Because Billy and I live a lifestyle of travel, we often get readers asking us
basic questions about medical tourism. Below we have the answers to some of the
most common questions we get asked. How do you know if this option will work for
you? The following should help you decide.
Q: I have heard the term “Medical Tourism,” but what exactly is it?
Generally, Medical Tourism refers to going elsewhere other than your own city or
state to receive medical care. For example, people in the U.S. have been going
out of their home state to Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic for years, and no one
thinks twice about it. Canadians will come to the U.S. for procedures perhaps
because they don’t want to deal with long waits in their own home country or
maybe they have other personal reasons.
Today, there are dozens of countries like Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, India,
Guatemala, Singapore and the Philippines which offer excellent medical care
delivery in ultra-modern facilities for very affordable prices.
The importance of medical tourism – and this cannot be overstated – is that its
availability offers options to those who are:
• Not insured and,
• For procedures not approved in the USA (or the patient’s home
Q: Is Medical Tourism expensive? And how does one choose a hospital or country?
In terms of budgeting for medical tourism, we think it’s a good idea to have an
emergency fund, or institute your own style of a Health Savings Account, where
you only utilize that money for health related issues.
facilities in Guatemala
When you purchase medical care overseas, you will know how much it will cost
before you purchase. There is no guessing game because you check off what you
want as if from a menu. If you want to have an “Executive Physical” for
instance, you can choose all the features you would like: lung x-ray, bone
density test, colonoscopy, full panel blood tests, and so on, and with every
choice, your total at the bottom of the page changes. You see beforehand what
your cost outlay will be and what price everything is individually.
The delivery of
medical care in the States is expensive and out of the reach of
many. If you have a high deductible, and you go out of network, sometimes that
Treatment in the States for a heart condition or cancer can cost hundreds of
thousands of dollars. Not so overseas.
A heart valve replacement in the States can cost $170,000 but will run you
$24,000 in Guatemala
City. Chemotherapy in the States runs about $75,000 but is under $20,000 in
Guatemala City. A bone marrow transplant can cost up to $200,000 in the U.S.,
but will run up to
in India. A spinal fusion runs between $80-100,000 in the United States but
will cost you
There are many medical tourism concierge services available and websites of
hospitals in various countries have their prices listed for procedures.
One way that you can ease your mind is to look for hospitals that have JCI
accreditation. Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations
International gives foreign doctors and hospitals endorsement and makes sure
that they have the proper training and use proper procedures. Doctors are board
certified or have similarly high standards of accreditation and this
organization is highly respected in the United States.
Some of the above quoted pricing includes follow up appointments, therapy
and general medications. You will need to research which company you use to
see all of what is included in the personalized package you require.
Depending on which company is chosen and the package you purchase,
rehabilitation, medication and follow up care is included in the price.
Q: What happens if something goes wrong, say my knee replacement doesn’t
This is an excellent question and often people stop pursuing the subject
right here, assuming there is no assistance for them if something goes
wrong. Shopping for a medical service provider overseas is to be taken
For those who are especially concerned about this, you can purchase “adverse
outcome” insurance in the States before a procedure is done. The U.S. based
company will pay out if a face lift or hip replacement goes awry.
Hospital room in
Q: What about dental care? Do overseas clinics offer that as well?
Some countries excel in dental surgeries and mouth restoration. Even if you want
routine work such as a root canal, bridge or crown, the money you save by having
it done elsewhere can pay for your trip. If you have several dental implants
done overseas, you can save a significant amount of money.
Q: Do you know of anyone that actually has done this, say have a hip replaced or
dental work done?
Because we have been traveling the world now for over 2 decades, we know quite a
few people who have had dental care and serious medical treatment overseas. A
tennis friend of ours had his hip replaced in Guadalajara, Mexico for $9,000 a
few years ago and now plays tennis 5 and 6 times a week. I have personally had
root canals and crowns done in Thailand, Mexico and Guatemala, and another
friend of ours has had several successful dental implants performed in Oaxaca,
If we get sick when we travel overseas or have an emergency, we want medical
attention as soon as possible. We don’t consider “going home” for treatment.
Lots of long term travelers feel the same way. Once you experience the quality
of healthcare abroad and the personal treatment that is given to you – and this
includes house calls to your home or hotel room, and the personal cell number of
your doctor - you find that you’re in very good hands and can relax.
Q: What did your accident in Guatemala cost you?
I unexpectedly had my ring finger de-gloved in Antigua, Guatemala in the autumn
of 2012. I received excellent emergency care, and then required a hand surgeon,
hyperbaric chamber therapy and two surgeries. After 10 chamber treatments, 11
visits with the plastic surgeon, 2 surgeries, and a private driver to take me to
the capital city and back each day, the total cost was under $3,000USD, and that
You can see my
cost list here.
Q: Billy also had a health issue that landed him in the hospital for a few
days. Tell us about that.
Billy had an emergency medical situation that required a midnight drive to
the hospital from Panajachel, Guatemala to the capital city. After 2 nights
in the hospital, CT scans, x-rays, blood tests, medicines, translator fees,
private doctor visits, and a private driver, the cost was $1,600USD. He also
received excellent care.
Q: What about insurance? Will my North American insurance cover me?
Right hand ring
It depends on your plan. Ours had a large deductible which was doubled for out
of network providers so we simply paid out of pocket for these emergencies.
However, some Stateside insurance plans are now offering an overseas medical
tourism option as a way to save the provider money and they will cover the cost
of travel and the medical procedure. Many hospitals overseas advertise that they
accept insurance from your home country. So, you must take a look at your health
coverage plan, and compare hospitals and medical tourism companies to see which
works best for you.
Q: How is Medical Tourism different from employer-sponsored medical travel?
In some respects it is not different at all, in that one would be receiving
medical care outside of your home city or home state. However, the big
difference is that in employer-sponsored medical travel, the employer pays for
the procedure and probably has a list of accepted hospitals and doctors from
which to choose. In full-fledged medical tourism, you, the patient would be
locating the hospital, comparing prices, arranging for your air flight and
transport to the hospital and so on. This is where the concierge services come
in handy, as they offer you packages where door-to-door service is covered in
Often a traveling companion is included and encouraged, so that you are not
alone. Their hotel or living quarters can be near to or adjoining the hospital.