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Healthcare Essentials for Expats in Costa Rica

Costa Rica News – Costa Rica has one of the best healthcare systems in Latin America. In fact, it is ranked by World Health Organisation (WHO) a step higher than the United States of America (USA) in terms of overall healthcare quality. The country faces similar healthcare challenges as the USA, with increasing demand rising from an ageing population and chronic diseases. While the USA is ranked the highest for healthcare expenditures, Costa Rica stays surprisingly at the 50th position. They are often touted to be “spending in the right places”.

This job isn't always easy

This job isn’t always easy

The peaceful environment and excellent social welfare coupled with the healthy lifestyle led by the locals have also contributed to the country’s high life expectancy. They have one of the lowest middle-age mortality in the world and high incidence of reported centenarians, people who live for a hundred years or more. According to WHO data in 2013, Costa Ricans live till 79 years on average.

The one-stop emergency number in Costa Rica for an ambulance, fire fighters and police is 911.

Clinics at every turn

Costa Rica has an “Equipo Básico de Atención Integral en Salud” (EBAIS), loosely-translated as the Basic Team of Integrated Healthcare Attention and Equipment, that is stationed in each district. Each team comprises a physician, nurse, pharmacist and a medical records administrator. There are near to 900 EBAIS clinics in Costa Rica, and each one serves about 4,000 residents in the area. Though the provide both primary and preventative care, they are mostly used by the locals only due to the language barrier.

Trained healthcare or social workers, known as Técnico de Atención Primaria (ATAPs), meanwhile take care of those living in remote or rural areas by doing house calls. During the visits, they will often conduct health checks, administer vaccines, correct safety lapses and educate the public on health issues.

The healthcare financing system

The locals benefit from the “Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social” system, where medical services are provided at low cost and medications are often free. The healthcare system is applicable to the government’s network of 30 hospitals and 250 clinics. However, as you can expect, the waiting time is usually very long.

The Caja system is also offered and made mandatory to foreigners under their residency programmes. They will have to contribute a small percentage of their income monthly for coverage of themselves and their spouses.

Private healthcare

For expats who are not residents or are seeking a higher quality of medical facilities with English-speaking professionals, they can opt for treatment at private hospitals. Don’t get fooled by the exteriors – while some buildings may seem run-down on the outside, most of their medical equipment are mostly U.S approved or imported. Also, a lot of their specialists are well-trained abroad. As costs are generally much more affordable than the USA, Costa Rica has invited an influx of medical tourism in the region, especially for dental and cosmetic procedures.

The private hospitals most popular among the expatriates are, of course, those with the Joint Commission International accreditation, one of the recognised benchmarks for global healthcare. They are:

* Hospital CIMA

* Hospital Clinica Biblica

* Hospital La Catolica

Where to buy private medical insurance?

Locally, there is the government-backed Instituto de Seguro Nacional (INS). Under the health plan, residents can get coverage for treatments within a network of private hospitals, doctors, and pharmacies. However, it is confined to Costa Rica only. Thankfully, with the Central American Free Trade Agreement, residents are allowed to purchase plans from international insurers as well.

For expats, international health insurance is strongly encouraged as it provides access to medical expertise overseas, and emergency evacuation and repatriation benefits. The last thing you want when you are in a critical condition is to be stuck in a country, without the company of your loved ones and comforts of your home country. The plan can save you from any undue out-of-pocket expenses. If you would like to explore this option, you can browse international insurers that are available in Costa Rica here.

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