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Hospital in Singapore. Photo courtesy nahele

Medical Tourism, or people traveling to get more affordable healthcare or better attention, is exploding worldwide.

As soon as you step into Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, it’s apparent that medical tourism – the melding of tourism and healthcare – is big business.

The lobby of the hospital is indistinguishable from that of an upscale hotel, with plush sofas, soft lighting, and its very own Starbucks. About half a dozen languages can be heard as efficient, multilingual staff usher patients to their appointments.

Last year, millions of patients, including about 500,000 Americans according to the National Coalition on Health Care, traveled abroad seeking affordable medical and dental care, no waiting lists, and longer convalescing periods.

Where are the medical tourism hot spots? Check out this list.

1. Thailand

One of Asia’s medical tourism pioneers, Thailand’s private urban hospitals have long been swarmed by tourists. Many initially sought cosmetic procedures, including sex changes, for a fraction of the prices back home; now, treatments encompass everything from orthopedic treatments to dental and cardiac surgeries.

Traditional ayurveda drugstore, India.

Photo: skasuga

2. India

Gaining reputation for its skilled English-speaking medical professionals, wide range of procedures and surgeries, and very low prices, India attracts med-trotters from near and far, with a recent surge in the number of American patients.

Many hospitals also offer traditional Ayurvedic treatments, where herbs, massage, and yoga comprise a system of alternative medicine.

3. Singapore

Another pioneer of medical travel in Asia, Singapore possesses one of the best health care systems in the world according to World Health Organization (WHO). The squeaky clean (literally) city-state woos globetrotting patients with every major medical treatment, including stem cell treatments for cancer.

4. China

With recent reports of tainted drugs and unethical organ harvesting, China is not likely on anyone’s radar as a medical destination. It is, however, the place for experimental (and highly controversial) stem cell therapy for everything from spinal injuries to neurodegenerative disorders.

Medical emergency in Ziyang, China. Photo courtesy quiplash!

5. Poland

Long waits for services back home, cheap flights and bargain prices have boosted the popularity of dental tourism in Poland, especially among the Brits. The Polish government is also promoting more comprehensive service offerings, as well as traditional spa treatments such as salt caves and thermal baths.

6. Hungary

For over a decade, Austrian, Swiss and German patients have been driving over the Hungarian border for inexpensive dental work. The former Eastern bloc nation’s decision to jump on the medical tourism bandwagon is therefore not surprising.

It does, however, face competition from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania – all accessible by Western Europeans via ground transport and low cost air-carriers.

7. Mexico

Americans are heading over the border for cosmetic procedures, dentistry, and vision correction surgery in specialized clinics. Mexico is growing in popularity, as some US health insurers are offering policyholders coverage in order to cut costs, and its services are being met with high patient satisfaction rates.

Calderon Hospital in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy Don Fulano

8. Costa Rica

Against a backdrop of volcanoes, beaches, and cloudforests, Costa Rica advertises recovery retreats, or ranches created for recuperating medical tourists. The nation is known for dental tourism, as well as plastic and cosmetic surgery, and its proximity to the US and Canada makes it a growing destination for medical tourism in the Western Hemisphere.

9. Brazil

Brazil is one of the largest markets for cosmetic surgery, boasting about 4,500 licensed cosmetic surgeons, the highest per capita rate in the world. From facelifts and rhinoplasty to weight loss treatments and bariatric surgery, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janiero are the destinations of choice for travelers who elect to go under the knife for the sake of beauty.

Hermanos Almejeiras in Cuba -

Hospital featured in Michael Moore’s Sicko.

Photo: anna_t

10. Cuba

With universal health care and free medical education for scores of international students, Cuba has long been known for its medical capabilities and dedicated doctors. Latin American and European medical tourists have been visiting Cuba for decades.

Foreigners who pay in hard currency receive quality treatment. But keep in mind that Cuba’s health care may be built on solid ideals, lauded in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko, but the system is dramatically two-tiered.

11. Jordan

Jordan aspires to be a regional medical tourism hub, channeling investment funds into its health infrastructure.

Last year the Kingdom attracted a fair number of Iraqi, Palestinian and Sudanese patients, with reported revenues exceeding one billion US dollars.

Jordan’s specialties include heart surgery, infertility treatment, and cornea transplants, and the country is poised to leverage its wellness and spa industry, given its access to the Dead Sea.

