What to consider if you are considering medical tourism

Have you been thinking about medical tourism?

It’s an increasingly popular option in Australia. According to government figures, Australians spend an estimated $300 million a year on cosmetic-surgery tourism alone. 

There are plenty of stories around about how you can pay a fraction of the cost of Australian prices for medical and dental procedures overseas. However there are a few horror outcomes as well, and precious little legal protections.

A couple I know travels to the husband’s eastern European country of birth every few years and they save up any major dental work until then.

They save thousands, especially with two children. However, he speaks the language and his parents still live there, so they know who to use. Most people don’t have this luxury and often rely on word of mouth or online reviews, which can both be unreliable narrators.

Before you book

If you are considering medical tourism, the government site Smartraveller has some advice before you book your ‘holiday’.

Their first advice is, although you may be entertaining the idea because it’s cheaper than Australia, you should never decide by finding the cheapest price alone.

Smartraveller recommends talking to your doctor before you travel and getting a thorough checkup before you go. In fact, before you book your holiday. It could be a real mood killer if you discover you are pre-diabetic or have a heart murmur and you have handed over thousands for an overseas trip. 

Next up is to go deep into researching your destination and choice of healthcare provider.

Before you agree to medical tourism, you should:

  • Research the healthcare system of your destination. 
  • Look into the reputation of the hospital. See if there are reports of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. 
  • Check if the surgeon is qualified and accredited. Research their reputation and the experience of past patients. 
  • Make sure the hospital and doctor have indemnity and malpractice insurance. 
  • Make sure they offer continuing care for issues such as post-operative complications and rehabilitation if necessary.
  • Have a plan ready in case the surgery doesn’t go well. Find an alternative health provider or the nearest emergency department.
  • Keep a record of any implants. If something goes wrong, the correcting doctors will need to know what’s been used. 

Naturally, there are always risks with any medical procedure, but it comes with extra risk overseas.

It’s complicated

If there are complications, you may need to be medically evacuated and, unfortunately, general travel insurance almost always does not cover you for medical tourism. 

Trip over a rock outside the Colosseum and break your leg in three places and, as long as you have the right insurance, you are covered.

But if you plan to get some dental veneers in Bali and later develop an abscess, you should have bought tailored special insurance. 

However, if you are planning on such a trip, you must let your insurer know before you travel. You may void your policy if you don’t tell them everything. 

Ask them if they cover post-operative care, complications and medical evacuation.

Make sure you know what your insurer excludes before you sign off. 

Some Australian private health insurers have arrangements with overseas hospitals and will offer you the option to have the procedure done overseas. They may cover your travel expenses and medical fees and even help organise your trip. 


It’s a great service, but once again, make sure you have iron-clad insurance, and do some research about previous outcomes – good and bad. 

Also, be aware Medicare may not cover treating complications from any procedures you have had overseas.

If you are considering medical tourism, you should always take someone with you. If something goes wrong, you will need someone to advocate for you and arrange your continuing care.  

Have you travelled overseas for a medical procedure? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: Don’t forget this hidden holiday cost

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. I would be reluctant to have most medical procedures done overseas in a third world country. But dentistry is a different matter and I know plenty of people who get their teeth fixed in south east asia where the cost can be 80% lower than here and that’s using an upmarket modern surgery with competent dental staff.

  2. I had all my major dental work done overseas since nearly 20 years. There is a helpful website dentaldepartures.com with which I had only great results. However my first dental work was done on a personal recommendation in India and it was less than perfect. Had to return twice to get the failed implant abutment replaced. Luckily I was going anyway annually to India at the time, and the replacement was done free of charge.

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