High-Quality and Low-Cost: How Overseas Healthcare Compares to the U.S.

Here at International Living we believe that there are many reasons why you should consider retiring overseas. In places all over the world you’ll find a climate that best suit your needs and wants; a place that’s perfect for you, where you can escape cold winters and oppressively hot summers and exchange it for year-round spring-like weather. There are also great real estate opportunities that can see you living in a condo on the beach, or in a house surrounded by fertile farmland, for prices that you could only dream of back home. And of course, there is the high-quality, affordable healthcare that you can find in many popular expat destinations around the world.

While going to the doctor or dentist back home can be a costly venture—and even unaffordable in some cases—healthcare overseas often proves to be a fraction of that cost. Medical expenses abroad can be so low that many expats find it easier to pay out of pocket rather than use medical insurance.

And these lower prices don’t lead to a lower standard of healthcare either. On the contrary, most of the doctors and specialists abroad have completed some—if not all—of their training in the U.S., meaning that they use all the modern methods that you are accustomed to. It also means that they usually speak good English.

As for facilities, in many cities overseas you can also expect to find that they are up to the same standards as what you are used to, and in some cases they are even better. You will find that many popular overseas retirement havens have at least one JCI accredited hospital, indicating that the healthcare facility is to the upmost standard.

This low-cost, high-quality healthcare has become so popular in certain countries that it has created an industry of medical tourism, with hordes of people visiting throughout the year to take advantage of the affordable medical procedures, and go on a short vacation while they’re at it.

To further drive the point home, we have found some of the best overseas destinations for great healthcare at an affordable price, and compared those prices with what you would pay in the U.S. for an equivalent procedure.

Colombia: Affordable Healthcare for All

Located at the northern tip of South America, Colombia is where the Pacific and the Caribbean collide with the Andes and the Amazon. It’s a country that is more beautiful, dramatic, and diverse than nearly any other. It offers sparkling colonial cities and world-famous resorts along the Caribbean.

Colombia offers something that will appeal to just about everyone. Expats flock here for its stunning scenery, the year-round spring-like climate, and last—but not least—the healthcare, which is not just the best in Latin America, but can also be fully accessed by everyone, no matter their circumstances.

Colombia’s government-run health insurance scheme, EPS (Entidades Promotoras de Salud), is available to all people living in Colombia—even expats—as long as they are under 60. Retirees pay a monthly premium equal to 12% of their income. For most this equates to just $70 to $85 for a couple. And that’s just the beginning of the savings. For example, depending on your rate of income, a routine checkup, specialist consultation, or lab tests will cost you a maximum of $9.30, and can be as low as 90 cents.

Savings can be even greater when you need more extensive treatment. IL Colombia Correspondent Nancy Kiernan reports that one U.S. expat recently underwent five surgeries and three months of home healthcare after facing a life-threatening experience. “He pays $300 per month for a premium policy that covers him and his wife,” explains Nancy. “After spending six weeks in intensive care he received a bill for about $25 when he checked out of the hospital. For three months, a home healthcare nurse attended to his needs, at a cost of $25 per month.”

Even without the help of the EPS, many medical expenses can be afforded out-of-pocket. Expats report getting Lasik surgery on both eyes for as little as $1,000. The same procedure would easily set you back $4,000 in the States. Similarly, cataract surgery in Colombia will only cost you $1,600 per eye, whereas it adds up to $3,500 per eye back home.

Even major operations, while not payable out-of-pocket, are significantly more affordable. A heart bypass that would cost $123,000 in the U.S. is just $14,800 in Colombia, while a heart valve replacement costs $10,450, which is a mere fraction of the $170,000 that you would pay back home.

Malaysia: Great Dentistry at an Affordable Price

Malaysia is a country like no other, and once you have spent a little bit of time exploring its cities, its national parks, and some of its stunning islands, you’ll want more. Gifted with year-round warm weather, tropical rainforests, and stunning beaches, living in Malaysia will actually improve your health and well-being.

Expats who live here say that they are happier, feel better, and are generally healthier than they were at home.

Malaysia has managed to retain its link to its colonial past, with its distinctly European feel, and a history that jumps out at you as soon as you arrive. But while its past is still visible throughout the country, its modernity is on full display too. In the same way that you can step back in time in a UNESCO Heritage city like Malacca, you can also take full advantage of modern amenities, surrounded by high-rise buildings in Penang or Kuala Lumpur.

