2012 Retirement Index 

Healthcare in our Havens

Panama, Scored 91/100

Panama offers high quality health care and modern hospitals in the metropolitan areas. For example, the Johns Hopkins-affiliated Punta Pacifica Hospital is the most technologically advanced medical center in Latin America.

In the city of David, in the Chiriquí Province in the western region of Panama, there are two medical centers with modern facilities, and growing towns like Boquete, Chiriqui, and Coronado, and Province of Panama have new medical centers scheduled to open. Many Panamanian doctors are U.S.-trained, and the standards at the top city hospitals compare very favorably with those in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Private health insurance is available and much less expensive than insurance in the U.S. (because doctor’s fees and hospital visits are much cheaper). There are two other big reasons why health insurance here is so affordable: 1) malpractice insurance is very low because the laws do not allow for frivolous lawsuits; and 2) the average income is around $400 a month, and many Panamanians, particularly those employed in informal sectors, pay for health care out-of-pocket (salaried employees have access to a wide network of social security hospitals).

Prices for prescription drugs are low as well, because manufacturers price them for the market. Plus, some drugs that require a prescription elsewhere are available over the counter in Panama.

Mexico, Scored 88/100

Most doctors and dentists in Mexico received at least part of their training in the U.S. (And many U.S. doctors have trained in Mexico, notably in Guadalajara.) Many of them continue to go to the U.S. or Europe for ongoing training.

Every medium to large city in Mexico has at least one first-rate hospital. And a big plus is that the cost of health care in Mexico is generally half or less what you might expect to pay in the U.S. The same goes for prescription drugs. Prescription drugs manufactured in Mexico cost, on average, about 50% less than the same drugs in the U.S. Plus, health insurance in Mexico costs much less than it does in the U.S.

Of course, the costs of medical care will vary by physician, hospital, and the gravity of your condition. On average, an office visit with a doctor—specialists included—will cost 250 to 300 pesos (about $25). A house call—yes, doctors in Mexico still make house calls—will cost about the same. An overnight stay in a private hospital room costs about 350 pesos ($35). A visit to a dentist for teeth cleaning costs about 200 pesos ($20).

France, Scored 90/100

France has long been known for its first rate heath care system, and although it didn’t quite snatch top spot in this category in this year’s Retirement Index it still clocked a very respectable 90/100.

Private medical insurance is mandatory for non-E.U. citizens wishing to take up residence in France, but you may be able to transfer your health care plan to a French provider, or even to one of the many British companies that specialize in providing coverage for individual expatriates. This may prove cheaper: Costs depend on age and medical history, but if you’re in good health, monthly premiums average $125.

Private medical insurance generally covers hospital treatment, but under some plans you must fund the cost of doctor’s visits yourself. Others will reimburse around 75% of doctor’s fees.

Malaysia, Scored 87/100

With more than a quarter of a million medical travelers each year, Malaysia’s health system is known worldwide for both quality and competitive pricing. User-friendly Malaysian hospitals have created “well-man” and “well-woman” packages that include extensive, low-cost physicals and tests promoting preventive care. A battery of tests, including blood work, bone density scan, chest X-ray and treadmill, usually runs just $340, compared to $2,500 in the U.S.

The cost of visiting a hospital here for a minor procedure is one tenth of what you would pay back home and their expertise is second to none.

“I fell off my bike last week and had a golf-ball-sized trauma, as well as a Texas-sized bruise on my inside thigh,” explains Penang resident Keith Hockton. “The Adventist Hospital’s Emergency department saw me immediately, and 20 minutes later I was on my way, having had a tetanus injection and a prescription for anti-inflammatory ointment.” The cost of Keith’s visit? $8 total.

Heath insurance isn’t mandatory in Malaysia and many expats don’t have any at all, due to hospital treatments’ being so cheap. Alternatively, all of the large insurance companies are represented in Malaysia, so it’s easy to organize if you so require. Fully comprehensive top-of-the-line coverage runs about $2,000 per year.

Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, simply click on the below button to subscribe to International Living magazine at the special introductory price of $49. You will get instant access to the current issue of the magazine as well 10 years of back issues. As an added bonus, we will also send you a FREE report – How to Retire in Paradise on $30 a Day. (You can cancel your subscription at any time.)


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