Access to quality healthcare is a critical consideration for retirees, and in the right places overseas, that care is accessible and low-cost. Internationalliving.com’s healthcare report pinpoints the top six countries.
“Affordable medical bills, attentive and personalised care, doctors who make house calls – that’s the reality for those who live in the places offering the best healthcare in the world,” said Dan Prescher, Senior Editor, International Living. “In the right places overseas, it is possible to access world-class care for a fraction of the cost in the USA – and people are able to take advantage of this both as travellers and as expats abroad.
“To come up with our list of the best countries for retiree healthcare, we assessed the cost, access, and quality of care as well as insurance and the cost of medications in the communities where we recommend expats go.
“We asked questions such as: how much will you have to pay for things like laser eye surgery, a tooth crown, or a blood transfusion? Can you get common medications for things like asthma and diabetes? Do you need a prescription to get a reﬁll? When it comes to assessing healthcare, we factor in both quality and price to give a fair and balanced view.”
The six countries that top International Living’s recommended list are:
The healthcare in the Southeast Asian gem is simply world class with up-to-date and sophisticated infrastructure. There are 13 JCI-accredited hospitals in the country and almost every doctor is fluent in English. Most Malaysian doctors were trained in the UK, USA, or Australia, so communication is flawless. It’s not surprising that Malaysia is a popular tourism destination.
Here, you don’t need an appointment to see a specialist, and you don’t need a referral from a general practitioner, either. It’s as simple as registering at a hospital and waiting in line to see your specialist of choice.
Prescriptions in Malaysia cost a fraction of US prices. But it’s not just the cost that’s attractive – it’s also the service. The pharmacists, like the rest of Malaysia’s medical staff, are well trained and informed. Malaysians are friendly people, but it’s the genuine interest that they take that impresses.
“Recently, I decided on a whim to have a medical wellness exam,” said Keith Hockton, IL’s Malaysia Correspondent,who lives on the island of Penang. “I’d never had one done before and as I had a free morning I decided just to pop into the Lam Wah Eee Hospital. I was already registered and found myself sitting outside a general practitioner’s office not five minutes after arriving. Within an hour, I had been examined by a doctor, had an ECG and blood and urine tests done…and I was on my way home.
“The total cost of the visit was just US$44. The doctor who had examined me called me later that afternoon with the results. It’s this level of service that makes medical care in Malaysia an attractive option. It’s all so easy.”
The low cost of health insurance and the superb quality of care means that France consistently receives high scores in the Healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index…and with the World Health Organisation. Life expectancy now averages 85.7 years for women and 80.1 for men, according to the latest WHO data published in 2018, giving France a World Life Expectancy ranking of 5 – the USA ranks at 34.
There is a reason France is consistently named by the World Health Organisation as having the best healthcare in the world. It is accessible to all and affordable. Prescription medicine is heavily subsidised and is among the cheapest in the world. For those developing long-term illnesses such as cancer or MS, all healthcare and medicine is provided free of charge.
Renowned for its excellent healthcare throughout the country, Thailand is an excellent option. “Thailand leads the way in medical tourism for Southeast Asia,” said Michael Cullen, IL Thailand Correspondent. “That means quality, international standard hospitals with well- trained, English-speaking medics in all the major cities and regional towns right across Thailand. Dental and other health services are also well covered – and all to that same high international standard.
“For expats living in Thailand it is sensible to have health insurance as there is no national system within the country they can tap into. But with healthcare costs averaging from a quarter to less than a half of what they would cost in the USA, the insurance costs will not break the bank.”
Although there is no public health insurance available to expats, there are several options to obtain private insurance from a variety of excellent companies, domestic and international. Thailand’s private healthcare system consists of a large number of well-equipped, state-of-the-art hospitals. A real plus is you are often able to visit a specialist within a short time of walking through the front door – without booking an appointment beforehand.
One of the great perks for foreign residents living in Ecuador is high-quality, low-cost healthcare – in the Land of Eternal Spring.
“In February of 2016, Ecuador passed a law that all new residents must have some form of healthcare coverage,” said Jim Santos, IL contributor. “However, the same law prevents all private insurers from denying coverage because of age or pre-existing conditions. This opened up the private market, although expats may still also choose to sign up for the state-run health plan, which covers all medical, dental, and eye-care expenses (including prescriptions, testing, rehab, etc.) at IESS hospitals and clinics with no deductible and no co-pay. Expats are eligible to use the system after paying into it for the first three months.”
In the bigger cities, you will find hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment, as well as specialists in all fields and physicians with private clinics. But expats don’t need to live in a metropolis to take advantage of good quality healthcare. Smaller cities also have private clinics and modern hospitals…and in small towns you will often find private doctors who go that extra mile, with some even making house calls if you are too ill to go out.
International Living Correspondent Donna Stiteler lives in Ecuador’s third-largest city and the economic centre of the Southern Sierra, Cuenca. “When I tell my friends back in the USA that people in Cuenca don’t worry about healthcare costs – and many don’t even carry insurance because the out-of-pocket costs are so affordable – they can’t comprehend it. I might as well be speaking to my dogs. When I tell them a doctor will make house calls for as little as $25, they are astounded. A friend in Cuenca bragged that his heart attack here cost only $5,000 – which sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.”
#5 Costa Rica (tie)
By almost any standard, Costa Rica has some of the best healthcare in Latin America. There are two systems, both of which expats can access: the government-run universal healthcare system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, known as Caja, and the private system. Both health systems are constantly being upgraded – new hospitals, new equipment, and improvements in staff training. Many doctors, especially in private practice, speak English and have received training in Europe, Canada, or the USA. But despite the advancements, costs are low in comparison to those back home.
Texan doctor John Michael Arthur, who now lives in the Central Valley, Costa Rica, has a lot of praise for the Costa Rican Healthcare system. “Having both the public healthcare system and the private healthcare system available to residents gives great options as you ‘shop’ for care. High-quality healthcare – medical, surgical, and dental – is easily found and at about one-third the cost of US prices in the private system. For example, I recently had a new state-of-the-art zirconium crown placed for about $275. I also had an echocardiogram for only $145 and I left with the complete analysis and report in my hands.”
#5 Mexico (tie)
A favourite for expats, Mexico offers an affordable cost of living and great healthcare. Most doctors and dentists in Mexico received at least part of their training in the USA. Many of them continue to go to the USA or Europe for ongoing training. Every medium to large city in Mexico has at least one first-rate hospital, with the cost of healthcare generally half or less what you might expect to pay in the USA. The same goes for prescription drugs. Plus, health insurance in Mexico costs much less.
“Mexico offers two national healthcare plans for residents,” said Don Murray, IL Rivera Maya Correspondent. “The one most popular with expats seems to be the Seguro Popular programme where annual costs may be only a few hundred dollars for full coverage.”