Traveling to Asia is often associated with culinary food, warm weather, and white beaches. Over the years, a new trend has come and where travelers visit Asia for medical purposes.
Visiting countries like Thailand and Malaysia doesn’t only allow you to get hold of high-quality health care for a fraction of the prices back home. You can also take the chance to have a short vacation to recharge your batteries and discover what the countries have to offer.
In this article, you’ll learn more about how it works when visiting Asia for medical care purposes and the benefits. I will cover a range of topics so that you become more prepared before choosing what destination to visit.
Why is Asia good for medical care?
As Asian countries develop, a new trend has become obvious, and where travelers want to cut hospital cues back home and reduce medical fees. I’m not saying that medical care in Western countries is bad, but we have to look at the availability of healthcare.
Besides, separating public and private healthcare systems is crucial to make a fair comparison.
In some European countries, you sometimes have to wait for months until you can get a CT-scan if you go through the public healthcare system. The process can also be bureaucratic as you first have to visit a general practitioner, he or she will then determine whether you can visit a specialist.
To overcome this issue, people often have to opt-in for private health insurance, even if they pay taxes and have access to public healthcare. Cancer patients face the dilemma of waiting for a few months to get the necessary treatment for free (or for a cheaper price), or go to a private hospital and get help instantly.
This is a fact and I could mention practical examples of friends’ families that have been in such situations.
If you visit Asian countries for healthcare purposes, you’ll visit private hospitals with services that are often better than Western countries. English-speaking doctors with experience from overseas are accessible, at the same time as hospitals have state-of-the-art equipment.
While only a few countries offered these kinds of services to foreigners in the past, we now see more and more developing countries that have become interested in medical treatment.
To give you a better overview and help you in your decision-making when selecting a destination for medical healthcare, we’ve analyzed the most interesting countries and what the benefits are of receiving medical care there.
Let’s get started with the destination that receives a significantly large amount of medical travelers.
Medical Care in Thailand
While Thailand has a shortage of general practitioners on a national level, it has some of the region’s best private medical care when considering prices. Years ago, Singapore received most of Asia’s medical tourists, but Thailand has now snapped the first spot.
Nowadays, more than a million travelers visit the country annually for medical purposes, spending tens of billions of US dollars. Thailand’s main advantage is indeed the lower costs compared to Western countries, especially the US.
A hip replacement can cost as little as half compared to the latter one, for example.
Some of the greatest benefits of choosing Thailand for medical tourism are:
- Low costs
- Regional hub
- Trained doctors
- Great service
- Bundled services
- A wide range of medical care
Thailand is most renowned for its affordable prices of medical care. It also serves as a regional hub and where Bangkok is the most visited city in the world, receiving around 30 million travelers yearly.
Being the home to plenty of good hospitals, you’ll also notice that many of its private dittos have a large number of doctors that speak English flawlessly and that have both studied and worked overseas.
The Thais are also renowned for being welcoming and used to cater to tourists, a reason why it’s one of the most visited countries among holiday spenders and families in the world.
Bundled services are also an upcoming thing that fewer medical travelers are aware of. In short, this means that if you go for dental treatment, for example, you can also opt-in for cosmetic services at discounted prices. Not to forget, the facilities and services also come with spa-like treatments, including not only massages and baths, but also shopping experiences.
Traveling to Thailand
Bangkok is indeed the most popular city for medical treatments. Here, you can find famous hospitals such as:
- BNH Hospital
- Bumrungrad International Hospital
- Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital
- Bangkok International Hospital
- The Bangkok Christian Hospital
- Phyathai Hospitals
- Praram 9 Hospital
- Saint Louis Hospital
Most nationalities can visit Thailand for up to 60 days, but with a possibility to extend the visa for additional 30 days. This makes Thailand suitable for short-term and medium-term stays.
Accommodation is on the lower price-scale compared to Western countries and the food is also top-notch!
Medical Care in Singapore
Singapore is one of the most popular destinations for medical tourists with deeper pockets. It’s well-known that famous persons such as celebrities and politicians visit the nation for treatment. One example is the ex-Zimbabwe leader, Robert Mugabe, who died at a Singaporean hospital called Gleneagles at the age of 95.
Singapore is only behind Canada and Thailand in terms of medical tourism globally and receives as many as 500,000 people a year. Half of these come from Indonesia. There are plenty of reasons why people choose Singapore as a destination for medical tourism and where some include:
- English speaking doctors
- High-quality medical services
- Vast amount of hospitals
- Excellent healthcare system
You’ll find the most state-of-the-art equipment here and a vast range of services, including everything from plastic surgeries, orthopedic surgeries, cancer treatments, and cardiac surgeries. Some of the most renowned hospitals in Singapore include:
- Mount Elizabeth Hospital
- National University Hospital
- Raffles Hospital
- National Cancer Centre
- National Heart Centre Singapore
- Singapore National Eye Centre
- National Dental Centre
- Gleneagles Hospital
The only general con of visiting Singapore for medical treatment is the high prices. Not only for the treatment itself but accommodation and food. Thus, a reason why many choose Thailand over Singapore is simply due to the lower prices.
Traveling to Singapore
Most visitors can enjoy stays of up to 90 days without the need of applying for visas. Just keep in mind that regulations differ between countries and there can be requirements to show that you’re financially capable of visiting Singapore.
Medical Care in Malaysia
Medical tourism is so popular and common in Malaysia that you can even find a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to the topic. The country receives more than a million medical tourists a year.
Malaysia has many developed cities, in contrast to Thailand where most visit Bangkok or Phuket. Melaka, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Penang are all suitable options if you look for high-quality healthcare for a fraction of the price compared to most Western countries.
