Affordable Health Care in Costa Rica: Tailored to You

In my time in Costa Rica, I’ve had great experiences with the medical care options available.

My wife gave birth to our son, now a year old, at CIMA, a private hospital in San Jose. We were facing paying $15,000 to $20,000 for the delivery in the U.S. In Costa Rica, it was just $3,000—including all the hospital and doctor fees. Most surgeries and procedures cost a third to a quarter of what they would in the U.S.

We use a mix of the public national health care system, known as the Caja, and private systems; many other expats—of all ages—do the same.

Fellow expats Paul and Gloria Yeatman are enthusiastic users of the public system—going private when they don’t want to queue for treatment. Like when Gloria had an infected lymph node removed at the hospital in her new hometown of San Ramon, in the Central Valley.

In the run up to the surgery, she had seen her private doctor ($40 for the visit) about some pain she’d been having. That doctor referred her to a Caja specialist/surgeon for follow up.

When the specialist ordered an ultrasound, she chose to pay—$55—for her own at a private clinic because it would be a three-week wait in the public system. When it came to have the surgery she had it—and follow-up care—done for free in the Caja hospitals. She reported a great experience throughout, as have most of the expats I’ve spoken to who’ve sought treatment for everything from concussions to multiple sclerosis.

We’re incredibly grateful for the kind of care we’ve received in the public system. If you’re a parent, you probably remember those middle-of-the-night illnesses and trips to the emergency room. We’ve definitely had those with our son, Wesley. On a recent trip to the Central Pacific coast, he fell ill around 11 p.m.

As a Costa Rican citizen, he’s eligible for free care with the Caja. Expat legal residents join the same system, paying a low monthly sum based on income (expats I’ve spoken with pay from $30 to $75 per person). Prescriptions, doctor visits, testing, surgery, and more are free after that.

The public hospital we visited in Quepos the night he was ill wasn’t as sparkling and modern-looking as some in the U.S. But the nurses, doctor, and technician were all caring and thorough. They did blood and urine tests, and diagnosed him with an infection. We also got two prescriptions… all for free.

This is a great example of the dual nature of health care in Costa Rica: a universal, government-run system and the private system. Both provide high-quality care, rated as some of the best in Latin America, and use modern equipment and techniques. Because they receive training in the U.S. or Canada, many of the doctors speak English.

Both systems have doctors, clinics, laboratories and diagnostic testing facilities, and hospitals throughout the country. But the best hospitals and the most specialists are located in and around San Jose, the capital of the country. For this reason, most expats with chronic illnesses choose to live in the Central Valley, the region surrounding the capital.

Of course, the benefits of Costa Rican medical care go beyond the low cost, modern facilities, and convenience. Doctors in Costa Rica actually take time with patients and make sure you understand the diagnosis and treatment…they’re not rushing you out the door. It’s refreshing. I even have the cell phone numbers of all my family’s doctors—and they will pick up a middle-of-the-night call.

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