Southeast Asia is home to one of the most competitive plastic surgery industries in the world. From luxurious destinations that resemble high-end wellness retreats, to bare-bones facilities offering low-cost care, this region has it all — and Thailand is one of its fastest-growing hubs.
A report from Grand View Research (GVR) valued the Thailand aesthetic medicine market at USD 1.52 billion in 2021 and projected it to grow to USD 3.45 billion by 2030. This does not just reflect the popularity of plastic surgery with Thai locals; medical tourism makes up a significant part of the country’s economy and is set to continue thriving.
As we have previously done for Korean plastic surgery, Chinese plastic surgery, Japanese plastic surgery and Vietnamese plastic surgery, we are taking a deep dive into the world of Thailand plastic surgery.
What Is the History of Plastic Surgery in Thailand?
Cosmetic surgery in Thailand took off in the late 20th century, when the Southeast Asian region suffered an economic downturn. Several countries, including Thailand, began to utilise medical tourism as a way to combat the economic situation. The Thai government invested heavily in clinics with modern technology and surgeons educated overseas.
While some countries adopted the western model of high prices and exclusivity, Thailand took a different route, offering affordable prices that made plastic surgery accessible to a wide range of people. Thailand quickly became a centre of international cosmetic surgery tourism, particularly in the specialised field of gender affirmation surgery.
Is Plastic Surgery Common in Thailand?
According to data from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), around 154,547 cosmetic procedures were performed in Thailand in 2020. ISAPS data places Thailand among the top 10 Asian countries with the highest volume of invasive and noninvasive procedures. Bangkok and Phuket are the major cosmetic surgery hubs within the country.
How Popular Is Medical Tourism in Thailand?
Medical tourism is flourishing in Thailand thanks to low treatment costs and comparatively high-quality services. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Thailand ranked among the top five destinations worldwide with regard to inbound medical tourism spending in 2019. That year, tourism contributed to about 20% of Thailand’s GDP, and 60% of the medical tourists visiting the country came for cosmetic procedures.
Though the industry faced setbacks due to lockdowns and travel restrictions with the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, the market recovered significantly in 2021 and 2022. ISAPS reports that the volume of aesthetic treatments in Thailand is now higher than pre-pandemic levels in the country.
What Factors Are Fueling the Rise of Plastic Surgery in Thailand?
In Thailand, as in many countries, the trend towards seeking and maintaining beauty is one of the major drivers behind the adoption of cosmetic procedures. The country’s expanding ageing population is also a factor in the market’s growth.
Socially, attitudes towards plastic surgery in Thailand are relatively liberal, more akin to the embrace of cosmetic enhancement found in South Korea than the preference for subtlety found in China and Japan. A study conducted by Ipsos Thailand of over 500 Thais aged 18 and over found that 87% of the participants either approve of or view plastic surgery positively.
Government initiatives and the establishment of state-of-the-art medical facilities are solidifying Thailand’s reputation as a medical tourism destination. A BBC report attributes the strength of Thailand’s medical tourism industry to various additional factors, including:
- The ease and accessibility of air travel
- Rising healthcare costs in developed countries
- Long waiting lists for care in developed countries
- An ageing world population
- Low cost of hotel rooms and other travel expenses in Thailand
- Thailand’s reputation for attentive service
- The availability of 30-day visas for many nationalities upon arrival
Appealing advertising and marketing campaigns draw thousands of cosmetic medical tourists to the country each year. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) began promoting medical tourism in 2004, and many tour companies offer packages to help medical tourists plan their visits.
What Are the Most Popular Thailand Plastic Surgery Procedures?
Thailand’s plastic surgery industry serves patients of many nationalities. Unlike some of Asia’s other cosmetic surgery hubs, which act primarily as medical tourism destinations for other nations in East and Southeast Asia, Thailand attracts visitors from the United States, the Middle East, Australia and Europe.
The diversity of Thailand’s patient population is reflected in the diversity of the country’s leading procedures. The 2020 ISAPS survey found that the most common surgical procedures in Thailand are rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, breast augmentation, liposuction and facial fat grafting.
The most common nonsurgical treatments were anti-wrinkle injections, dermal fillers, photorejuvenation, hair removal and fat reduction.
Is Thailand Plastic Surgery Safe?
One of the most common questions from prospective patients is, ‘Is plastic surgery cheap in Thailand?’ followed closely by questions about the safety of travelling for medical procedures.
The answers to these questions are somewhat complex. Compared to many countries, plastic surgery in Thailand is affordable, and that is one of its main draws for medical tourists. However, there are risks involved with medical tourism that may outweigh the benefits of cost savings.
The potential for complications increases when lengthy travel is required, as long flights are linked to a higher risk of blood clots and embolisms. If there are problems with the procedure that require a follow-up surgery, you may have to travel back to Thailand or pay the higher cost of revision surgery in Australia. There is also little legal recourse for medical negligence in the event something goes wrong.
This is not to say that every surgery performed overseas is sub-par. Reputable and well-trained plastic surgeons exist in every country, and Thailand is no exception. But medical tourism is not for everyone, and it is important to weigh the risks and benefits thoroughly before making a decision.
Bringing Asian Plastic Surgery to Sydney
When considering cosmetic surgery, it is critical to choose a clinic with experienced plastic surgeons who place a premium on respect for patients, personalisation and safety. The Specialist Plastic Surgeons at Asian Plastic Surgery have completed advanced training and have the unique expertise necessary to provide services for Asian patients in Australia.
If you are interested in learning more about our practice or the specific procedures we offer, we invite you to get in touch with Asian Plastic Surgery on 02 8962 9388 today.