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The top 10 medical tourism destinations in 2012 so far…

We’ve previously covered what countries not to travel to unless you have health insurance, but what if you intend on travelling somewhere to purposefully visit a hospital or medical facility? Whether you’re insured or not, it’s likely that the costs of medical treatment overseas could dramatically differ from those in your home country and so naturally, medical tourism is becoming quite the attraction these days.

While the thought of travelling overseas to end up on a hospital bed instead of a sun lounger doesn’t appeal to most people, it can’t be denied that medical tourism is a rapidly developing industry and more and more countries are cottoning on to this tourism boosting goldmine.


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Medical tourism is on the rise globally, particularly in less developed countries where you wouldn’t normally think to travel to for a medical procedure.
However, with brand new state-of-the-art facilities and superbly trained doctors, the only thing that may differ to your home country is the significant drop in treatment costs and, when you consider the ever-increasing costs of health care in the US and the majority of Europe, this is pretty huge attraction. What’s more, many of those countries with high standard, low cost care just happened to be situated in rather stunning locations giving you the perfect excuse to recover on a beach for the following week (or two) after your treatment.

So, want to sip piña colada’s (virgin, of course) on a beach after your boob job? Hang out with some elephants after your trip to the dentist? Then look no further, here are the top 10 spots that are making waves in the medical tourism industry sector today.

10) Hungary

With more dentists per capita than any other country, Hungary has been attracting medical tourists for a while now, especially those from the UK who can save up to 70% compared to what they would be asked to pay normally.

However, now that cosmetic surgery, lab exams, ophthalmology and gynaecology as well as general surgery are also becoming increasingly available, Hungary’s health care is drawing more and more visitors to its richly cultured lands.

And for good reason too. As Panama and Mexico are to the US, Hungary is becoming the go-to spot for Europeans seeking high quality, low cost healthcare. Costs are often cheaper than elsewhere on the continent and are considerably cheaper than those in the US. For example, a simple root canal will set you back around US$314 USA whereas in Hungary you may only have to pay as little as US$94 and where more expensive cosmetics are concerned, a facelift could only cost you US$3000 compared to US$9000 in America.

A country steeped in rich history, stunning architecture and breath taking landscapes, Hungary has much to offer visitors pre or post treatment. What’s more, with its hundreds of thermal springs dotted across the place, its practically begging for you to come and recuperate in one of its many 5 star spa resorts – surgery and spa package? Sure, why not?

9) Turkey

Mountains, forests, beaches and a coast line made up of three different seas – sounds tempting already – but there’s more. Turkey’s geographical location makes it particularly unique in that it has one foot in Europe’s doorstep and the other in the Middle East’s resulting in a fusion of culture, amazing food and an ancient history of which most of the physical remains can still be found scattered across the land.

Not only does it offer similar, if not higher levels of quality of treatment and facilities than many of its European counterparts, but the costs of medical procedures in Turkey are significantly lower too.

Famous for its speciality in elective procedures such as liposuction, orthodontics, rhinoplasty and breast augmentation, Turkey also attracts those seeking cardiovascular surgery, brain surgery and knee and hip replacements.

And with possible savings of up to 75%-90% compared to costs in the US and Europe, its no wonder that Turkey’s ministry of health reported a 70 percent increase of foreign visitors receiving treatment in Turkish hospitals since 2007. In 2010 alone, health tourism contributed a staggering US $ 850 million dollars to the Turkish Economy.

When we say significantly cheaper, that’s what we mean. A bone marrow transplant in Turkey, for example, will set you back around US$ 40,000-70,000 but that’s pocket change compared to the US$300,000 price tag you could get slammed with at a top hospital in the States. Common procedures are cheaper too and a simple hysterectomy may cost you around US$ 7000 – a third of the price for the same procedure in the USA.

Aside from cheap top quality medical care, packages including treatment with 5 star hotel accommodation are also becoming increasingly popular and are attracting foreigners from way across the pond, as well as continuing to appeal to its neighbouring European Union residents.

