is medical tourism safe

Is Medical Tourism Safe?

Is medical tourism safe? This morning, I went for a regular dental cleaning and checkup. 

This was a new dentist for me. I hadn’t visited this dentist’s office before today, but it was a modern facility with cutting-edge equipment and an attentive staff. The dentist who owns the operation went to a top dental school and was very personable.

It was a normal cleaning and checkup, including the usual advice that I shouldn’t drink so much coffee. There was one small twist to this visit, though. I’m in Medellín, Colombia.*

Medical tourism has been around for years and traveling to different geographic locations in order to save some money is quite common.

On one end of the spectrum, you have people who embrace medical tourism to save a few bucks. For example, it’s a common occurrence in south Texas, New Mexico and Arizona for people to cross the border into Mexico for dental work. 

Most of the dentists there went to US dental schools and are bilingual English/Spanish. You get the same quality work and the costs savings are significant.

In the middle of the spectrum, you have people like me who love to travel and have arranged their lives so they are not tied to one particular geographic location.

I didn’t come to Colombia to get my teeth cleaned, but it was time to get my teeth cleaned when I happened to be in Colombia for an extended stay. 

Instead of neglecting my teeth until I was back in the US, I decided to get them cleaned on-time like a good boy scout.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have people who embrace medical tourism for cosmetic surgery or elective surgery. 

If you’re on “vacation” in a tropical location while you recover from a facelift or tummy-tuck, no one in your hometown will be the wiser when you return fully-healed a few weeks later.

Elective surgeries can create a wide range of headaches and crippling medical expenses if they aren’t covered by your insurance company in the US. 

You bypass both the headaches and the ridiculous US medical costs by getting those surgeries abroad. For example, replacing a heart valve in the US costs about $150,000 and getting that same heart valve replaced in India costs about $15,000.

Oh, and those foreign doctors are frequently trained at better medical schools than your US doctor.


An added bonus with my lifestyle is that I have visited doctors on three different continents (so far). You’d be AMAZED at the different attitudes and philosophies around healthcare you find in advanced countries around the world. The pill-pushing medical approach is specific to the US, and the rest of the world is horrified at the advertising and political lobbying we allow from pharmaceutical companies in the US. NO OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD allow that sort of influence from pharmaceutical companies, and for good reason.

You may also be surprised to learn that the United States ranks #37 in the world for their healthcare system. That means there are 36 countries that do a better job of keeping their people healthy than the United States. The World Health Organization published a report on this (skip to page 18 for the rankings). So, spare me the lectures when I don’t blindly take my US doctor’s advice to medicate myself for every stupid little thing. There’s a place for medication, but it shouldn’t be the knee-jerk response to every ailment.

Lastly, I found this article rather amusing. Sad and a little scary, but amusing. “Not only is there no harm to patients when doctors strike, there nearly always seems to be a decrease in patient deaths.” 


What is medical tourism?

Simply put, medical tourism is the act of traveling to a location outside of your home country to get medical care. 

Alternatively, some people travel back to their home countries from their lives abroad in order to get medical care. It is estimated that the medical tourism industry is worth $30-$40 billion.

What are best countries for medical tourism?

The best countries for medical tourism are the countries that have modern facilities and doctors trained at top medical schools. This is our list of the top countries for medical tourism:

  1. Malaysia
  2. India
  3. Thailand
  4. Poland
  5. Turkey
  6. Mexico
  7. Colombia
  8. Jordan
  9. Brazil
  10. Panama
  11. Costa Rica
  12. Belize
  13. Chechia
  14. Singapore
  15. Germany

How can I know the quality of the doctors and hospitals abroad?

There is no “standard” international accreditation for doctors or hospitals. There has been an increasing interest in creating an international accreditation standard over the past few years, but it’s very political and moving slowly.

The best advice is to do your homework. Research the hospital and the doctor(s) before you commit to anything. 

It’s also advisable to make a trip to the location where you will be receiving medical care ahead of time to meet the doctor, talk to the staff and discuss any potential issues that may be unique to you, both as a patient and as a person who doesn’t have a local address.

How do the costs compare to the US when you add it all up?

The answer is almost always, “Much cheaper.”

You won’t be able to use your US insurance for most procedures abroad, but that doesn’t matter much. The out-of-pocket costs are still likely to be much lower than what you pay in the US. 

Also, many doctors and dentists give significant discounts if you pay cash, so plan for that as well.

Is there a tax advantage to getting work done outside of the US?

Yes. The IRS allows deductions for certain medical care and the related expenses paid out-of-pocket. Check with your tax professional for details on how that applies to your tax situation. The IRS website is also a great resource for answers on this topic. This page is good.

One last thing…

*I HIGHLY recommend my dentist in Medellín. The name of the dentist is Clinica Artica and you can visit their website to learn more. They didn’t ask for this endorsement nor are they compensating me for it. I have been very pleased with their work and I plan to use them for my dental needs in the future.


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