Retire to Asia: Medical Tourism in Asia

Jeff Gill


Medical Tourism SE Asia

SE Asia features prominently in the top ten medical tourism destinations in the world

The ten top medical tourist destinations considered to be the best in the world are currently: 

No. 1    Mexico
No. 2    Thailand
No. 3    Costa Rica
No. 4    Panama
No. 5    India 

No. 6    Malaysia
No. 7    Israel
No. 8    South Korea
No. 9    Singapore
No. 10   Japan 

If it was as easy and cheap for Americans to get to Thailand than Mexico, I believe Thailand would be in the top spot.

In any case three of the top ten destinations are within SE Asia and two are located close by in East Asia. This means that if you were to find yourself living in SE Asia in Retirement, you will be very close to some of the world’s best hospitals with many offering procedures at a fraction of the cost back home. 

Medical tourism is not just for Retiree’s.

Patients from countries with expensive health care systems are increasingly seeking out similar or better quality of health care at a lower cost from overseas providers, especially for elective surgery procedures e.g., hip and knee replacements, laser eye surgery, dental, cosmetic etc.

Treatments and procedures can often be 50% to 60% cheaper due to lower wages, less insurance imposts and cheaper operating costs in running a medical facility in these countries. 

Excellent Medical Care & Modern Technology

A Recent Retire to Asia Client Experience

As a keen golfer myself (handicap 15), I was very interested in a recent client experience which highlighted the benefits of utilising medical tourism within SE Asia, namely Thailand on this occasion. This story highlights the benefits of surgery in a Thai ‘world class’ private hospital for someone that does not have private health insurance back home and wishes to get on with life sooner.

In his early 60’s, Kevin’s golfing days were becoming way too painful, and he faced a more than two year wait for elective surgery on a much-needed hip replacement. Kevin’s choices were:

  • Wait for up to two years or longer to have it done relatively free in the public health system,
  • Pay about $35,000 and get it done immediately back home, or
  • Have it done in a Thailand private hospital immediately with an estimate of $21,000.

Kevin sought out, with our help, similar hip replacement procedures in SE Asia and chose to have the procedure immediately in Thailand.

We understand that there is some trepidation with having surgery overseas. Most of the horrific stories we hear does centre around the lower end of the market, and yes there are several shonky operators where you truly get what you pay for. During our research we have found places that offer hip replacements for about $9,000 in Thailand. I’d stay away from these personally.

World class private hospitals in Bangkok generally will charge around the $18,000 to $25,000 level for a hip replacement. That’s ‘world class’ trained professionals, facilitates and equipment.

Now back to Keven, we helped set him up in a 2-bedroom flat so his wife could join him and help him convalesce plus organised some additional private nursing care to assist with his physiotherapy, several times a week. Kevin’s wife, Fiona, even joked that she should have used this same time to have had some minor cosmetic surgery done, as the cost savings compared to back home, were compelling.

Using a reputable Bangkok private hospital, he was able to book into the surgery immediately, received world class healthcare and rehabilitation at a saving of 40%.

As a bonus, when Kevin began to recover his mobility, both he and Fiona were able to undertake short trips (7 to 10 days at a time) to sightsee around all areas of Thailand in between the lengthening rehabilitation check-ups in Bangkok. 

Healthy Living SE Asia
Healthy LIfestyle SE Asia
Kevin, with the aid of golf cart, was also able to get gradually back onto the golf course within six months of his initial operation.

Other Medical Tourism Procedures

SE Asia offers huge cost savings on many typical procedures, such as dental, eyesight lasering, hip and knee replacements, obesity treatments and cosmetic procedures to name a few.

With the more involved and complex surgeries and procedures such as fertility treatments, organ replacements, cardiovascular, orthopaedic and cancer treatments being on the medical tourist’s menu for those that do not have the appropriate private health insurance back home and/or the treatments are not covered by the public hospital system.

In a more hush hush tone, some illegal procedures such as abortions, doctor assisted euthanasia, lack of provision of certain drugs and medicines etc in a patient’s home country may also be legal and readily available in another. 

Why is medical tourism in SE Asia growing in popularity?

Many factors influence medical tourism with the most obvious being:

  • Limited to no waiting times 
  • Considerable cost savings (if needing to pay for it back home)
  • Superior levels of healthcare
  • Tourism options after recovery
  • Accessibility to treatments and procedures forbidden in their own country. 

