The Malaysian Ministry of Finance expects the number of medical tourists to increase significantly to two million by 2020, following the tax exemption for medical bills. In 2017, one million medical tourists visited the country, 600,000 of whom were from Indonesia. Top medical travel contributing states are Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Melaka and Sarawak.
A 6% goods and services tax was imposed on medical bills for foreign patients but these are now exempted, and medical tourists do not pay the sales and service tax.
Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Ir Amiruddin Hamzah confirmed in a speech earlier this month that Malaysia earned RM1.3 billion (US$314 million) in medical travel revenue in 2017, with an estimated RM4 billion (US$967 million) from other non-related healthcare expenditures such as transportation, accommodation and tourism activities. The government hopes to double this figure to RM2.8 billion (US$676.9 million) by 2020. The industry recorded annual growth of 16% a year.
Malaysia is targeting to get at least one million health tourists from Indonesia by 2020, according to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC). In 2017, one million medical tourists visited the country and 600,000 were from Indonesia.
Top inbound medical tourism states
Penang was the top destination of the healthcare tourists with 60% visiting the island for treatment. The state’s healthcare travel industry generated US$121 million in revenue in 2017. Among the medical fields that Penang is known for are cardiology, orthopaedics, oncology, neurology, in-vitro fertilisation, ophthalmology and dentistry. Other top medical travel contributing states are Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Melaka, and Sarawak.
AirAsia Indonesia flies to Penang twice daily from Jakarta, thrice daily from Medan and thrice weekly from Surabaya. A deal between the airline and MHTC will see both parties jointly promoting Penang as the country’s top destination for Indonesian medical tourists.
The health ministry regulates the prices that private hospitals can charge patients so medical tourists know they will not be overcharged.
MHTC aims to develop Malaysia as a hub of excellence for cardiology and fertility treatment. The National Heart Institute is well known around the world and Malaysia is also known for its fertility treatment success rate.
Targeting Chinese medical tourists
Many Chinese couples in their 40s need reproductive care to conceive another child, so by promoting Malaysia’s success as a fertility hub more Chinese couples may opt to go there for treatment. The success rate of IVF treatment in Malaysia is high, at over 55%.
The Malaysian government has engaged in efforts to attract Chinese medical tourists seeking medical treatment, including introducing a new e-visa scheme for. The new visa will allow Chinese medical tourists to stay in Malaysia for 30 days, and the period can be extended if documents provided by a doctor illustrate sufficient need for extra time.
Despite Malaysia’s high-quality hospitals and clinics, some Chinese couples might not be willing to travel to Malaysia for these treatments because they perceive the country as being less advanced and less developed than China. Malaysia is generally regarded as a more developed nation than China, however perception is more important than reality when it comes to marketing to medical tourists.
For a detailed 2018 analysis of inbound medical tourism to Malaysia, visit the IMTJ Country Report.