Medical Tourism: An Operation Abroad Will Save You Money!

Ryan Ong



Unless you’re happy to treat your organs like discount car parts, medicine isn’t something you bargain for. But if your doctor’s going to charge (I can’t resist) an arm and a leg, there are other options. Medical tourism is a growth industry, with patients reporting cost reductions of 30 – 90% (yes, NINETY). But thanks to Singapore’s top ranked hospitals, and our hefty Medishield, Singaporeans have long ignored it. In this article, we look at the benefits of going abroad, even if you’d lose access to Medishield:

What is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism means travelling to another country for medical treatment. The “tourism” part is pretty exaggerated, unless you have a fetish for whitewash and nurses’ outfits. But there are two other reasons:

  1. Better medical facilities
  2. Lower costs

Going for better medical facilities means a higher cost for better treatment. For example, flying from Somalia to England for chemotherapy. This isn’t common amongst Singaporeans; our hospitals already look like Star Trek sick bays. Search all of Europe and America if you want; we’re in the same league.

For Singaporeans, lower costs are the main issue. Doctors in Thailand or India are much cheaper, and not just for cosmetic surgery. Consider the prices for a cataract operation:

Singapore $2200 – $3000
Phillippines $1700 – $2000
India $870 – $1300

At which point you’re imagining back alley clinics, rusted scalpels, and a copy of Grey’s Anatomy that’s only used to prop up the bed.


Mad doctor with giant needle
Budget medicine: If anything goes wrong, you won’t be in a position to care. It’s win-win!


Relax. The doctors treating you have the same degree of expertise. Here’s how and why medical tourism saves you money:

  • Medical tourism uses different exchange rates
  • Different availability of medication
  • Medical tourism is faster
  • Some hospitals have special packages


1. Medical Tourism Uses Different Exchange Rates

Medical tourism capitalizes on differing exchange rates. Depending on the relation of one currency to another, the cost of medical procedures will go up or down.

Fortunately, the strength of a country’s currency doesn’t reflect its medical expertise. The Indian rupee, for example, is low against the Singapore dollar. But it so happens India is a world leader in biotechnology, and one of the best countries for heart operations. So many medical tourists flock to India that, by 2015, they expect their hospitals to become a core industry.


Hospital bed
“Kind of like Hotel California. You could check out any time.”


In addition to the treatment itself, there’s the cost of accommodations. Due to the exchange rate, the cost of a B1 ward in Singapore can get you a private room in India. That means comfort, silence, and food that doesn’t look like it came out of a pet store.


2. Different Availability of Medication

Different countries impose different standards on drugs. Singapore has the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), America has the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and China has a department to insist it’s not their fault. All this affects the availability (and prices) of different drugs.

Most Singaporean asthmatics know to buy inhalers in Malaysia (where they’re available over the counter, and about $5 cheaper). We’re applying the same principle here: In some countries, specific treatments are cheaper due to easier availability of the right drugs.


Shelves of old style pharmacy, with coloured bottles
In general, doctors’ shouldn’t be using terms like “that red stuff”.


3. Medical Tourism is Faster

For people running their own business, an MC may as well be a cash deduction. Time, they insist, is money. Unfortunately, hospitals are associated with speed the same way a crippled sloth is. Just look at the administration in any hospital: There’s lizards lounging on rocks that look livelier.

That’s because the hospital staff are processing insanely complex payment issues. Hospitals deal with insurance and government subsidies, which take a map and small satellite to navigate. And this isn’t counting the paperwork from your own insurance (or lack thereof).

When you’re a medical tourist, you’re skipping all this. You just turn up at the hospital and pay. That cuts through red tape like a chainsaw, and shaves days off your waiting time.


Speed Racer car going down the road
Wow, even the ambulance for medical tourists is different.


4. Some Hospitals Have Special Packages

With medical tourism on the rise, hospitals are rushing to cash in. Remember: medical tourists make up for patients who can’t pay.

A number of hospitals and government bodies are catching on to medical tourism. It’s no longer uncommon to see tour packages bundled with medical treatment, so you work on the “tourist” part after you’re healed. Some of these cross-over packages  merge discounted spa stays and hospital stays, or subsidise hotel rooms for outpatient treatment.


Skydivers in mid-air
“And we’ll perform that cataract op before you hit the ground!”


Ask your Doctor

If you’re up for being a medical tourist, consult your doctor. They can refer you to professionals or hospitals abroad, thus ensuring you aren’t scammed out of a kidney. You should also consult the hospital on your fees; if your insurance doesn’t cover much, why not go abroad?

Image Credits:
Oakley Originals
APM Alex
Ryan Harvey

Have you ever been a medical tourist? Comment and tell us about it!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.