Every year, some 750,000 Americans choose to receive health care outside of the United States, with plastic surgery spurring the medical tourism industry’s growth.
And with plastic surgery travel agencies advertising “full care” packages online, including personalized service and luxurious accommodations where patients can recover in the utmost comfort, one can understand why an increasing number of Americans are booking plastic surgery vacations.
Organizations such as Patients Beyond Borders and the Medical Tourism Association (MTA) are dedicated to researching and monitoring the industry. Data stemming from the MTA suggests this trend not likely to cease anytime soon, with recent statistics estimating an annual 25% growth in medical tourism straight on up to 2025.
If you are thinking of embarking on a plastic surgery journey abroad, it’s crucially important that you thoroughly research your options, as safety and professional standards differ from one country to another. These are the top destinations for plastic surgery abroad.
Top international destinations and cost savings
According to a report from the MTA, the top five destinations in Asia are Thailand, Singapore, India, South Korea, and Japan. The top seven destinations in the Americas are Brazil, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Argentina.
Costs worldwide do vary and will always depend on the procedure, the surgeon and the facility you choose. However, when compared with the United States, Patients Beyond Borders suggests the potential savings are:
- 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%
The following data from Patients Beyond Borders gives examples of how widely prices can vary from one country to another for common cosmetic procedures.[table id=7 /]
No matter which location you choose, you should be able to:
- Consult with a health travel agency that can organize your entire package.
- Book packages directly through many plastic surgery clinics.
- Book your plastic surgery package through larger facilities that offer full package deals.
Plastic surgery in Thailand
The majority of Thailand’s plastic surgery and dental procedures occur in two of the country’s most prominent holiday locations: Bangkok and Phuket.
In Thailand, packages generally include:
- Free online initial consultation with a surgeon.
- The provision of a host.
- Consultation with your surgeon upon arrival.
- All pre- and post-surgical costs.
- 4-star accommodation.
- Breakfast daily.
- All travel transfers within Thailand throughout the course of your stay.
When booking package deals, accommodation costs will vary depending on the selected hotel and time of year. It should be noted that most packages do not include flights to and from your destination. Also, keep in mind there could be incidental fees to factor into your budget as well.
Thailand is home to Bumrungrad International Hospital, the first internationally accredited hospital in Asia. Bumrungrad includes a plastic surgery center that offers a wide range of procedures. However, their pricing may not be as low as other Thailand facilities and, be forewarned, the prices listed do not include the costs of your holiday stay.
Plastic surgery in Colombia
Laura Peluffo, patient coordinator for Premium Care Plastic Surgery in Colombia, notes that 60% of their patients are from the United States.
“Being that we are a plastic surgery facility, we don’t have standard prices because we believe every case is unique,” says Peluffo. “When a patient contacts us we make a request for their relevant medical information along with pictures. We then build each plan according to the patient’s particular desires and needs. ”
Premium Care provides a complete service for patients that includes the surgical package, postoperative therapy, garments, medications and accommodation options.
Colombia’s Premium Care packages generally include:
- Round trip transport to and from the airport
- Round trip transport to and from the clinic the day of the surgery
- Preoperative and postoperative visits
- Surgical care
- Personal accompaniment by Premium Care staff throughout the process
- Follow up
The packages do not include airfare or preoperative blood work.
Plastic surgery in Brazil
Being home to more than 4,500 cosmetic surgeons and renowned for great innovations in the industry and high level of surgical safety, it’s no surprise Brazil is second only to the US when it comes to the number of plastic surgery procedures performed each year.
Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are Brazil’s two most popular patient destinations.
In Brazil, packages generally include:
- Advance consultation with your surgeon
- Anaesthetist fees
- All preoperative and postoperative costs
- 4-star accommodation
- Transportation from airport to hotel and back, as well as transport to all consultations with the surgeon and the procedure itself
Many of Brazil’s top plastic surgeons are highly qualified professionals who’ve often completed their training in the US. However, because of their level of expertise, you might only see savings of 20-30%, which makes plastic surgery vacation packages to Brazil a viable option for patients not driven so much by price but by the desire for high levels of discretion and privacy.
