For a few years now, I have been taking advantage of my international travels to reduce my health costs. For example, in France, a medical consultation is only $25. Getting your teeth cleaned will cost you $35, and it costs $40 for a root canal.
Medical consultations can be a way cheaper option than a healthcare plan.
Even better, if you have French social security, 70 percent will be refunded. I generally get a check-up every year or two, and see a dentist and a gynecologist once or twice a year. The low fees are due to capped rates set by the government.
But because you can’t live on $25 consults when you have studied 10-plus years, doctors are allowed to perform other acts without a rate cap. Dentists are not capped on cosmetic treatments, such as dentures, veneers, and crowns, so they tend to charge a lot of money.
IN FRANCE, YOU CAN EXPECT TO PAY OVER $700 FOR ONE CROWN. SO FOR THESE KINDS OF THINGS, I CONSULT IN GUATEMALA.
My dentist, Dr. Luis Grisolia, runs a high-tech clinic in the heart of Guatemala City called Dentivitale. Trained at the NYU College of Dentistry, his skills and equipment are top-notch. As a result, he receives around 50 international patients every year. They're mostly for cosmetic treatments ranging from crowns and implants to teeth whitening.
He is also a favorite among expats living here. His current rates are $300 for a root canal, $350 for a crown, and $400 for veneers. Having been treated by him for five years, I am living, chewing proof of his high-quality work.
I was once talking to Dr. Grisolia about the fact that some procedures, such as root canals, are more expensive in Guatemala than in France. He told me that capped rates were a blessing for patients, and a curse for dentists, who need to perform many procedures every day to make ends meet. As such, they have less time to stay on top of new techniques and improve their skills.
In this case, you get what you pay for.
In France, you often have to wait a long time for an appointment because dentists squeeze too many patients into one day. They are understaffed, and often won’t have an assistant or even a secretary to welcome patients and take appointments.
In Guatemala, I have direct communication with Dr. Grisolia via email. his staff is friendly and attentive, and I never have to wait when I have an appointment. Billy, a U.S. expat in Guatemala, has a similar story with Guatemalan hospitals.
ADMITTED FOR ABDOMINAL PAIN, HE RECEIVED FIVE-STAR TREATMENT FOR A FRACTION OF WHAT IT WOULD HAVE COST AT HOME.
His bill for two nights in the hospital, X-rays, and a CT scan came to $1,600, when the average cost of a CT scan in the U.S. is $4,700.
You could ask a legitimate question about the quality of these overseas doctors, but rest assured that many of them are as good as any in the world. And if you are planning on elective surgeries or cosmetic dental treatments, having them done abroad comes with a bonus – treatment, plus a free holiday.
Of course, things can go wrong, as they can anywhere, including the U.S.
And suing or other such legal action might be problematic, if not outright impossible. But doctors or hospitals do offer guarantees. My dentist gives me a five-year warranty on any major work he does. (Not for teeth whitening, though!)
According to one medical tourism website, the average price of a hip replacement in the U.S. is more than $40,000. You can get it done for $13,000 in Costa Rica or Mexico.
IVF treatment? Over $12,000 in the States – $5,000 in India or Poland. And a dental implant that would cost you $2,500 each in the States can be done for $800 in Costa Rica. If you need four of them, the $6,800 in savings will amply cover the cost of two stays – four months apart to allow for the bone to heal – and a nice holiday around the trip. And many practitioners will work with your health insurance and offer payment plans.
You can either plan your trip by yourself or hire a medical tourism company.
A medical tourism company will help you organize all the details of your trip, pick you up at the airport, and suggest a nice hotel near the clinic.
A few ways to find a good doctor or dentist include getting in touch with the U.S. embassy of the country you plan on having the work done, or joining expat forums online and asking for referrals. And check with your own insurance to find out how much it will cover.
If you make that decision to travel for treatment, you will be joining millions of Americans who have already done so with great outcomes. A Bloomberg report says that 1.6 million Americans traveled abroad for medical reasons in 2012. The number was expected to rise by 35 percent in 2013. Need any further proof that the implants work?
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