15 Countries Where Americans Can Save Big on Medical Care

Top Medical Tourism Destinations


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Top Medical Tourism Destinations

Treatment And Travel

As medical care becomes more expensive in the United States, many Americans are traveling abroad for non-emergency procedures such as hip replacement, cosmetic surgery, or even heart surgery. Some 1.9 million Americans are expected to travel abroad for medical care in 2019. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents to a Medical Tourism Association survey who traveled abroad for health reasons did so because they were uninsured or to find specialists. Americans also travel for elective procedures insurance doesn't cover. Cosmetic surgery and dentistry are particularly popular tourism choices, because they are rarely covered by health insurance. Cost is a big factor in deciding whether to seek care abroad as international hospitals could save Americans 50% to 80%, a significant benefit even factoring in travel costs. Medical tourism is a rapidly growing business, with new facilities, travel agencies, and accreditation emerging all the time. Medical travel agencies help make appointments and arrange follow-up care, in addition to planning flights and accommodations. Some travel agents even specialize in particular treatments and destinations where the procedure is offered. It's a good idea to look at hospitals that have been accredited by the Joint Commission International, which evaluates hospitals and medical centers based on proven standards, and the ability to ensure patient safety and quality of care. Here's a look at 15 popular health destinations and medical treatments commonly performed in each country.

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Dentistry and Cosmetic Surgery, Mexico

Mexico: Dentistry and Cosmetic Surgery

Because of its proximity to the U.S., Mexico has been known for border-town dentistry and cosmetic surgery for years. The country now has eight JCI-accredited institutions, many of which are affiliated with major medical educational facilities. It's also possible to find small, well-kept clinics outside of big cities, run by expat doctors and catering exclusively to Americans, where costs can be less than half what they would be stateside. In the U.S., the average price of the procedure has risen to $5,242.

Dentistry, Minimally Invasive Surgery, and Recovery, Costa Rica
The Retreat, Costa Rica

Costa Rica: Dentistry, Minimally Invasive Surgery, and Recovery

After Mexico, Costa Rica is the leading health destination, according to the Medical Tourism Association. Americans travel to this temperate country for dental work, cosmetic surgery, and minimally invasive procedures. The dental tourism group Dental Departures says prices for dental implants with crowns can start as low as $1,200 in Costa Rica vs. $3,900 in the U.S. That's per tooth! Costa Rica also specializes in "recovery retreats," extended-stay accommodations, staffed with doctors and nurses, where patients recover from extensive surgery. The retreats typically provide transportation to and from appointments, meals, and concierge services.

Complex Cosmetic Surgery, Thailand

Thailand: Complex Cosmetic Surgery

One of the top countries for complex cosmetic surgery (including gender reassignment), treatment in Thailand often costs 50% to 70% less than in the U.S. Bangkok's Bumrungrad International Hospital has treated foreigners for decades, and offers an extensive variety of procedures. Packages for plastic surgery offer particularly handsome savings. For example, it has offered a complete face-lift, including lab tests, nursing, anesthesia, and a one-night stay in a single room for less than $7,000, and other providers offer facelifts for even less. Not included in the cost are airfare or accommodations in Bangkok after the procedure, though Thailand is well-known for affordable accommodations. A similar surgery in the U.S. can cost from an average of $7,655 and up to $15,000 — just for the procedure, according to DocShop, a directory of health service providers. One other example is hip replacement, which can start as low as $7,860 or more commonly $10,000, compared with U.S. prices that can be around $40,000.

'Well-Person' Packages, Malaysia

Malaysia: 'Well-Person' Packages

Malaysian hospitals were pioneers of the "well-person" package, which includes a range of diagnostic services, such as MRIs, blood work, bone density scans, X-rays, and dental, vision, and hearing exams, costing about $500, according to "Patients Beyond Borders." Malaysia is also becoming a destination for surgery, on par with Thailand but at a lower cost. Private hospitals such as Gleneagles in Kuala Lumpur pick up international visitors from the airport, handle travel arrangements including visas, help with insurance, and also arrange for sightseeing. English is almost universally spoken in the former British colony.

Amazing Medical Breakthroughs

India: Major Surgery

India has 35 JCI-accredited hospitals, and rates of success and morbidity that equal or surpass the U.S. There is no single specialty in India, but common procedures include orthopedic surgery (knee and hip replacement), coronary bypass surgery, heart valve replacement, transplants, and treatment of eye conditions. The ancient art of ayurvedic medicine, a combination of therapies used to treat symptoms of many diseases, is also practiced. India has a two-tier medical system in which profits from private hospitals and procedures paid by wealthy Indians and foreigners are passed down to public hospitals, where India's poor seek treatment. The savings for Americans are phenomenal. For instance, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery in the U.S. is over $117,000. In India, the surgery cost can be about 190,000 rupees, or less than $3,000. (That's for an economy room. Patients can always pay more for a deluxe suite.)

