+A tummy tuck in Thailand, breast augmentation in Brazil –who needs cosmetic surgeons like Sean McNamara and Christian Troy, the fictitious but all too realistic Miami hotshots in Ryan Murphy’s FX series Nip/Tuck (2003-2010), when skilled, world-class surgeons are nipping and tucking for half the price in Asia, South America, and South Africa, complete with medical travel packages promising a unique recovery holiday as well. The fountain of youth comes with a price, and cosmetic enhancement is expensive, so with over 30,000 plastic surgeons performing 17 million plastic surgeries around the world each year, it makes sense to travel to a country where beautification is less cost-prohibitive (and more unique) than the United States.
While cost is the overriding issue of traveling to a foreign destination for cosmetic surgery, privacy and discretion also play a role. It is more discreet for a patient to tell their workplace they’re traveling to Brazil for a two-week vacation than it is to announce they’re going under the knife for implants. Furthermore, there are cosmetic surgeries that are legal in other parts of the world but which are not legal in the United States. Still, does cosmetic tourism really count as a “vacation” if the patient is spending their time in post-op recovery?
There are all types of exclusive plastic surgery packages for traveling patients. Most of these services have some variation of the following motto: “Surgery, recuperation, and rejuvenation away from public scrutiny.” For example, a patient can choose a “Surgeon and Safari” package, which includes a cosmetic procedure in Johannesburg, South Africa, a recuperation period in a luxury hotel in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and a wilderness safari option. On the other hand, The Half Moon Club, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, combines cosmetic procedures (Botox, liposuction) with a relaxing spa vacation. The Medical Tourism Association defines medical tourism “as the practice by which people from one country seek greater or equal medical care in another part of the world in a attempt to bypass higher medical costs.” However, that’s only one piece of the puzzle. Medical travel agencies like Makeover Vacations, Gorgeous Getaways, Beautiful Holidays, and Surgery Holidays offer unique travel packages to some of the top cosmetic surgery destinations in the world. Below are 7 destinations that specifically tailor travel packages to foreigners.
7. Dunyagov, Turkey -$650- $1,300: Average cost of cost plastic surgeries
Turkey is not the first place one thinks of when somebody mentions cosmetic surgery -nor is it probably the second. Or third. However, Turkey has more JCI-accredited health care facilities than anywhere in the world outside of the U.S, and it treats almost a quarter of a million foreign visitors every year. The European economic crisis has provided a boost to Turkey’s medical tourism market, with many Europeans from neighboring Romania and Bulgaria coming to the country for plastic surgery, in vitro fertilization, and laser eye surgery. Patients from the UK, Belgium, France and the Netherlands also favor Turkey as their top plastic surgery destination, and there’s an increase in treatment seekers from the Middle East, too. Nevertheless, it’s not just Turkey’s cut-rate medical prices that are attractive to cosmetic surgery tourists, but the lavish beaches and vacation opportunities following recovery.
6. Bangkok, Thailand -$2,916.50: Breast augmentation
Modern, well equipped hospitals, skilled doctors, minimal wait times, gorgeous beaches for recuperation, and surgical procedures performed at a fraction of the prices found in other countries, that is all part of the cosmetic tourism package in Bangkok. The “Land of Smiles” attracts 1.2 million foreign tourists looking for nose jobs, face-lifts, augmentations, or iris implants, yes you can get your eye color changed. At the same time, people also visit Bangkok for dental work, MRI’s, and fertility treatments, as many of these procedures cost 70% less in Bangkok than what they do in the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom
5. San Jose, Costa Rica -$3,500-5,000: Facelift
The cost of cosmetic procedures in Costa Rica not only average 66% cheaper than in the U.S., but the Central American country is only a 7 to 10-hour flight from most major U.S. cities. In other words, a flight to Cost Rica is more convenient and accessible that booking a 30-hour plane ride to Thailand. Furthermore, most tourists can stay in Costa Rica for 90-days without needing a visa; patients not only have ample time to recover from their surgeries, but they will have enough time to enjoy the culture, history, and climate of the Central American country, which is especially beautiful if one enjoys the beach, as Costa Rica borders both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The Clinica Biblica and Hospital CIMA both cater to the international crowd.
4. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil -$3,000-$6,5000 :Tummy tuck, rhinoplasty, face lift
Brazil. With its sun-kissed beaches and scores of scantily clad beautiful people, it stands to reason some of those beautiful people get a helping hand from a skilled surgeon to look, well, so beautiful. Brazil has the most plastic surgeons per capita of any country, with 4,500 specialists nipping and tucking in a population of roughly 192 million. The Brazilian government even has tax deductions to support cosmetic surgery. For many people in Brazil, cosmetic surgery is viewed as a status symbol.
Renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Ivo Pitanguy runs his clinic, Clinica Ivo Pinatguy, in Rio de Janeiro, which is where dozens of aspiring cosmetic surgeons learn and train each year. The Fluminense Clinic, on the other hand, which is owned by Dr. Ronaldo Pontes and his daughter, Dr. Giselle Pontes, both members of the International Society of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery, works in conjunction with “Cosmetic Vacations” in order to attract foreign tourists to Brazil. Accommodation, airports transfers, pre-operative consultation, and sightseeing are all included in the travel package. Medical tourism is a $30 billion industry in Brazil.
3. Singapore -$4,000-$8,000: Most cosmetic procedures
According to the World Health Organization, Singapore has the 6th best health care system in the world. For the sake of comparison: the U.S. ranks 37th. The “Biopolis” is Singapore’s 300 million dollar health care center; it leads the way in the type of advanced stem cell research that is being applied to cosmetic surgery. Other top surgical clinics in Singapore include the Sloane Clinic, Alaxis, Prive, Raffles Medical Group, and The Cosmetic Surgery Clinic, which, led by Dr. Martin Huang, is considered the best and most sought-after treatment center in Singapore.
2. Venezuela -$6,600: Buttock augmentation
According to USA Today, illegal buttocks injections have killed women in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New York. While black market cosmetic surgery operations are nothing knew, there seems to be more people seeking cheap beautification alternatives than ever before, risking disfigurement, and their lives, to be injected with home-improvement materials like silicone by fraudulent doctors with no medical training. Dr. John Martin, a plastic surgeon in Florida, claims that these types of illicit procedures are common; he says that oftentimes multiple people are injected in hotel rooms in what is known as “pumping parties.”
The Caribbean International Plastic Surgery Centre, in Venezuela, specializes in implants and augmentations for buttocks and breasts. Buttock augmentation is the Centre’s signature procedure, and it starts at $6,600. There are also package rates and additional procedures, including Intimate Feminine Corrections (hymenoplasty and vaginal rejuvenation), which are legal in the U.S., Japan, and parts of Europe, but, considering the surgeries are controversial, it’s difficult to find a cosmetic surgeon who will perform the procedures.
1. Seoul, South Korea -$14,000: Plastic surgery package
According to the Health Ministry, the number of tourists visiting South Korea for cosmetic surgery has increased more than five-fold since 2009, with 15,428 visitors having cosmetic enhancement in 2013. Moreover, statistics from the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery indicate that 20% of Korean women ages 19 to 49 have had at least one cosmetic surgery.
There are hundreds of plastic surgery clinics around the Gangnam district. The luxury area is known as the “beauty belt,” and the destination accounts for over 20% of the medical tourists to Seoul. However, what makes Seoul unique is that it’s the world’s top destination for celebrity emulation surgery; this may or may not have something to do with the meteoric rise of South Korean pop music. Double-eyelid surgeries are also popular in South Korea, with 44,000 customers in 2010 requesting Western-looking eyes.
According to Lee Joon, marketing director at the Seoul TouchUp travel agency, plastic surgery packages cost around $14,000 and include accommodations and sightseeing. South Korea’s government heavily promotes the cosmetic surgery industry, and it hopes to attract 500,000 medical tourists to the country by 2017. Also, unlike American and European hospitals, most of South Korea’s hospital and medical facilities have switched to electronic health records; this makes all the bureaucratic details (admission, health insurance, discharge) that much smoother to process.