One of the reasons we decided to spend a couple months in Colombia was to do medical tourism and dental tourism in Medellin Colombia.
In doing so we saved more money than the two months there cost us.
Here is how!
What are Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism?
Medical tourism and dental tourism are a form of ‘geoarbitrage.’ Geoarbitrage involves moving to or visiting a place with a lower cost of living while keeping the same level of income. Lowing the cost of living means it’s easier to make your money stretch further.
Geoarbitrage is at the center of our full time affordably luxury travel lifestyle.
Medical tourism and dental tourism are particularly attractive geoarbitrage opportunities for US residents. The cost of medical and dental care are absolutely out of control in the US. So is the cost of health insurance and dental insurance.
And to add insult to injury, most dental insurance plans only cover cleanings. Major dental issues have to be paid out of pocket at high US rates. So even someone with an expensive health and dental insurance plan might have to pay $20,000 out of pocket for major dental work like root canals, implants and/or veneers.
For that price you could fly to another country, stay for a week or two getting your medical and/or dental work done and STILL save 50% off the cost of care in the US.
This is the reality that drives people to consider medical tourism and dental tourism.
In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis says Americans spent $2.6 billion on medical and dental tourism in 2018. That’s up from $757 million in 2008. The trend is growing fast!
Medellin Colombia as a Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism Destination
Did you watch Narcos on Netflix? Yeah, we did too. Great show.
But that show depicts a Medellin Colombia that no longer exists.
Medellin and Colombia in general have worked very hard with great success to move well beyond the sad and terrible narco terrorism that besieged it for 20 years. But Pablo Escobar was killed nearly 30 years ago!
Today Medellin’s renaissance is nearly complete. It’s a cosmopolitan city that boasts gorgeous spring-like weather year round and lots to do and see.
As part of that renaissance, Colombia’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism began funding the promotion of medical tourism in 2014. According to the Oxford Business Group, total spending by foreign visitors for general and cosmetic procedures hit $216 million in 2014, up 41 percent from the year prior. And the trend has kept growing.
As for the quality of dental care in Colombia, Colombian dentists are required to have the same credentials as American dentists.
On the health care side, Colombia came in at #22 on the World Health Organization ranking the healthcare systems of 191 countries. That is better than Canada at #30 and the United States at #37.
On top of this, on América Economía’s list of Latin America’s top 58 hospitals, 23 of those hospitals were based in Colombia. That means that 40% of the top Latin American hospitals are located in Colombia.
Four of these Colombian hospitals have Joint Commission International accreditation, the gold standard in world health. And one of those world-class hospitals is located in Medellin – Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe.
So if you are thinking that Colombian dentistry or medical care is ‘third world,’ think again!
Because our experience with medical tourism and dental tourism in Colombia surpassed much of the medical and dental care we used to receive in the US. And for a fraction of the price!
Our Need for Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism
The Saga of Lisa’s Face
Every November I like to visit London England for my birthday.
But when we arrived Lisa was having some pain on the right side of her face.
This had been a recurring problem that we tried to get addressed in another place known for dental tourism and medical tourism: Thailand. Unfortunately it continued to be a recurring issue.
She got several diagnoses of sinus infection/issues. But Lisa was convinced it was a problem with an upper right side tooth or jaw bone.
As part of my birthday week Lisa took me to the Harry Potter Studio Experience outside of London.
About halfway through the tour, Lisa’s face was suddenly in extreme pain and became quite swollen.
We paid a visit to a doctor who couldn’t figure out if the pain and swelling was related to the sinus or a tooth. So she referred us to a maxillofacial specialist.
That specialist quickly determined the problem was, as Lisa had thought all along, an abscess between her tooth and jaw bone. His recommendation: pull the tooth and replace it with an implant before loss of jaw bone under the tooth.
In other words, emergency surgery.
So two days before my birthday Lisa got to experience the very best of private medicine in London. She had the dental surgery in what she describes as ‘the most posh circumstances imaginable.’
And everything was a smashing success. She was up and about later that same day and didn’t miss my birthday bash.
She would just need to get an implant after a couple months.
Oh, and pay the nearly $5,000 bill for the procedure!
Medellin Colombia to the Rescue!
To be fair, Lisa comes by her dental issues honestly. Her father has experienced problems his whole life. In fact, when we took Lisa’s mom and dad to Germany and Poland Lisa’s dad had to visit a dentist in Berlin – twice!
So we decided it would be best to find somewhere to live for a couple months where she could get her mouth fixed once and for all. And NOT spend $5,000 per procedure to accomplish that goal.
