Medical Tourism and The Best Way to Fund It
With the rising costs of out of pocket medical expenses—even for those with health insurance—more and more people are turning to medical tourism to find affordable health care. Medical tourism is not only international travel on a budget, but you’ll receive the same quality care as you would in the US. The cost savings can be so great that you can sometimes make a trip out of your search for affordable healthcare. Discover exactly how to fund your trip, so you can get the procedures you need at a price you can afford.
What is medical tourism?
As medical costs rise quickly in the US and elsewhere, many people have done the math and realized that they can afford a medical procedure and a vacation for less than the cost of the procedure alone in their home country. The result is a phenomenon called international medical tourism, health tourism, or medical travel. It’s become a worldwide industry—one poised for 25% year-over-year growth by 2025.
Sound interesting? Your main question may be how to go about funding healthcare tourism. But it pays to do your homework. Before you book your flight, there are a few things you should know.
Five shocking medical tourism statistics
- Globally, there were around 15 million medical tourists in 2017, including 1.4 million Americans who traveled outside the US for medical care.
- According to Patients Beyond Borders, you can save anywhere from 20% to 90% on medical procedures through medical tourism, depending on the procedure and country.
- The World Health Organization estimates that the US economy currently loses hundreds of billions of dollars annually, due to people seeking healthcare in other countries.
- About two-thirds of all medical tourists from the US travel abroad for dental work or cosmetic procedures—both often not covered by most health insurance.
- Among medical tourism trends, Canada is the most popular destination country—just a short drive or flight away for many patients in the US.
The benefits of medical tourism
Several factors have created near-ideal conditions for growth in healthcare tourism:
- While some countries have out-of-control medical costs, others have relatively low costs—especially for routine procedures.
- New, cutting-edge treatments (including stem cell treatments) may be available only in countries where those treatments are developed and encouraged.
- People who can’t get certain procedures in their home country may have no choice but to travel to a place where they can.
- The overall quality of care is often better in the destination country’s system.
- Globalism cuts both ways—companies can pay less by “offshoring,” and so can people with the means to do so.
- Employer-paid surgeries abroad are increasing. According to AARP, only 5% of employers currently cover such surgeries, but 25% say they may consider adding the benefit in the next three to five years.
How medical tourists find accredited providers
In your home country, you’re probably used to navigating the world of medicine, including finding the best doctors. When it comes to international health tourism, however, you could easily find yourself at sea.
A US-based nonprofit called Joint Commission International (JCI) has stepped in to put medical tourists at ease. The organization gives accreditations to healthcare organizations such as hospitals. So far, it’s accredited more than 1,000 organizations outside the US. JCI also works with organizations to maintain and improve healthcare standards. Use JCI’s search tool to find the best international healthcare providers in the location of your choice.
Other agencies accredit outpatient clinics, including The Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), which runs Acreditas Global, and The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAASF).
Top medical tourism countries
A combination of quality medical services, enjoyable tourism, and other factors make these the best countries for medical tourism, according to the 2016 Medical Tourism Index:
- Dominican Republic
Average cost savings on procedures
Using US costs as a benchmark (pre-pandemic and 2021 – 2022 economic inflation), here’s the average range of savings on medical care for some of the most common procedures, according to the Health System Tracker from Peterson-Kaiser:
- You could save over $24,000 on an angioplasty by traveling to the UK, and over $54,000 on coronary bypass surgery.
- The cost of delivering a baby is more than 200% higher in the US compared with Australia—whether by cesarean section or normal delivery.
- Need an appendectomy? You’re looking at close to $16,000. The price tag is cut in half in the UK, and even less in Australia at $3,800.
- If you need a knee replacement, you could save over $8,000 by traveling to Switzerland.
- The cost of an MRI is nearly $1,200 in the US. Expect to pay a mere $215 in Australia.
Top specialties people seek during medical travel
- Cosmetic surgery
- Dentistry (general, restorative, cosmetic)
- Cardiovascular (angioplasty, CABG, transplants)
- Orthopedics (joint and spine, sports medicine)
- Cancer (often high-acuity or last resort)
- Reproductive (fertility, IVF, women’s health)
- Weight loss (LAP-BAND, gastric bypass)
- Scans, tests, health screenings, and second opinions
Budgeting your medical travel
When budgeting your medical travel, take all the costs into consideration as you would with any trip. Be sure to include flight, hotel, food, passports, visas, all costs associated with bringing a companion, international calls, aftercare costs, medical supplies, and medications—and the medical procedure itself.
The best way to fund medical tourism
Unless you’re looking to travel for optional procedures such as cosmetic surgery, you may not have all the funds you need to make your medical trip happen. In that case, crowdfunding can help. You’re not alone in this experience—every single day, people turn to medical crowdfunding to raise money for medical expenses.
Medical crowdfunding is a proven and effective way to raise funds from friends, family, and anyone around the world who wants to support you. Crowdfunding allows people to become part of your fundraiser story as you share your journey.
The following tips will help you get started with your successful fundraiser:
- Begin by creating a fundraising plan. Decide how much you need to raise and by what date, and map out a strategy for promoting your fundraiser online and through social media.
- Decide how you plan to ask for donations. Tailor your approach to who you’re asking, whether it’s a family member or friend, someone you know from your community, or a stranger online.
- Plan something fun to help raise even more awareness for your cause, like hosting a fundraising event or posting a compelling message on social media.
- Write regular fundraiser updates to keep your donors in the loop. And remember to thank your donors—simple things like a handwritten note or a postcard can go a long way.
Examples of medical tourism fundraisers on GoFundMe
See how others are using the power of crowdfunding to raise money for the medical procedures they need.
After facing a hefty $30,000 price tag, actor and singer Michael decided to travel from Florida to Mexico for gastric sleeve surgery—a procedure that would cost just under $7,000. He hosted a benefit event to help promote his fundraiser, and successfully raised more than the amount he needed to have this life-saving procedure.
Years of chronic pain due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and uterine scarring caused Leigh Anne to look into a hysterectomy. The procedure was far out of her budget in the US, so she started a fundraiser to cover the cost of having the procedure done in Mexico—at a cost of $5,500. Leigh Anne raised over $6,400 to fund her surgery and travel expenses.
Carl desperately needed dental work to save his teeth, and dentists in the US estimated the necessary root canals, bridges, and crowns to be upwards of $30,000. Even though Carl had full dental insurance, none of the required procedures would be covered. Through his fundraiser, he raised over $10,000 to travel to Croatia for dental work, and successfully received all the treatment he needed in a matter of weeks.
Bon voyage—You’re ready to become a medical tourist
If you haven’t done so already, start a medical tourism fundraiser on GoFundMe. Beyond raising money, the beauty of crowdfunding is in sharing your journey with your friends and family. Your medical fundraising page will serve as a place where everyone can post words of encouragement and support. You can do this.