Salt and mineral-rich waters allow for a healthy buoyancy in the Dead Sea at Israel. Photo courtesy onesevenone

12. Israel

An emerging destination for medical tourists, Israel aims to attract international patients within and beyond the Jewish diaspora. It is known for cancer and in-vitro fertilization treatments; a recent brochure by the Health and Tourism Ministries describes Israel as a “land of milk, honey and fertility.”

Wellness-minded travelers also visit the Dead Sea for its salt and mineral-rich waters, medicinal black mud, and dry, mineral-infused air.

Travel overseas for medical care is not without risk. Accreditation varies across the board, and it may not mean much. You must do much more research before deciding to embark on this type of travel.

There are a dizzying number of travel agents dedicated to promoting medical tourism, finding doctors, and booking arrangements in different nations. HealthCare Tourism International, a nonprofit that tracks global healthcare, provides a database of such services by country, as well as links to industry news. NPR also has an informative list of FAQs for those considering surgery abroad.

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About The Author

Voralak Suwanvanichkij

Voralak Suwanvanichkij is a Bangkok based writer who says she travels: "To gain new perspectives on the world. And in the process, to learn something about myself."

  • Hal

    Fascinating topic! The opportunity to combine international travel with cheap medical care is almost enough to assuage my laments about the American healthcare system. Almost.

  • RobynJohnson

    Once you know how cheaply you can buy prescriptions in certain countries, it highlights the utter greed of US health insurance companies. There's no defensible reason why a medicine costs $200 here and $5-15 in Mexico.

  • Edward

    my singulair (merck) is $120 for 30 at Sams and $38 for 20 in Mexico…..

  • Richard McColl

    you have overlooked Colombia…really catching up on Costa Rica and Panama with regards to medical tourism. Even Maradona has been treated here – ” target=”_blank”>…

  • On Da Road

    I had to smile at the pic of the guy floating. I did knee surgery in India but didn't stay long enough to enjoy the 'tourism' part. Touring alone on crutches was not recommended. The key is to stay long enough to rehab and get to see some of the sights. My care in New Dehli was great.

  • Hemant

    The whole of US population is in clutches of greedy medical culture. All the "Health Insurance" is a big hogwash. It is a drain on people's personal economic equation.__In India, Tylanol costs less than 5 cents a tablet.. Cost of doing a dental Bridge for three teeth is only 80 USD.and consulting fees for a top of the shelf surgeon is less than 25 USD.____I strongly recommand people to get word class treatment for any problem in India or Thailand but not in US.

  • The Skin Care Lady

    I thank you for all the lovely places shown ,and the awsom photos. :)

  • medical tourism

    It is happy to know that this list of cheap place for health care includes India.

  • Marie

    Very nice piece of information you’ve written here. I have often had dental work done at Bumrungrad (but there are many other good places to go too) and also tend to buy new glasses in Thailand when I need them. Now that I’m back in NZ I don’t need to rely on trips to BKK but when I lived in Vietnam, you could always hear the oldies coaching the newbies, “If anything bad happens, just get to Bangkok!”.

  • Zachary Graham

    is there a very good quality airline that offers cheap flights ? i think most of them are not good.”;.

  • Lauren Wright

    my dad recently got a Hair Transplant, it was very expensive but the results are worth it.-,*

  • Clinics of World

    I’m not very sure if Singapore is cheap, when you compare it to Malaysia. Singapore caters to a lot of medical tourists, but only those who have a higher paying power and are reluctant to travel to India, Thailand or Malaysia.

  • Carlo Alcos

    When I needed a root canal and was planning a trip to Guatemala I researched the dental tourism there and it’s supposedly very good (American trained endodontists in state of the art facilities) and a fraction of the price in NA. I didn’t end up going to Guatemala though.

  • Bangkok Times Online

    Thailand is not that cheap anymore, but the service is great. I would say India is teh number one spot on price by a long way.

  • Patriots Bless America

    By the time you factor in your time, flight and the commission that you pay the 3rd party (they work for themselves, they’re not working for the doctor), you could have had the surgery in the USA if you shopped around for better prices. I found liposuction in Nevada for $1,300.

  • Patriots Bless America

    If you can’t see the doctor’s name, business address and office telephone number, you are dealing with a 3rd party who is taking a large commission and giving the doctor peanuts.

  • Latin

    Costa Rica
    and Latin America have achieved the highest standards of healthcare quality. There
    are several Medical Tourism Companies
    that offer free of charge services to correctly coordinate surgeries and treatments
    abroad, while assuring health quality.

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