What is Medical Tourism? A Detailed Guide

Posted on December 13th, 2019 by Ganesh Gopakumar


Medical tourism might be a term you have come across many times here and there but most people don’t really have an idea about what exactly it is. But it’s something everybody should be aware of as it is health-related and has many advantages. 

“ There’s nothing more important than our good health – that’s our principal capital asset”

-Arlen Specter

What is Medical Tourism?

Medical tourism is where people travel from one country to another to receive better medical treatment with a better quality of care at an affordable rate. Medical tourism has aged back thousands of years when the Greeks traveled to the Mediterranean where gifted healers lived. In the modern era, people used to travel to developed countries to avail of medical treatment which was not available in their country during those days. But now everything has changed. As healthcare services have improved around the world, patients from the developed countries started traveling to developing countries as they are cost-effective in addition to good quality of service. Also, patients from underdeveloped countries travel to developed/developing countries to avail better medical treatment.

Is tourism the main objective? 

Even though the term has tourism along with it, it doesn’t imply tourism is the main objective. Healthcare and treatment is the primary motive behind it. The word tourism comes in just because people travel for treatment and have nothing to do with tourism. But the patients could travel around the country after the treatment if they wish to. Touring is completely optional with treatment being the first and sole intention of the whole idea.

Why do people travel abroad for treatment and how is it important?

The importance of medical tourism has been increasing day by day due to several reasons. 

To avail better medical treatment

Patients from Bangladesh, Afghanisthan, etc travel to India for better quality of medical care.

Higher Cost 

First of all, the cost of healthcare services in developed countries such as the US and the UK is higher compared to other developing countries. The higher cost makes it harder for the middle-class people to get proper treatment but with the advent of medical tourism, the treatment would become affordable. It allows people to travel to different countries that offer the same quality of healthcare services at a lower cost. Thus, people could be healthy without emptying their pockets.

Ban on certain medications and procedures.

Another reason for the increasing medical tourists is the lack of certain medical services in certain countries. In the US, the FDA and EMA have banned the use of certain drugs or protocols for treatment in the country. But the drug or protocol could be required for the patient’s wellbeing. Medical tourism opens the doors of good health in such situations. 

To avail special type of treatment

People also travel to different countries to avail of a better quality of certain types of treatment. Ayurveda treatment is not up to the mark in most Western countries and hence they travel to India which is the home of Ayurveda and herbs. Unani medicine is another reason why people travel to India for medical reasons. People looking for pain relief travels to China to undergo acupuncture treatment. Thai massage is a specialty of Thailand which helps you relieve tension and stress.

To avoid waiting time

Population and diseases are increasing as we speak which increases the number of people who require medical assistance. This increases the waiting time for treatment and surgical procedures. Medical tourism gives an option of zero to minimum waiting time by allowing them to travel to different countries for treatment. This could be really life-saving for patients who require immediate surgery or medical attention. For eg, patients waitlisted in Italy travel to Slovenia for prompt hip and knee replacement. This could be the most important factor that should be considered in medical tourism as nothing is more important than good health. 

Medical travel is turning common.

The number of people traveling abroad for treatment has seen a rapid hike over the year. The better and faster treatment at a lower cost makes it the best option. And it has been beneficial to them in a wide variety of ways. 

If we take the case of India, 4.5lakhs people traveled to India on a medical visa which was 2.35lakhs in 2015 as replied by Minister K.J Alphonse in the Lok Sabha. The figures doubled in two years.

Top 5 Medical tourism destinations

1. Thailand

Thailand with much scenic beauty is not just a tourist destination anymore. The largest number of certified hospitals in South-East Asia makes it one of the best countries for fast and good quality medical treatment. They thrive in dental surgeries and cosmetic surgeries which attract patients in large numbers from all around the world. Thai massage and other relaxation practices are available exclusively in Thailand which becomes yet another reason for the mob to rush into the country. In addition, they also save 50% – 75% cost of the same treatment available in the United States. 

2. Brazil 

Brazil is the most visited Latin American country as the World Health Organization (WHO) report states. They are flooded with patients every year mainly because they provide high-quality plastic surgery at an affordable rate compared to other countries. They have 43 hospitals recognized by the JCI which carries out treatment for the patients. Florianopolis and Sao Paulo has some of the best hospitals in the country and can carry out surgeries fast with the minimum waiting time. The estimated cost saving is 20% – 30% compared to the US. 


