Medical Tourism: High U.S. Healthcare Costs Entice a Growing Number of Americans to Go Overseas for Treatment—Internationalliving.com

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In the face of rising healthcare costs, an increasing number of U.S. citizens are opting to undergo medical procedures overseas, according to a new report by InternationalLiving.com, which pinpoints five destinations to which they’re traveling. In these countries, the quality of care is high and prices are low, which allows patients to slash the cost of dental, Lasik, and cosmetic surgery procedures, in particular.

Costa Rica

We come every year for dental care and for a vacation.

“Some countries are courting medical tourists—Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, and Malaysia among them,” says Jennifer Stevens, Executive Editor of International Living.

“For elective procedures that range from cosmetic and Lasik surgery to dental implants or teeth cleanings, Americans are finding the costs there to be often less than half what they’d pay in the States.”

“These days in the U.S., deductibles can be sky high and some procedures are not covered. It can come to less out-of-pocket to fly abroad, have the procedure done, take a vacation for a week or two, and then fly home than it is to simply pay for the procedure alone in the United States.”

A new report from the editors of International Living examines the rise in the number of U.S. citizens heading to Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, Thailand, and Malaysia for medical procedures that cost a small fraction of what they do in the United States.

Costa Rica has long been a hub for medical tourists. Not only is it convenient to the U.S., but the quality of care is high, many physicians are trained in the U.S., and costs are typically the same or less what they are in the States.

The country’s public and private health systems are constantly being upgraded—new hospitals, new equipment, and improvements in staff training. For 2018, Costa Rica claims the top spot in the Healthcare category of International Living’s 2018 Global Retirement Index.

Laura Royal of Largo, FL, took advantage of the disparity in pricing and bundled her trip to the dentist with a family vacation in Costa Rica.

"A friend recommended I go to Costa Rica to get implants, which were 75% less than if I got them in the United States,” says Royal. “I was happy to find many dentists have been educated in the U.S. and are board certified. Additionally, practitioners and their staff frequently take ongoing training and continuing education courses to stay current with the latest trends and [they] spoke English. The savings allowed me to take my son with me, so we toured the countryside and had a great time.”

With hundreds of board-certified physicians, surgeons, and dentists practicing in or near the capital city of San José, health travel has gained a strong foothold with international tourists coming specifically to take advantage of its medical services, mostly dental care and cosmetic surgery.

“Plastic or elective surgery is always at the top of the list for medical tourism in Costa Rica, partly due to the fact that the country's healthcare system ranks higher than the U.S., according to the World Health Organization,” says Kathleen Evans, IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent.

According to Evans, when Costa Rica abolished their army, part of that military budget was dedicated to healthcare. Now nearly 15% of international tourism comes to visit Costa Rica for medical services performed by highly trained, bilingual doctors. Most of the top plastic surgeons are located in the medical centers in or near the capital of San Jose, where medical tourists save 45% to 65% on procedures compared to back home.

“Although Costa Rica is known for its safe and affordable dental and cosmetic surgery procedures,” Evans says, “now we are seeing more Lasik surgery centers helping foreigners and locals alike see more clearly.

“Prices range from $1,600 to $2,000, typically, for both eyes. The licensed eye surgeons who perform Lasik in Costa Rica receive the same type of ophthalmology schooling as in North America and are using the same state-of-of-the-art, high-tech equipment that you would find back home.”

Colombia is a medical-tourism destination as well, attracting visiting patients for all sorts of complex medical treatments, from tummy tucks to facelifts and implants.

“The cosmetic-surgery industry in Colombia is very well developed with many excellent surgeons who are certified by the SCCP (Colombian Plastic Surgery Association),” says Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent. “In 2016, more than 100,000 foreigners came to Colombia for plastic surgery procedures—over half of them were from the U.S.

“The Colombian government has invested a significant amount of money in medical tourism. Lasik eye procedures are some of the most popular services requested by foreigners. The procedure can cost upwards of $4,000 in the U.S. for both eyes. The same procedure, using state-of-the-art technology in Colombia, averages just $2,400.”

