You Could Save Thousands by Getting Medical Care in These 4 Countries

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You don't need to pay exorbitant medical prices in these countries.

As borders open and tourism picks back up, it isn't just sightseers who are getting back to traveling. Each year, thousands of U.S. travelers who have been let down by their own broken healthcare system head overseas in search of affordable medical care.

Medical tourism was a growing industry before COVID hit, with an estimated 780,000 people traveling for both elective and necessary medical procedures in 2019. While the number was understandably low in 2020, medical tourism is picking back up in 2021, and it's projected that around 650,000 people will travel for medical care in 2021.

The key to making the most of medical tourism is to find a balance between affordable costs -- the whole point is to avoid medical debt -- and quality care. The countries on this list are popular destinations for U.S. medical tourists thanks to reputations for well-educated professionals and costs up to 80% lower than they'd typically be for the same procedures stateside.

1. Mexico

Our neighbor to the south is one of the top destinations for U.S. medical tourists, especially those looking for affordable dental care. Dental implants, for example, tend to cost between $3,000 and $4,500 each in the U.S., while the same implants cost more than 60% less across the border.

Dentists in Mexico are highly trained, either at home or in U.S. dental schools, and clinics follow many of the same standards you'd find in the U.S. In fact, because cross-border medical tourism is so common, some towns near the border are highly dedicated to the industry.

2. Malaysia

Located in southeast Asia, Malaysia sees around 4.9 million medical tourists each year. Malaysia has a top-rated medical care system, with state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technology.

Many tourists head to Malaysia for major procedures, including heart surgery and hip replacements, which can cost less than a quarter of what similar procedures would cost in the U.S. It also doesn't hurt that the country is well known for its beautiful beaches, making it a lovely place to recover.

3. Thailand

Thailand is known as a place with a very affordable cost of living, and it's a popular destination for expats and digital nomads for just that reason. But medical tourists are also drawn to Thailand's affordability, where many procedures cost thousands less than you'd pay in the U.S.

Moreover, the low cost of living means staying there during your recovery won't run up your credit cards, either. But while healthcare in Thailand is affordable, Thailand doesn't skip out of quality of care. It has several world-renowned hospitals and is known for its advanced medical technology.

4. India

Medical tourism is a billion-dollar industry in India, but it's not all about facelifts and Botox. India is a highly popular destination for affordable non-elective surgery, including cancer care, transplants, and cardiac bypass surgeries.

Procedural costs can be as low as 10% of the cost of comparable U.S. surgeries -- without sacrificing quality. India is home to dozens of internationally recognized hospitals, and Indian surgeons are often educated abroad at some of the top medical schools in the world before returning home to practice.

Know the risks

Any medical procedure has its own risks, no matter where it's performed. But traveling abroad can add extra layers of potential risk, or at least complication. The language and cultural differences, for instance, can make even a regular tourist visit more difficult, let alone a medical procedure.

You also need to consider travel risks. Many countries will require some type of visa, especially if you need to stay for several months. Be sure you'll qualify for the appropriate travel visa before booking or paying for a medical procedure abroad.

Then there are the potential legal issues. Since you're not in the U.S., our laws won't apply. So, if something goes wrong to the point where you might have a solid malpractice case in the U.S., you could be entirely without legal recourse in another country.

There are also potential privacy problems to consider. The U.S. has its privacy issues, but what can -- and can't -- be shared about your medical history is fairly well protected. The same may not be true in other countries. You may also have issues with getting your own records when you need them.

Consider all the costs

Although it's easy to save money on the actual procedure, that won't be your only cost when traveling abroad for medical purposes.

For one thing, you need to actually get there. Travel costs can be quite high depending on how far you're traveling; expect to pay at least $1,000 or more for airfare alone when heading to Asia from the U.S. (Pro tip: Pick up an airline credit card and use points or miles to cover the cost of your flight.)

And then there's the recovery time. For some procedures, you won't get medical clearance to fly for several weeks after your surgery, which can mean a lot of extra costs for a long hospital or hotel stay.

Even with the extra costs, traveling for medical care can be an excellent way to save a lot of money versus paying inflated U.S. costs. And if you do your homework, you won't need to sacrifice quality of care.

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