Traveling Abroad for Cosmetic Medical Procedures

There are many types of procedures and surgeries that patients travel internationally to receive. One of the largest categories in medical tourism is cosmetic procedures. What does this look like, and what are the benefits and risks? 

Medical Tourism for Cosmetic Work 

In 2018, Journal of Travel Medicine reported statistics regarding the most common cosmetic medical procedures performed on patients participating in medical tourism. Breast augmentation and liposuction led with the highest percentages. 

Choosing to travel abroad to undergo cosmetic procedures is a smart idea for patients looking to reduce costs while still receiving high quality medical care. 

Benefits of Getting Cosmetic Surgery Abroad 

Cosmetic surgeries are considered elective procedures. This means they are, by the health insurance companies’ definition, not “medically necessary” and therefore not eligible for insurance coverage. Therefore having a cosmetic procedure performed in your home country, especially if you live in a country like the United States or United Kingdom, can entail high out of pocket expenses. That’s where medical tourism comes in. In other countries, the cost of the same procedure can be 30-70% less than it is in the US. On top of this enticing opportunity to save money, many foreign medical facilities have state-of-the-art technology and top-level care. If you are picturing medical tourism as a run-down hospital with questionable staff and equipment, your image is far from the truth.

Risks of Getting Cosmetic Surgery Abroad 

Any medical procedure, no matter where it takes place, will have risks. However, medical tourism patients do face some unique risks that patients in their home countries do not. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) laid out some useful guidelines for patients traveling abroad to receive cosmetic work. Guidelines include checking credentials and references of your surgeon or practitioner, understanding who among the staff speaks your language, making a plan for recovery, and preparing for the event of complications. 

The latter is something we can help you with. Our medical tourism insurance protects international patients against the excess burdens of unexpected complications. Our most popular product for medical tourists covers travel, accident and complications services and benefits with options for travel companions.

Medical Tourism’s Growth Factors

As we enter a new decade, it’s clear that medical tourism is not going anywhere. The industry is growing and continues to grow each year. Only a handful of years ago, you may have heard the term “medical tourism” and wondered, “what is that?” However, now the industry is widely known, and lots of people can probably say they know someone who has engaged in the practice of traveling to receive elective medical care. But what’s behind medical tourism’s growth? 

What is driving the growth of medical tourism?

There are a number of circumstances that have conspired to make the modern world increasingly suited for medical tourism. First, traveling is easier – and more affordable – than ever before. With a range of lower-cost airlines to choose from, medical tourists can end up paying less in total for their procedure and travel costs than they would pay for only the procedure at home. In their home countries like the US and UK, patients are faced with excruciatingly long wait times, ever-increasing healthcare costs, and sometimes a lack of access to quality facilities or good health insurance. Medical tourism is designed to eliminate all of these concerns. 

How are patients finding out about medical tourism? 

As more and more people worldwide are connected to the internet, more and more people are learning about medical tourism. The increased exposure online has certainly contributed to the growing numbers of international patients. 

What has made medical tourism a more attractive healthcare option?

It takes more than online exposure to make a practice popular. It has to truly deliver the results it claims to. Traveling to receive medical care and procedures is indeed risky, but that is why there are entities such as the JCI that give medical facilities the stamp of approval for international patients. Not only that, but many international facilities and hospitals have cutting edge technology that is equal or superior to the technology found in patients’ home countries. Of course, there is also the tourism aspect to consider. The standard of care in many international facilities and hospitals is top-notch, and therefore the recovery period for patients can almost double as a vacation. This is just an added plus to medical tourism. 

Whether you are a patient, employer, facilitator, or hospital needing medical tourism insurance, we can assist you in getting the coverage that you need. Please reach out to us or get a quote online. 

Medical Travel and Complications Insurance vs. Travel Insurance

The differences between travel insurance and medical travel and complications insurance (often referred to as medical tourism insurance) are pretty significant. However, many Americans probably still have misconceptions about what travel insurance provides and what its coverage includes and excludes. 