What’s more, Turkey’s medical infrastructure is of such sophistication that the number of JCI (Joint Commission International) accredited facilities now stands at the highest number that any country has received so far.

So, state of the art facilities with highly trained medical professionals at impressively low costs followed by some Ancient city ruins and stunning Mediterranean (or Aegean or black sea) beaches? Hop on a plane to Turkey for your next medical procedure today!

8 ) South Korea

Turkey not cutting it for you? Head on over to South Korea where technology reigns superior in comparison to other countries and where competitive pricing can definitely make it worth the trip.

Famous for its incredibly advanced treatments, especially where spinal procedures are concerned, South Korea can also boast about the number of facilities that are equipped with the revolutionary cancer busting Cyberknife machines.

It is state-of-the-art equipped facilities like the Cyberknife technology that has helped boost South Koreas increase in medical tourism, especially since 2009 where visitors have been increasing by tens of thousands each year.

Already popular for medical tourism with its Asian neighbours, South Korea’s health care has recently been attracting patients from the States and Europe too and by 2015, the country’s head of the ministry’s Bureau of Health Industry is hoping they will be receiving 300,000 medical tourists per year.

When you’re done with whatever treatment you may be receiving, why not check out some of South Korea’s beautiful national parks, majestic palaces, golden beaches or bustling cities – all splashed with the countries undeniable vibrant culture.

Its not often you can travel through a fully developed first world country on a shoe string budget but this is definitely the case with South Korea and so chances are you won’t have to save up for too long before you can undergo your treatment and go sight seeing. Furthermore, in hopes of courting further visitors, South Korea is pretty chilled when it comes to visa regulations so tourists from most countries are welcomed with no issues at all.

Spinal procedures, orthopaedic care, organ transplants, cancer treatment – South Korea has it all, enjoy!

7) Brazil

Ah Brazil. Bikinis, beaches and…boob jobs? Apparently so!

40 years ago, world-renowned plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy opened a plastic surgery clinic near Rio de Janeiro and started offering high quality service but at incredibly low costs. Today, Brazil now boasts the greatest number of practicing cosmetic surgeons per capita in the world and is the second largest market for plastic surgery, trailing just behind the US as it continues to offer low cost procedures to its many customers.

A common cosmetic procedure such as a tummy tuck or rhinoplasty may only burn US$1800 out of your wallet, which when compared to the minimum US$3000 in the States – definitely makes the trip worth it.

Other general treatments such as dental care, cardiology, diagnostic medicine and orthopaedics, as well as numerous JCI accredited hospitals, have also been added to the ever expanding list of Brazil’s health care and have definitely helped attract even more medical tourists to the country.

A country whose citizens are proud to be obsessed with their looks and where flaunting what you’ve got is done on a daily basis, you can rest assured you won’t get judged for any cosmetic surgery here! If you do want to hide away though, then Brazil’s numerous pristine beaches can help make your recovery period very enjoyable indeed.

6) Singapore

Looking for somewhere with a slightly lower crime rate than Brazil? Let’s check out Singapore.

This tiny Asian island has earned quite the reputation as a medical hub, and for good reason too. At least 15 private hospitals are JCI accredited and several have been partnered with well established medical facilities in the USA, such as the John Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre.

Singapore’s labour pool is still fairly cheap and their medical experts are exceptionally trained, with specialist doctors having to undergo an additional 6-8 years on top of their general medicine courses; so basically, you’re getting incredibly high quality care but at costs which are often 50% cheaper than those in the US.

Pretty much any treatment or procedure can be carried out in Singapore for a reasonable cost but the doctors there are most famous for specialising in organ transplants, stem cell transplants and other complex care in areas such as cardiology, neurology, gynaecology, oncology and paediatrics.

