Golden Surgeries – Medical Tourism in Costa Rica Part 1

  • by crv.staff
  • 16.04.09
  • 1:38 PM UTC

Costa Rica has become one of the most desired world-wide destinations by those foreigners who wish to have quality surgeries at lower prices than in their countries of origin, especially from the United States and Canada. Medical tourism is gaining strength and benefits hundreds of Costa Rican families.

The following article, written by Sergio Maple, was originally published in Spanish in La Nacion, a widely read newspaper published in Costa Rica. First in a 4 part series.

Photo by Eddy Rojas for La Nacion

Photo by Eddy Rojas for La Nacion

In 1996, Linda Burnham, U.S. citizen was diagnosed with breast cancer; today she is 61 years old. She lost part of her left breast and her self-esteem.

After six vacation trips to Costa Rica and two more years of planning, this woman, native of Colorado, declared herself “renewed and happy” in her seventh visit to the country.

Burnham, a retired teacher, will return home today with a new breast, a rejuvenated face, thinner arms and less fat tissue in her waist… and everything for less than $10,000 (¢5.7 million colones), 50% or 60% less than what she would have paid in her country , for the breast implant, Botox, arm-lift (brachioplasty) and liposuction treatments she had last week.

Linda Burnham is one of thousands and thousands of people who leave their homes every year in search of a medical destiny; that is to say, to a nation where medical treatments and surgeries are less costly than in their country of residence.

The good news for Costa Rica is that this small country is one of the favorite destinations, especially for 50-something U.S. citizens (better known as baby boomers; those born between the 50s and 60s), although there are also Canadian, European, and South and Central Americans that make up this ever growing segment.

A study by Deloitte in 2008 – one of the largest accounting houses and audit companies in the world – reveals that nearly 750,000 U.S. citizens traveled in 2007 to some of the most important medical destinations, among them Thailand, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Argentina and Costa Rica.

According to the Joint Commission International (JCI, international branch of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization, that certifies the quality of the hospitals), that population spent more than $2.2 billion dollars in different medical treatments and procedures. Altogether, the mentioned population saved a little more than $14 billion dollars by undergoing surgery and treatments in these countries instead of doing it in United States, added the JCI.

From the total of U.S. citizens who left their country to some “medical destination”, near 22,000 arrived in Costa Rica during 2008 in search of bariatric, orthopedic, ocular and cardiovascular procedures (in that order), according to estimates revealed by the Consejo para la Promocion Internacional de la Medicina de Costa Rica (Promed), (Council for the Promotion of Medicine in Costa Rica.) Another 2,000 medical tourists arrived in Costa Rica from Europe, Central and South America.Integrated by health services representatives, tourist services suppliers, the academic sector, the governmental sector and goods and services suppliers, Promed was formed last year with the purpose of positioning the country in the international market as a “quality, cost effective and hospitality oriented medical destination”, explained Luis Diego Osborne, vice-president.

This initiative became even more relevant for Costa Rica last March 12th when President and Nobel Laureate Dr. Oscar Arias signed an executive decree declaring the medical tourism industry in the National Interest.

The objective is not only to attract more medical tourism that, on average, spend twice or three times as much as a traditional tourist does; that is to say, $400 (¢228,000) to $600 (¢342,000) more, against $200 (¢114,000) per day according to the Costa Rica Tourism Board and Promed.


With the execution of the decree, is important to prop up the ample supply of medical services beyond the traditional services already considered mainstream (cosmetic and dental) and that, in times of crisis, are extremely attractive for those individuals that care not only on the quality of the service but also its costs.

Brenda Johnson (from Florida) and Dorothy Gallatin (from Pennsylvania) proudly show off the results of their dental treatments. Photo by Albert Marin

Brenda Johnson (from Florida) and Dorothy Gallatin (from Pennsylvania) proudly show off the results of their dental treatments. Photo by Albert Marin

While a bariatric surgery (by means of laparoscopic be it bypass , tapes or the sleeve procedure) costs in the United States more than $30,000 (¢17 million), the same operation in Costa Rica under a qualified professional and most likely a more customized attention to the patient costs less than $10,000 (¢5.7 million).

Not only that: this price already includes the hospitalization, and medical and anesthesiology fees, among other costs.

George Freidkin, a 62 year old U.S. citizen, did the math, and the result seemed attractive.

