An expat retirees take on Costa Rica’s medical system

Are my medical costs any lower since I moved to Costa Rica?
Message from Dr. Jimmy Lee

I moved to Costa Rica to run away from the rat race that is life in the USA.

I have settled in and I feel comfortable living here……… BUT!  When I visit a doctor in Costa Rica I have a significant increase in anxiety.  Now, anytime and anywhere I visit a doctor I have anxiety, but it is elevated here, in this country.  Even though my doctor appointments are more expensive in the States, there is a sense of comfort in the clinics and hospitals.

In Costa Rica, my check ups and doctors’ visits are increasingly more frequent as I age.  I have a doctor for my blood work, heart and digestion.  Three different medical doctors, none of whom speak English. Which is fine, it’s my fault, I moved here.  However, it does stress me out when I cannot completely understand what they are saying.  Naturally an interpreter helps, but one is not always available.

I have been in the local hospitals as well as the San Jose high end hospitals,  Clinica Biblica and  La Cima. There is no question that the San Jose hospitals and doctor options are the best in the country. In fact, I read a report that they are the best in Latin America.

But is it cheaper than in the States?

My Costa Rican insurance (CAJA) does not allow me to go into San Jose to see just any doctor of my choice, which is fine.  It’s like that in the States as well.  However, I do wonder if I’m better off keeping my USA insurance and just flying back to the States for some help and procedures as needed.  I could combine my Bed Bath and Beyond trips with my medical checkups.  That sounds costly as well.

During my time here in Costa Rica I have met many expats who seem to manage their Costa Rican health care very well.  In fact, they seem to enjoy it.  Many of them say that in the States they did not even have health insurance.  I have met many happy people satisfied with the pricing and options here in Costa Rica.  I have also met some unfortunate ones who have left the country because of the poor health care system in Costa Rica.

There seems to be a lot of available information on Health Care in Costa Rica, but, it seems spread out and not updated and is in Spanish or bad English. I wish there was a consolidated text or handbook on health care in Costa Rica. A manual or an Angie’s List would be very helpful, detailing things from emergency care to chiropractic.

The pharmacies are interesting. I am still adjusting to the fact that I can buy almost any drug with no prescription.  Plus the prices! I needed an inhaler for asthma and it cost $4 in Costa Rica. The same device in the States cost $75, plus a prescription, $125. Unbelievable!

So there are both pros and cons to living with, and experiencing, the health care system in Costa Rica.  The best advice would be to, first, stay healthy and stay out of the doctor’s office.  Keep up your yoga and walking. Join a gym. Eat your fruits and veggies.  When you do need a doctor, there are various options available.

James Lee has lived in San Ramon, Costa Rica for 17 years.

He is a Chiropractor and Shipping Container Home Builder. He has built over 27 projects in the past 11 years. Located in La Union, San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica.

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One thought on “An expat retirees take on Costa Rica’s medical system”

  1. While there are many good doctors and health care facilities in Costa Rica, it is not the same everywhere. Small towns clinics are often staffed by well meaning people, but who do jot speak English. Your only option specialists and sophisticated diagnostics are San Jose, and health insurance premiums for private care rivaling costs in the US.

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