Revealed: Best Retiree Healthcare on the Planet in 2016—

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Can I get high-quality healthcare for less if I move overseas?

As healthcare costs and complexity in the U.S. continue to spiral upward, more and more retirees are asking, “Can I get high-quality healthcare for less if I move overseas?”

The simple answer is yes. The Healthcare category of the 2016 International Living Global Retirement Index ranks the healthcare systems of the 23 most popular retirement locations abroad. Criteria include costs for procedures, availability and cost of public and private insurance, and quality.

Based on these criteria, the top four countries in the Healthcare category for 2016 are Malaysia, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama. The full report on the four best countries in the world for healthcare can be read here: "4 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World".

Malaysia: Medical Tourism is Booming

Widespread cheaper air travel, mounting healthcare costs in developed countries, and long waiting lists have all contributed to an explosion of medical tourism to Malaysia.

Quality is high… numerous hospitals in Penang and Kuala Lumpur are among Southeast Asia’s first recipients of the United States’ prestigious Joint Commission International (JCI) certification. Seen as the gold standard for healthcare service providers around the world, Malaysia has no less than eight JCI-accredited hospitals.

Most doctors in Malaysia are either trained or have done their postgraduate studies in the U.K. or the U.S. and speak English fluently.

In addition, both Penang and Kuala Lumpur are serviced by airlines from around the world. Both cities have an excess of reasonably priced hotel rooms, and both cities have a reliable public transportation system.

Colombia: Where Health is Valued

Colombians are justifiably proud of their healthcare system. In major cities like Medellín, Bogotá, Bucaramanga, and Manizales, there are well-staffed, high-tech clinics in every neighborhood. And every city boasts several state-of-the-art hospitals—many with affiliations to big-name hospitals in the U.S.

Most of the healthcare professionals who staff these outstanding medical centers studied or did residencies in the U.S., Canada, or Europe, and many speak excellent English.

In the last global assessment index by the World Health Organization (WHO), Colombia’s healthcare system ranked at number 22 out of 191 countries—the highest ranking of all Latin American countries and well ahead of Canada (#30) and the U.S. (#38).

In 2008, Colombia’s constitutional court ruled that health is a fundamental human right. And costs for both healthcare and health coverage plans are low. Simply put, Colombia values health.

In the U.S. the cost for knee replacement surgery is $30,000 to $50,000. In Colombia, cost is about $10,000. A dental crown or a root canal that costs $1,000 in the U.S. will cost just $300 in Colombia.

For a government health plan, a retiree will pay a flat rate of 12% of their income—such as a pension or Social Security benefits. Supplemental health coverage for two people is available for under $400 a year. Plans don’t limit use, have no age restrictions or pre-existing condition exclusions, and can be used when traveling to other Latin American destinations.

Costa Rica: Low-Cost, High-Quality Healthcare

The top-notch but low-cost medical care available in Costa Rica is a huge draw for retired expats and also makes it one of the world’s top destinations for medical tourism.

There are two healthcare systems operating in Costa Rica side-by-side.

The public system, called La Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (commonly called the Caja), is available to Costa Rican citizens and legal residents, including expats. In fact, residents are required to join Caja. The monthly fee (for the applicant and dependent spouse) is 7% to 11% of reported monthly income. After that care is free… doctor’s visits, prescriptions, testing, therapy, surgeries, emergency care…it’s all covered. In general, expats report good results with the Caja system. But there are some issues, including wait times for non-emergency procedures.

The private system is fast and efficient…and cost effective. Prices are a fraction of the cost of the U.S., so even paying cash is affordable. A doctor’s visit is $50; $80 to $100 for a specialist. Ultrasounds will run $75. Surgeries are a half to a third of the cost in the U.S. But it’s not necessary to pay out of pocket. International insurance, Costa Rican insurance, and some U.S. policies are accepted at the major private hospitals.

And patients can mix and match private and public care. For example, patients can see a private specialist doctor but get a prescription filled for free at a Caja pharmacy.

In both systems, doctors often speak English (although nurses and administrators probably won’t), physicians are trained in all the latest techniques, the facilities have modern technology, and the bedside manner is outstanding.

Panama: Accessible and Affordable Healthcare

Panama also has a public and a private healthcare system, and for most expats and retirees, the private facilities will be more familiar and comfortable since they generally have better services and equipment, and more staff. Even the top-notch private providers in the country’s capital are affordable, with fees and medical costs at a fraction of those in North America.

The major facilities are located in Panama City, and several are affiliated with U.S. institutions—Punta Pacifica Hospital is a Johns-Hopkins affiliate. The city of David in western Panama offers two full-service private hospitals along with numerous clinics.

Many Panamanian doctors and medical professionals have had some training in the U.S. or Canada, so they do speak and understand English. This is more common in Panama City, and support staff may speak only Spanish.

Most medications in Panama are available without a prescription, saving you the time and cost of an unnecessary doctor’s visit (the exceptions are antibiotics, controlled substances, and some pain medications). Resident retirees—including those with a Pensionado Visa—receive a 20% discount on all medications, medical services, and fees.

Health insurance options have various types of coverage, the most affordable being a local plan that provides limited coverage within Panama and pays 50% to 70% of most medical expenses for a monthly premium of about $145 for a couple in their 60s. More extensive plans are available from larger insurance companies in Panama, with correspondingly higher premiums.’s 2016 Global Retirement Index is the most comprehensive yet. The full report on the four best countries in the world for healthcare can be read here: "4 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World".

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