Trying Out Medical Tourism in Southeast Asia


I never had health insurance on my own in the US, and so I did what anyone else would do: I stockpiled meds given to me by hoarder friends and just hoped for the best. When I moved to Bangkok and then Hong Kong to teach English, though, I finally had insurance and the ability to get lots of meds, and in a bottle with my name on it!

Getting up-to-date with your body while on holiday is something I absolutely recommend. I hate going to the doctor’s office, but it’s just easier in Asia. For the most part, the demeanor of the staff is much friendlier (this may have to do with language barriers), and if you go to a private, not public, clinic, lines are much shorter. Private hospitals are much more expensive for locals, but for Westerners, the price difference is not worth worrying about. Nurses and receptionists may not speak much English, but doctors will.

Of course, things are not what you may be used to. In Hong Kong, dentists don’t brush your teeth with that industrial-grade brush. It’s great because the appointment only takes about 20 minutes, but I didn’t think my teeth felt nearly as clean – or look nearly as white – without it. But I was able to get a same-day appointment, which was a plus, and it cost me US$30 without insurance.

Going to the gyno is an adventure. In Bangkok, the doctor just looked around for about five minutes before announcing she was done and looked thoroughly confused when I asked for a pap smear. I had to ask her several times before she finally did it. I have a friend who lived in Japan, and when she went to the gyno, she never even saw the doctor. He stayed behind the sheet hanging from the ceiling down to her stomach the entire time, and never said a thing.

Getting meds is also easy. You just need to walk down the hall from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy, and there’s no waiting time. Sometimes it seems like the doctor is just chucking meds your way, which is great since I’m hoarding for the next time I’m without insurance. On the other hand, I’ve had doctors who cut short their lunch hour just to see me. The bedside manner really is much, much better in Asia.

I’ve only been to the doctor for basic things, but I’ve heard many good things about affordable LASIK in the Philippines. I’m basically blind, and as soon as I get the courage, I’m going to do it (I swear!). Other types of specialty doctors can be more expensive – I recently spent US$150 on a dermatologist visit and three types of meds in HK. This was with no insurance, and it was a total splurge compared to just going to a local place.

If you too hate going to the doctor, going while on holiday might be a less painful solution. It’s also a good way to try out traditional meds or care like cupping or acupuncture. My experiences, both at private and public clinics, have ranged from decent to exceptional, and I never felt like I was getting into something I couldn’t get out of. And the bedside manner! Really, that makes a visit worth it more than anything else.

Have you tried medical tourism?


About Author

Maureen always knew she wanted to travel. In college, she studied and traveled through the Caribbean and Central America, and the first time she fell in love was with Mexico City. After graduating, she spent several years teaching EFL in Europe, the Americas and Southeast Asia and traveling in every spare moment. She's currently living in Hong Kong, and getting lost while traveling is her main hobby.

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