Whether you’re thinking of travelling to or retiring in Thailand, you must take precautions when it comes to your health. This will ensure your trip is trouble free and protect you from any unwanted diseases.
The following information should be used as a guide only. No website or resource can tell you exactly what you need, as recommendations often change. Your health status and what you do or where you travel while in the country, also has an impact. At least eight weeks before you set off, see your local doctor (GP) for a basic health check-up and to discuss your travel plans and how these may impact your health.
You also need to get vaccinated four to six weeks before departure. Research indicates that all the routine childhood vaccines need to be up to date. This includes:
- Polio – in childhood
- Tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough – within the last five to 10 years
- Measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox – two doses of vaccine or the actual disease
- Hepatitis B – complete course
- Meningococcal – if relevant for age
- All travellers should seriously consider having influenza vaccine.
- Shingles and pneumonia vaccines are recommended for travellers over 65 years of age.
‘Prior to my move to Thailand, I went to the doctor and got shots for tetanus and influenza. I travel often, so all my other vaccines were still up to date. It cost me $70,’ says Michelle, an expat living in Chiang Mai.
Health professionals strongly recommended having a hepatitis A vaccine, even if you only visit resorts and 5-star hotels. You may also need a typhoid vaccination, especially if you plan eating food from local markets or street stalls where it’s hard to be sure about sanitation standards.
Consider also how you will manage the risk of rabies. Some studies suggest 1% of travellers to Thailand have a potential rabies exposure. A rabies pre-exposure vaccination may be recommended for some travellers. The Thai government does have a vaccination campaign in place (Mission Rabies) due to a sharp increase in repeated rabies infections over the last 12 months. Many of these occurrences have been in regional areas, not tourist locations, but increased education and vaccinations programs are happening in local communities.
If travelling to areas away from the usual tourist hotspots, malaria prevention tablets may be recommended. You will not usually need malaria pills for popular tourist and expat destinations like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Phuket or Koh Samui. Nevertheless, avoid mosquitos as much as possible, as there are other diseases, such as dengue fever, which are reasonably common and very unpleasant.
Carry an appropriate medical kit with treatment for possible problems such as gastro, pain, wounds, coughs and colds, etc.
Staying Healthy in Thailand
Food & Drink
Thailand is renowned for its street and market food culture, so you’ll almost certainly want to sample the many culinary delights on offer. However, contaminated food and beverages are a common cause of traveller’s diarrhoea and other gastrointestinal illnesses, such as typhoid and hepatitis A.
In most parts of Thailand, accessing clean drinking water can be a challenge. For that reason, you should assume that water from any tap, well or another local source isn’t safe to drink. Use bottled or treated water when brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth.
Some viruses and illnesses in Thailand are contracted by insects, particularly mosquitoes. Here are some of our insect avoidance tips:
- Sleep in insect-proof accommodation.
- Wear long-sleeved clothing and long pants when outdoors after sunset. Day-biting mosquitoes can also transmit diseases such as dengue fever.
- Use personal repellents on exposed skin. The most effective mosquito repellents contain DEET (the most common active ingredient in insect repellents). Repellents containing 30-40% DEET are considered optimum for adults.
- Avoid dark-coloured clothing and strong scents, such as perfume, aftershave and perfumed cosmetics or deodorants, as these may attract mosquitoes.
Be Sun Smart
A lot of travellers tend to overindulge in ‘sun worship’ activities while travelling in warm climates. Make sure you apply sunscreen regularly and stay hydrated, as dehydration and heat stroke often go unrecognised. Prickly heat is another common problem in tropical areas, where the increased temperature and humidity prevent sweat from evaporating. This excessive sweating can cause sweat ducts to malfunction, often resulting in small, red rashes and occasionally blisters, which are intensely irritating.
How Important is Travel Insurance?
Research shows that each year, more and more travellers are spending thousands of dollars out of their own pockets, just because something has gone wrong on their trip. You’ve probably heard horror stories from friends or family members.
Regardless of how fit and healthy you are, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. In the 2016-17 financial year, Australian travellers lodged almost 300,000 insurance claims. Almost 85% of those received payouts.
Travel insurance is crucial in making sure that you stay relaxed and worry-free while you’re overseas. Here’s why:
1. Medical Treatments
If you are hospitalised in Southeast Asia for a week, you can generally expect to pay around $5,600 or more, according to Smart Traveller.
The right travel insurance can ensure you are covered for these medical treatments. This will save you a huge amount of money and stress.
2. Cancellations or Delays
If you cancel your trip unexpectedly or experience a delay, travel insurance may be able to recover some of those costs. A lot of travel-related businesses (including airlines, hotels, cruise lines, car hire companies and travel agencies) will often be unwilling to give you a refund. Travel insurance will ensure those costs are covered.
3. Lost Items
Losing your luggage or valuables, like your wallet or your passport, can be a logistical nightmare and effectively put an end to your much-anticipated overseas trip.
If you have the right insurance, you may be able to replace your lost items or, at the very least, get some compensation. Make sure you read the fine print of your insurance policy, so that you understand exactly what is and isn’t included. This will avoid any nasty surprises later.
4. Emergency Trips
If you need to return home due to an emergency, some insurance plans will cover the cost of this. This can be ideal if you have loved ones who aren’t well, if you are travelling for a long period of time or if you simply want the option to return home quickly if something happens. Depending on your level of cover, you will usually be reimbursed for the cost of returning home and/or the cost of resuming your overseas trip.
5. Emergency Support
If you face some sort of problem overseas, it’s crucial that you have the right support from your insurance policy–whenever you need it. When purchasing a policy, look for a provider who offers around-the-clock phone support and reverse charges, so you don’t have to worry about paying for the call.
6. Death or Serious Injury
As awful as it is to think about, death and serious injury are also often covered by travel insurance. Both injury and death can be extremely costly due to ongoing medical expenses and medical evacuation costs, so having the right policy in place is crucial.
How Much Does Travel Insurance Cost?
In general, a travel insurance plan will cost 4-10% of your total pre-paid, non-refundable trip cost. For example, if you purchased a trip with a total cost of $5,000, your insurance will most likely cost around $250 to $500.
Of course, this depends on a number of variables, including the age of the travellers, the number of travellers, the length of travel and the type of coverage. If you’re over 65, you can expect to pay more.
The right travel insurance policy will ensure you’re covered appropriately, potentially saving you thousands of dollars (not to mention the huge amount of time, stress and heartache you’ll avoid). By spending a little bit on travel insurance now, you could save yourself lots of money in the long run.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has teamed up with CHOICE to produce a travel insurance buying guide.