Medical Tourism: Escape The USA Healthcare Scam!

Healthcare and Health Insurance in the United States is a huge headache that can rightfully cause you a lot of distress. We know people who work jobs they hate or even delay retirement simply because they need health insurance. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Before we moved to Ecuador, JP had two surgeries on his back that ended up costing almost $1,000,000. After that, our health insurance premiums skyrocketed. It’s a familiar story, but we found a happy ending, going outside the States for our healthcare needs. 

We’ve compiled a list of the top 10 countries that have better health care at a fraction of the cost. Now you can plan your next medical procedure along with the trip of a lifetime! 

What is Medical Tourism? 

The concept of medical tourism may sound a little out there, but it’s becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason! In many of these locations, you can pay for a month long medical tourism trip and still spend less than you would to get the same procedure in the United States. 

Medical tourism companies can help you get connected with doctors and ensure you have everything you need, including the proper visas. Another option is to apply for permanent residency, allowing you to stay there and pay a lot less for your healthcare. Global health insurance is also available, and if you exclude the United States from the list of places you get treatment, it can be extremely affordable. 

Let’s jump in and look at our favorite places to get medical care! 

10. France

France is known for its high quality – but low cost – healthcare.  Every year, CEO world puts out a ranking of the top healthcare systems in the world, and this year France ranked number seven! 

There is even a specific healthcare system for foreigners called Protection Universelle Maladie (PUMA). It allows access to state healthcare after only three months of residence. If staying in France for three months isn’t quite what you’re looking for, you can also turn towards private or global health insurance to help cover the costs. 

If France sounds like the perfect place to get your medical problems dealt with, you’re not alone. Medical tourism is incredibly popular in the area. You can enjoy all the romance and beauty that is in France while getting the care you need. 

9. Spain 

If you’ve ever dreamed of living where they filmed spaghetti westerns or where delicious Spanish wine is made, you might want to consider medical tourism in Spain. CEO World ranked Spain number 8 on its list of healthcare systems. 

This country features both a public and private healthcare system. If you’re looking to use the public system, you’ll need to contribute income tax and social security, but there are extremely affordable options for private insurance. In fact, some of the prices are as low as what we pay in Ecuador! 

Spain is incredibly popular for medical tourists because of its beauty and culture, as well as the long-term options for visas. 

8. Czech Republic

Ranked number 14 by CEO World, we love the Czech Republic because of its excellent health care, multiple options for visas, and low cost of living.  They are known far and wide for their excellent universal healthcare. 

If you’re looking to become a permanent resident in the Czech Republic, you are required to get private health insurance. There are lots of English-speaking practitioners, and medical tourism is popular, so they will be familiar with your situation and know how to deal with it. 

One of the unique offerings in the Czech Republic is its spa designed specifically for cancer survivors

7. Portugal 

With their state-of-the-art facilities and significantly less expensive procedures, Portugal is very popular among medical tourists. CEO World ranked its healthcare number 22, and treatment there can cost between 50-30% of what it costs in the US. 

Public health insurance is available for both citizens and residents, so if you go there as an expat, you’ll have no trouble using their system. It’s almost free, paid for with taxes and social security. 

6. South Korea

South Korea was ranked number 1 by CEO World! It’s known for being safe and affordable, as well as having lots of things to do and see while visiting. That, combined with their available one-year medical visa, makes South Korea a very popular destination for medical tourism

We have heard from lots of friends that it’s a joy to live in South Korea as a foreigner, so this is one destination you won’t want to write off. 

5. Thailand

An excellent option for medical tourism, Thailand is ranked number 13 by CEO World. Thai hospitals are some of the best in the world, and the procedures cost a mere 10-20% of what you would pay in the US! 

Thailand is a popular destination for expats because of its exciting culture and low cost of living, so you may want to consider a longer-term visa. You never know if you might fall in love with the country! 

