World-class, affordable healthcare is a top priority for retirees abroad. Luckily, it’s easy to find and access in the 5 countries that win top ranking in the Healthcare category of International Living’s just-released Annual Global Retirement Index 2020.
“Health care costs can present such a challenge to many people that it becomes the single most important factor in their choice of a retirement destination,” says Dan Prescher, a senior editor at International Living.
“So imagine being able to access high-quality health care at a fraction of the cost back home…and in a place that has beautiful weather, rich culture, and a generally lower cost of living across the board.
“Those are exactly the retirement destinations that score the highest on health care in this year’s Global Retirement Index,” says Dan. “Many of these countries have national health systems that foreign residents can easily access. Indeed, in some of the places International Living ranks in the Index, health care costs can be so low that it’s possible to actually pay out of pocket for many procedures and medications without breaking the bank."
The five countries that scored the highest marks for Best Healthcare in the World in this year’s Annual Global Retirement Index are...
Scoring 99 out of 100, Portugal claims the top spot in the Healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2020.
“Affordable, professional healthcare in Portugal costs a fraction of that in the United States and Canada, and savings also exist for those from the UK and other countries who choose Portugal as a destination for routine and elective procedures,” says Tricia Pimental, IL Portugal Correspondent.
Portugal has some of the finest doctors and medical training available anywhere. Teaching facilities include the School of Health Services at the University of Minho in the north, the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Coimbra in the center—renowned for its expansive research fields and Ph.D. programs—and the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the New University of Lisbon in the south.
Many if not most doctors who graduate from these fine universities do studies and residencies in the U.K. and other European countries. Additionally, many of their upper-level courses use English language texts and are taught in English. This results in most medical professionals having some level of fluency in the lingua franca of the 21st century.
In big cities and tourist areas you are likely to find as good or better medical treatment as you have experienced in your home country. Even in a small town you can find excellent care.
“My husband and I have accessed both the public and private care options multiple times over the past seven years, with great satisfaction,” says Tricia Pimental.
“We have mid-tier private insurance at a cost of about $130 a month for the two of us, but the public system works great for us as well. We pay $6 for a visit to a clinic.
“And in terms of prescriptions, the costs are also low. They fall under three different categories:
“With a doctor's prescription and if you are a resident with an identifying number in the National Health Service, items like insulin and Metformin, for example, are free, and statin drugs, to use another example, cost only a few euros.
“Without being part of the system but with an Rx, you will pay the fixed retail cost printed on the box. To use the same example, a month's supply of Metformin is about 3 euros. A normal course of antibiotics runs about 15 to 20 euros.
“And if you have no prescription and you are not seeking either an antibiotic or a controlled substance like pain medication, frequently it can be purchased over the counter at that same fixed price.
“The ideal is to fall into the first category, involving less cost and more convenience.”
In second place, with 97 points, is Spain. The World Health Organization ranks Spain as having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. The public system is widely used, but private healthcare is excellent and affordable, including 26 JCI-accredited facilities. (JCI, or Joint Commission International, is a non-profit patient-safety organization that certifies hospitals around the globe.)
Facilities tend to be modern, with state-of-the-art equipment, and Spanish doctors must pass rigorous qualifying exams to get their license to practice. The central government used to be the sole regulator of healthcare, but now each of the country’s 17 Autonomous Communities takes individual responsibility for implementing and executing healthcare.
Spain has both private and public healthcare systems.
“I think one reason Spaniards enjoy life as much as they do is because they have no healthcare worries,” says Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent. “They know that their health needs, whether minor or catastrophic, will be handled without financial burden. That kind of peace of mind is priceless.”
Just like Michele and Stanton Cohen who believe they struck lifestyle gold in their retirement. They moved to Girona over three years ago from Yuma, Arizona.
The city’s Mediterranean climate, proximity to Barcelona’s international airport, and relaxed lifestyle are the factors most compelling to outsiders. It is also affordable—leaving more money in their pockets.
And after working at a hospital in Arizona, Michele has good things to say about Girona’s medical infrastructure.
“Medical and dental care are excellent,” says Michele. “The prices are about one-third of U.S. medical costs, if your insurance doesn’t cover it.”
#3 Costa Rica
With 96 points, Costa Rica takes third place in the Healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2020.
By almost any standard, Costa Rica has some of the best healthcare in Latin America. There are two systems, both of which legal residents can access: the government-run universal healthcare system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, known as Caja, and the private system. Both health systems are constantly being upgraded—new clinics, new equipment, and improvements in staff training.
Despite the advancements, costs are low in comparison to those in the U.S.
“One of the reasons Costa Rica is so appealing for retirees, and expats in general, is because of the low-cost, excellent healthcare options,” says Kathleen Evans, IL Costa Rica Correspondent.
“The country has 3 JCI certified medical centers in the nation's capital, San José. This is the highest global designation awarded in the heath-care industry.
“Once you become a legal resident and pay into the universal social security system (typically 7-11% of your reported income) you qualify for public healthcare through the Caja.
“There are also private health insurance policies available and many expats opt for a blending of both public and private. Those who prefer to simply pay out-of-pocket for procedures can save as much as 30-90% compared to the prices in the USA.”
Panama and Colombia are tied for fourth place with 94 points.
Panama provides good quality, affordable healthcare with clinics and hospitals tactically located in hubs across the country. And since the country is so small, you’re unlikely to be more than an hour from a modern facility, no matter where you choose to live. It’s also not unusual to find English-speaking doctors here, as many study abroad after finishing their initial training in Panama.
“The thing about healthcare in Panama is that it’s consistently excellent and affordable,” says Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama Editor.
“I’ve been living in Panama City for 15 years now and I’ve received top-notch care from my general MD, chiropractor, dermatologist, and the list goes on. Nowhere on earth is perfect. But for me, living in a nice place, where I am not constantly stressing about the cost of doctor’s visits and expensive dental procedures…that’s as close as it gets.”
Nanette Witmer, IL Chiriqui Correspondent, adds, “Most clinics charge a nominal fee of between $20 and $60 for an office visit. Hospitals in larger cities have all of the state-of-the-art equipment and specialists can be found in any field. Doctors in Panama work one on one, no medical assistants or other staff. You deal directly with the doctor and most prescription drugs are cheaper than in North America.”
#4 Colombia (tie)
Colombia’s healthcare systems offers a great balance of high quality, easy access, and low cost.
When América Economía, a financial publication, put together their latest annual 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 hospitals are Joint Commission International accredited, the gold standard in world health. Two are located in Bogotá (Fundación Cardioinfantil – Instituto de Cardiología, and Hospital Universitario Fundacion Santa Fe de Bogotá), one is located in Medellín (Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe), and one is located just outside of Bucaramanga (Fundación Cardiovascular de Colombia – Instituto del Corazón).
There are many excellent hospitals and clinics all around Colombia which offer services from routine office visits and testing to complex procedures such as joint replacements, organ transplants, ICU services, and cancer treatment.
“As a retired healthcare executive from the U.S., I know quality healthcare when I see it,” says Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent. “The high-tech, world-class care I receive in Colombia does not cost ‘an arm and a leg.’ My premium for public health insurance is only $75 per month, and my co-pay for lab tests, prescription medications and other services is only $4.”
More details on the top-ranked countries in the Healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2020 can be found here: The 5 Countries with the Best Healthcare in the World 2020
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