Complex procedures undoubtedly bring about the most expensive costs but in Singapore, a heart bypass for example, may only set you back US$12,200 – still pricey? Not when compared to the US$64,000 you may have to pay in the States. How about a spinal fusion? $US47,000 in the States and only US$9,000 in Singapore.

While procedures may cost you more than they would in Thailand or India, you won’t experience as much of a culture shock in this epically organised, clean and modern city. Better yet, English is an official language so any bookings and arrangements you need to make will be very easy to manage.

Furthermore, the medical infrastructure of Singapore is of such superiority that the country ranks number 1 in Asia and 6th worldwide for healthcare infrastructure, according to the WHO.

The boom in medical tourism here has also been aided by the Singapore government who are helping the tourism board to specifically target this medical market and have created numerous partnerships between hospitals and tour operators to give tourists the best deal their money can buy. So, book your medical package and check out Singapore’s health care and everything else it can offer – pre or post op.

5) Malaysia

Singapore not got enough activities for you to do after your treatment? Hop over to Malaysia.

Stunning beaches, fascinating jungles and impressive medical care at lower costs than its neighbouring Singapore, have all contributed to Malaysia’s dramatic increase in medical tourism in the past decade.

Specialist hospitals, clinics and dental surgeries have been popping up all over the country and now, with the help of the government, many hospitals are contributing to the medical tourism boom and have partnered with numerous tour operators.

Malaysia’s favourable exchange rate and stable economic condition have also helped medical tourism and the country prides itself on being able to offer its customers specialised health care for cardiology, dental treatments, cosmetics and even state-of-the-art equipped burn treatment centres. Also a major attraction, are the extensive, low cost packages which include detailed physical tests such as blood work, bone scans and x-rays that are now available for foreigners for as little as US$340 in Malaysia, compared to US$2,500 you may have to pay in the States or Europe.

Its reputation as a stellar medical hub may not be quite up there with Singapore’s yet, but if Malaysia keeps going the way it is, it could be the future Asian medical tourism hot spot.

4) Panama

Panama may not be as cost efficient as some South-east Asian countries but to those in the area, particularly Americans, Panama is hugely appealing.

Fabulous architecture and beautiful beaches as well as a pretty ‘Americanised’ culture all help to lower the culture shock aspect and make Panama a perfect recuperation spot after your treatment. Costs on average, can be 40 to 70 % lower than those in the States and with the US dollar being the official currency, it’s no wonder many Americans head over that way to benefit from Panama’s health care.

The majority of doctors are trained in the US or the UK and are well known for carrying out dental treatments, cosmetic procedures, orthopaedic surgeries and gynaecological care.

Need in-vitro fertilization but can’t afford it at home? Treatment in Panama may only cost you between US$4,000 – US$6,000 as opposed to the US$9,000 – $18,000 it can cost in the States.

So, with only a short distance to travel for North and South Americans, reasonably priced accommodation and brilliant blue skies, why not get a little bit more out of your next trip to the dentist?

3) Costa Rica

Nestled just above its Central American neighbour, Costa Rica’s health care is also drawing in the medical tourists, particularly where cosmetic and dental procedures are concerned.
An ecological paradise with beaches, jungles and mountains – Costa Rica is teeming with wildlife and is a great spot for both explorers and beach bums. It makes sense then, that people would choose to visit this stunning country to combine their medical procedure with a one of a kind holiday.

Costa Rica has been on the receiving end of foreign investments recently and as a result, its facilities are rapidly improving and doctors are able to receive high standard levels of training in both the US and Europe, so knowing some Spanish lingo isn’t always necessary.

On average, costs of treatments (even complicated procedures) are around 60% cheaper than what they would be in the States and you can find some particularly decent bargains in the dental care department where a standard veneer or crown may only cost you US$300 whereas you’d normally have to pay at least US$1,350 in the America.

