Better Health Care Abroad — For Less

Doctor in PakistanWhat do Brazil, India, Costa Rica, Thailand, Panama, Singapore and Hungary have in common?

They’re all medical hotspots for Americans seeking procedures they can’t afford in the US, according to travel website Boots ‘n All.

International Living adds Mexico, South Korea and Turkey to the list.

If you’re considering living in a country known for medical tourism, you can be pretty confident that the quality of care is top notch.

But what about health care as a resident?

That’s a question more expats and future expats — especially from the US — will be asking.

US Healthcare is a Mess

The United States has a high level of medical technology. We also spend more on health care than any other developed country. The Council on Foreign Relations states that we spend 17% of our GDP on healthcare, and estimates that number will increase to 25% by the year 2025.

These high levels of spending don’t translate into improvements in life expectancy or infant mortality, however. For life expectancy the US (78.3 years) lags behind Japan (82.6) , Hong Kong, Iceland, Switzerland, Australia and 31 other countries, including Cuba.

Infant mortality is no better. Singapore sees only 2.31 infant deaths/1,000 live births, followed by Bermuda, Sweden, Japan and Hong Kong. The US shows up at #46 on the CIA Fact Book list, with 6.26/1,000, just behind Guam (6.05) and Cuba (5.82).

We’re facing epidemics of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Now the GOP wants to eliminate Medicare and exchange it for vouchers that seniors would need to use with private health insurance. Preliminary estimates indicate this switch would cost seniors $7 for every $1 spent by the new system.

If seniors were barely surviving financially with Medicare, you can be sure they won’t manage without it.

Looking Abroad for Health Care

As the cost of healthcare increases in the US, and as more uncertainty surrounds it, more and more baby boomers and seniors will look at living overseas. And they’ll be looking at countries and cities where they can find good quality care at affordable prices.

Many countries — and most European countries — have taxpayer supported insurance that covers nearly everything. However, if you’re not a legal resident worker paying into their social security system, that’s not an option as an expat.

Mexico’s government-backed healthcare is available to legal residents, including retirees at a very reasonable cost.

Panama’s system relies on private insurance.

Costa Rica has universal health care for legal residents, as well as private insurance plans available.

Ecuador has a hybrid public/private system.

In some countries, you can’t buy into private insurance once you’re past age 60 or 65.

At this time, if health care is driving your overseas retirement plans, you’ll need to do your homework. It’s complicated, and every country is different.

Here are some materials to start you on your quest:

Understanding Expatriate / Travel Insurance: A Primer. This is a very basic article on understanding different insurance terms and options.

How to Arrange Health Insurance Overseas for $100 a Month or Less . . . Even Free new, expanded Third Edition

Lots of information has been published about going abroad for healthcare as a tourist. I’m finding less about choosing healthcare as an overseas resident, but as I find more, I’ll post it for you.

Have you found good resources for finding out about healthcare and insurance in a different country? Please share them with us.


  1. This is really some great information! Since we are moving to Costa Rica in the next couple of years, I appreciate the links to the resources to make sure we make the most of our coverage.

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