Medical Tourism in Latin America

Medical tourism is the practice of visiting a foreign country to receive healthcare, medical treatments, or surgery with the benefit of lower costs than can be found in the U.S. It is estimated that as many as 23 million Americans are expected to engage in medical tourism in the near future, and half of these people are likely to visit countries in Central and South America for their treatments.

Why Latin America?

The benefits of visiting Latin America for medical treatments are nearly unbelievable. The most obvious benefit is the low cost for services, but this is matched by the high quality of medical facilities, practitioners, and treatments. Many Latin American countries are ideal for American medical tourism because of their close proximity to the U.S. Because it is such a popular destination for medical tourism, Latin America’s medical facilities have to use cutting edge equipment and technology in order to meet the high standards of foreign medical tourists and keep their spot as a leading location for medical tourism.

Market Data Forecast reported in 2016 that the Latin American medical tourism market was worth USD 4.33 billion, and this is expected to grow at 18.9% CAGR to reach USD 10.30 billion by 2021.

Top services performed for medical tourists in Latin America include cancer treatments, chronic disease care, dental treatments, heart and bariatric surgeries, orthopedic treatments, cosmetic and plastic surgeries, rehabilitation programs, and eye care. These treatments and surgeries can see a 30% to 70% cut in medical expenses when compared to those in North America.

Some of the top countries for medical tourism in Latin America are Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil.


It is estimated that medical tourists visiting Mexico can save 40% to 60% on their medical bills. Many doctors and dentists in Mexico received training in the U.S. and are bilingual, making communication with English speaking patients easy and stress-free. In addition, several private American hospital chains own and run hospitals in Mexico, and there are two facilities in the country that are gold members of the Medical Tourism Association. The rate of savings combined with Mexico’s very close proximity to the neighboring U.S. make it an excellent option for medical tourism.

Costa Rica

Over 50,000 foreign patients travel to Costa Rica each year for healthcare, and a majority of that number are Americans. These medical tourists save between 45% and 65% on their procedures. Costa Rica’s healthcare system was actually ranked slightly above that of the U.S. by the World Health Organization. Due to the high quality of services, around 15% of all international tourists to Costa Rica come specially to receive medical care.


Brazil’s advanced healthcare system makes it a popular destination for medical tourism. With over 6,500 hospitals, Brazil has one of the largest healthcare systems in the world. It currently has over 60 facilities and programs accredited by the JCI (Joint Commission International), an organization that supports medical excellence in countries outside the U.S. Medical tourists can expect to save 30% to 70% on services performed at Brazilian institutions and will receive top quality care.

For someone visiting a foreign country specifically to benefit from less expensive medical treatment, it would be a disaster to be hit with unexpected charges related to the trip or procedure. Our medical tourism insurance provides coverage against any unforeseen circumstances that a patient traveling abroad may experience.

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Do I need special medical tourism insurance?

Medical Tourism Insurance

We are often asked if special medical tourism insurance is needed for travel. In short, yes. But, be careful to review the varying options in the specialized products available and don’t confuse this with leisure and business travel insurance.

Travel agents, insurance brokers, travel websites and other travel organizations offer travel insurance with many reputable travel insurance companies. We too have travel insurance options for standard leisure and business travel. The standard travel policies all have a set of exclusions and the main exclusion that makes the standard policy inadequate for a medical tourist is the exclusion “when travelling for the purpose of receiving medical (to include dental) care”. Business and leisure travel policies don’t anticipate the increased exposures in their rating or coverage forms associated with receiving elective medical care out of your home country.

Further, some of the available specialized medical tourism travel insurance programs include coverage for a complication arising from an elective procedure but the coverage can be limited geographically to the country where treatment is received. In our 10+ years of covering medical and dental travelers and studying claim activity, we have determined that a large portion of the complications are occurring when the traveler returns to their home country.  It is important to know that even with Universal Healthcare being available in many home countries, there is growing push back from these national or provincial health systems to treat non-emergency medical complications free of charge or in a timely manner.  Furthermore, if the treatment or procedure obtained in the host country was of a highly specialized nature, proper treatment of a complication at home may not be readily available, thus requiring the need to travel back to the original provider.

Look for a benefit package that includes complication coverage as a result of the procedure for a longer period of time after the procedure. A typical complication, such as a post-surgical site infection, can occur when the medical tourist returns home. Your benefits should allow for the expenses resulting from the out of country procedure no matter where the expenses are incurred. Further, the benefits should expand to include additional costs of travel, meals and accommodations, should your prefer to return to your original treating physician and are physically fit to travel back. Robust policies include additional benefits such as residence modification, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, dependent care/family coordination and some even include benefits for unsuccessful or unfavorable outcomes that are a result of a covered medical complication.