Plastic surgery tourism is a phenomenon that has experienced an increased-growth over the past decade – a trend that was initiated by mainly price-driven reasons.

When it comes to medical tourism, cosmetic surgery is a special branch that includes all-inclusive vacation packages focused on cosmetic surgery, for the most part. These sorts of offers include the services of private hospitals and highly trained medical staff, for obtaining the best possible results, at the lower price. 

But, is it really so?

Is the medical staff at these destinations really highly trained and trustworthy?

Considering medical tourism plastic surgery is one of the most sought after services, so for that reason, we want to investigate what kind of offers does this particular branch of medical tourism include, and whether or not it is a good idea to even consider.

What is plastic surgery tourism?

As we already established, when it comes to medical tourism cosmetic surgery is first and foremost a price-driven phenomenon, but let us clarify how did it come to be.

Being that elective cosmetic surgery procedures are not covered by the insurance, it is no wonder that the capital selling point of plastic surgery tourism is the cost, having in mind that once you merge the procedure itself with a vacation arrangement, you get a full package that costs significantly less then the individual procedure in U.S.A. 

Is it a good idea to get a plastic surgery abroad?

However, even though price might be the major selling point of this particular kind of tourism, the question that inevitably comes up concerns the alleged skills and qualifications of the plastic surgeons who perform these surgeries. 

This posses an issue mainly because it can be hard to assess the credentials of the said surgeons outside of the US, meaning that patients can potentially take unnecessary risks of undergoing surgery in non-accredited facilities.

This is one of the most important advantages in undergoing procedures in accredited facilities such as our clinique, if not only for respecting the strict health regulations, then for being certain in the expertise and professionalism of our chief ASPS certified surgeon

The potential risks of cosmetic surgery tourism

Aside from the inability to confirm the alleged credentials of plastic surgeons, there are other potential risks to consider. 

  • Accompanied activities can compromise your health. This specific form of tourism is mainly advertised as a cosmetic surgery vacation. Although it sound alluring, vacation activities should be the last thing on your mind when recovering from surgery, in order to properly heal and reduce the risk of complications caused by tanning, alcohol, strenuous tours or any other form of vacation interests.
  • Increased risk of complications caused by procedure itself and travel. Every surgery comes with the risk of infection and scaring, which only becomes greater if you are on a vacation when undergoing it. Aside from not healing adequately immediately after surgery, travel is another threat that can increase the risk of various complications significantly. Long flights can cause the development of embolism or blood clots, no to mention fatal complications in addition to swelling and infection.
  • Limited monitoring. Most of these surgery vacation packages do not include follow-up care at all, once the patient returns to the States, which is an important part of any surgery. This can ultimately lead to further complications, or even require revision surgery, all of which can be nearly impossible very difficult or nearly impossible of doing.
  • Additional costs. If the need arises and the patient has to undergo revision surgery, this will only be an additional costs due to the fact that revision surgery can be even more complicated (and costly) than the original was. Not to mention that it can be even harder to find the qualified doctor for such purpose. 
  • Surgical devices and products that do not meet U.S. standards. Other countries may not have similar regulations when it comes to safety and effectiveness standards, so the devices and products used during surgery might not be of same quality like in the U.S.A.

While all of these risks can be limited and even completely avoided, do not assume, we still suggest you undergo your surgery in-country, and plan ahead your vacation days, cause this is the only way to be certain that your surgeon and your facilities are verifiable. 

Most common plastic surgery tourism procedures

There are several types of plastic surgery procedures that are quite common among patients who opt for cosmetic surgery travel, and here is top 4 of them.

#1 Breast augmentation

It’s at all uncommon that breast augmentation surgery continues to be the world’s most sought after procedure, whether for reasons of enlarging both breasts, to replace one of them or to make asymmetrical breasts equal in size. 

#2 Liposuction

Breast augmentation is closely followed by liposuction procedure that refers to suctioning the fat out of specific areas of the body in order to obtain a slimmer and well proportioned silhouette.

#3 Tummy tuck

When it comes to medical tourism tummy tuck procedure or abdominoplasty is also among the most sought after procedures of surgery tourism, and it refers to excess skin removal from the abdominal area and tightening the skin that remains. This procedure is the most popular among the women who had just gave birth, or who have only lost weight after bariatric surgery. 

