Medical tourists will need special medical tourist visas in India and the Philippines

The Philippines will introduce special medical visas for foreigners, as the country seeks to grab a bigger share of Asia’s booming health tourism industry. The medical tourist visas, to be introduced later this year by the Bureau of Immigration, will allow foreigners to stay in the country for six months without having to apply for extensions, as regular tourists are required to do.

The government is banking on its English-speaking and internationally trained doctors among its advantages, as well as medical and surgical costs that are up to 50 % cheaper than the United States or Europe. It is optimistic that by offering this visa, it will get more medical tourists from Europe and the United States. The Philippines’ health department launched a programme in 2004 to promote medical tourism by encouraging state hospitals and specialised private institutions to compete with medical organisations elsewhere in Asia. But despite many initiatives, actual numbers have been far lower than set targets. The proposed visa will also help the government earn income from the visa fees and charges.

The Bureau of Immigration is preparing the proposed guidelines for the visa, for approval by the Department of Justice and the President. Under the proposed guidelines, the visa holder may stay in the Philippines for six months without having to secure an alien certificate of registration or identity card. Medical tourist visa holders will also exempted from paying the annual report fee levied on foreign residents. Visa holders will be required to post a bond based on the value of their airline tickets, to help ensure that the foreigners will not violate the conditions of their stay in the Philippines. But local medical tourism businesses are unhappy that making patients post a bond goes against the point of launching the visa; and if a customer has to pay visa fees and arrange a bond, it could drive them to countries with a less bureaucratic approach. The Immigration Act currently allows the extension of tourist or temporary visitor’s visas only to foreigners who come to the Philippines for business or pleasure. Foreigners are initially allowed to stay for either 21 days or two months that may be extended every month up to a maximum of two years.

India has now exempted foreign tourists from the mandatory two-month gap to re-enter the country for regular onward medical treatment. A circular issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs said,” For persons coming for medical treatment, there is a separate category of medical visa. Foreign nationals coming for medical treatment will have to come only on medical visa and not on tourist visa. But this is subject to their submission of a detailed itinerary and supporting documentation (ticket bookings.”
Medical tourism in India has grown. The government estimates, although there are no real figures, that in 2002 150,000 foreign patients visited India for treatments, and this could reach 500,000 this year.

India has recently clamped new restrictions on foreign tourists visiting the country on tourist visas to avoid misuse of such visas which entailed tourists had to give a mandatory two-month gap before re-entering India. So foreign nationals holding Indian tourist visas with multiple entry facility have to make a two-month gap mandatory between two visits. India issues tourist visas to foreigners who do not have a residence or occupation in the country, will now allow foreign tourists who after initial entry into India plan to visit another country as part of neighborhood tourism-related travel and allow them to re-enter India before their final exit to have two or three entries.