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2 Sep 2022

Econ Digest

Easing of Thailand’s visa rules will boost medical tourism and private hospitals’ revenue from foreigners will grow by 60%


        The Thai government has implemented visa facilitation measures that will be one of the factors to encourage foreign patients (medical tourism) to resume medical services in Thailand, in order to speed up tourism recovery and stimulate the economy after the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided. These measures can be divided into 3 types: 1) Offering long-term residence visas for high-potential foreigners, including foreigners aged 50 years or over from 14 countries  with the purpose of leisure or post-retirement, wealthy foreigners, professionals and highly skilled professionals working in Thailand. These foreigners must meet the prescribed criteria ; 2) Granting 30-day visa exemption to visitors from more countries such as Saudi Arabia, some of whom may access to uncomplicated and less time-consuming medical services such as health check-up and dental care; and 3) In principle, a one-year multiple-entry visa is approved for medical services  in which Thailand specializes, with a 90-day stay per entry.

        The private hospital business should benefit from the aforesaid measures, both in terms of facilitating existing patients and expanding into new market segments. In the short-term, foreign patients coming to Thailand for healthcare services will mainly come from CLMV countries, Middle East countries like United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. The visa exemption scheme is expected to attract no less than 100,000 medical tourists per year. Although European patients are the main target of the long-term visa program, which aims to reach 1 million applicants in 5 years, they may return to Thailand in the next phase and still need to be monitored, as the issues of inflation, energy crisis, and the Russia-Ukraine war have put pressure on their purchasing power and travel confidence. The same is true for Chinese tourists who remain concerned about their domestic economy and travel restrictions under the zero-COVID policy.

        As the visa facilitation measures will allow travel for more patients, coupled with the one-year medical treatment visa to be enforced in the future, and the recognized reliability of Thai medical standards, services and competitive medical costs, it will enable private hospitals to cater to the service needs of foreign patients. In particular, private hospitals in Bangkok and tourist cities like Chiang Mai, Phuket and Chonburi have standardized medical services and expertise to provide treatment services for diseases covered by Thailand’s medical visa, such as anti-aging medicine, health rehabilitation, heart and cardiovascular diseases, dentistry and cosmetic surgery, and can also provide travel assistance services or comprehensive medical treatment packages, allowing the hospitals to reach more foreign patients.

        KResearch views that the return of international patients, following Thailand’s opening policy and the government’s tourism promotion, will boost medical revenue of private hospitals , from both foreign patients travelling for medical services (Medical Tourism) and foreign patients living in Thailand (Expat), in 2022 to reach approximately THB47 billion, an increase of 60% from a low base in 2021, stemming from the absence of foreign patients under medical tourism due to the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Total medical revenue from foreign patients reached THB21.5 billion in the first half year of 2022, an increase of 85% YoY. Although the revenue from domestic COVID-19 patients will tend to decline as the COVID-19 situation continues to ease, it will be compensated by revenue from general patients who resume their normal treatment and focus more on expanding health services. As a result, the overall revenue of the private hospital business will continue to grow in 2022, both from the number of patients and from medical charges that are expected to rise in line with inflation and operating costs. However, the recovery in the number of foreign patients must be monitored for the next 1-2 years, as there are risk factors from the global economic slowdown and the protracted Russia-Ukraine war that could affect purchasing power and international travel.

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