Ricky Batten

An expat's guide to handling medical emergencies in Thailand

While living abroad is full of surprises, medical emergencies shouldn’t be one of them.

While living abroad is full of surprises, medical emergencies shouldn’t be one of them. 

Many expats simply pack their bags and move abroad to a new country, without much prior knowledge about how things work in said country. After all, much of the allure of living abroad is diving head first into something unfamiliar. In fact, I once met a guy who moved here to Thailand without a job, a place to live, or any idea about what living in this country actually entails. In his words precisely, he said: “The unknown is what excites me. I want every day to be a surprise.”

While there’s nothing wrong with having an adventurous and spontaneous side, one area where you’ll want to be fully prepared for is medical emergencies. I mean, it’s all well and good learning how to do taxes in Thailand as and when you need to. But if you’ve got a medical emergency, it’s best to know what to do off the top of your head, especially since it might be vastly different to what you’re used to. 

Speaking from my own personal experience, getting acquainted with the way things work in Thailand was a bit of a challenge. Unlike the UK, where I’m originally from, there is no emergency notification system in the country and, in the event of a medical emergency, one has to arrange for their own transport. Now that I’ve been here for a couple of years, let me lay everything down for you in this blog.

How to call an ambulance

To call an ambulance in the event of a medical emergency, simply dial the numbers listed below to speak to an operator. For life-threatening emergencies, the operators will contact the nearest local hospital to dispatch a fully-equipped ambulance to deal with the particular emergency. On the other hand, if your emergency isn’t life-threatening, the operators will dispatch a voluntary ambulance, which is dotted around the city and may not be as equipped as a hospital one. 

  • For Bangkok: 1646
  • For the whole of Thailand (including Bangkok):  1669

Given this, if you know where the nearest hospital to you is, it’s best to call the hospital directly to request an ambulance, as this will save precious time. You should also jot down the names of hospitals close to your home, workplace, or areas that you frequent often. If you’re going on holiday elsewhere in the country, it also can’t hurt to find out where the nearest hospitals are. Once you know their names, find out their numbers and save them in your phone. 

Both the hospital and volunteer ambulance services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s good coverage throughout the country, especially in and around Bangkok. It’s also important to note that if you encounter heavy traffic (let’s face it, that’s very likely in a mega city like Bangkok), ambulances typically have the right of way and can speed through the jam of cars. 

What to say to an operator

Now that you’ve got on a call, what do you say to the operator? First things first, you’ll need to remain calm and level-headed. As best as possible, give clear and accurate information to the operator. For the most part, this will cover essential information such as your location, medical situation, and personal details. The following provides you with the full list and some useful tips to bear in mind: 

  • Location: Look around you for landmarks. In addition to providing your street name, is there anything else you can tell them that will make them locate you easily?
  • Medical situation: What is your current state? How much pain are you in? If calling for someone else, what’s their key vital stats? Are they awake and breathing? 
  • Medical history: Briefly describe any known medical condition that may be related to the current medical emergency. 
  • Patient record (only if calling a hospital): Have you or the patient in question visited the hospital before? If so, tell them, as this will give them access to patient records.

How to assist the ambulance crew

If you’re in public, make sure to ask for help, as there may be a qualified first-aider or medical professional around. Moreover, ensure you’re in a well-lit area and away from hazards like passing vehicles. On the contrary, if you’re calling from home or work, ask someone to direct the paramedics to where they’re needed. In any case, you’ll have to update the ambulance crew if your location changes and keep in hand important documents like medical insurance cards.

Private vs Public hospitals

Of course, if you’re calling a hospital directly, you’ll have a choice between a public or private hospital. While both are excellent, private hospitals, especially the ones catering to medical tourists, are more experienced in dealing with foreigners. You may even be able to get an interpreter for languages other than Thai or English. What’s more, the level of care and attention you receive at the private hospital will also be superior. 

When it comes to medical emergencies, you don’t want to be in a position where you’re forced to compromise, so you should consider expat health insurance. Trust me, I work for insurance broker Pacific Prime Thailand, and let me tell you that insurance doesn’t have to be expensive, as opposed to the misconceptions out there. Depending on your health needs and how much you can afford, our job is to help you find the most suitable plan. 

If you want to find out more, I’m more than happy to help. Shoot me an email at ajarn@pacificprime.co.th or contact one of my colleagues.


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