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The Real Costs of Cosmetic Surgery Tourism

In the United States, elective cosmetic surgeries are not covered by medical insurance, leaving the financial responsibility up to the patient. A Google search of “low-cost cosmetic surgery,” produces a list of facilities in countries all over the world that offer low-cost, all-inclusive “vacation” packages for cosmetic surgery procedures. This type of travel, known as medical tourism, has experienced increased growth over the last decade, leading more patients to place price over their own safety to achieve their desired appearance.

“In certain regions where plastic surgery is more competitive, some providers may offer procedures at very low cost,” says Marissa Tenenbaum, MD, associate professor of surgery in the Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the average cost of breast enhancement surgery in the United States is around $3,950. This cost is only part of the total price and does not include anesthesia, hospital or surgical facility costs, implants, surgeon’s fee, post-surgery garments, prescriptions and other related expenses. With all these costs considered, a patient may end up paying upwards of $15,000 for their entire treatment. In Tijuana, Mexico, surgeries are advertised at a fraction of the cost.

Research by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery found that Thailand, Mexico and Turkey have the highest proportion of foreign patients traveling to their country for aesthetic procedures. The group’s research revealed that Brazil surpassed the United States in surgical procedures completed in 2019 with over 1.4 million plastic surgeries, including the top three procedures: liposuctions, breast augmentations and abdominoplasty (tummy tucks).

With medical tourism on the rise, the Centers for Disease Control created a travelers’ health guide for individuals considering heading to other countries for surgeries. The CDC mentions that although every surgical procedure has its own risks and complications, the likelihood of complications increases with travel. For example, flying after surgery can increase the risk for blood clots, including deep vein thrombosis.  

Post-surgery care, including the need for any emergency appointments, may also be difficult. “If you travel for surgery and you are recovering further away from your surgeon, they cannot properly evaluate you during the healing process,” Tenenbaum says. “If an emergent situation were to arise, you would need to seek treatment from a doctor you may have never met and does not know your medical situation.”

Regardless of where they have surgery, the CDC recommends that patients recovering from chest and abdominal surgeries should avoid air travel for at least 10 days to prevent any risks associated with changes in atmospheric pressure. Those who had surgeries of the face, eyelids or nose should also wait at least seven days before flying, the CDC says.

In countries like Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, or Thailand, requirements for maintaining proper licenses, credentials, and accreditation may also be less strict. In the United States, the American Board of Plastic Surgery sets standards and designations by providing board certification to surgeons that have completed plastic and reconstructive surgery training. Certified plastic surgeons have also passed rigorous qualification exams as well as received continuous certifications to ensure they are meeting the high standards of safety in this field.

“When searching for a surgeon, it is important to ensure they have all the necessary training and qualifications to be a safe and apical plastic surgeon,” Tenenbaum says. “The surgeons in the Division of Plastic Surgery at Washington University are well-trained, confident, safe, and committed to the highest standard of care. Our surgeons at West County Plastics have additional training and experience with aesthetic surgery performed at an accredited hospital known for its excellent pre- and post-operative care.”

To make an appointment with a Washington University Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon, call 314-362-7388 or request an appointment online.