Medical Tourism, also referred to as ‘medical travel’ or ‘health tourism’ is the practice of traveling internationally to obtain healthcare. Healthcare coverage in costs in certain countries (such as the United States) can often be very costly, and many people often opt to travel to other countries to obtain cheaper healthcare than using the healthcare in their own country.
Disclaimer: Let’s be honest, no healthcare system in the world is perfect, and of course there are flaws in every system. This article is simply an analysis of the good parts of the healthcare systems in various countries and where it is possible to obtain inexpensive healthcare coverage around the world.
Korean Healthcare System
I will focus on the Korean healthcare system more heavily than other countries that people travel to because I used it for two years as a public employee in South Korea. Before moving to South Korea, I was covered by various private healthcare companies in the United States. Below is a summary of both my knowledge and that of Ask A Korean.
Coverage: Available to everyone for everything. Not insured? No problem. Obtain a medical visa or travelers insurance before arrival. Of course, certain medical conditions might need private insurance.
Cost: CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP! Under my insurance plan (50% coverage), I paid around $4 USD to talk a doctor (including walk-ins). In America, I have to check to first find out if a company would accept my insurance plan, and then I sometimes pay a co-pay of around $30 USD just to talk to a doctor (Difference: -$26 USD/visit). I once needed an x-ray in Korea because I had some really bad cramping in my stomach. How much did I pay? $10 USD!
“The benefits of this system are obvious. First, everyone gets affordable healthcare. This is huge, and cannot be stated with enough emphasis — in Korea, everyone can visit just about any doctor for anything for less than $5 [fixed because of overstatement] relatively small amount of money. Koreans very frequently visit the doctor’s office for any common cold. Often, this leads to early detection/treatment of a more serious illness.
Also, Korean patients almost never have to deal with any bureaucracy, since main exchange of paperwork happens between the doctor and the NHIC. As long as the patients can pay the deductibles, they can visit any doctor in Korea. Given that nearly every corner in the country can be traveled under three hours on a high-speed train, it is very easy to visit the best doctor in the country (who would likely be in Seoul) if anyone wants to.
On top of that, the whole system is really cheap. No one likes taxes, and Koreans grumble on the national health insurance fee as much as anyone. But Koreans on the whole spend about 6.3 percent of its GDP on healthcare, which is lower than Europe/Canada (which is around 10 percent) and a lot lower than America (which spends appalling 15 percent.) The low cost is partly achieved by having a single-payer system, which significantly lowers the administrative cost.”
- Ask A Korean
Need More Proof? Check out this article by Expat Jane on her experience with the South Korean healthcare system.
How do I get to Korea? Well there is the obvious way of getting to Korea by just traveling there and getting the aforementioned medical visa. You could also work there as a teacher or in other various kinds of professions and get 50% coverage for medical expenses.
Of course Korea is not the only destination in the world where healthcare is inexpensive. Let’s look back at the CNN article to find out other inexpensive healthcare options.
- Brazil – inexpensive cosmetic surgery
- Singapore – cancer treatment / stem cell research / general healthcare
- Mexico – dental
- Panama – dental / plastic surgery
- Costa Rica – dental / plastic surgery
- South Africa – cosmetic surgery / dental
- Malaysia – cardiac surgery / cosmetic surgery
- South Korea – cosmetic surgery / comprehensive health screenings
- Hungary – dental / cosmetic surgery
- India - orthopedic procedures/ cardiac procedures / general healthcare
For more information on Medical Tourism, check out the Medical Tourism Wikipedia Page (with citations).