Golden Surgeries – Medical Tourism in Costa Rica Part 3

  • by crv.staff
  • 18.04.09
  • 9:00 AM UTC

Here is the last installment in our series featuring the translation of an article originally published in La Nacion on medical tourism in Costa Rica.

Linda Burnham arrived two weeks ago to have three surgeries and one application of Botox. This is her seventh time in the country. Photo by Albert Marin

Any support is good when deciding which the best destiny, where the best medical centers are and the best ratio between price-quality of a surgery or specialized medical treatment is. At least this is the slogan of many foreigners – mainly U.S. citizen find this support in books and specialized Internet sites, as well as in testimonies of patients that circulate in sites like YouTube.

One of the most read biographies is that of Josef Woodman called Patients Beyond Borders that he wrote in 2008. It is about a series of guides for the 50,000 U.S. citizens – of data collected by that U.S. News magazine in its last May edition – that during 2007 traveled outside their country for a non cosmetic procedures, such as articular prosthesis , coronary artery bypass or repair of heart. This guide of books informs to those interested, in those countries and medical centers where these procedures take place with great success. The Internet site, is one of the many options for those who still don’t know where to go. This site offers medical assistance for travelers in ten previously selected destinations: Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, India, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey. Each country offers a site with lodging options, emergency phone numbers and basic information about each country.

Another alternative is for those potential consumers searching for the best alternatives in foreign destinations seeking some type of facial or body lifts, shed those extra pounds, show off a dream smile or to assure more years with advanced heart surgeries. This web page, offers just four destinations: Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand and India. Other visited sites are:, offers testimonials from patients who have traveled for different treatments or procedures, and includes comparative price charts from Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand vis-à-vis the U.S.

The publishing house Healthy Travel Average (the same publisher for Patients Beyond Borders ) has in the market the so called “worldwide estimated budget”. It is a chart in which patients can compare costs between two countries or two hospitals or the same destiny. The chart will help him estimate plane ticket prices, taxes, transport, lodging, meals, tours and of course surgical procedure.


Not so long ago, the medical tourist’s who visited Costa Rica came in its majority in search of the so called “cosmetic surgeries”, that is silicone implants, facial lifts, liposuctions or dental work. Recently, there has been a substantial change in this tendency, according to the specialists involved in the sector. Nowadays, the country registers a greater flow of people that arrive in search of bariatric, orthopedic (hip or knee replacements), dental and plastic surgeries, in that order, according to data provided by Promed and other specialists.

Costa Rica has become also a desired destiny for corrective procedures of cataracts surgeries (those that correct myopias or that improve the visual sharpness by laser), as well as of cardiovascular interventions.

Why this change in trend? “Costa Rica has enjoyed prestige for its health system and success in surgical procedures. Throughout the years, foreigners have seen in our country important and sophisticated medical advances, and with the same quality they have in their countries and are aware that all of it comes at a lower cost. This by itself is extremely attractive magnet without taking into account the other pluses the country has to offer to visitors such as its political system, social stability and biodiversity”, explained ophthalmologist Guillermo Tapia and dental surgeon Eddy Mora.

The last one added: “People feel a special affection for the country and that gives them more confidence to make the decision to come to receive treatment”.

The plastic surgeon Ronald Pino, with more than 20 years of experience with foreign patients, assured that the present economic crisis that has seriously impacted the world, has caused that many U.S. citizens shop for options (those that not represent a risk in the quality and service) in terms of the cost of the procedure, plane ticket and even duration of the trip for their medical services. As an example an open heart procedure may start to cost in the U.S. from, $50.000 (¢28, 5 million) on up. In Costa Rica, the cost of this procedure will hover about half of that and includes all the ancillary expenses including hospitalization, anesthesiology, doctor and the support personnel fees, explained the cardiologist Elliot Garita. As far a dental procedures go, one crown in the U.S. cost anywhere from $800 (¢456.000) to $1,600 (¢912.000) dollars. The same procedure in Costa Rica will cost between $350 (¢199.500) and $500 (¢285.000): a saving of more than 50%. As for hip or knee replacement surgeries, in the U.S. the costs can surpass the $40,000 (¢22, 8 million) benchmark; while in Costa Rica the same procedure is performed for $11,500 (¢6, 5 million) or less. The price can vary according to the level of complexity of the surgical intervention (more price comparisons in the attached box).

Another boost in this industry is the enhanced peace of mind the hospital certification process brings to the country as destiny for cosmetic and no cosmetic treatments. As stated before, Clinica Biblica and the Hospital Cima are medical centers certified and accredited by the Joint International Commission (JCI), an international division of the Joint Commission Resources. Hospital Hotel La Catolica is in process to obtain its certificate.

This seal of approval, certifies that the medical centers that enjoy it, offer quality driven services with clear policies directed to excellence. There are 220 certificated entities of this kind around the globe. Costa Rica is the only country in Central America that has medical centers accredited by the JCI, unlike other destinies such as, Guatemala, Panama and El Salvador, that also are trying to capture some market share but lack the accreditation.

Costa Rica enjoys a large base of specialized doctors in many fields, most of them with degrees from internationally renowned learning centers, Dr. Alberto Argüello sums it all up when stated “The foreign patients are selective. If they come here is because they feel at ease with our quality and level of performance”.


Regarding any tax burdens to the service seekers, IRS Head Office assures: “In case of a person who receives the service, any and all tax related burden lays with the provider, be the doctor, the clinic and or hospital, the person receiving the service is tax burden free in this country”

INSTITUTIONS are getting ready for their GREAT MEASUREMENT

How many medical tourists actually make it to Costa Rica in search of some type of medical service will be more accurately known by the third trimester of 2009 assured Emmanuel Hess, Procomer general manager. This public institution works hand in hand with Banco Central “Central Bank”. Instituto Nacional Estadísticas y Censos “National Institute of Statistics and Census” El Instituto Costarricense de Turismo y Comex “Costa Rican Tourism Institute and Comex” to gauge, not only medical tourism but other subsectors as well such as construction services (architecture, engineering and design) and information technologies (TI), that has a direct or indirect relation with the service sector. To accomplish this, the group meets every 15 days in the offices of Procomer, and inputs data on a model based on the measurement model of the Chamber of Commerce of Santiago, Chile, that has been tested for the past ten years. To enhance this blooming business, Costa Rica will be kick off next August an event named “Costa Rica Evergreen” in New York. Two months before, June 3 and 4, the Costa Rica Services Summit will take place in San Jose Palacio Hotel.

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One Response to “Golden Surgeries – Medical Tourism in Costa Rica Part 3”

  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Paul Glen

    Dear Bret,

    You and your readers may be interested to hear about this new online medical tourism guide.

    Health Tourism Guide

    The Health Tourism Guide provides overseas medical tourism and medical travel information. Treatments include orthopedic surgery, dental procedures, cosmetic surgery, heart surgery, rehabilitation, cardiology, plastic surgery, dermatology, dialysis, hair transplant, infertility, mri, stem cells, transplants, urology, addiction, cancer, fertility and obesity. Destinations include Mexico, India, Thailand, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Singapore, Brazil, Hungary, Australia, Philippines and Cuba.

    Of special interest to your blog should be this article:

    Medical Tourism is a Low Cost Alternative to the American Healthcare System

    Keep up the good work.



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