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Medical Tourism (Travel For Medical Care)


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"Medical tourism" refers to traveling from one place to another to obtain medical care - commonly from one country to another, but also from state to state.

The most common reasons for medical tourism are:

  • To obtain less expensive medical care, primarily for people who are uninsured or who have a high deductible and for a treatment that happens just once and has a recovery that is quick. Savings from treatments abroad can be so significant compared to similar treatments offered in the United States that treatment requiring multiple trips may also be worthwile to consider.
    • People with high deductible health insurance can save money, and can also use tax-free dollars from a health savings account to pay for care and some of the travel so long as the procedure meets IRS criteria for qualified medical expense.
  • To travel to another country which offers treatments or procedures that are either illegal or unavailable in the United States.
  • A preference for care from providers from a similar culture. 

Historically, medical tourism has been about leaving the United States. These days, it is also possible to travel within the United States for lower cost medical care. For example, AARP reported a story of a man who found a hospital in Kansas that did a triple bypass surgery for $13,200 instead of the $80,000 it would have cost in his home area.

When considering traveling for medical care, expect to have your doctor at home make a diganosis and evaluate your fitness for travel. Then look for a doctor or other health care provider who:

  • Is well-trained,
  • Experienced with your situation,
  • Works in or with a high quality facility which has back-up in case a problem occurs and other medical disciplines need to be involved. 

Experts say that medical tourism works best if the need is for a procedure that involves low risk, and that has a quick recovery with little follow-up care.

If you are interested in Medical Tourism, consider the following steps, each of which are described in other sections of this article:

Step 1. Define your need.

Step 2. Research the alternatives (including other states in the U.S. which may be substantially less expensive than where you live).

Step 3. Check references when you narrow your search.

Step 4. Interview the doctor.

Step 5. Contact your local doctor and/or hospital.

Step 6. Budget your treatment and trip. Compare to costs at home.

Step 7. Get the agreement in writing.

Step 8. Consider purchasing travel insurance. (For information, see Travel Insurance Post Diagnosis

Step 9. Before you travel, learn how to travel safely.

Before you come home, get a copy of your complete medical record.

For a list of companies that connect patients to medical services, click here.


  • Keep in mind that your support team will likely not be with you when at the site. 
  • If there is a problem, medical malpractice laws in the U.S. rarely apply to foreign defendants. Even if they do, the amount of damages awarded can be low - if you can find an attorney to represent you on a contingency basis. Insurance companies are beginning to offer policies to protect against this problem. For example,    AOS Insurance Company Ltd. (based in Barbados)
  • Keep receipts for ALL expenses. All expenses for the trip, starting from the moment you leave home until you return, may be considered part of medical expense for tax purposes. Of course, if you take a side vacation while you're gone, that part of the trip is not a medical expense. To find out what expenses the IRS permits, see offsite link
  • Consider offsite link
    • The organization publishes a comprehensive guide called Patients Beyond Borders by Josef Woodman. It includes information about the best hospitals and clinics. The company also publishes country-specific and hospital specific guides.
    • PatientsBeyondBorders offers one-on-one advice in free 15 minute consultations. It also provides more in depth individualized information for a fee.

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