If you’re considering the idea of retiring overseas, here’s an important fundamental to understand: Medicare doesn’t cross the border, and the U.S. private health insurance you have now probably doesn’t either.
Before you begin to panic, recognize that there are many options for medical care and health insurance overseas. In fact, these issues are not nearly as scary as they may seem at first. You have many good options for organizing both top-notch, international-standard health care and good, comprehensive and very affordable health insurance in many places overseas where you might consider retiring or reinventing your life.
These critical issues don't need to be causes for concern at all, because they present opportunities for improving the quality of your life and for reducing your overall cost of living.
In the U.S., health insurance has become a great, even overwhelming expense. Health insurance is one of the biggest parts of many peoples’ budgets, costing sometimes many thousands of dollars per year. This isn’t the case in many other countries.
A friend, Lee Harrison, has been retired outside the U.S. for about 12 years. In all those years living overseas, Harrison has had a number of occasions to seek medical care. In one case, he had to have the exact same procedure performed in Cuenca, Ecuador, that he also had performed, at about the same time, in the United States.
As Harrison explains: “My dermatologist in Cuenca is the best I've had in my 30-year experience with dermatologists. In fact, even though I have insurance in the United States, I still return to Cuenca (when I can) for this care.” During a recent visit, he had a small, non-threatening skin cancer removed. The total cost was $90, which included the operation, office visit, local anesthesia, and supplies. In addition, he paid $20 for associated lab work, and the total bill was $110.
By coincidence, he also had the same thing done in Arizona. The total cost there was $5,190. Even after insurance, his portion of the bill was still $347. To put this into perspective, it cost 300 percent more to be insured in the United States than it cost to be uninsured in Ecuador.
But the cost of the medical care is only part of the story. The other, in fact, more important part of any medical care experience is the quality of the care. We’re concerned about what it costs to keep ourselves healthy and well and to seek medical attention when we need it, but we’re also concerned about how we’re treated in the process. And Harrison says the care he got in Cuenca was better than the care he received in the United States. “I got noticeably better and more personalized attention,” says Harrison. “In Ecuador, all the results and records belong to the patient. The doctor delivers them to you, along with any recommendation, and you can do as you please, easily going somewhere else for follow-up or treatment if you like.”
Another friend, Stephen Helming, has a similar story to Harrison’s. Stephen also had the experience recently of seeking medical care both in the United States (in Texas) and overseas (in Thailand) for the same condition. In Dallas, it took him three months to get an appointment, because he wasn't a previous patient. And his waiting time was almost five hours--3 1/2 in the main waiting room just to see the doctor, then another hour in the examination room. In Bangkok, a doctor visit was available within 20 minutes, no appointment required.
And the differences didn’t end after the appointment. "In Dallas, after I'd seen my doctor, I went to fill my prescription. The first pharmacy told me I'd have to wait an hour. So I drove to a second pharmacy, where I had to wait 30 minutes. Total time, including driving, was 1 1/2 hours,” says Helming. "In Bangkok, the pharmacy was on-site. My medication was delivered to me 10 minutes after I'd seen the doctor.”
But the biggest difference of all was in the bills. In Dallas, the cost was $150 for the doctor, $50 for an "extra services" fee and $150 for the medication. In Bangkok, the cost was $30 for the doctor, $10 for the "clinic fee" and $100 for the medication. “Bottom line, in Dallas, I spent six hours and $350 and was frustrated the entire way,” says Helming. “In Bangkok, it took less than an hour to achieve the same result. It cost me $140. And I got fast service with personal courtesy to boot."
The experiences of Harrison and Helming aren’t isolated instances. They’re two examples of the current reality that seeking medical care overseas should not be a cause for concern but an important opportunity to enjoy superior and more personal care. There’s also often less hassle and less waiting overseas, all at a perhaps drastically reduced cost.
Medical tourism is now the way of the world, and a sensible solution for many people. And this availability of advanced health care at affordable prices is very good news for anyone considering retiring in another country.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.