has seen a small recovery in international arrivals since the government scrapped most restrictions on travel and businesses as Covid-19 becomes less and less newsworthy.

The “elite” service was intended to attract extremely rich people who are uncomfortable in their own countries and has been snapped up by ordinary middle-class Chinese people.

About 20,000 of the pay-to-stay visas have been approved so far, with over 7,000 awarded to Chinese nationals, mostly under the age of 40.

Thailand NewsVisa Information

Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.

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