Need an expensive medical procedure? What if you could have it done by a highly qualified doctor for significantly less in a different country? What if your costs were so much less that you could take a vacation while there, and still come out ahead?
What is medical tourism?
As medical costs rise quickly in the US and elsewhere, many people have done the math and realized that they could get 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 medical tourism (our free crowdfunding platform can help you get there). But it pays to do your homework. Before you book your flight, there are a few things you should know.
Why medical tourism is growing
Several factors have created near-ideal conditions for growth in medical 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 in countries only 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 add 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).
Medical tourism statistics
- Globally, there were 11 million medical tourists in 2016, including 1.5 million Americans who traveled outside the US for medical care.
- 64% did not have health insurance.
- 83% traveled with a companion.
- Almost 90% of patients or their companions engaged in regular tourist activities.
- Almost 85% of US patients received more personalized care than they had in the US.
- Almost 86% of US patients said they would travel again for medical care.
- Deloitte estimates that the US economy currently loses hundreds of billions of dollars annually to medical tourism.
Top destinations for health tourism
A combination of quality medical services, enjoyable tourism, and other factors make these countries the most popular destinations for medical tourism (in alphabetical order):
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
Average cost savings on procedures
Using US costs as a benchmark, here’s the average range of savings on medical care for some of the most-traveled destinations:
- Brazil: 20-30%
- Costa Rica: 45-65%
- India: 65-90%
- Malaysia: 65-80%
- Mexico: 40-65%
- Singapore: 25-40%
- South Korea: 30-45%
- Taiwan: 40-55%
- Thailand: 50-75%
- Turkey: 50-65%
What do these savings mean for, say, a heart bypass? In the US, the average cost of that procedure is $113,000. The next most expensive place to get a bypass is in Singapore, where it costs $20,000.
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.
Added to these expenses will be the cost of your medical procedure itself. Check out this chart of common procedure costs in different countries.
Funding 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, you’ve come to the right place—every day on our site, people raise money for medical expenses, including medical tourism. Medical fundraising is one of our top categories.
What is crowdfunding? It’s a proven and effective way to raise funds from friends, family, the GoFundMe community, and anyone around the world who wants to support you. It allows people to become part of your campaign story as you share your journey. GoFundMe has no platform fee, and you can begin withdrawing funds as soon as you start receiving donations.
Along with a free fundraising platform, we also give you a wide range of resources, tips, and guides to help you make the most of your campaign, including Medical Crowdfunding Guide, How to Ask for Donations, How to Create a Fundraising Plan, 15 Simple Ways to Skyrocket Awareness for a Cause, and Using Social Media to Promote Your Fundraiser.
Examples of medical tourism fundraisers on GoFundMe
- Help Michael Get Bariatric Surgery: Michael is traveling from Florida to Mexico for gastric sleeve surgery.
- Funds for Medical Procedure: Leigh Anne is traveling from Texas to Mexico for a hysterectomy due to polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and uterine scarring.
- Save Carl Faulkner’s Teeth: Carl traveled from Seattle to Croatia for dental work to save his teeth.
- Emma’s Medical Treatment Fundraiser: Emma is traveling from Oklahoma to England for medical treatment not available in the states.
Bon voyage—You’re ready to become a medical tourist
If you haven’t done so already, start a free medical tourism crowdfunding campaign 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.