Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 8, 2009

Medical Tourism: A Holiday For Your Health

A travel writer I know used to have rotten teeth. He said it would cost several thousand dollars to have them fixed, because he had no health insurance. But he got them fixed eventually – for a fraction of that amount.

How did he do it? He went on vacation – to Costa Rica. (Read more about this subject here.)

“Dental work – the quality of dentists – is really good in Costa Rica,” he explained, flashing a perfect, white smile. “And really inexpensive.”

So cheap, in fact, he said the cost of airline tickets from Tampa for himself – and his wife – plus ten days in a nice hotel and all the dental work cost less than half of what just the dental work would have cost in the U.S.

“I called it a ‘dental health’ vacation,” he laughed.

I could relate. Recently, I stopped in The Philippines for a few days at the Peninsula Hotel in Manila. Manila being the shopping mecca that it is, I went into one of the malls and found myself soon browsing through an optical store.

One of the attractive female clerks commented that she could turn the RayBan sunglasses I was carrying into reading sunglasses in an hour or two (even though it was Saturday!). And she quoted a really low price.

“But you don’t even know my prescription,” I protested.

“Come around here,” she said, motioning me behind a partition. Back there was a optical evaluation clinic. She gave me a full – and free – eye exam. “I think we can give you a little better vision,” she said confidently.

And she did. In fact, I was so happy with the improvement, I had them make regular  glasses for me too, with really high quality Bulgari titanium frames.

When the bill came to less than $220 – for everything, I was stunned. Back home in California, a full eye exam – which I was overdue for – would have cost me $450. Equal quality glasses would have cost me more than $1,200 (the list price of the Bulgari frames was over $1,100!). And I would have had to wait a week or ten days for them.

I realized that I, too, had just taken a “health vacation”. Round trip airfare to Manila from LAX, a couple of nights in the swank Peninsula, and my glasses cost well under the $1,200 that I would have spent at home.

It’s not news that Americans pay through the nose for crappy health care, especially compared to much of the rest of the world. Politicians are currently saying they plan to fix this – although (based on past performance) I fear they may only make things worse.

Plenty of Americans already head for Mexico or Canada to get discount medical, dental and pharmaceutical care. Crossing the border isn’t as easy as it used to be, of course, pre-9/11. And Mexico’s drug wars are now deterring many casual border-crossers. There’s actually an entire website devoted to “medical tourism” opportunities around the world.

But let’s consider this idea of taking a holiday for your health. Find an exotic location, with good, low-cost medical care. This idea has some real potential.

One more example: Years ago, I remember canceling a trip to Monaco once, with a pregnant wife, who worried she might go into premature labor. She had the baby in the States, and of course it cost us several thousand dollars, even though the doctor botched the delivery. Later, we found out, even as tourists, if she’d needed to have the baby in Monaco, not only would we have been welcomed at the principality’s fine hospitals, and attended by highly regarded doctors, it would have cost us nothing. Dang.

Next time!

Jerry Garrett

November 5, 2009


  1. I’m a big fan of medical tourism after having IVF treatment in Bangkok, Thailand. Not only did it cost far less than at home, but also the quality of treatment by the medical staff was much better than I have experienced in a long time in the US. I was actually treated like a person and not a walking check!

    We used a medical tourism company called Medbirds to arrange everything for us. They put us in touch with a fantastic fertility specialist who really made sure we were comfortable with the treatment. Also, it we’re expecting!

    I honestly think that the more people who consider medical tourism, the better. After all, something has to be done to insure people can get the best quality of care within a budget they can afford.

  2. I need a knee replacement and I think Medical Tourism is a great option. I came across local facilitator from and am trying to arrange for my trip to India.


  3. […] few days in Manila (see my columns on Manila’s “Revolutionary” Peninsula Hotel or Medical Tourism on this site), before heading out for a 10-plus hour flight on Hawaiian Airlines to my next stop in […]

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