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5 Best Countries for Affordable Health Care in Retirement

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While health care costs in the U.S. continue to rise, a new report from International Living looks at five countries overseas that offer affordable health care.

According to PwC’s Health Research Institute, medical costs in the United States look set to grow by 6.5% this year alone. Meanwhile, out-of-pocket medical expenses are one of the main reasons U.S. citizens go into debt, according to the Association of Health Care Journalists.

With that in mind, International Living finds five countries where expats can get fully insured from just $80 a month, see a specialist for as little as $30, and have surgery performed by a well-trained professional for half or less (often much less) of the U.S. price.

“You can more than halve your health care costs in all these places — without compromising on quality,” International Living reports.

Here are the five countries where International Living finds health insurance coverage for as little as $80 a month:

Costa Rica, courtesy of International Living.

Costa Rica

Legal residents of Costa Rica can take part in the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social government-run health care system for a low monthly fee based on income, which is typically under $100 per couple, according to International Living.

Many expats also use private doctors and hospitals.

“Costs are low, with doctors’ visits running $50, so some expats choose to pay cash,” reports International Living. “However, although surgeries and hospital stays are half to a third of U.S. prices, a lengthy hospital stay or major procedure can still be costly.”

Insurance is available, with local providers like Instituto Nacional de Seguros, as well as companies like BlueCross BlueShield Costa Rica. Some policies may even cover travel to the U.S. or internationally, but there are exclusions based on age (the cutoff is usually 70 to 75, according to International Living) and for pre-existing conditions.

Expats can also use international insurance and travel insurance, according to International Living. Some facilities, including CIMA Hospital, Clínica Bíblica, and Hospital Metropolitana, in the capital, San José, take Tricare, the Defense Department’s health care program.

 Downtown Medellin in Colombia, courtesy of International Living.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Colombia ranks 22nd in the world for quality of health care. That’s higher than Canada (30th) and the U.S. (37th).

Foreigners who become residents of Colombia have the same access to health insurance as its citizens, according to International Living. Residents not older than 60 at time of enrollment can sign up for the public health insurance plan, Entidades Promotoras de Salud (EPS).

This basic plan is offered through a variety of administrative companies and covers doctors’ visits, hospitalization, lab tests, diagnostic tests, prescriptions, and eye exams and dental cleaning.

According to International Living, it is similar to a PPO (preferred provider organization) in the U.S., where doctors and hospitals within the approved network must be used.

There are also private insurance companies that will cover expats, for those that are over the maximum rst-time enrollment age or those that want to supplement the EPS plan. According to International Living, the cost of premiums, services offered and rules for pre-existing conditions vary from company to company.

“Because the cost of health care services is so inexpensive in Colombia, many expats go the pay-as-you-go route and choose not to sign up for any health care insurance,” Internatonal Living reports. “A one-hour consultation with a specialist will run you about $50.”

 Punta Cana, Mexico


Expats in Mexico generally get private insurance to cover emergencies and costly procedures, according to International Living. 

GNP Seguros is Mexico’s largest private health insurer. Several other companies operate in Mexico as well, including Bupa Mexico, a subsidiary of the U.K. giant Bupa Global.

“Premiums vary, depending on your age, the coverage you choose and your deductible,” according to International Living. “But expect to pay on average anywhere from about $1,000 to $3,000 a year for a policy.”

According to International Living, Doctors’ visits usually run from about $30 a visit up to $45 or $50 for many specialists. Expats can also get international coverage for emergencies as part of their policy, or as a rider to it.

According to International Living, expats will need to show that they’re a resident of Mexico to get an insurance policy, and insurers may want to see proof that they live there, such as a utility bill or even a residence visa.

Skyline of Panama City, courtesy of International Living


In Panama, hospitals and large clinics tend to have affiliations with their U.S. counterparts, from the Cleveland Clinic and Miami Children’s Hospital to Johns Hopkins International. According to International Living, accreditations offered by the likes of the Joint Commission International also help highlight Panama’s high standards.

Some expats in Panama choose to pay their medical expenses out of pocket, but International Living says it’s best to have private medical insurance.

Local plans, such as Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Panama, can cost as little as $80 a month, but the cutoff age to apply for these plans is typically between 62 and 65, according to International Living.

Panama also has internationally underwritten plans available that can cost anywhere from $120 to $250 a month and may offer coverage in other locations, not just Panama. It’s best to apply before age 70, International Living advises.

For anyone over 70 or with pre-existing conditions, International Living says a hospital membership may be the best option. These can cost $90 to $175 a month, and offer hefty discounts on consultations and treatment. Unlike insurance plans, hospital memberships may offer limited coverage for pre-existing conditions after a waiting period of a year or two.

George Town, Penang, Malaysia, courtesy of International Living.


General medical insurance in Malaysia can cost very little, according to International Living.

International Living’s Malaysia correspondent Keith Hockton lives with his wife, Lisa, in the city of George Town on the island of Penang and pays $270 per person per year.

According to International Living, George Town and Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital, are the “medical centers of excellence.”

“Here you find the best doctors, nurses, surgeons and dentists in Southeast Asia,” International Living reports. “Most of them have been trained in the U.S or the U.K., or at the very least have completed their postgraduate studies there.”

Other benefits of Malaysia International Living cites are that English is widely spoken and there are often no waiting lists.

—Related on ThinkAdvisor: 10 Best Foreign Countries for Retirement: 2017