It was also time for our annual physicals, dermatologist checks and Lisa’s annual woman-care check.
We considered Hungary – a popular European dental tourism spot. Hungary has more dentists per capita than any other country. We also looked at Costa Rica and even Mexico.
But we’d always had Medellin on our nomad list. And some research about medical and dental care revealed the analysis documented above. So we decided to spend a couple months checking it out as well as engaging in medical tourism and dental tourism in Medellin Colombia!
Our Experience With Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism in Colombia
Since Lisa did a lot more medical tourism and dental tourism in Medellin (I just had a physical and teeth cleaning) I’m going to focus on her experiences. And I won’t get in trouble for it because there are no pesky medical privacy laws in Colombia!
When we arrived in Medellin we made appointments for a physical including blood work, a dermatologist check, a mammogram and pap for Lisa and, of course, the dentist.
We chose doctors and dentists who speak English.
Even so, while quite a few physicians have had some of their training in the U.S. and speak English, the office staff, nursing staff, and technicians often only speak Spanish. So speaking at least a little Spanish is extremely helpful as you navigate the health care system. We used our limited Spanish as well as Google Translate (one of our 11 Brilliant Travel Accessories and Hacks) to communicate with support staff.
Our doctor for the physical was Dr Luz Naranjo.
Our dermatologist was Dr Alejandro Acosta Mora.
Both of these doctors were conveniently at the Salud y Servicios Consultorios Building at 19A #44-25 in Medellin which is halfway between the Laureles and El Poblado neighborhoods where we lived in Medellin for 2.5 months.
It is a large modern building dedicated to health and medical services. And as a bonus it has amazing views of Medellin!
A few things to note about Colombian health care so you are not taken by surprise:
- Medical privacy laws do not exist in Colombia. Doctors, nurses, and other clinical personnel can speak with other family members or friends without needing a signed document allowing release of information. We were a bit shocked when our doctors conducted our consultations, physicals, lab work and even full body dermotology checks with both of us in the room!
- Many prescriptions, laboratory tests, and referrals to specialists do not require a physician’s order.
- Not all brand-name medications are available in Colombia. But generic and alternative medications typically are.
Getting a Physical in Medellin
As noted, we got an annual wellness physical exam by Dr. Luz Naranjo.
We arrived at her office and were taken together into her examination room exactly on time. It took a minute for us to get used to having each other in the room to get our exams at the same time, but that strangeness passed quickly.
The doctor, who is fluent in English, took Lisa’s medical history first. Then she performed a typical wellness annual physical: height, weight, reflexes, stethoscope and some poking and prodding. She ordered blood work and a pap test, a mammogram and a dermatology well check. She also noted that she could feel the artery in Lisa’s stomach, which is not uncommon for slender women. But out of an abundance of caution she recommended getting an ultrasound on it to make sure it wasn’t overlarge.
I went second, starting with medical history and then physical while Lisa looked on. The doctor ordered blood analysis for me as well. And we discussed my mild hypertension.
Cost for a physical in Medellin: 100,000 COP or $29.90 per person!
Lab Work in Medellin
We were very surprised that in Medellin the blood lab work technician comes to you!
Because you have to fast for 8 hours before blood work, the BioRefrencia Laboratorio Clinico lab tech comes by your house first thing in the morning to take your blood so you can then eat and get on with your day.
It is amazing to experience different norms as we travel, and this is one we liked a lot!
Even better, they posted the results of our blood work online in our health portal that afternoon! In the US, we used to have to wait a week or more to see the results of blood tests!
We were nervous that our travel keto diet would have our cholesterol out of whack. But the results showed that we have actually LOWERED our cholesterol by eating a travel keto diet!
After the tech drew blood she took Lisa into the bedroom and did a quick pap smear. Lisa had very mixed feelings about this!
Like most women she finds the test to be awkward and uncomfortable. On the one hand it was nice that it was done in the comfort of her own bed. On the other, she felt a bit weird having a clinical procedure like that done in such a non-clinical setting.
In any case, they posted the results online in about 5 days.
Cost for blood tests and pap smear test: 257,900 COP or $76.05 per person
Mammogram in Medellin
During her physical, the doctor suggested that Lisa get a mammography breast ultrasound rather than the boob-smushing X-ray typical in the US. She pointed out that ultrasounds are more reliable and accurate than X-rays and that in Medellin they were not as prohibitively expensive as they are in the US.
So a few days later we visited Atenea Mama Y Pelvis for a mammography breast ultrasound.
Lisa says it was a great and professional ultrasound experience and FAR more comfortable than the mammogram X-rays she has had in the US.
