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Medical tourism a rising business opportunity for Costa Rica

High cost of medical procedures and a collapsing healthcare system after Covid-19 made traveling abroad for medical alternatives a reality for many americans. Due to the competitive prices, quality of services and reputation of the medical

High cost of medical procedures and a collapsing healthcare system after Covid-19 made traveling abroad for medical alternatives a reality for many americans.

Due to the competitive prices, quality of services and reputation of the medical staff, a few Latin American countries such as Costa Rica have become the solution for an historical issue of private medicine and a high percentage of uninsured people in the United States.

There are many stories behind the people who decide to invest in a plane ticket to another nation, hotels and food, instead of the medical center in their hometown. Also, they have different concerns, for example, health emergencies or dental procedures that are not covered by their insurance.

Whether it is preventive medicine, doctor’s visits, dental care, cosmetic surgery or prescription drugs, the Tico Times revealed that more than 20,000 visitors save up to 40-70% in their travels to the Central American country.

The era of globalization and free trade, made it possible that developing countries could offer affordable care without compromising on quality of first world standards, such as top notch equipment and modern facilities, the latest specialties and well renowned surgeons.

Another reason that made Costa Rica a great fit especially for North Americans was its nearby location, the frequent daily flights to Liberia and San Jose from most major cities, the fact that US citizens do not require a visa for the first 90 days and the opportunity to visit popular destinations afterwards, to ease their recovery at a beach, the tropical forest, a national park or the central valley.

The main rivals in the region are Mexico and Colombia, by proximity and competitive prices, nevertheless the safety and tourist image of Costa Rica is much better than those countries. The benefits for expats is the availability to enjoy private and public healthcare at the same time. If it is an annual visit or laboratory exams, CAJA will provide excellent care, meanwhile for an urgent matter any clinic will exceed the expectations in a short period of time.

If you are planning to make a trip to Costa Rica for medical issues, you can organize it with the hospital of your choosing or through intermediary companies such as insurers, travel agencies or medical tourism facilitators.

This story from El Observador points out the possibility that your own company could pay for your airfare, medical assistance and stay in Costa Rica, if they maintain a health program with their employees.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade (Ministerio de Comercio Exterior or COMEX for its acronym in Spanish) and the Costa Rican Trade Promotion Office (Promotora de Comercio Exterior or PROCOMER for its acronym in Spanish) are one of the local entities who promote this type of tourism with exhibits or trade missions.

The Central Bank of Costa Rica reported that in 2017, foreigners that underwent medical procedures generated revenues for up to ₡437 million (colones) and La República stated that 20% of the total production of human health care and social assistance services are destined for tourism.

According to data from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, the percentage of tourism for health reasons declined considerably with the pandemic, but since the opening of borders there has been a tendency to recover the regular numbers hence the fear of contracting the virus in a high case area.

Local efforts

With the expanding of Liberia’s International Airport “Daniel Oduber Quiros” in the last decade, the industry had to approach the big private hospitals in the capital and sell them the idea of the amount of profits that the Costa Rican health sector would get if they were to build a location in Guanacaste.

CIMA Hospital is known for their capacity to handle highly complex treatments for foreign patients who represent 35% of their clients, but at first the amenities weren’t enough and they had to train doctors and obtain certifications to do most of the same procedures in Liberia and San Jose. For complex cases they offer air transportation to the headquarters in Escazu.

Hospital Clinica Biblica is part of the Medical Tourism Association, “the first international non-profit association with the common goal of promoting the highest level of quality medical care to patients internationally. The Association has three basic principles: Transparency, Communication and Education”. This accredited facility is considered one of the top medical tourism hospitals in the region because of its 60-plus available specialties.

The land of “Pura Vida” has not only the sufficient amenities, human capacity and reasonable health care, but personalized attention because hospitality is part of the Costa Rican essence and their cultural background; something that many experts link to the way patients recover faster in these latitudes than their own.

Behind the patients

According to information publish by La Nación, more than 80% of the people who arrive at the two international airports for medical purposes are US citizens, the remaining percentage are Canadians and other nearby countries, according to a 2015 study by the Costa Rican Chamber of Health (Cámara Costarricense de la Salud or Promed for its acronym in Spanish). Europe has a more accessible medical system, that’s why they are the great absentees in these statistics.

The fastest growing services in order of preference are dental reconstructive surgeries like implants, aging treatments including orthopedic surgeries and related obesity procedures such as gastric bypass surgery.

Costa Rica has distinguished itself as a pioneer in the medical field, by having one of the most robust public health systems in the world and after the pandemic, due to the handling of the crisis, the efforts made to acquire two different types of vaccines and maintaining lower cases and deaths than other nations with similar resources and population.

Despite the entry restrictions during the different Covid-19 waves and variants, the medical tourism industry in Costa Rica is starting to recover and adapt their available services for foreigners to the new pandemic necessities.

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mvillalobos@outlierlegal.com

Journalist and audiovisual producer with training in gender and human rights. She has work in Argentina and Costa Rica, and aims to make meaningful changes to the present and future of the world through her writing, documentaries and digital broadcasts.

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