Friday, August 11th 2017

Medical Costs in Costa Rica; A Brief Comparison to the US

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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WeExpats Health Insurance Costa Rica

The high costs of surgeries and other treatments in the United States might have led you to consider medical tourism to Costa Rica—or other nations with excellent services. Healthcare in Costa Rica is among the most sophisticated in Latin America, and the right health insurance for expats can help cover you in many hospitals in Costa Rica. WeExpats Insurance has put together an easy question-and-answer guide to help you consider if medical procedures in Costa Rica are right for you.

Does Costa Rica Have Government Healthcare available to Americans and Expats?

Many North Americans are unaware that healthcare in Costa Rica is a quality, government-run system. It is called the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS); though commonly referred to as “Caja”. While the system is cost-effective, at times it can be overly-crowded, creating long wait times for everyday treatments and medical procedures in Costa Rica—especially if your ailment is not life-threatening. Despite the service in clinics and hospitals in Costa Rica being rather good, it definitely pays to have private health insurance for expats in order to receive quicker care.

To ensure that you—as an expat—have access to their open healthcare system, it is necessary that you become a legal resident of Costa Rica before you are eligible to receive any care. (Click here to learn more) The benefits include: free prescription drugs, regular check-ups, and top-notch doctor care and surgical procedures.

If you’re traveling as a tourist in Costa Rica, then these benefits are only available to you in case of a severe emergency. The private healthcare sector does deliver equally good medical care and speedy service at an affordable cost for any other ailment.

Can American Expats Get a Health Insurance Plan to cover Medical Procedures in Costa Rica?

Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS)

There is another option when it comes to healthcare in Costa Rica called Instituto de Seguro Nacional, or INS. This is basically a health insurance plan that covers the insured individual, if he/she stays within the network of doctors and hospitals in Costa Rica.

While these two options tend to cover all your medical procedures in Costa Rica, it is best to decide for yourself if you are planning to stay within their medical system, or if you’d like the option to have any type of treatment or procedure outside of the country. If you would prefer the latter, we recommend expanding your healthcare options with a good health insurance for expats that has additional benefits which are more flexible to your needs.

Can I Get Health Insurance Traveling Through All of Central America?

CAFTA – Expanding Insurance Options

With the introduction of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a variety of new options for international travelers, expats, and retirees have become available. The new agreement has opened the gates for international medical insurance service providers to offer coverage to Costa Rican citizens, permanent residents, expats, and travelers.

At WeExpats, we specialize in health insurance for expats, travelers, and even medical tourism. While comparing various plans for health insurance for expats, we can help you to explore an array of policies that also cover repatriation and medical evacuation. This will give you the peace of mind born from knowing that—in times of emergency—should the instance require it, you are assured the care for any medical procedures in Costa Rica or in your home country for any treatment.

What is Private Healthcare for Expats in Costa Rica?

The private healthcare system in Costa Rica allows patients to pay in cash, as well as use their private insurance, to cover the costs of treatment. Even though healthcare costs for Costa Rican expats and travelers are relatively low when compared to other countries, nevertheless it’s highly recommended that retirees and new residents in Costa Rica invest in a good health insurance policy.

*Several Costa Rican insurance providers only offer coverage to expats who have legal residency*

How Much Do Medical Procedures in Costa Rica Cost?

Examples of Prices for Routine Procedures

Medical Procedures


Costa Rica

Average Savings

Heart Bypass

Up to $130,000



Heart Valve Replacement

Up to $160,000




Up to $57,000



Hip Replacement

Up to $43,000




Up to $20,000



Knee Replacement

Up to $40,000



Spinal Fusion

Up to $62,000



Which Costs More, Healthcare in Costa Rica or in the United States?

Quick Costa Rica & US Healthcare Comparison:

  • It will cost you roughly 33%—or sometimes even as low as 25%—of the cost of healthcare in the USA or Canada for many surgeries and other procedures.

  • The healthcare in Costa Rica is ranked among the top three healthcare systems in Latin America.

  • Some surgical procedures—like bariatric surgery which cures diabetes—are not available in the United States or Canada. (Clinica Biblica is ranked in the top 10 for this specific surgery).

  • While the cost is still drastically lower than in USA or Canada, they can still dip into your savings if you are not properly insured.

What are the Largest Hospitals in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a network of 30 Caja hospitals and 250 clinics. Although most hospital buildings need renovation, one can expect an above-average experience with their medical healthcare quality.

Below is a list of some popular hospitals in Costa Rica:

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