Cost of mammography breast ultrasound in Medellin: 150,000 COP or $44.23.
Dermatologist in Medellin
Lisa and I both spend a lot of time in the sun as kids and teenagers. So we like to get dermatologist well checks every year or so.
We visited dermatologist Dr Alejandro Acosta Mora. He has a sleek modern office.
Again, our consultations and exams were taken together. For the physical exam we took turns stripping and laying on his examination table while the other person stayed in his consultation area of the same room but facing another direction. I confess that I peeked during Lisa’s exam!
We both passed our exams with flying colors.
Cost of dermatology exam in Medellin: 140,000 COP or $41.29.
Medical Imaging in Medellin
During Lisa’s physical, Dr. Nuz was slightly concerned that she could feel Lisa’s pulse so strongly in an artery in her torso. In medical speak: pulsatile mass in abdomen. While it’s not uncommon for the pulse to be so strong in the abdomen of slim women, the doctor thought Lisa ought to get it checked as a precaution against abdominal aortic aneurysm.
So we made an appointment for the next day at Cedimed S.A.S. imaging services.
Once again we were treated to world-class service in a modern and sleek facility. The whole experience took about a half an hour.
And the ultrasound was not performed by an imaging technician – he was a doctor!
In the US, an ultrasound technician silently takes images and then sends them to the doctor who eventually explains the findings.
In Medellin, the doctor/technician turned the ultrasound screen to Lisa and gave her a running commentary on what they were looking at together.
First they looked at her abdominal aorta, measured it and quickly ruled out abdominal aortic aneurysm. And then, just because she was there and they could, they looked at her kidneys, liver, stomach, ovaries and other internal organs.
In the end he gave her guts a clean bill of health.
Cost of medical imaging in Medellin: 165,000 COP or $48.66.
Lodging in Medellin is Also Super Cheap – Click the Map Above to Explore!
Dental Tourism in Medellin
We knew that Lisa had a lot of dental work to do.
So we researched English speaking dentists in Medellin.
We chose International Smiles for dental tourism in Medellin Colombia based on the many positive reviews and their ability to perform all of the procedures Lisa needed in their office.
Lisa spent more time than she cares to think about in their beautiful office. And I spent plenty of time in their lovely outdoor waiting room!
International Smiles takes a really interesting wholistic approach to dentistry. They focus not only on the mouth but in the entire body. That’s why they incorporate aromatherapy, meditation, and relaxing massages into treatments.
My simple cleaning and check-up started with a 10-minute head and face massage! I loved it! And it really did help me relax and not think about getting my teeth cleaned
Lisa didn’t really love anything about her dental tourism in Medellin other than getting it all done and the low price of dentistry in Colombia!
Because her teeth are so genetically bad she’s always had dental issues and has had many painful and terrible dental experiences. So while she appreciated the mouth-mind-body approach that International Smiles takes, she was far more interested in making sure she could get affordable general anesthesia for the most painful procedures.
She did, which made her happy!
Here are all the procedures Lisa did in Colombia and their price:
1) January 15 Preventative care – teeth cleaning and evaluation: 200,000 COP ($63.70)
2) January 21 Panoramic x-rays and complete periapical series x-rays: 113,000 COP ($33.75)
3) January 30 Porcelain Replacement filing for tooth #27: 1,350,000 COP ($395.73)
4) February 12 Anesthesia for oral surgery (implant and root canal): ($441.85)
5) February 12 Implant for tooth #16: $2,350,000 COP ($692.23)
6) February 12 Root canal for tooth #37: 1,000,000 COP ($294.48)
7) February 14 Porcelain Inlay/overlay for tooth #37: 1,350,000 COP ($398.81)
8) February 14 Porcelain Replacement filling for tooth #36: 1,350,000 COP ($398.81)
Total USD: $2716.39
Bottom Line – Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism in Medellin Colombia
Medellin Colombia has a well-earned reputation as a terrific Medical Tourism and Dental Tourism destination.
On the medical side we spent $239.72 but reckon we saved over $1,000 vs. prices in the US. For people like us with sub-par health insurance, that’s an amazing savings and really helps defray the cost of the trip.
But the dental side is where we really made out. We spent $2716.39 but saved AT LEAST $10,000. And very few people have dental insurance that would cover root canals and implants. So doing dental tourism in Medellin not only paid for our entire trip, it saved well beyond that.
And that’s for state-of-the art care in modern facilities with doctors and dentists who speak fluent English.
Medical and dental tourism in Medellin is amazing!