4. Malaysia

Even though CEO World ranked Malaysia number 34, the only ranking lower than the United States, we’ve done our research and believe that it’s a strong choice for your procedures. While the pandemic hit this healthcare system hard, they are back on track to returning as one of the top healthcare systems in the world. 

They’ve been putting a lot of effort into their medical tourism, which isn’t a surprise because their hospitals are top-notch and provide care for as little as 20% of the cost in the United States. Malaysia does have public healthcare that expats can access, but you’ll end up paying higher rates, so private health insurance is a great option – and not too expensive. 

You aren’t required to have health insurance in Malaysia at all, so if you want, you can pay out of pocket for procedures. 

3. Argentina 

Argentina is one of the best countries for healthcare in South America. CEO World rated it number 27 out of all the healthcare systems in the world. They have private health insurance that’s extremely affordable and just recently started to include medical marijuana. 

The healthcare costs are 60-70% cheaper than those in the States. There’s so much to experience in Argentina over your stay, and with a one-year medical visa available, you’ll have more than enough time to enjoy this country fully.  

2. Mexico 

A long-time favorite of medical tourists from America, Mexico is easy to get into and offers high-quality procedures at a fraction of the cost. Ranked number 29 by CEO World, Mexico’s healthcare system is 3–4 times less expensive than the US.

There are even hospitals all along the border that cater specifically to medical tourists! Many doctors got their training in the US, so they speak fluent English. There are both private and public insurance options, so no matter what, you’ll be able to find an option that works for you. 

1. Ecuador

It should come as no surprise that our favorite place to get healthcare outside the US is Ecuador! Ranked number 25 by CEO World, it came in five better than the States.  

Our costs here are so low we’re always shocked when we go to the doctor to get anything done. We have health insurance that covers both of us for only $192 a month (with JP’s pre-existing condition).

We haven’t had any major procedures done since coming to Ecuador, but we know people who have had cancer treatments, shoulder injuries, and heart surgeries that they were very happy with. In general, healthcare will cost a mere 25% of the cost in the States, and many doctors speak English. 

You will deal directly with the doctor right away; you won’t have to spend weeks or months just interacting with nurses or admin staff. So many people come here for dental tourism as well, and it is significantly cheaper even with travel. 

Bottom Line

Healthcare can be such a complicated and stressful thing to deal with. We hope that by making you aware of the options, we’ve opened your eyes to the whole world of possibilities available to you with medical tourism. Happy healthy travels!

Watch Our Video About Medical Tourism


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Low Cost of Living in Ecuador: Can you live on LESS than $500 per month?

Is it possible to live in Ecuador for less than $500 per month? The short answer is yes! Expats and retirees flock to Ecuador for its tropical weather and beautiful, biodiverse landscapes, as well as for the low cost of living! Depending on where you choose to live, it’s entirely possible to live well in Ecuador on a very small budget.

People worldwide—including US, Canadian, and European expats—have discovered that Ecuador offers many affordable options to choose from. Besides the prospect of pleasant weather and stunning scenery, you can also look forward to minimizing your expenses and stretching your income!

In this article, we’ll take a look at the typical monthly expenses you can expect to incur living in Ecuador. This is a guide to everything you need to know to make a $500 budget work well for you.

You’ll find information on housing options, health insurance costs, food, and transportation that will allow a single person to live quite well on a low budget.

Housing

Low Budget Housing in Ecuador

Housing is often the largest budget consideration. It’s also what makes moving to Ecuador so attractive for people who leave Canada, Europe, or the US. Although coastal options and larger properties will cost more money, it is entirely possible to find safe, comfortable housing for less than $300/month.

Here are some things you’ll want to keep in mind when you look for housing on a tight budget.

Hostel or Private Room

Although you’ll have to share amenities like a kitchen and bathroom in these setups, you can find a safe, spacious place to live in Ecuador for between $100-$200/month in a hostel or private room in someone’s home.