Medical tourism has had a hugely positive impact on Costa Rica so far and tour operators and hotels are getting in on the action too. Some hotels even have specialised recovery rooms with round the clock care so you can continue to recuperate in comfort, whilst still paying low costs for accommodation.

2) India

India and Thailand are in close competition when it comes to selecting the most affordable medical tourism destination but, let’s be honest, India is a huge culture shock whether you’re a seasoned traveller or not, so it’s not usually the first place people would choose as a holiday destination.

However, amongst the hustle and bustle of India’s mildly intense cities, there have been many, many hospitals popping up across the country offering modern facilities, highly trained staff and incredibly low prices.

The main driving force behind India’s medical tourism, the Apollo Hospital group is one of the largest healthcare groups in Asia and is not only affiliated with 50 of India’s best hospitals, but can also help to arrange your treatment, flight, accommodation and remaining stay in India post-treatment.

Pretty much anything goes in India and typically, whether it’s a simple or complicated procedure, costs are going to be at least 70-90% cheaper than the US; meaning the total of your treatment and holiday combined could still cost less than the total cost of just the procedure back home.

Now, get ready for some pretty impressive prices. A heart valve replacement is pretty heavy stuff and will normally cost you more than a few pennies no matter where you are in the world but in India, you’re likely to only have to pay US$9,000 which is honestly nothing in contrast to the large sum of US$36,000 bucks in the States.

However, another reason India’s health care system hasn’t made it to the top of the list is the fact that more restrictions are placed on foreigners (particularly Americans) than other countries, making it more of a hassle for them to visit and receive treatment. Despite this, the country is still witnessing huge growth in the medical tourism sector and if this trend continues, facilities will improve even further and continue to attract more visitors.

So, while the country may still have a lot to work on in terms of its developing status, high numbers of poverty stricken citizens and over-populated, polluted cities, it is excelling in the medical field and if tourists can get over the culture shock, India should continue to witness large revenues in the medical tourism department which could hopefully help to aid the country with its other issues.

1) Thailand

And finally – Thailand. Numerous state-of-the-art facilities, superbly trained staff, an incredibly hospitable culture, beaches, jungles, luxury accommodation – basically a Mecca for medical tourism, it literally has it all and for reasonable costs too.

With so much on offer, Thailand is no stranger to tourism and has been attracting regular ol’ tourists for years but when people started noticing how affordable their high standard health care was, it started making waves in the medical tourism sector too.

Initially, the country established itself as a leader in crazy cheap cosmetic procedures and attracted many of its Asian neighbours. Today, pretty much any medical procedure is possible at a 10th of the price in the States and Europe so Thailand has gotten pretty darn good at courting foreign patients from other continents too.

Thailand can boast some pretty impressive statistics and went from barely having a medical tourism industry to receiving 450,000 medical tourists in one year. This trend has definitely been continuing over the past several years and it is now estimated the country will witness to generate up to US$35 billion dollars in 2012.

Hospitals are so well equipped for medical tourism that some even have entire wings dedicated to international patient care. The infamous Bumrungrad hospital has probably wooed the greatest number of foreigners and it’s no wonder when some of its hospital rooms look more like hotel suites and you can even put your family up in one of their 56 serviced apartments so they can go do some touristy things while you recover.

Typically, you’re going to save considerable amounts on procedures in Thailand and so even if you make a holiday out of your trip, total costs will probably still be less than a single procedure in your home country.

Simple procedures such as getting your tonsils out will cost you about US$2,500 in Thailand and US$5,500 in the States. Something more complicated however, such as a heart bypass is a little pricier at an average of US$10,000 but still, better than the US$64,000 price tag of the same surgery back home in America.

So basically, if you’ve been meaning to take that vacation for ages and it just so happens that you’re in need of a pretty pricey dental procedure or maybe you need a new hip, hop on board the medical tourism train. All of the above countries each offer an array of incredible tourist attractions (and remember, there are loads more destinations out there) so the added bonus of cheap health care is a pretty darn good excuse to make that trip.

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