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Currently, trip protection is not required to visit Thailand, but that may soon change. Officials with Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports are considering a proposal that will require all visitors to obtain travel insurance before entering the country. The proposal was prompted by concerns over the rising costs associated with providing what is essentially free medical care to tourists. Thailand loses roughly 88 million U.S. dollars a year in treating tourists at state hospitals, where bills may go unpaid and tourists can leave the country, making collections impossible. State hospitals are required by law to provide medical services to foreigners, regardless of their ability to pay.

Representatives from the Royal Thai Police, Airports of Thailand, and other government agencies are also involved in the discussions with the Ministry of Tourism and Sports. If the proposal moves forward, the Office of the Insurance Commission would be responsible for drafting the details on the type of insurance policies that would be needed and how to enforce the new requirement. Some of the enforcement ideas include hiring more staff or installing automated kiosks at airports.

This means that soon travelers may need to obtain travel insurance and be prepared to show proof of insurance to immigration officials upon arrival. This would apply to all tourists, even those that don’t need a visa to visit Thailand. If passed, the mandatory travel insurance requirement will be a major change for Thailand, a country that relies on tourism as one of its biggest sources of revenue. Tourism in Thailand can account for as much as 19 percent of the country’s GDP. To put that into context, the global average for tourism revenue typically hovers around 9 percent of GDP.

Critics of the proposal for mandatory travel insurance claim the requirement could hurt the tourism industry. Supporters, however, argue mandatory travel insurance is necessary to reduce Thailand’s financial burden in providing free medical care for foreigners that don’t pay their hospital bills. There are no indications on penalties, if any, for tourists that arrive without the requisite proof of insurance. Possibilities include refusal of entry or an option to buy travel insurance at the airport.

Regardless of whether trip protection is mandatory, it is always a good idea to purchase travel insurance before visiting any foreign country. This is particularly true for expensive long-haul trips or trips to third world countries where the likelihood of food or waterborne illnesses is high. For a nominal cost up front, trip protection may help protect against costly disasters down the road. A comprehensive travel insurance plan can not only pay for certain medical costs, it can also cover lost or stolen baggage, transportation delays, canceled trips, and other unexpected events.

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