“Will my doctor speak English?”
I hear this question a lot from people considering a move overseas. It’s usually third on their list—after asking if the health care is any good, and whether they can afford it. Fortunately, in the countries International Living covers frequently, the answer to all three questions is usually “yes.”
Costs are definitely low. In Latin America, health care out-of-pocket generally costs you a quarter to a half of what you’d pay in the U.S. In Asia it can cost even less. Even in Europe, you’ll usually pay less than you would in the U.S.
For instance, I recently paid about $45 in Mexico to see an ophthalmologist. That’s pretty much top dollar—he has swank offices, state-of-the-art equipment, and is located near the Star Medica, one of Merida’s best hospitals. In Ecuador a similar visit might cost you $25 or $30, while in Malaysia you might pay $16 or so.
And the care can be excellent. Sure, quality can vary from place to place, just as it does in the U.S. But there is at least one top-notch hospital—and often several—in almost all the countries on International Living’s beat. (Stand-outs include the Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas in Managua, Nicaragua; the Hospital CIMA in Escazu, Costa Rica; and the Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand.)
Plus, I don’t know anyone who’s had trouble getting an appointment. When I call in, I’m often offered an appointment for the next day or two—I’ve never had to wait more than a week.
Personally, I’ve chosen to use private health care. (All the prices and hospitals listed above, by the way, are in the private sector.)
But many countries—especially in Latin America and Europe—also have nationalized public health care systems that expats can access under certain conditions. These systems can be very good and are inexpensive. (In Latin America, they generally cost $50 to $100 a month.)
In the public system, you may have to wait longer for appointments, however, particularly to see specialists and for non-essential surgeries and procedures. Also, public-sector doctors may be less likely to speak English fluently than private-sector doctors. (They may be able to read English, though, to follow developments in their specialty. Fortunately for us, English is the language of science these days.) Still, if you’re an expat on a budget, these may be acceptable trade-offs.
But if having easy access to English-speaking specialists is a deal-breaker for you, then you may prefer private-sector health care. Local expats can often recommend doctors whose English is particularly good or whom they’ve particularly liked.
Health care that is affordable, excellent, and with English-speaking doctors? Kind of makes you want to move abroad, doesn’t it?
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