Where to Travel for World-Class Medical Care on a Budget

dentist working on patient
Johner Images/Getty Images

We’re going to step out on a limb here and say that compared to many parts of the world, healthcare costs in the U.S. are astronomical. So, it’s no surprise that many in need of medical treatment are willing to look elsewhere — anywhere — for affordable quality care.

A few short years ago, “medical tourism” was a dirty word. The term referred to a niche underground world of travelers jetting off to exotic destinations usually in search of plastic surgery on a budget. But, thanks to high demand from foreigners and a heavy-handed approach from government, many of these formerly developing countries now offer world-class medical care for far less than you’ll pay in the States. Whether you’re looking for breast implants, bypass surgery, or to fix your jacked-up grill, here are three of the best countries for medical tourism.

Costa Rica

Manzanillo Costa Rica
Manzanillo, Costa Rica Genevieve Poblano/The Manual

Medical tourism is one of the fastest growing niche travel sectors in Costa Rica. Nearly one in five tourists to the Central American nation visit for a specific medical treatment, which makes sense considering the country is home to some of the best healthcare in Latin America. The World Health Organization ranks Costa Rica’s healthcare system above ours in the U.S. Their private hospitals are clean, efficient, and state-of-the-art, besting almost anything you’ll find Stateside.

U.S.

Costa Rica

Heart valve replacement $85,000 $29,000
Knee replacement $34,000  $9,500
Gastric bypass surgery $18,000 $11,200

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Patrick Foto/Getty Images

Malaysia is Asia’s model for medical tourism destinations. It’s been one of the region’s best-kept secrets for at least a decade. The country’s private healthcare system is as good as, if not better than, those in most Westernized countries. Most doctors and nurses train in the United States or England before setting up shop in Malaysia. Plus, the infrastructure for medical tourists is second to none. Kuala Lumpur and Penang are two of the biggest hubs in Asia — a huge plus for international travelers. Both cities boast cheap, modern transportation systems; affordable hotel rooms abound; and most visitors to Malaysia can secure a three-month visa upon arrival. It’s more than enough time to recover from even the most major of treatments. Most medical tourists are visiting for dental or cosmetic surgery.

U.S. Malaysia
Full facelift $35,000 $17,000
Dental cap replacement $1,200 $300
Filling and teeth cleaning $180  $32.50

Thailand

Wat Arun, Bangkok City, Thailand
Wat Arun, Bangkok City, Thailand Pakin Songmor/Getty Images

Thailand is arguably the world’s oldest destination for medical tourists. For its combination of stellar quality and affordable costs, the WHO ranks it in the top 50 healthcare systems in the world. The private hospitals of Chiang Mai and Bangkok are ground zero for most of the country’s medical tourists. Both offer excellent facilities with surprisingly friendly doctors. Foreigners can often find expert translators at some of the city’s larger private hospitals. After the Asian continent suffered a massive financial crisis in the late ‘90s, many in the private healthcare system went all out to lure foreign dollars to their facilities. The result is a highly competitive marketplace where cosmetic surgery is far, far cheaper than anywhere you’ll find in the U.S.

U.S. Thailand
Full facelift $35,000 $5,000
Breast augmentation $11,000 $5,000
Liposuction $9,000 $2,500

At these prices, you could fly to your destination of choice, get the treatment you need, recover in a luxury hotel for two weeks, fly home and still spend less than you would here in the U.S.

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