#4 Rhinoplasty

An infamous nose job is another one of extremely popular surgical procedures, that reshapes the nose and brings into balance with the rest of the face. This surgery is most commonly required by those who want to reduce the overall size or to refine areas of the nose in order to get acquire a more pleasing appearance. 

The hidden costs of plastic and cosmetic surgery tourism

In most of the cases, plastic surgery tourists can end up paying more after the surgery has been done, due to possible complications and revisions they probably wouldn’t have if they have stayed in-country.

For instance, aside from possible complications and revision surgery, there is also the question of travel safety. The travel to destination of choice often includes long flights and a large amount of travel, which can be especially risky when doing it post-operatively. 

Having said that, post operative recovery is also included into “hidden costs”, since it can take weeks before your body fully heals, not to mention you will require an ongoing professional care. Quality of care is another important factor you are obligated to consider when undergoing plastic surgery, being that every country has different standards of care, that can be more or less rigorous.

If you decide to do it – plan ahead

If you made your decision and will opt for some of the popular plastic surgery vacation packages, there are ways to plan ahead in order to ensure optimal results and limit the risks and complications. 

Before you jump right into it and decide on cosmetic surgery travel, always research the procedure first, together with its’ benefits and potential risks, and always have realistic expectations, so you can truly understand side effects and recovery time. 

Beforehand, require a medical evaluation, where you can discuss your medical history and determine the most appropriate treatment, but in order to do that, do choose an adequate physician. Your best option will always be ASPS approved surgeons who are qualified, certified, and above all – properly trained in the field.

The most popular cosmetic surgery destinations

When it comes to medical tourism – plastic surgery prices are one of the main reasons it is very sought after abroad, and out of many destinations who offer plastic surgery procedures at a much lower expense than the U.S.A., these are some of them that have gained a name for themselves, service and price wise. 

Brazil – the hub of cosmetic tourism 

Plastic surgery in Brazil is exempt from tax, which allows Brazilians to get it done more easily, and what transformed Rio into a cosmetic tourism hub. Some of the most popular required procedures are liposuction and breast augmentation.

Taiwan – renowned for facial surgery

When you say Taiwan, you might as well could said “botox”, being that this particular procedure is has been an emerging trend here. Whether it is about cheek lifting, dark circles removing or wrinkle treatment, locals seem to enjoy having any kind of anti-aging facial procedure done.

Thailand – high-end quality at a lower cost

Every year, thousands of people travel from America to Thailand, in order to get some kind of plastic or cosmetic surgery. The main reason for it is a high-quality procedure you get at a lower cost. Furthermore, Thailand is considered one of the most exotic vacation destinations in the world, which is another thing that makes it attractive for medical tourism.

Colombia – liposuction favorite

In the recent years, Colombia is becoming increasingly popular in terms of plastic surgery procedures. The major selling points of Colombia are low-cost cosmetic procedures, especially liposuction that has been in demand from 2010. 

The bottom line is that, even though there are more than few risks associated with plastic surgery tourism, there are many international plastic surgeons that are ASPS approved and that can be a reliable option for undergoing plastic surgery abroad. 

In order for plastic surgery to be performed safely, it requires a proper amount of anesthesia, sterile technique, modern equipment and above all – surgeons trained accordingly. Being that many facilities are privately owned and operated in the same way, it is difficult to check all the necessary credentials, not only of surgeons, but of the other staff too. 

Also, always bare in mind that there are no legal regulations or laws that protect U.S. patients in case of surgical negligence, if they decide to undergo surgery outside of the country. 

Nevertheless, if you do decide to undergo any type of cosmetic surgery abroad, we always advise caution and research beforehand, in order to minimize or prevent any potential risks that come with opting for all inclusive cosmetic surgery packages abroad.

Dr. Andrew Ress, M.D.

Dr. Andrew M. Ress, a board-certified plastic surgeon with over 25 years of experience, practices in Boca Raton, Florida. As the founder of [liv]® Plastic Surgery, he specializes in facial plastic surgery and body contouring. Dr. Ress is also a pioneer in skin health, introducing the [liv]® AI SkinScreen, an advanced AI-powered tool for proactive skin cancer screening. Educated at Cornell University and the University of Miami, with residencies at the Mayo Clinic and Indiana University, Dr. Ress is committed to excellence and innovation. Recognized as one of Boca Raton’s Best Cosmetic Surgeons, he is dedicated to patient-centric care and cutting-edge technology.