Costa Rica is home to one of only five regions in the world referred to as a “Blue Zone”, or an area that can boast of people who routinely live more than one hundred years. The World Heath Organization consistently ranks Costa Rica as one of the top countries in the world for life expectancy. No doubt the combination of healthful food, peaceful lifestyles, and beautiful weather with year-round activities all contribute to this phenomenon. However, Costa Rica is also home to one of the greatest and most accessible healthcare systems in the world. The United Nations considers it the best healthcare in Latin America and recently lauded the efforts of the government in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Costa Rica has quickly become one of the world’s top destinations for medical tourism. About 40,000 people visit the country each year to have health, dental, and cosmetic procedures performed by some of the leading professionals in the industry. The high-quality and low cost of care, along with an abundance of bilingual healthcare personnel, attracts people from all over the world. People from other countries in Latin America are increasingly coming to Costa Rica to take advantage of its affordable and top-quality healthcare.
Over the past two decades, Costa Rica has invested heavily in its healthcare system. Most Costa Rican doctors have been educated or performed a residency in the USA, Canada, or Europe, and all medical and dental specialties are represented. You will find state-of-the-art technology and advanced equipment at the clinics and hospitals throughout the country. Doctors will take the time needed to spend with you and address your questions and concerns, and many will make house calls.
Costa Rica provides both public and private options for healthcare access. There are 29 public hospitals and three private hospitals, which are accredited by the Joint Commission International, a top-ranking healthcare standard that even many hospitals in the U.S. have failed to receive. Costa Rica is also home to the only hospital in Central America that is accredited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The public arm of the health care system consists of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), a government-managed system of clinics and hospitals found throughout the country that offers low-cost care to citizens and legal residents. Participants pay an average monthly contribution of $50 and in-turn receive free medical care, including hospital stays, clinic visits, lab work, and medications. If you decide to retire in Costa Rica, it is highly advisable that you obtain your residency so you can take advantage of all the public healthcare system has to offer.
Many expat residents choose the option of applying for health insurance that is offered by the National Insurance Institute (INS). This government-sponsored insurance plan is affiliated with the private healthcare sector and covers 80% of expenses for accidents or illnesses requiring hospitalizations, office visits, lab work and medications. Not only is your healthcare covered within Costa Rica, INS insurance can also provide coverage for travel to other countries. It is worth noting however that the plan will only cover the cost of comparable treatments in Costa Rica, so you may need additional private insurance to cover costs if you are traveling in countries with high-priced medical services.
Within the private system, tourists and residents alike can finance their healthcare through cash or accepted insurance policies from the U.S., Europe, or other countries. Healthcare expenses may be much less in Costa Rica than you are accustomed to paying, so cash is a realistically viable option. Fees at private clinics are typically 50-70% less than what you would expect to pay for comparable services in the U.S. For example, a root canal performed by an endodontist (root canal specialist) will cost around $350 USD. In the U.S., this procedure would typically cost around $2,000. Doctors often charge less than $60 for an office visit or house call, with specialist visits as low as $80 and lab tests around $75.
Many expat residents choose a combination of both public and private healthcare resources. If there is a wait time for a procedure in the public clinics, they may opt to pay out-of-pocket or use insurance at a private clinic. Public and private clinics work together and will accept test results and prescriptions from each other’s systems. Many doctors choose to work in both public and private healthcare facilities, thus making the cooperative environment of the different facilities operate smoothly. For example, a doctor working in a private clinic can write prescriptions that are valid in the public system, so a patient may pay out-of-pocket for the office visit but can access their accompanying medications for free.
Along with its growing reputation as provider of high-quality care, another advantage that Costa Rica healthcare has in the medical tourism industry is its proximity to the U.S., where healthcare is becoming increasingly unaffordable for many. Cheap airfare and ease of travel along with accommodations ranging from budget to high-end luxury make Costa Rica the top choice among people looking for an incredible vacation to accompany their necessary health and dental care procedures. Imagine recovering from knee or hip replacement surgery while enjoying sunsets and local cuisine from your ocean view patio!
The Happy Planet Index consistently ranks Costa Rica as the #1 country for life satisfaction. According to their website, “People living in Costa Rica have higher wellbeing than the residents of many rich nations, including the USA and the UK, and live longer than people in the USA.” People who live in countries that lack affordable and accessible healthcare oftentimes do not realize how liberating it can be to know that their healthcare needs can be met without having to declare bankruptcy, or without having to remain at a hated job solely for health insurance, or without needing to save millions of dollars for retirement because a good portion of that will go towards healthcare costs in the future. Why not utilize those retirement funds for having FUN in your retirement, while staying healthy, in one of the most beautiful and happiest places on Earth. When it comes to healthcare, Costa Rica has you covered!