Look after your health

Professional Healthcare

Limited to nil waiting times in SE Asia

Elective surgery waiting times in developed countries can be up to 2 years to access the public health system. Not all patients can afford private healthcare insurances, so they go onto public waiting lists.

One of medical tourism’s main advantages is that you are admitted to your surgery or procedure almost straight away. The facilities that cater for medical tourism are set up to service their patient’s needs immediately or with a small wait time.

Considerable Cost Savings ($$$$) in SE Asia

The potential to save money is substantial. We are one of the last generations that can take advantage of this cost differential as Asian nations continue to prosper and catch up. Savings are currently upwards of 40% and sometimes as high as 80% for some procedures.

Superior Levels of Healthcare within SE Asia

The quality of treatment is a critical aspect influencing healthcare tourism. Some countries have pioneered the implementation of specific medical procedures through modern technologies. SE Asia offers truly world class professionals and facilities. There are low-cost operators, but I have always believed that you get what you pay for.

SE Asian Tourism Options After Recovery

Once the successful procedure and recuperation has taken place, the patient then has the option to sightsee and be a tourist in a different part of the world. This is great if you’re a visitor, but if you already live there great! Continue to enjoy the tropical climate and all that SE Asia has to offer. Lucky you!

SE Asian Accessibility and Legal Issues

Many developed countries have outlawed practices or procedures that prevent patients from getting the care that they require.

For this reason, patients undertake medical tourism and travel overseas to get specific treatments that aren’t legal in the home country. 

Healthy You Medical Tourism and Retirement

Enjoy life, and look after your health

Are there any risks to consider with medical tourism?

Whilst travelling abroad to undertake lower-cost treatments, sightseeing and shopping afterwards sounds very enticing, there are also some potential risks that need to be considered.

Depending on the country and hospital you choose, complications may occur if not properly thought through and planned for in advance. These issues include:

Antibiotic resistance:

An invisible menace that depending on the country, a person might be prone to catching bacteria that their body isn’t capable of fighting. This is commonly faced by many first-world nation citizens. Patients and visitors alike should always maintain proper sanitisation and hygiene.

Language barrier:

A basic but highly necessary requirement is understandable and direct communication regarding the treatments. Private hospitals in many of the popular medical tourism destinations have western-trained staff, well immersed in speaking English or French, whatever the case may be. Therefore, the language barrier should not be an issue at reputable facilities.

Lack of professionalism:

Whilst some higher-standard hospitals provide all their services to meet or exceed international standards and provide training in this regard, many do not. Again, this should not be an issue if you use a reputable facility with international standards.

Quality concerns regarding medication:

Patients may have to seek alternative medicines as the local medication can be of poor quality or even unavailable in the home country. In addition, those medications might not be adequate with the practitioner’s prescription. And once again, if you use a reputable facility with international standards this should not be an issue. 


With public healthcare waiting lists stretching out to 2 years or more, this wait time and/or prohibitive costs of home-grown healthcare see overseas medical tourism as an increasingly attractive and viable solution.

Whilst there are risks involved in having procedures carried out offshore, with careful research and some assistance, the most appropriate choices can be made.

Our client Kevin certainly was glad to have been a Retire to Asia medical tourist for his hip replacement and get his life back to normal. 

SE Asia Cost of living calculator

For more information about the cost of living differences in different parts of SE Asia, click the COL Calculator button below to see and compare for yourself. You will get a comprehensive 5-page PDF report that you can save and/or print.

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If you’d like more information or have any questions, please feel free to call 1800-961-377 or email in**@re**********.au and let the team at Retire to Asia help make your dream lifestyle a reality.

Jeff Gill

Jeff Gill

With 25 years of travel experience to 73+ countries including SE Asia, Jeff now enjoys helping others retire there. He invites you to experience the people, culture, food and amazing landscapes of the SE Asia region for yourselves.

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If you’d like more information or have any questions, please feel free to call 1800-961-377 or email in**@re**********.au and let the team at Retire to Asia help make your dream lifestyle a reality.

Jeff Gill

Jeff Gill

With 25 years of travel experience to 73+ countries including SE Asia, Jeff now enjoys helping others retire there. He invites you to experience the people, culture, food and amazing landscapes of the SE Asia region for yourselves.

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