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Let's face it: the cost of health care is out of control. American politicians refuse to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies, and the public ends up paying more to get the same (or worse) treatment as people in other countries.

To take just one example: the average bypass surgery costs $78,000 in the United States. If you're retired or living on a fixed income, and you're underinsured, 78K punches a pretty big hole in your rowboat. Meanwhile, that same procedure costs just $34,000 in Switzerland, $24,000 in the UK, and $14,000 in Spain.

Given that price gap, it's easy to imagine scenarios where it would actually be cheaper to take a vacation somewhere nice and get a little surgery done on the side while you're there!

Here's our guide to medical tourism: the top 5 countries where you can get safe, affordable medical care. (And, you know, have a wonderful time as well.)

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the poorer nations in the western hemisphere. The country's average per capita income is less than $7,000 USD per year, and more than 20% of Costa Ricans live in poverty.

Given that, it surprises many foreigners to learn that Costa Rica has superb health care. In fact, their system is marginally better than the American one according to the World Health Organization! So you can be assured you won't be sacrificing any quality if you opt to travel to Costa Rica for treatment, as more than 40,000 Americans do every year. The only thing you're be losing is a whole lot of expense.

Medical and dental procedures in CR typically run you between a quarter and half what they would cost stateside. For example, a knee replacement averages $34,000 in the U.S.; in Costa Rica, you can get it for $9,500.

The comparatively low cost of living and the accessibility of quality health care also makes this Central American jungle paradise a popular place to retire.

If you're interested in reading more, check out 15 Things Everyone Should Do In Costa Rica.

Costa Rican island and canal into the ocean
Costa Rica. Wikimedia Commons.

Mexico

In a lot of ways, Mexico gets a bad rap. Parts of the country are notoriously dangerous, but when it comes to health care, Mexico has more in common with the United States than you might expect. Many Mexican doctors do at least some training in the U.S. and vice versa. Major Mexican cities almost all have reliable medical facilities that do quality work for a fraction of the cost you'll pay back home.

Mexico's specialty is dentistry. Many towns bordering the U.S. have dental offices designed to cater to border-hopping patients. The town of Vicente Guerrero, for instance, has more than 350 dentist offices, earning it the nickname "Molar City."

The town of Puerto Vallarta is another popular destination for medical tourists, as it offers high-end doctors and dentists while also serving as a worthy vacation spot in its own right.

Interested in Puerto Vallarta? Read 7 Things To Do in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Thailand

Thailand is another country with many Western-trained doctors doing quality work at low prices. But you probably want to stay in the capital, the garish and modern Bangkok, rather than shopping around more rural areas.

Thailand first made its name as a medical tourist hotspot by offering inexpensive cosmetic surgeries in the '90s. You can still get a facelift for about 20% what it would cost you in the U.S., but you can also find top-notch treatment for more serious complaints.

One of Thailand's most popular hospitals for expatriates is Bumrungrad International, which is modeled after the famed Mayo Clinic. It offers transparent pricing packages and boasts 220 physicians who are U.S.-certified.

Besides: who doesn't want to try some authentic pad thai, see tigers and elephants, and recover from a minor surgery on a tranquil South Pacific beach?

Read more about the nation formerly known as Siam: 12 Things To Discover In Thailand.

Islands off the coast of Thailand seen from above
Thailand is known for its beautiful coastal islands. Unsplash / Denys Nevozhai

India

This one may sound a little too risky, but medical tourism is a growth industry in India, serving over 300,000 foreign patients annually. In a way, it's unsurprising: the subcontinent trains some of the most skilled surgeons and physicians in the world -- and most of them speak English.

While India is definitely more of a jaunt than Mexico or Costa Rica, patients willing to make the trek can save as much as 85%. Even factoring in the cost of travel, it can easily be 70% cheaper to get your treatment here!

Specialties of Indian doctors include eye surgeries, joint replacements, bone marrow transplants, and cardiac care. Success rates are on par with Western countries. Centers for medical tourism are the cities of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.

Malaysia

Another potentially surprising entry! But Malaysia has been named destination of the year by International Medical Travel Journal three years running.

Singapore used to be the most popular medical tourism destination in Southeast Asia. But Singapore is rich, and its prices have been going up. Malaysia has slipped in and become the new Singapore, offering developed-world care at developing-world prices.

Health care bills in Malaysia can be 80% lower than in America, without compromising much in the way of quality. Many Malaysian doctors are trained in the UK, the U.S., or Australia, which means a lot of them speak English. And it's always less stressful when you have an open line of communication with your doctor.

The cities of Penang, Kuala Lumpur, and Melaka are the main destinations for medical tourists in Malaysia. All are easily accessible by air.

If you're in need of some medical attention but you're short on insurance, consider working some overseas treatment into your next vacation. Explore a new country, and leave healthier than when you came: that's what we call killing two birds with one kidney stone!

Kuala Lumpur and Petronas towers seen through the fog.
Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia. Unsplash / Ishan @seefromthesky
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