What Are My Healthcare Options While Abroad?

The expat life can offer so much in terms of personal liberation, delivering a rich cultural experience and in many cases, a lower cost of living. 

As an experienced expat, I am always willing to share my experiences with seeking medical care while living abroad, including living with my family in Nicaragua for fourteen years as well as time visiting many destinations around this world. To this day, I continue to learn more and more about living abroad in all its various forms. My most recent lesson came from a small accident I had while spending time in Mexico. 

I picked up slacklining as a hobby because my daughters wanted me to build them a tightrope after seeing a circus a few years back. If you are not familiar with a slackline, it involves suspending a line between two trees and walking from tree to tree without falling. It requires equal parts balance, concentration, and core strength.  It’s great exercise and whole lot of fun too.  

While in Acapulco, Mexico, I took a nasty fall and broke my wrist.  This is where my story begins. 

After my fall, I visited Clinica Medica Diamante in Acapulco and received world class medical care for a fraction of the cost in the US.  Sharing this experience could be helpful for those looking to seek both immediate and long-term medical care while living as an expat. 

Here are the questions I am frequently asked about medical care abroad. 

What was your experience like?

The first thing to come to mind is how friendly and knowledgeable the hospital staff is but I’m even more excited to mention how inexpensive my trip to the emergency room was. $25 to see the doctor and $30 for the X-ray. Imagine that.  

Depending on the region of the world you are in, you can truly get world class medical care.   Acapulco is one such location.   

Did you run into any language barriers?

Having a little bit of the local language, Spanish in this case, under your belt certainly helps. In Mexico It did. This does not mean, however, you will need an education in the language to get medical attention. Most doctors in the region do speak English at some level.   Many have trained and worked in the US. What you’ll find in the larger hospitals in larger cities are doctors who speak English. But of course, if you know some Spanish, that is good too.

However, it’s always a good idea to learn the basics of the language spoken in the region in which you are visiting or living. 

What about regular care? 

Many are also interested in medical services for those who need specific, regular medical attention, like many retirees. Could they expect the same quality of medical attention as one would back home?  Living in Nicaragua for 14 years, our family engaged the medical system there for our routine medical needs.   We elected to have our daughter’s foot surgery there too.   The milkshake at the hospital was excellent apparently.  

Also, prescriptions and pharmaceuticals are a fraction of what they are in the US! 

Are there expat insurance options? 

There are many great expat health insurance options out there. The one we used is Bupa Global. Bupa is an expat-only health insurance option that was designed by medical professionals that understand the importance of world-class medical care. It covers you back in the States too. 

What kind of medical care facilities are out there?

There are great medical facilities found in popular expat destinations. The first one to note was Medica Diamante, in Acapulco, Mexico. 

In Managua, Nicaragua, where I lived for years is the JCI Gold Accredited, Vivian Pellas Metropolitano

Another hospital I’m familiar with is Punta Pacifica in Panama. This is a Johns Hopkins affiliated medical care facility. 

Medicare Express

While I have a good understanding for those who are looking for medical care while living abroad, what about those who are taking advantage of US Medicare and do not have expat medical insurance? 

A good acquaintance of mine, Tony Smith, a real estate agent in Florida who has thought about offshore medical in an interesting light. Here is what Smith told me about the “Medicare Express”:

“I discovered Fort Lauderdale is the closest non-stop re-entry point to the US.  It's cheaper than Miami and Houston.  I booked a fake trip and it was something like $200 bucks. 

Then I applied the Medicare supplement rules. Basic Medicare can be used anywhere in the US, however, if you a supplement plan it's based upon your county of residence.   Someone from Ohio with a supplement plan is not going to fly from Belize to Ohio for medical care.  So, all you have to do is declare Broward County, Florida your residences and your supplement plan will follow.  Then if you retire to Belize all you can fly back and forth to Fort Lauderdale for medical care, annually.  

The Fort Lauderdale airport is within Uber distance of several large medical facilities.   Buyers should be able to schedule annual medical exams at one medical facility.  There is also a VA medical center in Miami and West Palm Beach, all easily reachable by Uber.

I called the Southwest flight the Medicare Express flight.   For the cost of the supplement Medicare plan and the cheap flights I thought it was a detailed way to overcome the buyer's objection regarding medical care.

Baby boomers are used to flying and moving about so I don't think the concept is unfeasible.  At some point, I wouldn't be surprised if walk-in medical clinics will be at the airport.”

Whether you are looking for immediate or regular medical care abroad, or you want to take advantage of your insurance policy back home, there are options for you. Don’t let the fear of lack of medical care stop you from making the most out of an Expat life. 

Hospital by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia is licensed under Unsplash License

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