For example, a friend secured a well-appointed room in a house living with an Ecuadorian family in Cuenca for $110/month. Though she only had a small corner of the fridge to herself and shared a bathroom with her host family, she enjoyed the experience and lived on a very low budget. As a bonus, living with an Ecuadorian family allowed her to quickly learn the local culture and become fluent in Spanish.

Private Housing in Ecuador

If you elect to rent a private house, condo or apartment, there are plenty to find below or around the $300/month mark in smaller cities and towns throughout Ecuador.

Here are some things that you’ll want to factor into your housing search:

Furnished, Semi-furnished and Unfurnished

There are some pretty dramatic differences between the types of listings for rental properties in Ecuador.

Furnished homes are move-in ready and have everything you need, including kitchen items, like pots and pans, and linens, like sheets and towels. Consequently, they’re more expensive.

Semi-furnished homes have appliances, like a stove and refrigerator, but you’ll have to provide everything else, such as pots, pans, plates, bedding, etc.

Unfurnished units will not have anything included—sometimes you’ll even need to provide your own blinds and light fixtures!

If you decide to go with an unfurnished or semi-furnished place, you can find reasonably priced second hand furniture at moving sales or local consignments shops.

If you’re planning to ship your belongings to Ecuador in a container, check out our article about Ecuador Shipping Company Costs and Process for more on that.

Ecuador Housing Location

Desirable properties on or near the beach, or centrally located housing in popular cities such as Cuenca, usually charge higher rents, but there are plenty of places with great views and surroundings that you can rent on a budget.

Paute (which has a thriving expat community) and Azogues are about 45 minutes from Cuenca, but offer a host of cheaper housing alternatives. Inland cities like Cotacachi, Ibarra, or Otavalo also have very affordable housing options. You might find that you need a car to get around those areas rather than rely on public transportation, so that could be costly.

For more ideas on affordable coastal living options, check out our Affordable Beach Town Rentals in Olón Ecuador video to see opportunities like the Casita in Las Nuñez, which rents for $350/month.

Health Insurance

Health Insurance in Ecuador

You are no longer required to have health insurance to live in Ecuador. That rule was dropped from the tourist, temporary and permanent visa requirements in 2020.

However, you will probably choose to purchase either private or public health insurance, which will run you about $80/month/person. You’ll pay more or less than that depending on your age, pre-existing conditions, and whether or not you smoke.

Private Insurance in Ecuador

For private insurance, in addition to the monthly premium, you can expect a nominal $100 annual deductible and a $10 copay per visit for low deductible plans. You can also purchase a high deductible plan with gap insurance, which has the benefit of lower monthly premiums.

These plans cover you at 90% in-network and 80% out-of-network. Pre-existing conditions are covered after a two-year waiting period with private insurance plans.

Public IESS Insurance in Ecuador

After you obtain your temporary residency visa AND your cédula, you can enroll in the Public IESS health insurance plan for a similar monthly premium.

Under the IESS coverage, you’ll have no copay or deductible and everything is covered at 100%, including doctors visits, surgeries, hospital stays and medication.

However, you must go to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies in the public IESS network. Pre-existing conditions are covered after a 3 month waiting period.

To learn more about this topic, check out our article, Ecuador Health Insurance: Private vs. Public IESS.

Cuenca Mercados

Grocery Costs in Ecuador

Budgeting $50/month/person for groceries is a reasonable amount in Ecuador, especially if you buy most of your fruits, vegetables and beans from the local mercados rather than the grocery stores.

Meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods are more expensive in Ecuador, so if you eat a plant-based diet or limit your consumption of those products, you’ll save a lot of money.

Transportation

Transportation

Ecuador is well-connected with a reliable public transportation system. Each ride costs about 35 cents in Cuenca and 50 cents along the coast.

Cab rides in Cuenca typically cost between $2 and $3, while on the coast they cost $1.50 to $5 depending on how far you travel between towns.

Interprovincial buses will take you from city to city throughout the country for just a few dollars per trip.

Realistically, you can get by on about $20 per month for transportation if you stay local and limit your cab rides.

