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Health care in Costa Rica

The UK government’s assessment of Costa Rica’s health care system is that it is of a generally high standard and the World Health Organisation (WHO) also views it very positively.

They add that only initial emergency medical treatment is available without charge for visitors and that it is important to have adequate health insurance as subsequent treatment will be charged. This is even more important as so many expats are not yet official residents and will need to pay for any treatment.

All residents get universal coverage from two health care systems: public and private. While the public sector can have waiting lists, treatments are relatively inexpensive — Americans in particular will find treatments far cheaper than at home. One expat explained how their angioplasty would cost $13,000 in Costa Rica and $40,000 in the US and put most other treatment cost savings at between 60% and 90%.

This is also evidenced by the growing number of medical tourists who travel to the country every year. Around 40,000 medical tourists travelled to Costa Rica in 2011, compared with 36,000 in 2010 and 30,000 in 2009, the majority from the US and Canada.

Costa Rica ranks high in dentistry and cosmetic surgery, above Canada and US, and is building a name in the fields of eye surgery, cancer therapy, and bariatric surgery. As such it has some of the best health care in Latin America and expats enjoy the ubiquity of spoken English as the lingua franca. A key problem is the length of time it takes for ambulances to travel to remote areas and within urban traffic. This has led to the emergence of companies offering private air ambulances and highlights the importance of international private medical insurance.

Private health care is affordable and high quality. There are three large, private hospitals that most expatriates use, all in or around San Jose: CIMA hospital in Escazú, Clínica Bíblica in San José, and Hospital La Católica in San José-Guadalupe. In 2010, it become mandatory for residency applicants to become members of Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), a social security system which covers the government-run universal health care system. The monthly payment is between 7% and 11% of the applicant’s monthly income.

Many expats opt for a mix of public and private, switching between the two as they need.

It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the main health risks you can expect from living in Costa Rica. Read our health and well-being guide here.

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