The business of medical tourism in Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica's biggest attractions is its medical facilities.

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How has Costa Rica’s medical tourism industry been impacted by Covid?

Costa Rica’s high-quality, low-cost healthcare system has created a blossoming medical tourism sector that caters to people who travel abroad in order to receive treatments.

The Costa Rican Health Chamber (PROMED) estimates the country receives about 70,000 medical tourists annually, while the Central Bank said medical tourism contributed $437 million to the Costa Rican economy in 2017.

Recently, The New York Times reported Costa Rica and Mexico “have become the most popular destinations” for U.S. citizens seeking “dental care, cosmetic surgery and prescription medicines” abroad.

Data from Clinica Biblica, a private hospital in San José, supports that statement. A hospital spokesperson estimates 40% of Biblica’s patients come from abroad, the majority seeking orthopedic surgery, dental care or plastic surgery.

Some dental clinics in Costa Rica specifically target foreigners with “all-inclusive” packages that include housing and airport pickups.

Why the demand? It’s simple: For many U.S. citizens, it’s significantly cheaper to fly to and from Costa Rica for medical care than it is to get the equivalent treatment in the United States.

PROMED says the average medical tourist saves 40% to 70% in Costa Rica, and that “even including the travel and hotel costs, the savings are substantial.”

Obviously, this sector has been shaken by the coronavirus pandemic. Costa Rica banned incoming tourists for much of 2020, and international travel remains depressed.

Still, Costa Rica appears to be poised for a post-pandemic rebound. The Times, citing experts in the medical tourism industry, says Covid is driving up U.S. demand.

“The twin crises of the economy and the enormous strain that Covid-19 has placed on the already faulty American health care system are pushing many patients to travel,” they write.

“The coronavirus pandemic has devastated medical tourism, but pent-up demand remains for affordable treatment in foreign lands.”

The future is uncertain, especially in context of the pandemic. But Costa Rica has the advantages of being close to the United States, having reasonable entry requirements, and touting highly rated medical care, leaving the sector in good position for a rebound.

Given Costa Rica has relations with China, does it still rely on U.S. military protection?

Costa Rica, like many countries, maintains diplomatic relationships with both the United States and China.

As we wrote in December, Costa Rica is part of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. The so-called Rio Treaty has been in place since 1948 and reads as follows:

An armed attack by any State against a State Party shall be considered an attack against all the States Parties and, consequently, each of them undertakes to assist in meeting any such attack.

Costa Rica’s diplomatic relationships with China do not nullify the Rio Treaty. If Costa Rica were attacked, it would anticipate support from all members of the Rio Treaty, including the United States.

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