When someone is considering living, working or retiring in a Less Developed Country (LDC) like Costa Rica, you must carefully consider the economic, political and social issues as well as the cost of living.

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It is also very important to examine the quality of health care available.

On three separate occasions, I met with and interviewed Dr. Eduardo Loyola, a respected Costa Rican doctor who had just finished visiting patients in Hospital CIMA which is one of the most advanced, best equipped hospital in all of Central America.

Hospital CIMA – Photo by Scott Oliver

I asked Dr, Loyola general questions about the quality of health care in Costa Rica and this is what he had to say:

“The quality of health care in the third world or in less developed countries is not generally considered adequate, the education and training is typically minimal, there is no modern medical equipment and the medications that we are accustomed to in the first world are simply not available.”

“Having said that, this is definitely NOT the case in Costa Rica. This little country is in so many ways a rare blend of political, social and economic structures.”

“The medical field is no exception. Back in 1949 after a short civil war the winners of the conflict took advantage of the historical opportunity and gave Costa Rica a chance to stand out from the international scene by declaring itself a democratic republic, renounced the existence of armed forces and placed all it’s efforts on education and health.”

A socialized medicine system that would be financed in part by the working population and the rest would be covered by the government allowing coverage for all.

In the photograph above you can see my brave and cheerful friend George Lundquist who offers retirement tours for the non-rich.

George is delighted he’s paying US$340 per radiation treatment at a private clinic in Costa Rica because it would cost around $5,000 for the same treatment in the US. Even if MEdicare paid 80%, George would still have to pay US$1,000 per treatment instead of the $340 he’s paying in Costa Rica.

Presently the socialized medicine system operates about 35 hospitals, and hundreds of clinics and primary care facilities in all parts of the country, which offers an immediate option in case of an emergency. Obviously the further away you are from the city centre, the more basic health care services will become.

Lack of Spanish language skills could make your medical care difficult outside of San Jose but thankfully, most of the health care professionals around San Jose speak English.

The socialized medical system commonly known as the CAJA provides medical attention for any foreigner who is a permanent legal resident who is part of the system.

This can be done 2 ways; by paying a percentage of the salary you received and is reported (not an option for those who get paid abroad) or by purchasing a medical insurance from a local insurance broker.

Prior to the existence of the CAJA, a private medical facility under the hospices of a religious order was the main option available for much of the population.

Since that time, Costa Rica’s tourist industry has grown tremendously and with approximately 50,000 US and Canadian citizens (and many other nationalities) living here, the private medical services industry has become state of the art not just compared to the rest of Central America, but also compared to the developed world.

Many Costa Rican physicians and surgeons have been trained in the world’s best international medical centres. In fact some of Dr. Loyola’s associates were trained at Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins, Baylor University Medical Centre, University of South Florida, University of London and of course the University of Costa Rica.

The private medical sector continues to invest millions of dollars improving their facilities and also building brand new ones complete with the most sophisticated hospital and medical imaging equipment.

Another area that has seen huge growth is health tourism; there are tens of thousands of people that fly into Costa Rica each year to have cosmetic and dental surgery.

Patients from all over the world have discovered the excellent quality of the medical services in Costa Rica and certainly pleasantly surprised at the ‘affordability’ of these ‘world-class’ professional services.

“You will find that the costs for qualified, professional medical and dental services are often a fraction of the cost that you would expect in the USA.”

Since some people are evaluating the prospect of living in Central American countries other than Costa Rica, I asked Dr. Loyola how the quality of health care in Costa Rica compared with other countries in Central America.

Dr. Loyola stated that; “In many areas Costa Rica is light years ahead of any country in Central America.”

“Health care in Panama is significantly more expensive than Costa Rica“and “Nicaragua and Honduras are probably twenty years behind Costa Rica when it comes to health care.”

“The two main private hospitals in San José are ‘Hospital Clinica Biblica’ www.clinicabiblica.com located in the heart of the capital and the biggest, most modern ‘Hospital CIMA San José’ www.hospitalsanjose.net located to the west of San Jose.

CIMA is unique in that it has the only open MRI in Central America. Both hospitals offer several types of room options, clinical laboratory services, radiology and all medical and surgical specialties.”

A note from Scott Oliver – Founder of WeLoveCostaRica.com: I also had a comprehensive medical check up done at CIMA as part of a Father’s Day special package deal. Over a period of about six hours, the Doctors (not nurses) interviewed me and checked just about everything I could imagine…

They did the ECG treadmill tests where they shaved my chest hair in places, strapped those patches on my chest and then watched me sweat while I ran on a treadmill. They did X-Rays, ultrasound examinations on all my internal organs, extensive blood tests for all STDs and more, as well as urine and ‘other’ tests.

At the end of it all, I had one last meeting with the Doctor in charge who discussed the results and provided me with numerous, very comprehensive reports in both Spanish and English so I could see in black and white that I was then, and hopefully still am very healthy. (Don’t worry Dad!)

There was no waiting around, the speed was impressive, the quality of services was superb and the price was definitely right. For all of those tests and the consultation with the various Doctors and other specialists, the cost was only US$300.

I am personally very grateful for the quality and the value of the health care services available here in Costa Rica. It should be mentioned that the very warm and caring personality that is an integral part of the Costa Rican character really does translate well into an unusually warm and very caring Doctor-patient relationship.

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