Medical tourism: Americans will increasingly seek treatment in the Caribbean and Latin America

American and Canadian residents are increasingly seeking treatment in Latin America and the Caribbean. And if Donald Trump will certainly soon build his wall with Mexico… he will not prevent his nationals from going to the other side for treatment, whether for dental problems, cosmetic surgery or less minor medical interventions.


A market estimated at $50 billion worldwide, medical tourism is expanding rapidly, and could reach nearly $160 billion by 2025, benefiting countries that are “medical refuges” on all continents.

Not so long ago, the term “medical tourism” was used mainly to refer to “rich people in poor countries”, whose local medical system was underdeveloped, who went to the countries that were at the forefront of medical technology. But a reverse flow is gradually created. First of all, because costs can be lower in some emerging countries, but the latter, which know how to take advantage of them and equip themselves accordingly, often know how to be faster in medical interventions than countries in North America or Europe (starting with Canada where the time required for care can be very long). Finally, another reason for medical tourism is that practices banned in some countries drive a large number of people abroad, such as abortion, freezing embryos or medically assisted procreation.


In the United States, this is not new: as early as the 1990s, Americans were fraudulently obtaining Canadian health insurance, which was cheaper than their own. Since then, the soaring costs of health insurance, but also of care, have pushed many of them to seek treatment in the countries of the South: Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and even the Cayman Islands, which, faithful to their “pirate” reputation, have set up a “Health City” (which is in fact only an international hospital). And as health insurance premiums continue to rise in the United States, the trend is not expected to reverse. In addition, the US Dollar being currently very strong compared to other currencies, this reduces the cost of a medical trip, which is often accompanied by a leisure stay in a hotel with a heavenly view!

Structures and associations have even been created in Canada and the United States to facilitate this new type of travel. Medical tourism may even be necessary for some people, when we observe for example that a liver transplant costs 300 000 US$ in the USA, while it is only 91 000$ in Taiwan.

Medical tourism includes almost everything that does not come out of the emergency, starting for example with aesthetic, dental or bariatric surgeries, whose costs can be 70% or 80% lower in private clinics in Latin America, or public hospitals in Cuba, compared to the United States (it should be noted that the entire health system is public in Cuba, and that medicine is even free, even if it is advisable to go to international hospitals which, for their part, are charged for foreigners, but at very low cost).

There may currently be more than a million Americans going to Mexico each year for treatment, a near-reflex for Californians, but they are not the only ones, far from it. The Mexican border and Mexico City are very popular with medical tourism, but the clinics in Cancun, Guadalajara or Puerto Vallarta are the most popular, with a preference for those close to hotels in seaside resorts.

In 2015, 65% of Americans going to Mexico for care had no social security coverage. And even with the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), many beneficiaries of this program continued to pass the Rio Grande because medical costs remain much lower on the other side of the future “Trump Wall”.

On the other hand, many foreigners also come to cities in the United States to meet the best plastic surgeons. And although the cost of the trip is much higher by comparing the trip, the hotel in New York and the operation, some are also willing to spend more for the best result.


While hundreds of thousands of Canadians have already been treated in Cuba, a growing number of Americans are defying the travel ban to get patched up at low cost, knowing that the country is known to have some of the best doctors in the world. “It’s true, especially in international hospitals,” says a Frenchman from Miami who has lived on the island for a long time. “But the way it works can be surprising at first, such as going to a hospital without an appointment. It is also important to know that not all products are necessarily available and that you may have to go there with your plastic hip for them to put it on! But if not, it’s true, the first thing I did when I arrived in Miami was to find a Cuban doctor there! «

The websites of Cuban international hospitals, such as Havana’s, have long had English versions, and there are even “medicalized hotels” on the island where it is possible to get treatment and then go for a swim in the turquoise sea right after! “Doctors are as good there as they are in Canada,” confirms one Montrealer, “but, in addition to the cost of the procedures, there is an important difference with the United States: in Cuba you are considered a patient and not a bank account. American hospitals have become awful: they do everything to make you pay as much as possible. » And he’s not the only Canadian or French person to have realized it!

Another Frenchman from Miami Beach said: “For my dental care I went to Barranquilla in Colombia, and it cost me 5 times less than in Miami. The only difference is that I had to hold the suction hose myself instead of having three nurses to do it for me.


Of course, some Canadians’ testimonies on the Internet say they were disappointed with the quality of their treatment, particularly the dental braces they received in Mexico or elsewhere. But they are not necessarily in the majority. One only has to look at the number of complaints in the United States against medical services to realize that no country is spared. Last December, for example, the media and authorities in Louisiana warned against “medical tourism” after the death of a Baton Rouge woman who had taken her medical tourism to… Miami!

Of course, if complications occur after a medical procedure abroad… if the patient is still there, then he can solve them on the spot at a lower cost. But if he has returned home to the United States or Canada… you will have to pay the local rate!

Moreover, for several years now, in some Latin American countries, there have been medical centres opened by French-speaking specialists in this “Franco” market.

It should be remembered that if medicine is expensive in the United States, it is partly because of the cost of studies that medical students must pay, most of the time, who get into debt for decades in order to complete high-level studies.