Medical tourism is on the rise and dozens of countries around the world, from Asia and South America to Eastern Europe, are getting in on the act. Agencies are being set up to promote less expensive health care costs to potential foreign visitors from developed countries where health care costs are through the roof.

And with Obamacare, this trend is sure to continue.

Like anything else we discuss on this site, the best countries for medical tourism — or anything else — are often those you would have never thought of. Emerging countries have built great health care infrastructure while minimizing costs, allowing them to deliver care for as little as five to ten cents on the dollar in some cases.

Procedures that cost into the six figures in the US or the UK cost as little as four figures in these countries. All the while, the best hospitals in these medical tourist hot spots have highly-trained, English-speaking doctors, just like you’d find at home.

 

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So, where are the best countries to get that expensive surgery, the routine checkout, or the plastic surgery makeover? To be honest, there are so many potential countries that it was hard to narrow it down to just five. Let’s find out which made the cut…

The five best countries for medical tourism

Singapore medical tourism

Singapore, while expensive, has one of the most sophisticated hospital systems in the world.

5. Singapore
Singapore’s status as one of the world’s freest economies, as well as a highly developed nation, has made it a medical tourism hub for both Asians and Westerners for years. Cancer treatment is a top speciality there. Gleneagles Hospital was ranked among the top ten hospitals around the globe by a health travel group, but many other hospitals offer excellent care as well. The World Health Organization ranks Singapore as the best health care system in Asia, and sixth in the world. And while socialists claim that Singapore’s efficient, rather socialist health care model is a model for the rest of the world, personal responsibility is a key driver that keeps health care costs here reasonably low.

You will pay more in Singapore than in places like Thailand, but the quality of life in Singapore is second to none. One US-based grocery chain had a policy of paying the entire hospital bill, including travel costs for two, for employees who got hip and knee replacements in Singapore. Life expectancy in Singapore is several years longer than that of the UK. And, by many standards, the city-state has the world’s lowest infant mortality rate. If you’re looking for the most developed country for less expensive surgery, Singapore might be for you. However, there are stories of excessive costs which, together with rising health care standards in other countries, are causing medical tourism to shift to other parts of Asia.

Brazil medical tourism

Brazil is the world capital for plastic surgery medical tourism, owing to the country’s image-conscious culture.

4. Brazil
While Mexico is the best known country in the Americas for foreigners seeking care, Brazil stands out as one of the most advanced places in the region. Looking good and feeling sexy is important in Brazil — almost to an extreme — so it’s no wonder the country is home to more cosmetic surgeons than anywhere else on earth. In Brazil, plastic surgery is done in a hospital, not in an office, and doctors are highly trained in such procedures. Up until recently, medical tourism in Brazil was largely relegated to elective procedures. However, the country has the first JCI-accredited hospital in the world outside of the United States — Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paolo — and now has more than 40 JCI-accredited hospitals.

Brazil has the least efficient medical system on this list, although it is nearly tied with the United States in that regard. Costs for plastic surgery can be as much as 60% less than in Western countries, and surgeons can handle just about any procedure you can dream up. There are even veterinarians offering cosmetic surgeries on pets. Brazil is home to perhaps the world’s most renowned plastic surgeon, Ivo Pitanguy, and prices for top doctors can be as high as those in the US, so make sure to shop the lesser-known clinics if you want to save money. However, Brazil’s beauty consciousness surely can’t hurt anyone looking to save money on a nip and tuck.

India medical tourist

India specializes in inexpensive bypass surgeries and other high-end medical procedures for medical tourists.

3. India
Yes, really. India has become a top health tourism destination for high-end surgeries at inexpensive prices. Two of the top ten medical tourism hospitals are in India. Stories of Westerners traveling to India and saving 75% over home country costs for large procedures — travel costs included — are not uncommon. India is anticipated to have a $2 billion industry serving overseas patients by 2015, thanks to well over 100,000 patients who visit each year. The Indian government is easing restrictions on citizens of many countries, making it easier for them to travel to India, visa-free and with fewer restrictions (US citizens do need a visa to enter India, which costs $67 plus any agency service fees).

India is widely known for its advanced medical services and equipment. Doctors tend to be highly trained, due to large medical tourism cities like Chennai and Noida having foreign patients fill half their hospital beds. Also, the language barrier is lower for English speakers, and Indian hospitals are bringing in translators for non-English speaking foreigners. Health care costs in India can run as low as ten cents on the dollar compared to the US or the UK. Popular treatments include bone-marrow transplants, eye surgery and hip grafting and replacement. India is also a top destination for cardiac bypass surgery at facilities like the Asian Heart Institute; the procedure can cost less than $10,000 as compared to more than $100,000 in the West.

Thailand medical tourism

Thailand has long been one of the best medical tourism destinations in the world, with low health care costs and excellent service.

2. Thailand
Thailand is world-renowned for its medical tourism and expat health care services. So much so that medical tourism is growing by 16% a year. Bangkok is home to Bumrungrad Hospital, where I myself went for a total health check-up after losing a bit of weight, and paid very, very little. The hospital was largely modeled after the Mayo Clinic, and their electronic medical record service impressed Microsoft so much they bought the whole thing. While I’m not a fan of Thailand in general, there is no denying that their medical system is prized for offering a wide range of surgeries and other procedures at cheap prices. One of my expat friends said he’d get “any surgery” in Thailand due to the high quality of care. Many doctors in Thailand have been trained in Western countries or Singapore and speak excellent English; nurses tend to speak English relatively well, also.

Ever since the crash of the baht in the nineties, Thailand used its currency crisis to attract medical tourists from around Asia, mainly for cosmetic surgeries. Today, Thailand is a haven for inexpensive plastic surgery, but also non-elective procedures. A facelift that might cost $15,000 in The Land of the Free would cost $2,500-3,000 in Thailand. Meanwhile, bypass surgery could cost around $25,000, an 80% discount over US prices. Experts recommend sticking to Bangkok rather than the coastal resort towns for access to the best doctors and care.

Malaysia medical tourism

Malaysia has built medical facilities that rival Singapore at much lower price points. The country has set up agencies to attract hundreds of thousands of medical tourists for procedures for anything from burns to heart conditions.

1. Malaysia
Malaysia sees well over half a million medical tourists — most from around Asia — each year due to the country’s developed infrastructure and low costs. The general consensus is that, as Singapore gets more expensive, Kuala Lumpur is picking up the slack with facilities that are just as good. English is more widely spoken in Malaysia than in Thailand, and infrastructure is better than countries like India.

Like other countries in Asia, Malaysia saw medical tourism as a way to diversify its economy during the Asian financial crisis. Prince Court Medical Center, where I easily saved $2,000 when I got sick in Kuala Lumpur, was ranked the number one hospital for “patients without borders” by the Medical Travel Quality Alliance. Malaysian hospitals offer services such as in vitro fertilization at around one-fifth the price of Western facilities, as well as offering sophisticated treatment for burn victims. Malaysian hospitals also offer total physicals that would cost several thousand dollars in the US, including blood work, for a few hundred dollars.

Apart from this list, other countries are joining in to grab their share of foreign patients, as well. Jordan has seen millions of patients cross into its borders and has received a top five ranking for medical tourism from the World Bank, while Colombia is fast rising as a medical tourism hub.

Would you go overseas for inexpensive health care? Share your comments below.

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Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson

Andrew has been internationalizing since 2008, and has learned what works and what doesn't work when it comes to reducing taxes, increasing personal freedom, and creating wealth. Click here to work with him personally.
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