Mexico has also become a leader in the provision of medical care to those traveling from outside the country—its proximity to the U.S. and Canada appeals to medical tourists.

“Patients are enticed to Mexico by low prices, excellent care, superior results, no waiting and often, exotic locations where medical care may be combined with a vacation,” says Don Murray, IL Riviera Maya Mexico Correspondent.

“Mexico is quite close to the United States and Canada so patients can be here in less than two hours. With several major hospitals here cosmetic surgery, gastric bypass and assisted reproduction are now quite popular for travellers coming to Cancun.

“Patients report that costs are generally only about one third the cost of similar procedures in the States, and that’s across the board—a root canal procedure is less than $250 at a modern clinic.”

Don Pucci lives in Boca Raton Florida. He needed extensive dental work but prices were high in the U.S. So, he looked to lower-priced Mexico.

“Through a series of unfortunate events, my dental situation snowballed into a need for several implants to replace my five front teeth,” says Pucci. “I spent a couple of months visiting dentists and specialists in my local area and found the prices to be quite steep.”

After reading a Facebook post from his friend who had previously moved to Cancun, Don chose to combine saving money with a getaway.

“Implants take two visits. One to extract the teeth and set the implants. Then the second one four to six months later for the final teeth setting. My time in Cancun was terrific. The dentists were very professional and high tech as was the oral surgeon. I saved between 1/2 to 2/3 of what it would have cost in the U.S.”

While, Canadian Barry Monreau combines an annual trip to Mexico with looking after his dental needs.

“All specialty areas are covered here,” he says. “We come every year for dental care and for a vacation. I just had a couple of fillings and a complete cleaning for less than $100. And there was no waiting.”

Saving time is high up on medical tourists’ list of benefits.

Thailand has long been an international destination for medical tourism for this reason—combined with the fact that services there are high quality and low cost and the tropical country provides sunny vacation weather, too. The “Land of Smiles” is ranked among the world’s 50 best healthcare systems by the World Health Organization.

“With international medical tourism visits in 2017 reaching 2.4 million and another 900,000 hospital visits by in-country expats, it’s no wonder Thailand is a leader for medical tourism in Asia,” says Michael Cullen, IL Thailand Correspondent.

“Medical costs can be between 50% and 70% less than back home. Combine this with high-tech facilities equipped with the latest medical technologies currently available anywhere in the world, it’s easy to understand why so many are choosing Thailand for medical treatments.

“Additionally, there can be quite a long waiting lists for procedures back home. Well-staffed specialist clinics in Thailand’s major cities like Bangkok, Phuket, and Pattaya do not have that issue, meaning surgery is only an appointment away.

“Lasik and cosmetic surgeries are common, as are major dental procedures with people using the required recuperation time to take in the sights, sounds and tastes Thailand has in abundance. The true essence of medical tourism!”

Malaysia, another Southeast Asian gem, according to International Living’s report, has been a popular expat destination since the late 1960s. As a former British colony, English is widely spoken there.

“According to Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, more than 1 million visitors came to Malaysia in 2017 for medical tourism and the number is swiftly rising,” says Kirsten Raccuia, IL Southeast Asia Correspondent who lives in Penang, Malaysia.

“With 13 JCI accredited hospitals in the country and almost every doctor fluent in English, it’s not surprising. In fact, most doctors were trained in the UK, U.S., or Australia so communicating is flawless. Face lifts and tummy tucks start at $4,100 so it makes sense to look into Malaysia as a medical tourism destination.

“The same goes for dentistry, a root canal, even at the more high-end practices only costs about $200, and a cleaning is $25.”

More information can be found here:Save Thousands as a Medical Tourist in These 5 Countries

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About International Living

For 37 years, InternationalLiving.com has been the leading authority for anyone looking for global retirement or relocation opportunities. Through its monthly magazine and related e-letters, extensive website, podcasts, online bookstore, and events held around the world, InternationalLiving.com provides information and services to help its readers live better, travel farther, have more fun, save more money, and find better business opportunities when they expand their world beyond their own shores. InternationalLiving.com has more than 200 correspondents traveling the globe, investigating the best opportunities for travel, retirement, real estate, and investment.

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