Which Countries Have the Best Health Care?

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?

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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 Compiled in the year 2000, it’s a bit outdated, but might provide a good starting point.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.

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Comments

  1. I enjoyed this post. While I dont have any scientific data to share, I have had my fair share of medical treatment overseas. I had my first child in Belgium, where he also had a minor sugery. I also had an emergency surgery in Istanbul, Turkey.

    I was exceptionally pleased with the level of care I received in every instance. In fact, I stayed in the hospital for 5 days after the birth of my son in Belgium. This was regular procedure and I had to ask to go home then. My mom was so surprised by the level of care that I received after giving birth. Much more than what is done in the states.

    The cost of care was much cheaper in Belgium as well. Trips to the doctor and the pharmacy proved so inexpensive that it didnt even seem possible. I did have help with filling out the necessary paper work to get an ID card and access to the health care system, but the process was not terribly long and didnt require anything out of the ordinary. I lived in a small town about 45 minutes outside of Brussels. The hospital was not shiny and sparkly but it was well maintained and well staffed.

    My experience in Turkey was just as pleasant. I was a bit more apprehensive at the beginning of my experience here because it was brought on by an emergency and I hadn’t been in the country long. However, I had an amazing doctor and the facilities seemed on par with what you would see in any large city in the states. The trips to the pharmacy did cost more in Turkey than Belgium. The overall cost of everything, I believe, is more in Turkey because of a different structure.

  2. I have to agree with Brandi that the health & dental care we have had overseas is MUCH better & MUCH cheaper than the USA.

    We’ve been on an open ended world tour as a family since 2006 & live large and travel on just 25K a year total for our family of 3. One of our great savings is health care as it’s simply outrageous in the US.

  3. Private health care here in Uruguay is super cheap compared to the U.S. and it’s comparable (as in terms of the level of care)…

    In the U.S. our insurance for a family of 3 was around U$S 1,300 a month… Here for our new family of 4, it’s less than U$S 300 per month…

    • Brian, thanks for your input. Uruguay is a country that holds a lot of interest for me personally. Only downside is, it’s colder than I would like. What sorts of temperature ranges have you experienced since you’ve been there?

  4. Summer is getting ready to wind down here… But it has been in the mid to upper 30s (95F+)… Winter it’ll get down in the 5-10 degree range (40-50F)…

    We are pretty much at the exact same latitude as Los Angeles, but in Southern Hemisphere. The huge difference is the humidity. In So-Cal there isn’t any humidity to speak of.

    The sub-tropic humidity here is killer though… You really feel the humidity here… That I’m not a fan of.

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