As the medical tourism industry continues to grow, Costa Rica is often cited as one of the best places to travel for safe, affordable, and luxury health care. (Learn More).
The medical tourism industry is still young, so international accreditation is difficult to find. Two organizations, JCI and OECD, offer certification and membership for facilities and doctors who meet their high standards for safety and care. Using other websites and finding information about where your specific doctor was trained and board certified can also help you feel more secure in your decision as a medical tourist. (Learn More)
It is also important that you, as a traveler, meet the health and safety standards of Costa Rica, so you can travel internationally with impunity and get the care you need. (Learn More)
Medical Tourism Is a Huge Industry in Costa Rica
Medical tourism is a thriving industry, with dozens of countries around the world providing higher standards of care for much less money than nations like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
Costa Rica is one of the countries leading the new medical tourism industry. The nation boasts that between 6 and 8 percent of their overall tourist industry is medical tourism — often people seeking high-quality cosmetic surgery or dental work and a beautiful place to relax after the procedure. The Central American nation also boasts a 94 percent literacy rate, and it has the highest ranked medical system in Latin America, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In 2017, there were 53,000 health care travelers from the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. Neighboring countries like Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala also experience much cross-border travel into Costa Rica for health care reasons.
Although Costa Rica has many fine points to recommend it, simply scheduling a medical procedure at the lowest cost clinic and hoping for the best is not enough. You want to ensure you receive the best quality health care, which means researching clean, well-ranked facilities and highly educated doctors. A simple way to approach this problem is to find doctors and medical facilities who have been accredited, particularly by an international organization.
How to Find Accreditation Information for Costa Rica’s Hospitals
Every nation has its own standards for safety, doctors’ education and experience, and prescription medications. –Even if the government of Costa Rica states that a hospital or doctor excels in their field, these standards may not make sense to you.
Finding medical providers in Costa Rica through international accreditation sources can help to ensure high standards are met.
- Joint Commission International (JCI): The leading provider of international accreditation is the Joint Commission International (JCI). This is the global arm of the Joint Commission, which is the organization that provides accreditation to hospitals in the U.S. International hospitals recognized by JCI tend to have larger, better, and more modern resources.
The first hospital in Costa Rica to achieve accreditation from JCI was the Hospital Clinica Biblica in 2007. In 2008, the American-owned Hospital CIMA in San Jose received accreditation.
Both hospitals remain JCI-accredited. They are, per the JCI website, the only two hospitals in the small country to receive accreditation from this international board.
- Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD): This membership organization provides surveys of member countries’ health care, and Costa Rica’s 2017 survey was positive overall. OECD reported that the country had a longstanding commitment to universal, publicly funded health care, which was part of what made the cost lower and quality standards higher.
As a middle-income country, Costa Rica also spends more on health as a share of their GDP compared to other OECD membership nations. Between 2011 and 2015, health care spending rose 7 percent per year, which was mainly due to higher workforce salaries annually.
Life expectancy in the nation exceeds that of many other OECD members. There is a well-established primary care system, consistent and ambitious infrastructure reforms, and a unified digital health record system, which might make it easier for you to access your health records when you return to your home nation.
OECD reports that there are long waiting times for many elective procedures, and response times to heart attacks are getting worse. This may be associated with the decrease in resources in hospitals, including beds, nurses, and doctors.
- Online resources: Websites do not offer board-based accreditation or standards created by other medical professionals, but using a website like MedicalTourism.com can allow you to find more information about hospitals and doctors offering procedures you want. You can find details that may not be included in accreditation standards.
- General education: Many doctors study in Western countries, including the U.S. Look for board certification and educational information about specific doctors to see if they have received credentials through organizations you understand and trust. This also means the provider is more likely to speak fluent English, so asking questions and understanding the parts of your procedure will be simpler for you.
International Oversight of Costa Rican Hospitals and Doctors
If you are traveling to Costa Rica, even as a medical tourist, you must meet that country’s standards for entry too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website keeps an updated list about medical requirements for travelers to Costa Rica, but be sure to check other government websites and the news for updated travel information.
While Costa Rica offers great perks like “recovery retreats,” which offer high-quality tourist accommodations for those recovering from medical procedures, there are many personal considerations for you to consider before you become a medical tourist to this lovely Central American nation. Take the time to do your research beforehand to ensure you avoid major issues.
Medical Tourism. Costa Rican Vacations.
Costa Rica. (June 3, 2018). Patients Beyond Borders.
Should You Have Surgery Abroad? (November 2014). AARP.
Homepage. Joint Commission International (JCI).
Costa Rica – Health System Performance Review. (2017). Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD).
Costa Rica. MedicalTourism.com.
Health Information for Travelers to Costa Rica: Traveler View. (March 29, 2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).