A Guide to the Best Medical Tourism Destinations Across the Globe

Medical tourism is the new buzzword industry in many developed countries. With healthcare costs spiraling through the roof in developed countries like the US and UK, people afflicted are looking towards alternate destinations to get their treatments taken care of at lower costs with an added pleasure of the opportunity to see the other lands. Countries in the mystic east, for example, India, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia are making the most of it due to their advanced medical facilities they offer as well as their being preferred destinations for tourism. This industry has spread to South Africa, South America (Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil) as well as east European countries like Hungary. The industry is growing by the day is estimated to grow by 250% by 2012 form a mere $40 billion in 2004.

Medical tourism is also slated to bring in ancillary benefits to the destination countries by pumping up their economy and will also gel well with foreign investors who already have a stake in these countries. This article presents five top medical tourism destinations which present the most attractive opportunities. We have selected these based on the quality and cost of medical care offered and their offering to FDI (foreign direct investment). These countries are largely English speaking and thus there should be no hiccups in getting world class treatment there.


Situated just south of the United States, Panama is in close proximity and offers very affordable and high quality health care. As per present comparisons, a surgery undertaken in Panama costs 40-70% lesser than anywhere in the US according to the NCPA (National Center for Policy Analysis) repot published last November. The cost of surgery undertaken by Panama health care is relatively higher than the South East Asian countries but that is made up by the savings on the airfare, due to its proximity with the US. Moreover, Panama is also highly “Americanized” and thus is a favorite destination of many tourists – general and medical.

Panama’s official currency is the US Dollar and most health care specialists are US trained. This makes sure that the logistics of traveling are lesser and medical tourists are not in for rude culture shock when they visit Panama.

Panama’s economy is heavily dependent on the services industry and thus medical tourism would have a positive impact on the same. With a surplus of more than 1.5 million (as per CIA World Factbook) skilled labor force, Panama will be a force to reckon with in the services industry.

Panama, compared to other South American countries has a US dependent economy and is trying to foster its trade ties with the US. It also has free trade agreement with the US (signed in December 2006) and does not participate in the CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Panama also welcomes foreign investment with open arms especially in tourism, service related industries and Panama real estate.


Brazil is one of the most preferred destinations for plastic and cosmetic surgeries. Brazil’s foray into medical tourism began with Ivo Pitanguy, a plastic surgeon of world-renown who started a clinic outside Rio-de-Janeiro about four decades ago. Brazil today is considered the “mecca” of plastic and cosmetic surgery and is the 2nd largest market for these surgeries after the US. This is due to the impeccable quality of service and affordable costs it offers compared to other medical tourism destinations.

According to MedRetreat, a medical tourism service company, Brazil has most number of hospitals and health care centers after the US. Almost all of them are fully accredited by JCAHO (Joint Commission), US which is the largest organization that accredits hospitals. These facts underline the importance of Brazil in the medical tourism industry and promote almost all other kinds of procedures in addition to plastic and cosmetic surgeries.

The most sought after destination in Brazil is São Paulo, which is not only the biggest city in Brazil but also boasts of some of the world’s best hospitals and healthcare centers complete with all evaluation procedures and some of the world’s most renowned and highly skilled professionals. Also, Brazil is in close proximity to the US and takes only about 9 hours on a flight.

Brazil is also very conducive to foreign investment and is slated to become one of the most dominant economies in the future according to Jim O’Neill (Goldman Sachs). Thus, in addition to saving on medical costs and seeing Brazil, investing in real estate here could bring in high returns.


Located in South East Asia and being one of the most beautiful tropical tourism destinations in the world, Malaysia is also a haven for healthcare facilities and hospitals. AS a result of this, Malaysia’s medical tourism industry has experience a geometric growth in the recent past. To give you an estimate, people who have opted for healthcare in Malaysia has grown from about 75,000 to 300, 000 per annum between 2001 and 2006, which is a growth of 400% in a span of 5 years (figures are from Association of Private Hospitals, Malaysia). The revenue generated through such influx medical tourists in 2006 touched the $60 billion mark. It is predicted that the Malaysian medical tourism market will grow at 30% per annum until 2010.

Healthcare in Malaysia offers a wide range of procedures that include cosmetic, cardiac and dental surgeries at much lesser costs than the US. A cardiac bypass surgery in Malaysia costs around USD 6000-7000.

Malaysia attracts foreign investment and tourists alike due to conducive exchange rates and, stable government and its high literacy rate. Malaysia is the only country in the world that has almost 90% of its population living in the vicinity of healthcare facilities. This speaks volumes for its network of hospitals.

Costa Rica

Another popular medical tourism destination, Costa Rica is located in South America and caters to a lot of medical care requirement of patients from developed countries. Costa Rica offers world-class medical care at down-to-earth costs and is very convenient to travel to, especially from North America. It is just 8-10 hours from the USA and is highly accessible with little logistic arrangements.

As per the NCPA report last published, more than 150,000 foreigners have sought Costa Rica’s healthcare facilities for their treatment in 2006. Costa Rica specializes in cosmetic and dental surgeries and any form of procedure costs around half of what it would cost in US. For example, a dental veneer costs $350 in Costa Rica while it costs about $1200 in the USA.

With high literacy rate and economic stability coupled with a welcoming attitude towards foreign investment, Costa Rica is a fast growing economy. It is a member of the US-CAFTA agreement that was implemented in March 2008 making it more conducive to investment and medical tourism.


The ratio of value for money in medical care is the best in India, which means that you can get the best medical care at the lowest cost compared to any other medical tourism destinations according to NCPA. India boasts of several JVI accredited hospitals and uses the best infrastructure with cutting-edge medical care technology. The only drawbacks with India are the restrictions placed on foreigners and the distance from the US.

Medical tourism despite the drawback has grown immensely in the past few years. With about 500,000 foreigners opting for treatment in India in 2005, the industry has grown from 150,000 in 2002. The medical tourism industry itself is slated to being in USD 2,2 billion a year by 2012.

With the availability of high tech medical care infrastructure, India specializes in almost all medical procedure, be it orthopedic, cardiac or cosmetic procedures. India also has some procedure, yet unavailable in the US such as Birmingham hip resurfacing which has recently got the FDA approval in US. The costs of healthcare are very low, for example a high tech hospital in India charges USD 4000 for a cardiac surgery that would cost more than USD 30,000 anywhere in the


India, as a country faces many issues like environmental issues, illiteracy, poverty and religious strife and dissuades foreigners from traveling there. However, the mystic value that the country carries along with its efforts towards becoming the “global health destination” encourages many foreigners to opt for healthcare here.

With reduced controls on foreign trade and investment, progressive policy on economic reforms and foreign trade makes India a highly sought after destination for foreign investment. With a fast growing market, India is slated to become an economy to reckon with.