What Travel Insurance Does 

Essentially, travel insurance is intended for unexpected occurrences when traveling, usually for vacation. Travel insurance helps relieve the burden of unanticipated financial expenses should a covered incident occur. These incidents can include trip cancellation or interruption, luggage or credit card theft, and unexpected medical expenses during travel abroad. For our purposes, it is important to note that your standard travel insurance only covers unexpected medical expenses or emergencies. How is this different from medical travel and complications insurance? It’s all about intent. 

Insurance for Medical Tourism 

Thousands of Americans each year undergo medical tourism – the process of traveling to receive medical treatment in a foreign country. Unlike the type of medical emergency or accident that may kick travel insurance into gear, the procedures involved in medical tourism are carefully planned in advance. There are many reasons why patients choose to do this: to pay less for procedures, to undergo treatments or work that is not approved in the US, and other reasons. So what does medical tourism insurance do, anyway? For one, unlike travel insurance, it does not pay for the medical costs themselves. 

Medical Travel Insurance Is Also Not Health Insurance

This is important. If a person is traveling abroad for the express purpose of receiving medical care, neither travel insurance, health insurance, nor medical travel insurance will pay for the cost of the procedure itself. Patients who choose medical tourism must self pay for their procedures, and often choose to do this because of the lower healthcare costs in other countries. 

What Medical Tourism Insurance Does

Essentially, medical tourism insurance for individuals provides coverage for complications that may occur during the patient’s procedure or during recovery. With all the benefits of medical tourism, there are certain risks as well. While the benefits outweigh the risks for those looking for less expensive medical care, the smart patient will still want to have the added protection of medical travel and complications insurance. In the event of complications, this insurance provides relief from any financial hardship that may be incurred. It is a necessity for anyone considering international medical tourism travel. 

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Medical Tourism Risks

Any medical procedure, no matter where it is performed, can come with risks for the patient. However, it is undeniable that having medical work done in a foreign country comes with its own distinct set of risks. What are the risks of medical tourism, and how can international patients protect themselves against them? 

Communication Struggles 

While many of the highly accredited hospitals and medical facilities have English-speaking staff, that does not mean every facility does. It does not even mean that the “English-speaking” caregivers are fluent. Your hospital could be the best around, but if they cannot fully understand some of the nuances of your conversation, vital information may be missed – on both sides. This is especially scary if complications with your procedure arise. 

Safety & Ethics 

In the US, healthcare is a highly regulated practice. Because the government keeps a close eye on hospitals and medical facilities, you know what you’re getting when you go to receive treatment. However, not all foreign countries have the same regulations as the US. If you choose to undergo medical tourism, make sure you research the regulations of the country you will visit and see if they have any credentials for regulating facilities. The Joint Commission International is a great place to start when searching for safe care facilities abroad. 

As far as ethics go, there is the matter of experimental practices. Some practices that are not approved in the US, such as using stem cells, are commonly performed in other countries. As a medical tourist, you may be seeking experimental procedures or treatments, but you also may be totally against them. Before you go, make sure you thoroughly research what kinds of practices and procedures your foreign medical provider will use. 


Traveling to receive medical care in another country certainly increases the risk of medical complications. First, the chance of infections increases, especially if you are at a facility that is poorly regulated. Bacterial and viral infections, as well as diseases like HIV and hepatitis, can be spread due to unsanitary medical practices. Another thing that can cause complications is traveling soon after a surgery or procedure. If you engage in medical tourism, it is best to remain in the country for a while as you recover. Many facilities have excellent recovery units and amenities – you just have to make sure you’re visiting the right place. 

Our medical tourism insurance is designed to provide coverage in the event of medical complications incurred in a foreign country. There are risks to medical tourism, but also wonderful benefits. Don’t go in unprotected. 

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