Costa Rica -Strengthening Efforts in Medical Tourism


The Republic of Costa Rica, a land of enchantment whose name means “Rich Coast,” is a country with bewilderingly diverse landscapes from beaches on both the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, to rich rain forests, volcanoes and high mountains to marshy lowlands. Costa Rica has set high standards and has led the way to excellence in a variety of the country’s features. Now, it is gaining global recognition for another emerging concept: the modern medical tourism industry.

Costa Rica is a country known for its leadership and innovation, from being the only Latin American country to be included in the list of the world’s 22 oldest democracies to the abolition of their army in 1949 in order to increase its budget for education and economic development.

The country also leads the Environmental Performance Index through its ecological efforts as well as the protection of its biodiversity, having 25 percent of the country designated as National Parks and protected areas.

Now, it is looking to expand and become a leader in the healthcare industry.

The Medical Tourism Association™ (MTA) recently traveled to Costa Rica for the 3rd Latin American Congress on Medical Tourism, organized by Promed (Promoción Internacional de la Medicina de Costa Rica).

It was held at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in San José from April 23 – 25 with approximately 250 attendees and representatives from the U.S., Canada, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Argentina.

The main objective of the conference was to be a catalyst for the development of new business opportunities between Costa Rican providers of medical services and tourism to buyers from other nations, and the main hall was bustling with activity and people interacting with great interest.

The Congress was inaugurated with the participation of Costa Rica’s top government officials: Vice President Luis Liberman; Allan Flores, Minister of Tourism; Sisy Castillo, Vice Minister of Health; Dr. Alexis Castillo, President of the Board of Physicians and Surgeons; Dr. Alexis Campos, President of the Board of Surgeon Dentists; and the President of Promed, Dr. Jorge Cortés.

Liberman stated during his inaugural speech: “The geographical location, the professional quality of our people and the possibility of those who travel for medical care to such a small but diverse country as ours is what has generated success of our country in this [medical tourism industry].”

After his speech, he talked with the MTA and affirmed his country’s interest in furthering medical tourism. He committed to sending one of his ministers to the Ministerial Summit at the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress on Oct. 24, 2012.

Currently, Costa Rica generates $288 million from 36,000 medical tourism patients, and the predominant types of procedures are as follows:

  • Dentistry, 36 percent
  • Plastic Surgery, 12 percent
  • Orthopedics-Bariatric-Cardiovascular, 22 percent
  • Other medical treatments, 14 percent

Moreover, Costa Rica has set an ambitious goal of reaching $800 million from 100,000 medical tourists by 2014. Among the most compelling reasons patients are traveling to Costa Rica is the diversity in climate (to suit their recovery and leisure), the first-class medical facilities such as Hospital Clinica Bíblica in San José, the experienced medical professionals and an average savings of almost 70 percent of the cost in the U.S., sometimes even more.

During the conference, Jonathan Edelheit, CEO of the MTA, had the opportunity to meet with Sisy Castillo, Vice Minister of Health, at her office in the Ministry of Health in San José to discuss a number of initiatives to assist Costa Rica in further developing its medical tourism industry.

Castillo informed Edelheit that the discussions would be shared in the weekly meeting with all the ministers and Vice President. The MTA will be collaborating with Costa Rica’s public and private sectors to enhance their medical tourism initiatives.

However, Costa Rica faces many challenges in the years ahead, as every month new players emerge in Latin America and other parts of the world, competing for the spoils of this very lucrative industry.  If the country is to continue to grow its medical tourism industry and revenues, they must invest in a comprehensive and cohesive plan and strategy through the professional assessment of top international medical tourism experts.

About the Author

Armando Juarez is executive associate to Renée-Marie Stephano, president of the Medical Tourism Association™. He is also the coordinator for the Global Ministerial Summit on Medical Tourism, which hosts over 50 nations’ leaders and will take place during the 5th World Medical Tourism & Global Healthcare Congress in October 24-26, 2012 at the Westin Diplomat hotel on the beach of Hollywood, Florida. Juarez has a background in the hospitality industry, marketing strategy and business development. He can be reached at Armando@MedicalTourismAssociation.com

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