Are you curious about what medical care is like in Costa Rica? Whether you’re planning a visit or just want general knowledge on the country’s healthcare system, you’ll likely be surprised to find that Costa Rica is actually quite advanced when it comes to medical care. Citizens and permanent residents of Costa Rica are entitled to free public health care, also known as universal health care.
This does not mean, however, that Costa Rican residents and citizens can just go to any hospital or health care facility that they want and get any healthcare procedure done for free. No, there are rules in place about who can get which procedures done. With that said, however, know that Costa Rica’s healthcare system is considered superior to other healthcare systems throughout Latin America.
Private and Public Health Care Facilities
In Costa Rica, you will find two distinct types of healthcare facilities. First, you have public healthcare facilities, which provide free care, within certain limitations, to all permanent residents and citizens of Costa Rica. Then, you have private healthcare facilities which do not operate free-of-charge to anyone. These facilities regularly serve tourists and expats, in addition to locals who can afford the added expense. Do keep in mind, however, that even the most elite private healthcare facility in Costa Rica is going to be cheaper than the average healthcare facility in the United States. Plus, many of these facilities accept health insurance, including health insurance from foreign providers. Most healthcare facilities, both public and private, tend to be safe in their practices and at least fairly up to date in terms of the medical technologies utilized. The only real reason that some people consider private healthcare in Costa Rica superior is that getting medical attention is usually quicker and easier at private facilities. Also, those who don’t speak Spanish are more likely to find a speaker of their language at a private healthcare practice or hospital.
A Haven for Cosmetic Surgery
Just as cosmetic surgery procedures are abundant in the United States, they are also widely available throughout Costa Rica. Essentially any cosmetic procedure that is done in the states is available for a lower price in Costa Rican medical facilities. In fact, it’s estimated that the average cosmetic procedure performed in Costa Rica will cost as much as 50% less than the same procedure performed in the United States. For this reason, many Americans flock to Costa Rica to get the plastic surgery they’ve always wanted but could never afford. While there are certainly many reputable cosmetic surgeons in Costa Rica, there are also false practitioners who take advantage of the fact that Americans flock to the country in search of a better deal on cosmetic work. These practitioners sometimes practice faulty, unsanitary, or even dangerous procedures and should be avoided at all costs. If you are considering having a cosmetic procedure performed in Costa Rica, make sure that you research your doctor and/or facility extremely carefully. Your best bet is to book your procedure through a well known private hospital in the country; make sure that you avoid “surgeons” who do not operate in hospitals or legitimate medical practices.
Another thing to understand about the Costa Rican healthcare system is that prescription medications are not nearly as heavily regulated as they are in the United States. In fact, at many Costa Rican pharmacies, it’s considered perfectly acceptable to purchase prescription medications without a prescription. Some medications that require a prescription in other countries, including the United States, but that do not require a prescription in Costa Rica include birth control medications, medications for severe migraines, certain pain medications, medications to regulate high blood pressure, and medications for controlling cholesterol. And, just as medical care is cheaper in Costa Rica than it is elsewhere, prescription medications also tend to be much more affordable. As you might imagine, many Americans take advantage of the no-prescription rules and the affordability and may illegally buy prescription medication without a prescription or stock up on medications that they require.
Remember that there are laws about what can be brought into a different country from Costa Rica and that smuggling medications across the border is a crime. Furthermore, buying prescription medications without a prescription from Costa Rican pharmacies is also illegal, as is selling the medication received. Another important thing to note about Costa Rican pharmacies is that pharmacists are often viewed as being akin to doctors. It is not at all uncommon, for example, for Costa Rican residents to receive diagnoses from their pharmacists without ever consulting with a doctor. Since most Costa Rican pharmacists are highly trained in the medical field, this usually does not pose a problem. Furthermore, when a pharmacist cannot diagnose an illness or condition, it is his or her responsibility to recommend a suitable physician. If you are an American or a non Costa Rica native, however, you are encouraged to follow the laws and regulations as they relate to medication and medical procedures in your country.