Of robust body and good natured character, Freidkin spent three weeks in the country. He went through a hip surgery that amounted to a medical bill south of $20,000 dollars (¢11.4 million), while that same procedure would have cost him approximately $60,000 in a public hospital in the U.S. of comparable level.

At the time of the interview with La Nacion, two weeks had passed since his surgery and Freidkin was in a recovery house called Las Cumbres in Escazú, walking slowly with the assistance of a cane.

“My operation lasted six hours, and before and after, I have felt like a person, not like a bank account number. That is the value that I, as a foreigner with a particular medical requirement, found in this country. The quality, the costs and the hospitality are magnets for us”, commented while a smooth breeze refreshed the balcony of with the in Bello Horizonte Mountains as a back drop. At this particular facility, expenses are usually less than $100 (¢57,000) per day and includes on call certified nurses and support personnel.

Like this place, with 14 rooms equipped for medical tourists, there are other recovery centers in Costa Rica. Several recovery centers such as this are springing up in Costa Rica.

Another recovery center called Che Tica Ranch located at the foothills of Braulio Carrillo National Nark, less than 20 minutes from the center of San José is compose of a 30 hectares property, with cabins designed for patients who have received typical (cosmetic treatment) and atypical treatments. It offers a series of complementary services, among them, a 24 hour infirmary, transportation to tourist attractions and meals. Patients pay less than $100 per day, indicated Rubén Darío, the proprietor who has been dedicated to medical tourism since 1996.

Las Cumbres as well as Che Tica Ranch are amongst a long list of sectors that benefit, in greater or lesser degree, from the income of medical tourism, explained Tourism Minister, Carlos Ricardo Benavides, and Luigi Quesada, Horizons tourism agency director.

Beside the hospitals and specialist doctors and the community, in this virtuous circle, there are others who benefit from this special tourism segment such as tourists operators, hotel or restaurant owners, artesans and car rental services, etc.

Some doctors, such as plastic surgeons Drs. Arnoldo Fournier, Ernesto Martén, Ronald Pino and Gabriel Alberto Peralta, have Internet sites so foreign clients can contact them.

Luigi Quesada, from Horizons, commented that in case of his agency, he works hand in hand with certified service suppliers that practice in this growing segment with tourist sustainability, social and environmental responsibility.

He added that the medical tourist gives him an opportunity to provide added value services to them, assuring quality service to visitors and their relatives who take advantage of days before surgery to get to know some the natural beauty of Costa Rica.

Many of these tourists usually spend up to $1,500 (¢855,000) for a customized tour, which includes transportation, meals, guides, lodging, hikes, thermal waters, canopy tours and any other activity usually sought by tourists.

Other companies that benefit from this new niche industry are car rentals. Other than just their services, they offer foreigners who are having surgeries special rates for four wheel drive cars, wheelchairs, walkers and canes.

Home Watch also has benefited from this boom. This U.S. citizen multinational company, offers medical assistance to patients with other aliments as well as those who have undergone surgery. Three years ago, this company settled in Costa Rica and, since then, has taken care of hundreds of U.S. citizens – the majority from Texas, California and Florida. When first settled in Costa Rica, Home Watch had 10 workers on its payroll; amongst nurses, therapists, doctors and aids now has 140.

We’ll post part 2 of this story tomorrow, so be sure to stop by. Also, if you have a story about visiting Costa Rica, please feel free to share it with us in the comments section below.

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5 Responses to “Golden Surgeries – Medical Tourism in Costa Rica Part 1”

  1. [...] Part 2 of a detailed report on medical tourism in Costa Rica. Part 1 is here, in case you missed [...]

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1Alejandra

    This is a great blog, thank you! Check out ( I ran into them looking for breast lift surgeons. They have a great way to find the best surgeons and it is completely free.

  3. Hi, nice post. I have been thinking about this topic,so thanks for writing. I will probably be coming back to your blog. Keep up the good work

  4. Great article and well researched. We posted a story today on a man who successfully underwent vibroliposuction:

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Bob Maulin

    I happened upon your site today when I tried to remember when Don Oscar signed an executive decree declaring the medical tourism industry in the National Interest.

    Anyhow, great article – maybe your readers might like to read about what’s up currently:

    Herradura First Costa Rican Hotel To Complete Medical Tourism Training Course

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