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Affordable Health Care Is Possible Overseas

Stethoscope wrapped around globe on blue background.

One of the biggest benefits of retiring overseas can be finding affordable health care and dramatically reduced health insurance. Here in Panama, for example, our English-speaking doctor charges US$35 for a visit. And if your problem isn’t cured after the first visit and you need to see him again… the follow-up is free. If you become a resident of Portugal, health care can be free. You get the idea. In conclusion, affordable or free health care isn’t necessarily the point, is it? More important is the quality of the care.

Here, again, I have good news. Health care overseas, as assessed by the World Health Organization (WHO), can be superior to care available in the United States. Indeed, in the WHO’s annual survey of health care across the globe, the United States ranks 37th. Here are six top retirement destinations where the health care is affordable and better than in the States.

1. France

A bird in a park with green grass with the Eiffel Tower in the background in Paris, France
Adobe Stock/Givaga

France’s health care system, made up of a network of public and private hospitals, doctors, and other services providers, is ranked the best in the world by the WHO.

France offers universal health care financed by Sécurité Sociale, its national insurance system. Citizens and residents of France can choose their general practitioner from a network of 94,000—one of the highest number of GPs in the European Union.

You can access France’s health care system by paying social security contributions, which means most of the cost the extraordinary medical care is covered. Even paying out of pocket, though, the care is affordable. A basic consultation with a GP costs about 25 euros.

For access to English-speaking doctors, resources like are available, which lets you filter medical professionals by their backgrounds. If you’re adamant about seeing American doctors, the American Hospital in Paris, as well as Franco-Britannique, which is staffed by British doctors.

2. Italy

Medieval houses and La Rocca Hill, Cefalu, Sicily, Italy.
Alamy/Jan Wlodarczyk

Coming in second place in the WHO’s rankings of global health care systems is Italy. Its national health service is called the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), and it provides care at public hospitals, access to GPs and certain specialists, subsidized medicines, and more at little to no cost.

Public health care is managed by Italy’s regional governments, and there are discrepancies in the standards of care available across the country. The best health care in the country is found in the northern and central regions of Italy.

As a resident of Italy, you can access public health care by registering with the SSN and paying an annual fee. You will need to have an Italian identity card to be able to apply for an Italian health insurance card, which allows you to register with a local hospital.

Some expats opt to pay for insurance to gain access to Italy’s private hospitals, which are more like five-star hotels than hospitals. This allows for more freedom of choice of doctors and facilities, shorter wait times, and more comforts, although it comes at a cost.

3. Malta

Marsaxlokk bay harbour of Malta, with beautiful architecture and boats at dusk
Adobe Stock/cristianbalate

Malta has a long tradition of providing excellent health care. It opened its first hospital in 1372. The Knights Hospitaller, a Catholic military order that provided humanitarian and medical support, was headquartered in Malta from 1530 to 1798.

During World War I, the country became known as the Nurse of the Mediterranean because so many wounded soldiers were sent there to recover.

Today, the WHO ranks Malta’s health care system fifth best in the world, and with a number of state-of-the-art public and private facilities staffed by highly trained staff who are fluent in English, it has a burgeoning reputation as a medical tourism destination.

Public health care is mostly free at the point of delivery, as well as prescribed medicine if you’re a hospital inpatient (and for three days after being discharged). Primary care is delivered by Malta’s 415 general practitioners while secondary and tertiary care is delivered at public hospitals.

Malta also has an excellent private health care system, and as a foreign resident, you’re required to have private insurance. Premiums are considerably lower than they are in the United States.

4. Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Adobe Stock/neirfy

Portugal’s health care system is ranked 12th best in the world by the WHO. It boasts a modern, well-equipped hospital network where about 90% of medical staff is English-speaking. Portugal has one of the highest number of GPs per 100,000 inhabitants in the EU at 292.3.

Three systems provide health care in Portugal: The Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS, or the National Health Service), voluntary private health insurance, and health insurance schemes for specific professions.

As a resident of Portugal, you can access the SNS, which covers all basic health, by registering with your local health center. While not completely free, SSN user fees are low, for instance, GP appointments cost 5 euros, while emergency care costs 15 euros.

Public health care in Portugal is hampered by long wait times to receive care. It’s common for expats to supplement public care with insurance that allows them to access private facilities.

5. Colombia

Night View of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
Adobe Stock/sunsinger

Colombia has the best health care in Latin America, offering highly skilled doctors, well-equipped hospitals, and excellent care at affordable prices. It’s long been known as a destination for cosmetic surgery and other advanced procedures.

Colombia’s health care system is ranked #22 by the WHO. The basic public health insurance plan is called Entidades Promotoras de Salud (EPS), and it’s inexpensive and easy to acquire. It’s similar to a preferred provider organization in that you must seek care within a preferred network of providers.

Some expats opt to pay for additional care or pay out of pocket to receive care faster, as it takes time to navigate the EPS system. Moreover, many doctors are English-speaking because they trained in the United States or Europe, although the level spoken among other medical staff is lower.

Medical procedures can cost one-third to one-tenth the cost of comparable care in the United States, most importantly, this includes nursing homes, where costs are far lower than they are in the States, and the quality of care is the same if not better.

6. Cyprus

Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque and Famagusta town. Famagusta, Cyprus
Adobe Stock/ kirill_makarov

Cyprus is another burgeoning medical tourism destination, particularly for IVF treatments, complex investigations, and dental care. Costs are low enough that many pay out of pocket. The average price to see a specialist medical practitioner with a same-day appointment is about 45 euros.

The WHO ranks Cyprus 24th in the world for overall health system performance. It operates a multi-payer system consisting of a public and private sector. The General Healthcare System (GESY) is the state-run system, which you can gain access to as a resident of Cyprus.

Across Cyprus, you’ll find private and state-run clinics and hospitals as well as surgeries, emergency medical facilities, dentists, opticians, and even alternative health care options. As a result, pharmacies are abundant as well, and staff can recommend treatments for minor ailments.

A range of medications are available, and prices can be as low as one-third the cost of equivalent care in the States.

If you are looking for detailed information, here is a Complete Guide To Health Care And Health Insurance Options Overseas.

Kathleen Peddicord signature
Kathleen Peddicord
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter

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