IVF, Israel

Israel: IVF

A highly developed nation with a bilingual population and first-class health care and facilities, Israel has been at the forefront of medical breakthroughs such as transplants, coronary bypass surgery, and in vitro fertilization. Additionally, the therapeutic benefits of the Dead Sea for dermatological, rheumatic, and pulmonary patients have made this a healing destination for decades. Herzliya Medical Center, a privately owned hospital, has accreditation and certification from Blue Cross Blue Shield for medical tourism procedures, and other hospitals make it easy for tourists by taking care of all the necessary paperwork. One of Israel's specialties is IVF. A standard IVF cycle in Israel can cost as little as $5,000 to $6,000 including all the tests and treatments. In the U.S., the average is $12,000.

Dentistry, Hungary

Hungary: Dentistry

Hungary is a global destination for people who choose to mix dental pain with travel pleasure. Europeans travel there for procedures as minimal as cleanings, and Britons have found Hungary a low-cost alternative to their own dental care. Such treatments would be cost prohibitive for Americans because of the cost of travel, but for more extensive treatments, such as dental implants or restorative surgery, the savings might make up for the expense. The site Medigo lists Hungarian dentists doing implants for $900-$1,000. Dental clinics make it easy for tourists by organizing flights, accommodation, and treatment all in one package.

Morsa Images/istockphoto

Singapore: Orthopedic Surgery

With a planned medical tourism industry, the Singaporean government is promoting the country as a center of excellence for general surgery, oncology, transplants, and cardiology. Because of its distance from the U.S., Singapore is more of a destination for patients traveling from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia, although American tourism is becoming more common. English is widely spoken, and Singapore has one of the highest standards of living in Asia. Orthopedic surgery is a specialty. In Singapore, the average cost for hip replacement surgery in 2019 is $19,000, compared with an average of about $40,000 in the U.S.

Alternative Healing, Korea
Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine

South Korea: Alternative Healing

One of the world's most technologically advanced countries, South Korea has digitized all health records. The government has eased regulations to make South Korea a destination for medical tourism, although distance and a language barrier prevent many Americans from seeking treatment. The country offers alternatives to Western medicine in many of its hospitals and clinics. The Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine in Seoul, for example, uses non-Western healing techniques to treat pain and spinal injuries. Among the offered treatments are Chuna manipulation to aid alignment; herbal medicines to strengthen disintegrated bones, discs, and ligaments; and acupuncture to relieve muscle tension. The facility offers an all-inclusive care package for international patients.

Recovery, Romania

Romania: Recovery

Patients are more apt to travel to Romania for recovery and healing (and to enjoy the scenery) than for any particular medical procedure. With at least 70 spas within the country's borders, Romania has been a center of spa culture for centuries, offering thermal waters, therapeutic mud, saltwater baths, and natural springs. Most spas complement the natural healing properties of the waters with treatments such as acupuncture, herbal medicines, and electrotherapy. Spa care is a fraction of the cost of similar services in the U.S. At a spa hotel on the Black Sea, for example, a six-day package with two treatments a day, including salt baths, massage, and special showers, costs 175 euros (about $200). Medical tourism is also on the rise though with Romanian dentistry able to offer inexpensive rates.

Cosmetic Surgery, Brazil

Brazil: Cosmetic Surgery

Brazil has been offering free plastic surgery since the '90s, giving their citizens a "right to beauty." You don't want those surgeries, but you could see a famous plastic surgeon for about the same price as an American nobody, or save 20%-30% on a less famous surgeon in a country second only to America.

Crossroads Center, Antigua
Crossroads Center

Caribbean: Addiction Treatment and Fertility

Recovering addict Eric Clapton founded Crossroads Center in Antigua in 1998. Getting sober is a one-day-at-a-time process, but the tropical beaches are always wonderful. More in-depth medical services have developed in the past decade. Health City Cayman opened in 2013. Currently, Patients Without Borders endorses fertility treatments at Doctors Hospital Bahamas and the Barbados Fertility Centre, which they say cut U.S. prices in half.

Transplants, Philippines

Philippines: Transplants

It's easy to see why the International Healthcare Research Center and Medical Tourism Association once ranked the Philippines eighth in global medical tourism destinations. The Philippines cuts the price of liver transplants in half and shaves a whole decimal place off the cost of a kidney transplant. For savings in that six figure range, it's worth the over half a day flight. Many medical tourism packages are available to encourage staying in the Philippine Islands for your recovery.

IVF, Russia

Russia: IVF

Russia's Health Care Minister Veronika Skvortsova reported 300,000 patients from around the world came to Russia for medical treatment in 2018, a rapid growth from 120,000 only two years before. In addition to being 2½ times cheaper than in the U.S. for IVF, Russia's egg-donation and surrogacy policies allow for a wider pool of candidates, too.

Cardiology and Weight Loss, Taiwan
Roxanne L./Yelp

Taiwan: Cardiology and Weight Loss

Taiwan may still be an untapped spot for medical tourism as the government continues to make efforts, like offering 90 day visas to attract patients from overseas. Some treatments that offer savings include coronary artery bypass grafts for $22,000-$30,000 and gastric bypass for $10,000. Those procedures cost at least twice as much in the U.S. Patients can stay and see the historic temples, museums, and hot springs while they're recovering.