While there can be advantages in terms of cost and privacy, you might also encounter notable disadvantages when seeking treatment in a foreign country, especially should you potentially be compromised by high levels of pre- and post-surgical stress.
Below are some tips for planning your trip and treatment, courtesy of the latest edition of Patients Beyond Borders: World Edition, an excellent 250-plus page resource that contains patient information on preparing for, conducting and recovering from a medical travel journey.
- Surgeon’s credentials
Even if many surgeons do receive training in the US or other western countries, it is in your best interest to make sure you thoroughly research your surgeon’s credentials, professional history and accreditation. Check licensing procedures in the country you intend to visit to determine the legitimacy of a surgeon’s board certification.
As another means of assessing your surgeon’s capabilities and integrity, verify their membership to any professional associations such as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
- Facility accreditation
While it’s possible smaller facilities may not have international accreditation like Bumrungrad in Thailand, it’s still worth researching them just in case they do. Make your inquiries via the Joint Commission International, The Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care or The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities International.
- Languages spoken
Many foreign doctors receive their training in the United States before heading back to their home country. If you’re going to a country where you don’t speak the language, find out if you’ll be able to communicate in English with your doctor and other medical professionals responsible for your comfort and care.
It’s imperative not to have any obstacles standing in the way of communicating with your doctor. You’ll also want to confirm that you’ll have direct access to the surgeon before, during and after the procedure.
- Door-to-door hospitality
In countries with considerable urban sprawl, heavy traffic congestion and high rates of crime pose other challenges. Make sure you are guaranteed personal transportation and door-to-door hospitality for the duration of your stay.
- Hotel star rating
Check the star rating and services offered at the hotel included in your package. You can request a change or upgrade to another hotel if necessary.
- Travel insurance
If you conduct your research as thoroughly as you should, you are likely to have a great experience. However, should anything go wrong you will be very happy you decided to purchase insurance.
- Low pricing
Beware of prices that seem too low. Do comparisons across a wide range of facilities to get an overview of costs. As the old saying goes: if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
- Package inclusions
Never take someone’s word alone. Always get everything in writing so you can be perfectly confident all that you need is included in your package and your fees won’t suddenly change on you after it’s too late to turn back.
While more affordable surgery is a great incentive to travel, it’s critical that not all matters be determined by cost savings alone.
Keep safety at the top of your list and be sure to do exhaustive research before purchasing any plastic surgery vacation package abroad. This way you can better guarantee yourself a positive, satisfying experience instead of becoming a cautionary tale for the next patient considering a medical tourism package.
- Legal rights
Know your rights before booking your appointment, and find out what legal recourse you would have if something went wrong. In the United States you might have a case of medical malpractice if the hospital, doctor or other health care professional caused injury through negligence or omission, but laws vary from one country to another.
In India for instance, the judicial system is notoriously slow, with very few negligence cases making it to the courts.
It’s also important to know exactly what would happen in the event of any complications. Find out which hospital your surgeon is affiliated with (if any), and who would foot the bill for additional care if needed. If you develop any kind of infection, complication or need revision surgery at a later date, you might have to return to the surgeon who did the work, or be prepared to pay for it in the United States.
Planning your trip abroad
Your doctor will provide pre- and post-op recommendations: know what they’ll be before booking your procedure, and plan accordingly.
For example, certain factors like flying soon after surgery can increase your risk of developing a blood clot. Aspirin — a blood thinner — can decrease the risk of a blood clot, but also increases your risk of bleeding after surgery.
According to Fort Myers, FL plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Brueck, “the longer the procedure, the greater the risk of suffering from deep vein thrombosis, especially if a patient has a history of phlebitis, is overweight, or on birth control pills. If the patient is having a tummy tuck with tightening of the muscles, the risks increase as well.”
Your doctor should know your history and will have specific recommendations to help offset those risks. “Things like support stockings and getting up, stretching and walking up and down the aisle if you’re on a long flight could help prevent blood clots.”
With any surgical or medical procedure, it’s extremely important to perform due diligence. If you’re planning a cosmetic treatment abroad, do so with eyes wide open and be aware of the potential issues before booking your procedure. The more you prepare by arming yourself with information, the better off you’ll be.
Remember: the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.