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High Quality, Affordable Health Care in Costa Rica

In recent years, a trend known as medical-tourism has been picking up steam in the United States. Many Americans have realized that they can go overseas to get high-quality, affordable health care in foreign nations with highly-developed health care industries. Costa Rica has become one of the prime medical-tourism destinations for Americans. In fact, in 2012, 100,000 people, most of them Americans, traveled to Costa Rica specifically for medical care reasons.

High Quality

According to the World Health Organization, the health care system in the United States ranks 38th in overall quality of health care while ranking 1st in the world in terms of health care expenditures relative to GDP. Costa Rica, on the other hand, ranks 37th in overall quality of health care, while ranking 50th in health care expenditures relative to GDP. Although it may sound too good to be true, Costa Rica has a higher-quality medical system, while also offering health care that is cheaper than in the United States.

It’s not just professional institutions which rank the Costa Rican health care system higher than the US’s. Numbeo.com is a highly respected website which takes in user-submitted data, and uses it to compare various quality of life aspects in different cities.  When comparing the health care quality of Chicago vs. San José (the capital of Costa Rica), San José ranked higher than Chicago in everyone one of the 8 metrics, except “Friendliness and Courtesy of Staff”, in which San José trailed by only a few points.  The two areas that San José ranked best in, and significantly higher than Chicago, were “Equipment for Modern Diagnosis and Treatment” and “Skill and Competency of Medical Staff”.

San José alone is home to 15 different hospitals. Probably its most renowned is the Hospital CIMA, which was founded over 10 years ago to cater specifically to older patients, and since then has become one of the leading medical facilities in the region.  Many doctors in CIMA, and Costa Rica in general, have been trained in North America or Europe, and the majority of them speak English.

Affordable, Overseas Health Care

Despite the fact that Costa Rica’s health care system is of an extremely high quality, Costa Rican health care is still vastly cheaper than in the US. Health care costs in Costa Rica are typically one-third to one-fifth of what they are in the US. Doctor’s typically charge $60 per visit, including house calls.

Below is a list of some common health care procedures, with their US and Costa Rican costs:

Procedure                                             Cost in United States                 Cost in Costa Rica

Heart Bypass                                         $130,000                                             $24,000

Heart Valve Replacement               $160,000                                             $15,000

Hip Replacement                                $43,000                                               $12,000

Knee Replacement                             $40,000                                               $11,000

Hysterectomy                                       $20,000                                               $4,000

Angioplasty                                            $57,000                                               $9,000

Bridges/Crowns (dentistry)          $1000/tooth                                       $250-400/tooth

There are many health insurance options for foreigners in Costa Rica. If you choose to stick with your own private health insurance, or are eligible for Medicaid and wish to use this as your primary form of insurance, you will be able to do this for most procedures at most hospitals in Costa Rica. Consult your health care provider for more specific details. If you are considering retiring in Costa Rica, you can enroll in the Costa Rican government’s public health care plan, an extremely affordable option, and one that is very comparable to American health care plans in terms of quality. This will typically cost a couple together only $60/month. There is also the private Costa Rican health provider option, which is slightly more expensive than the public option at $60-120/per person/per month. This option is similar in quality to the public one, but spares you much of the red tape associated with a public health care provider. Finally, if you’re planning on just visiting, or think you’ll just pay out-of-pocket for all medical procedures, there is always the option of no insurance.  Although this idea may frighten some Americans, because medical expenses are so cheap in Costa Rica, having no insurance is a very viable option.

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