Medical Tourism

When I lived in Washington state many years ago, there was a booming business of companies that took people by the busload to Canada to get their prescriptions filled. At the time I couldn’t imagine how the price difference could be so vastly different that it would cover the costs associated with such a trip.

Then I began traveling long term.

medical tourism

I take some medications chronically, so I’ve had to refill them as we’ve traveled. For the most part, it’s been extremely simple. I only had issues in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand with getting my medications without a prescription.

The costs of these medicines have been amazing. In the US, a 30-day supply of my antihypertensive (for high blood pressure) cost $170 before insurance. My insurance copay was $50. In most of the countries we’ve visited, this same pill has cost as low as $10 for a 2-month supply.

When looking at getting medications, a fellow traveler figured out she could fly to Mexico and back and get a year’s supply of her medications more cheaply than buying them in the US.

One of the times we were in Thailand, my body decided to get rid of a rather large fragment left over from blasting my kidney stone with a laser. I was able to walk into a pharmacy and walk out with the antibiotic I knew I needed, a medication to help increase urine flow, and a narcotic to reduce the pain. All without a prescription.

In addition to medications that can be quite expensive in the US, there are some treatments, such as medicinal CBD oil, that have shown amazing promise but are often not approved for legal use in a country or in most regions.

I’ve shared before how I spent the night in an emergency room in Australia, received medication, had blood draws, had a couple of minor procedures, was cared for primarily by the doctor, and also was treated by a specialist all for $220 USD.

Thailand has so many visitors to the country specially for medical tourism that they have a website and division dedicated to it.

Then there are the stories like the man who discovered his hip replacement surgery would cost about $78,000 in the US, but he could travel to Belgium, have the procedure, rehab, cover the flights, etc., for $13,000. That’s a huge difference.

What about quality of care? Well, you might be surprised to discover that many countries are rated much higher than the US for medical care. The son of one of our friends needed surgery in Hong Kong, and she found the conditions and quality to be even better than those in the UK.

I’ve heard from many people who have had procedures done overseas, and they all share similar positive stories.

So, if you needed another excuse to travel. . .

What has your experience been with health care in foreign countries?

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  1. seeking surgery for transitioning i have looked at overseas surgeons quite a bit. grs in Argentina has a good reputation and i have looked from Mexico to Cuba etc for breast implants. i actually have found cheaper prices in the US for breast implants and grs cost about the same. Thailand seems to be an exception. i am looking toward Cuba hopefully as it is opening up finally. for awhile most latin american medical professionals seemed to train in Cuba. as for the US companies trying to make a buck with medical tourism, my opinion is low. there seem to be charlatans at every turn.

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    • I have read that Thailand has both lower prices and higher quality for reassignment surgery.

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  2. We traveled to Colombia last spring for dental work. We had a very good experience, modern equipment, cheap prices. Root canals for both of us with associated work came out cheaper than the US by a LOT, even adding in the roundtrip airfare to get there and back. We even threw in some tooth whitening! 😉

    We’ve been sick enough on the road a couple of times to seek medical help (not many, fortunately). Donny’s experience was in Bangkok, where the hospital was the nicest one we’d been in anywhere. He was issued a photo ID as a walk-in patient, and the exam, diagnosis and prescriptions were quick and easy. My case was in Cambodia. Conditions in the small town we happened to be in were very basic, and I ended up taking an IV bag back to the hotel, but my whole assessment, treatment and shots only came out to about $25 USD.

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    • Wow about that price! I’ve only had a couple of personal experiences while on the road and have been pretty pleased.

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  3. This is actually a very good topic, and you can’t find much information out there (unless you search on forums).
    Well, being tonight Christmas Eve, and being stuck in bed with the flu in Chiang Mai, this is definitely the perfect moment to write about my experiences with doctors/hospitals abroad.

    Heck, I should open a whole section on my blog actually, as (with the exception of Myanmar), I visited every single hospital in every country. It is pretty obvious that I am the luckiest girl alive when I travel!

    But back to the subject, I usually need to buy some medications that require prescription from time to time during my travels, and compared to your experience, for me it’s been quite the opposite: A nightmare.

    I suffer from panic attacks since age 16, and when I travel by myself I want to make sure that I always have my benzodiazepines with me. Unfortunately in most Asian countries they are restricted or even illegal. If I ran out, I need to go to the emergency room, show my Italian prescription with an additional note from my doctor (in English) stating that I NEED to take them for my condition and I can’t stop them abruptly, (without this special paper I’d risk jail for life in Thailand).

    That said, it even gets worst. I need to find the right doctor for the prescription. It has to be a doctor with a special license. So I always go a few days before I’m running out, to know when/if the doctor will be there.

    Still not over yet. In Thailand they only give you a 10 day supply. No matter how many times you explain that it’s a chronic problem. In theory you should go there every 10 days.

    Alternatively, I could go to a private doctor, pay a lot of money to get the prescription and still get a 10, max 15 day supply at the pharmacy (In Indonesia for example).

    It’s a real struggle to travel with anxiety and panic attacks, people don’t get it. When I ask for my benzos, people look at me like i’m a junkie. Some people in Asia don’t really know what a panic attack is. Well, i’m very happy for them, but I need that medicine.

    There are actually some “easy” ways to get them in some countries, but I’m thinking about writing a whole article about the subject, as it’s a very delicate one and I don’t want to give sensitive information to people who are not really suffering from anxiety and just take the pills to “have some fun”.

    Well, this is part of my experience (I will write a big article about it), and I’m glad that I found this. As I said, there are not many bloggers out there talking about medical conditions and how to deal with them on the road, so the information is even more valuable.

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    • Sometimes there just doesn’t seem any rhyme or reason to things. Good grief you sure have yourself a big challenge there!

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