In the Expat Web group on LinkedIn, a member asked recently, “As an Expat, which countries do you think have the best and worst healthcare systems?”
Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, Canada, Malta and France all received positive comments. One poster said Japan’s was “the worst I ever experienced.” The US was mentioned favorably, but “only if you have good insurance. Prices are about 5 to 10 times the costs of France or Belgium.” This kind of anecdotal information is interesting, but not all that useful.
Of course to most expats and would-be expats, especially those of us who are approaching retirement age, health care is an important consideration in where we choose to live. What is its quality? Is it at least as good as what I’m used to? How expensive is it? How accessible is it? Will I have to be in a major city to have quality care available?
So what’s a concerned health care consumer to do?
There’s an interesting bubble chart on the Columbia University website, showing the average life expectancy and health care spending by country.
The US is way off by itself as the biggest spender. But our life expectancy (77 years) lags behind Japan (85), Switzerland, Australia, France, Canada, Norway, Spain, New Zealand, Austria, Korea, Portugal, UK, Luxembourg and Denmark, all of whom spend considerably less (around half!) than we do per capita.
The WHO (World Health Organization) has published a listing of medical care by country. Compiled in the year 2000, it’s a bit outdated, but might provide a good starting point. You can see it here.
A Few Considerations
First, I think it’s safe to assume that the care you’ll receive in rural areas will not be as up-to-date or comprehensive as the care you can receive in major cities. That’s true in the US just as much as anywhere else.
If living in a bustling metro area is not your taste, how fast and easy is transportation to those areas you’re considering? Use your common sense – if your dream retirement is on a remote beach or mountain-top retreat that’s an 8-hour drive over mostly dirt roads to get to the nearest city, that will be an issue in accessing quality health care. If it’s an hour or two over good roads, you’ll have significantly better access.
Are there hot spots of medical tourism in the country you’re considering? If so, you can be pretty well assured those doctors will speak English, have up-to-date training and use modern equipment. According to Business Week:
“The low cost and high quality of medical service is a big selling point for Singapore and Thailand, which have heavily promoted medical tourism in recent years. Hospital costs are as much as one-half what they would cost in the U.S.” Read the entire article here
Other popular medical tourism destinations include Panama, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, South Korea, India and Israel. There are plenty of websites which discuss medical tourism, as any Google search will show.
Once you’ve narrowed down some possible destinations with health care facilities that will meet your needs, conduct your own research. When you visit the area, ask a lot of questions, find out what other expats do for health care, visit the hospitals and clinics if you can.
Ultimately, as with any other aspect of your move, you need to just do it.