Mobile Phone

Mobile Phone Service in Ecuador

WhatsApp is included in most mobile phone plans in Ecuador, and it’s used by most people to stay in touch using the free public Wi-Fi that’s available throughout the country.

Many expats choose to get a monthly phone plan that includes data for about $20/month. You can also go the prepaid route and spend a few dollars a month on minutes that you use until you run out. Depending on how heavily you rely on your mobile phone, this option can save you a lot of money over the course of a year.

Potential Extras

Potential Extras

Many rentals include utilities like water, internet or electricity.

In warmer areas in the coastal or Amazon regions, electricity isn’t typically included because air conditioning preferences lead to varying costs that are hard to predict. Depending on how cold you like it, and how efficient your place is, you’ll probably pay between $20-$100 per month in electricity charges.

Basic, residential internet service costs about $30/month with Netlife on the coast or PuntoNet in Cuenca, and faster speeds will cost more.

Some extra costs that you might incur are bottled water delivery, for about $20/month. However, plenty of people in Cuenca enjoy the tap water.

Propane costs vary widely, from $2-$3/month to $15 or more.

Montanita Ecuador Almuerzo

Incidental Expenses

Dining Out

Though the best way to save money on food is by shopping at the mercados and cooking at home, there are affordable dining options that you can enjoy on a low budget.

Local-run restaurants that serve typical Ecuadorian fares like chicken, fish, soup, rice, plantains, and juice are very affordable. Almuerzos, which are sizeable lunch portions, normally run between $1.50 to $3 for a hearty, authentic meal.

Depending on where you go and what you eat, you can dine out a few times a week on a $30 monthly dining budget.

Entertainment

Ecuador offers plenty of free entertainment options, such as local walking tours, free museums and free concerts. Local parks are outfitted with free outdoor workout equipment, and the beautiful beaches and most national parks are free, too.

These are plenty of fun ways to entertain yourself on the cheap in Ecuador.

Clothing & Shoes

Local brands of clothing and shoes are more affordable than imported brands, like Nike or Skechers. You can find plenty of options in malls, small stores or pop up shops that are in line with what you’d expect to spend on clothes or shoes back at home.

Conclusion

Yes! It’s more than possible to live well in Ecuador on less than $500 per month!

Frugal couples can easily manage on $700-$800 per month since the cost of housing won’t increase with more people.

Health insurance is reasonably priced, but will be a significant budget consideration. Beyond that, fresh, healthy food is very affordable in Ecuador. Almuerzos at local restaurants and fresh fruits and veggies from the mercados will allow you to eat well on a low monthly budget.

Transportation, utilities, and incidentals are also inexpensive compared to high cost of living places like the United States, Canada and Europe. The low cost of living in Ecuador continues to attract expats from around the world.

With a little creativity and little frugality, there are plenty of ways to make a $500 monthly budget work well for you in Ecuador, while providing lots of enjoyment and a higher overall quality of life.


Planning a move to Ecuador?

The Ecuador Expat Now eCourse covers every step from A-to-Z! 

CLICK HERE

Get Qualified, Trustworthy Recommendations

Need help with your visa, finding a place to live, shipping a container, health insurance, private driver or something else?

We're happy to introduce you to our trusted and qualified relocation experts in Ecuador!

Amelia And JP NewsletterFREE Weekly Expat Newsletter

Sign-up for our FREE weekly newsletter and get immediate access to:

This newsletter covers things we don’t share ANYWHERE ELSE! You’ll get all sorts of timely information about Ecuador and global expat news that might affect your travel or move decisions.

Join Our Community!

Cuenca Ecuador ExpatsWe've assembled a supportive community of current and future expats who are eager to share their experiences, answer questions and offer encouragement as you embark on your move abroad.

Once you become a member, you'll also gain access to a variety of exclusive benefits that will help you make a smooth transition to your new life abroad! And you'll get more immediate access to Amelia And JP!