India ranks amongst the top countries involved in medical tourism considering the number of people and the quality of care provided. India provides the best ayurvedic and Unani medical treatment which becomes one of the reasons people flock to the country. Indian nurses have been ranked highest amongst the best with respect to the quality of care provided. This becomes another ad on advantage for the patients who are looking for medical treatment in India. Another reason could be that the treatment in India is much affordable compared to the US. It is estimated that patients could save up to 65% of the cost in India for the same medical treatment. Last but not least, India is one of the countries that has almost zero waiting time as the surgery or intervention is done soon after the diagnosis. 


With 65% to 80% savings in cost and after winning the best country for medical travel by the ‘Medical Travel Journal ‘ in consecutive years of 2015 and 2016, Malaysia becomes the favorite for medical tourists all around the world. It is one of the best in South-East Asia and pretty good at the quality of service they provide. The airports of Malaysia also provide special lounge facilities for medical travelers to ensure their comfort. With the support of the government and efforts from the private sector, Malaysia is growing to be one of the chief countries for medical tourism. 

5. Turkey 

The Turks thrive in providing excellent quality medical treatment at affordable rates with almost zero waiting time. They specialize in transplant surgeries, cancer treatment, orthopedics, and many other fields. In addition, the national airlines of turkey provide special travel packages at cheaper rates for medical tourists. The cheaper airfare rates make it a good enough reason for people to travel there for medical reasons. The expenses for treatment are also 50% – 65% less compared to the US. 

Cost comparison

 Affordability is the main advantage of medical travel and the rates are compared to the US.

A heart bypass costs $3,500 in India, $11,430 in Malaysia, $15,121 in Thailand and $27,000 in Mexico compared to the huge $144,000 in the US . 

The angioplasty cost in India is about $3,300 in India, $5,400 in Malaysia compared to $57,000 in the US. 

The rates of other medical treatments are compared in the table below. 


ProcedureUS (USD)IndiaKoreaMexicoThailandMalaysia
Heart Bypass144,0005,20028,20027,00015,10011,400
Hip Replacement50,0007,00014,10013,0007,9007,500
Knee Replacement50,0006,20019,80012,00012,3007,000
Gastric Bypass33,0005,0004,50011,00016,7009,500

Source: Malaysian Beaureu of Medical Travel in 2017.

As the table tells you, India is the country with the lowest cost for most of the treatments making it a good option for medical travel. 

Why to choose India?

India ranks amongst the top countries involved in medical tourism considering the number of people and the quality of care provided. The main reasons why India a popular destination for medical tourism are:

  • The cost of treatment is a small fraction compared to that of the U.S. India even has a lower medical bill compared to most of the other countries. You can save up to 70% of the cost if you are from the U.S. It shows how affordable India is. 
  • The medical facilities and infrastructure in India are as good as any developed country in the world. In addition to the extremely good infrastructure, India is famous for its experienced doctors and surgeons. The Indian nurses are also high in demand abroad due to their extremely good medical care.
  • The living expenses in India are really low. The cost of accommodation, food, and transportation is really low. It adds to the affordability of the whole package.
  •  India provides the best ayurvedic and Unani medicine treatment which becomes one of the reasons people flock to the country.
  • Due to a large number of hospitals and doctors, India is one of the countries that has almost zero waiting time. The surgery or intervention is done soon after the diagnosis. 

Why is medical travel safe?   

Medical tourism is pretty much safe if you do it under proper guidance and knowledge. Millions of people travel around the world every year for medical reasons and there has been increasing positive feedback from the patients. Most people do not travel because they are scared of going to a totally new country but the reality is different. Most countries support medical travel and provide a better quality of service in all aspects. From cheap and better travel to better hospitality and accommodation, they are competitive in providing the best service possible. The nurses and technicians are trained better for medical travel to make the patients feel more comfortable and homely.  Indeed, you receive better treatment as a patient in a foreign country because the industry is very much competitive. The hike in the number of people traveling is solid proof of this aspect. 

So if you are lacking money, or not able to get the treatment on time the best option would be to travel to another country for affordable and prompt treatment. You could research over the internet or even rely on medical tourism companies who make it easier for you. The companies would have expert knowledge in the best hospitals in their country and could help you with transportation and any other needs when you’re abroad. 

So, it’s a big YESS!  If you’re confused about whether to go abroad or not in this 21st century!