Interestingly, most of the medical tourists that visit Malaysia come from Indonesia, as for Singapore Other nationalities include Indians, Singaporeans, Japanese, Australians, Europeans, Americans, and visitors from the Middle East.
The benefits of visiting Malaysia for medical treatments are:
- The comparably low costs
- English-speaking population
- High-quality medical services
- Vast options of hospitals
You can find any kinds of medical services in Malaysia. I cannot see any real disadvantages of visiting Malaysia for medical treatment unless you come from countries whose inhabitants are restricted from visiting the country or have issues getting a visa.
Traveling to Malaysia
Malaysia has similar visa regulations to Singapore and most visitors can stay in the country visa-free for up to 3 months. Malaysia also offers a long-term visa referred to as MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) which is primarily targeted towards retirees.
For up-to-date and relevant information about visa-policies for your home country, I recommend you visiting Malaysia’s Government’s website directly.
Medical Care in Vietnam
Vietnam is quickly becoming a popular destination for medical tourism thanks to its low costs. The country attracts more holiday spenders as its tourism industry develops as well. The term was mainly introduced in Vietnam ten years back and we mainly saw a one-way flow of Vietnamese going overseas for treatments.
However, that is now changing as we also see foreigners coming to Vietnam for treatments.
There are various reputable hospitals popping up, both local and international, such as:
- Columbia Asia
- FV Hospital
- Vinmec International Hospital
- Japan International Eye Hospital
- Happy Hospital
The hospitals all have experience in catering to foreigners and have English-speaking doctors. Some of them are even foreign-owned.
The main benefits of visiting Vietnam for medical reasons are:
- The exceptionally low costs (first and foremost)
- The cuisine
- The cheap accommodation, food and other activities
The cons include the limited number of hospitals compared to places like Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. Besides, you might come across hospital staff or nurses that are not capable of communicating in English. This is not the case in Singapore or Malaysia, for example.
In 2019, as many as 357,000 foreigners visited Vietnam for medical treatment. The most common treatments are dental care, cosmetic surgery, cardiology intervention, and fertility treatment.
Traveling to Vietnam
Traveling to Vietnam is a bit more restricted compared to Singapore and Malaysia, but similar to Thailand. Many Europeans and Americans can visit Vietnam visa-free for up to 30 days if they have a return ticket. It’s also fairly easy to apply for a tourist visa at your embassy.
One drawback of visiting or living in Vietnam is that the country doesn’t have any long-term visa yet. This is not the case in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand where you have more options available.
Medical Care in India
India is also famous for its medical tourism industry and the country attracts hundreds of thousands of travelers yearly. The country is big and has several regions and cities where medical tourism is particularly popular, including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, New Delhi, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.
India has plenty of English-speaking doctors that either studied or worked abroad, or both, and that are specialized in various fields. Here, you can get help with practically anything but the following areas are typically common:
- Infertility / Reproductive Medicine
- Sleep Medicine
- Physiotherapy & rehabilitation
- Orthopedics / Joint replacements (Bone/Joints)
- ENT, head & neck
The benefits of visiting India for medical treatment or purposes are the low costs, its English-speaking population, educated doctors, and the many hospitals available. While Thailand is popular for cosmetic surgeries, for example, India is well-known for attracting travelers that need help with issues related to the above-mentioned areas.
Traveling to India
Most foreign travelers have to apply for an e-Visa before they can visit India. South Korea and Japan are the only countries with 30-day visas on arrival in the country. With that said, visiting India is a little bit more difficult compared to Singapore and Malaysia, for example, but still easy.
Medical Care in Taiwan
Taiwan is well-known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world and has to enroll in its public healthcare system within 3 months of moving there. The coverage rate is extremely high and public hospitals are famously known for being on par with private dittos.
First, Taiwan has many educated doctors that specialize in different fields. Many of them have either studied at any of Taiwan’s best institutions or abroad. Taiwan was only behind the US and Germany in rankings with 14 hospitals listed on the list of the 200 best hospitals in the world. This speaks for itself.
Most medical tourists visiting Taiwan come from Asian countries in the region as it’s a center for the treatment of complex diseases. Another benefit of receiving medical treatment here is that prices are significantly lower in Western countries, for example. Compared to the UK and the US, surgeries cost around 20%.
I cannot find any real drawbacks of visiting Taiwan for medical reasons, except that it might be a bit more expensive with accommodation compared to Vietnam and Thailand, for example. Besides, public hospitals sometimes struggle with queues.
Traveling to Taiwan
Most Europeans, Americans, Australians, and some South American nationalities can visit Taiwan visa-free for up to 90 days. Russians, Thai, and Malaysians can visit Taiwan for up to 30 days visa-free. This makes Taiwan comparably accessible and easy to travel to.
Medical Care in South Korea
South Korea brings similarities to Singapore as it has some of the most advanced state-of-the-art equipment and pricier medical services. With that said, if you can afford to visit Korea for medical purposes, it should be at the top of your list.
It’s well-known for offering some of the best cosmetic surgeries in the world, but you can get help with technically anything. You can find numerous high-quality hospitals in Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Jeju, and more. Examples include:
- International Clinic, Seoul
- Yonsei Severance Hospital
- Kangbuk Samsung Hospital, Seoul
- CHA Medical Centre, Seoul
- Asan Medical Center, Seoul
- Seoul National University Hospital, Seoul
While South Korea has some of the best healthcare systems in the world, you might encounter the following problems: Doctors that speak limited English, high costs, and the country doesn’t have as comfortable weather as many Southeast Asian peers.
Traveling to South Korea
South Korea has some of the best visa policies on this list and most European countries, Americans, South Americans, and Australians can visit the country visa-free for up to 90 days. Canadians can even visit South Korea for up to 180 days visa-free. This makes South Korea one of the best countries to visit for medical purposes if you want to stay there for a longer period.