Cosmetic Surgery Tourism: If You’re Going Abroad Here’s What You Need to Know

Cosmetic Surgery Tourism: If You’re Going Abroad Here’s What You Need to Know
Cosmetic Surgery Tourism: If You’re Going Abroad Here’s What You Need to Know

Are you looking for aesthetic procedures beyond the US border? The option for less expensive cosmetic surgery can be compelling. I'm somewhat familiar with the desire for aesthetic procedures with a lower sticker price, since my aunt chose to have her second facelift in Mexico. (For anyone keeping track, her first was performed in Dallas, her third in Santa Fe.)

In many countries the cost of living is lower than it is in the US, which is good reason why the cost of certain procedures may be less expensive as well. For those willing to travel, this could be a great deal all around, depending on the circumstances – and let me emphasize the circumstances.

First and foremost, a cosmetic procedure is no less surgical than non-elective medical procedures meaning, don't skimp on research when going abroad for surgery.

"Patients fall prey to unlicensed physicians because of the misconception that anyone with a medical degree can safely perform any surgical procedure. There is a need for countries to establish strict regulations controlling who can perform plastic surgery procedures and the surgical setting in which they are performed in order to reduce surgical complications and deaths," noted Michael C. Edwards, MD, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

With that in mind, here are a few tips when researching a plastic surgeon abroad:

  • Unless you have met the surgeon on a prior visit, and have seen the surgery facility, how do you know that you will be comfortable with him or her, and feel secure in proceeding with surgery? Remember, a successful doctor-patient relationship is based on confidence and trust, not on perceived savings and price. Make sure you are fully comfortable with the surgeon providing your care.
  • What are the risks of long flights and any additional land travel before and after surgery? Will travel have an impact on your surgical outcome? Will you have to stay longer at the tourist destination to decrease the risk of post-surgical deep vein thrombosis (DVT) before you get on a plane?
  • Is there an increased risk of DVT in the legs, or pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs) associated with long air travel before and after surgery?
  • Be sure that your physician has specific training in cosmetic surgery procedures through an accredited plastic surgery residency program and/or fellowship.
  • What specialty certification does the surgeon hold?
  • What happens if you develop complications? Make sure you know who will care for you and who is financially responsible for secondary or revisional procedures. Before you leave home check with a local board certified plastic surgeon to see if they will be willing to provide post-op or revisional care if necessary.
  • What are the local standards of anesthesia and nursing care? What credentials do these providers hold and what are the standards of the credentials?
  • Is there an acute care hospital nearby if complications should arise? Is it a fully licensed, modern facility?
  • Do the key personnel at the surgeon's office and in the operating room speak fluent English?
  • Research your procedure to understand the risks associated with your surgery and what the requirements for a safe recovery are.
  • Inquire about the surgeon’s insurance. International Active members of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery can be found at Patients should also be advised to ask the practitioner what insurance the surgeon carries in case they face complications following their procedure(s). It’s also important to find out what the local laws regarding medical malpractice are.
  • Determine who will help you in your recovery if you are away from home and your normal support system. Dr. Nigel Mercer, MD, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) notes that, “Any patient who is planning to travel long distances for aesthetic surgery must be made aware that they are putting themselves at additional risk over and above the risks that they would face finding a certified surgeon closer to home. If they insist on traveling to another country, it is imperative that they choose a licensed surgeon who will provide them with service, post-operative care and advice - not just an operation."

When shopping for cosmetic procedures abroad, there is no such thing as too much research. With proper preparation and guidance from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, your next nip or tuck could potentially be your next vacation. However, bear-in-mind that the cost of your airfare, hotel and possibly aftercare depending on how extensive your procedure is may actually outweigh the cost of a procedure performed domestically. Do your homework and don’t wind up with any unnecessary surprises and costs!

About the Author

Mary Cunningham is a health and wellness writer and co-founder of the lifestyle site, Girl Around Town and travels regularly between New York, Austin and Houston. She loves speaking about the beauty we have inside and how to do the inner work to let that beauty radiate. Prior to leaving the corporate world to start her own company, Mary worked at the GRAMMYs in Los Angeles, before moving to Manhattan, where she joined Nokia's Digital Music Department.