While touring a hospital in the lovely resort town of Busan, South Korea, I met three uninsured women from Chicago. They were mixing the pleasure of an exotic beach holiday with world-class, cost-saving health screenings. They got all the usual blood and respiratory tests, plus dental, hearing and vision exams, and even neck and spine MRIs. Their total costs including airfare? About $1,500 each—a savings of more than enough to pay for their week on the beach.
Whether you’re in a country you love for a long vacation or to stay for an annual visit, you can save thousands of dollars on medical care. And the quality of care and comfort can be better than back home.
When I recently blew out my shoulder, after about 20 years of hand-splitting firewood, the pain wouldn’t go away. It was clear I needed a diagnosis—possibly treatment. But in the U.S. an MRI alone would eat up my $2,000 annual deductible. So I waited three months until a business trip took me to Thailand.
There I visited the world-renowned Bumrungrad International Hospital. The orthopedic surgeon diagnosed a partially-torn rotator cuff. He advised me to forego surgery and live with the moderate discomfort. He wrote a physical-therapy prescription (in Thai and English) and gave me a copy of all my test results.
Holding out for my trip was worth the pain. The diagnostic scans and two consultations with that U.S.board-certified orthopedic surgeon cost a mere $473. Even with VIP services tacked on, including transportation from the airport and shortened waiting periods, I saved at least $1,600. And the total time spent in the hospital? Just three-and-a-half hours.
While some medical procedures—even non-emergency—require immediate attention, there are plenty of cost-saving, top-quality options on the table for you if you live overseas part-time or just trot the globe a few weeks a year.
Dentistry: Good dental work is easily found overseas. Particularly check-ups, cavities, extractions, bridgework, and even light restorative surgery. For implant procedures it’s important to bear in mind that they require a return visit within three to six months.
Vision: Eye care isn’t cheap in the U.S., but LASIK and other treatments are 30% to 70% cheaper overseas. More complex vision procedures, such as cataract surgery, should be weighed against recovery times of two to six weeks and the possibility of complications that require a return visit.
Hearing: Full hearing tests can also be quite pricey. If the results of your exam indicate a need for hearing aids, those too can be breathtakingly expensive in the U.S. But most international hospitals provide a complete range of hearing services. You may be pleasantly surprised if you check the prices of brand-name hearing aids against those in your home country.
Colonoscopy: This is nobody’s favorite procedure. But if it’s that time, then getting it done out of the country can easily save you $500 to $2,000 over the out-of pocket prices at home, which run $2,000 to $3,750.
Minimally-invasive orthopedics: You can find some of the world’s best orthopedic surgeons overseas. One patient I know, Mary Percak-Dennett, from Alaska, recently saved $72,000 on knee-replacement surgery in Malaysia. Long recovery periods and the need for physical therapy and other attention means you’ll need a companion along—or reliable daily assistance—for at least the first few weeks of recovery.
Diagnostic tests: In many other countries, MRIs, CT scans, and other such diagnostics cost a fraction of their price at home. An MRI at a U.S. hospital ranges from $1,500 to a whopping $3,200, and even at an outpatient lab normally runs $700 to $1,000. But in countries like Mexico, Thailand and Korea, MRIs are closer to $500.
Second consultations: The cost of seeking second opinions from other doctors can put you off doing so. But if you’re living part-time overseas, and time and health permit, you can get an affordable second consultation in the country where you have your second home.
Inexpensive medicines: Although it’s technically illegal to cross borders with pharmaceuticals purchased abroad, customs agents generally turn a blind eye to a reasonable supply brought home. I regularly pick up the prescription scalp shampoo Nizoral abroad. It costs $27 per 6-ounce bottle in the U.S., but just $6 in Thailand and $12 in Brazil. Note: Visit only established, reputable pharmacies—counterfeit drugs are big business, and you want to be certain you’re getting the real thing. And don’t even think about asking for narcotics; no legitimate pharmacy will sell them to you without a doctor’s prescription.
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