It also happens to be a favorite destination for expats and medical tourists looking for all things dental—offering high-quality facilities at a low cost, especially when compared with the same procedures in the U.S. For example, to get a crown in Malaysia costs just $257, compared to $1,200 in the States. Similarly, an implant will only set you back about $1,000. The same work can be as costly as $7,000 at home.

According to IL Malaysia Correspondent Keith Hockton, “all of the major hospitals in Penang and Kuala Lumpur have their own dental wings but there are also a number of first-rate dental clinics to choose from in both places. Some of the more popular dental treatments include cleaning and polishing ($20), filling ($24), extraction ($20), porcelain veneers ($394), and dentures ($94). Most hospitals in Malaysia have luxury suites that put five-star hotels to shame, some for as little as $31 per night.”

Costa Rica: Top-Notch Facilities Close to Home

Long stretches of deserted and undeveloped beaches on the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts…dense jungles teeming with exotic wildlife…towering volcanoes, lush green valleys, and hundreds of crystal-clear lakes, rivers, streams, and waterfalls…mesmerizing sunrises, sunsets, and star-filled evening skies…all these things, and much more, draw people to Costa Rica every year. Whether they live in this beautiful country full- or part-time, they relish the climate, neighborly atmosphere, low cost of living, and the excellent healthcare.

By almost any standard, Costa Rica has some of the best healthcare in Latin America. Not only that, but the country’s public and private health systems are constantly being upgraded—new hospitals, new equipment, and improvements in staff training. Most doctors have gone to medical school or received additional training in the U.S., Canada, or Europe. Most also speak English for this reason. They are familiar with the latest techniques, and the latest technology and treatments are in the clinics and hospitals. And specialists in all disciplines are available.

Despite the advancements, costs are low in comparison to those back home. Private doctors, for instance, rarely charge more than $60 a visit, even for house calls. Specialists run $80 to $100 per visit. And, according to IL Roving Latin America Correspondent Jason Holland, the low prices don’t stop there. “An angioplasty that would cost close to $60,000 in the U.S. is $9,000 in Costa Rica,” explains Jason. “A hip replacement is more than $40,000 in the U.S. but just over $10,000 in Costa Rica. A knee replacement is $40,000 versus $11,000. And a facelift is $9,000 versus $5,000.”

Another great aspect of Costa Rica is its proximity to the U.S. A flight from Miami to San José takes less than three hours, and can cost as little as $90. It’s just another great reason to consider taking advantage of the affordable healthcare available in Costa Rica.

Mexico: Prescriptions for a Fraction of the U.S. Price

Mexico has it all: rich culture, a great climate…not to mention mountains, beaches, deserts, and just about everything in between.

Those moving here have so many choices…little silver-mining towns where the winding streets seem to head up to the clouds…huge deserts where you can see for miles and learn to love the nuance of muted colors…fishing villages where you can rise at dawn to buy the day’s catch fresh from returning fishermen…beach towns where the sound of surf and the tang of salt water linger in the air…cosmopolitan cities where concerts and cafés abound, and where your comfortable life comes with an urban edge.

Living in Mexico offers one more thing: great healthcare. Mexico has four JCI-accredited hospitals, and numerous others throughout the country that are just as good. And a big plus is that the cost of healthcare in Mexico is significantly less than what you might expect to pay in the U.S. The same goes for prescription drugs.

While prices may vary slightly depending on your pharmacy, the savings cannot be denied, even when paying out-of-pocket. For example, for those who suffer from diabetes, a vial of insulin that could cost $285 in the U.S. can be purchased in Mexico for just $25.50. Valsartan, a generic blood pressure medication, will cost you around $9 for 20 80mg tablets. In the U.S., where Valsartan is made, the same prescription would be about $100. Similarly, 20 100mg tablets of Celocoxib—a generic arthritis medication—would be about $100 in the U.S., but only costs $18 in Mexico.

And the savings don’t stop there. Further discounts can be found if you’re a regular customer. “My pharmacy chain offers a discount card that builds points and keeps track of all my purchases electronically,” explains IL Riviera Maya correspondent Don Murray. “So when the card is scanned, they ask if I want my accumulated discount applied to the purchase. This discount card recently saved me $35.”

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