Medical tourism and the overseas gamble with your body

Australians are travellers, we all know that, but in the last 10 years, we have not being going overseas just to relax, we’ve been going there to have some pretty serious procedures done. Meredith Jones from the University of Technology in Sydney estimates that cosmetic surgery tourism by Australians alone is a 300 million dollar a year industry, with about 15,000 Australians travel overseas each year to undergo cosmetic procedures.

What exactly are we having done and why? Most have plastic surgery and complex dental work done as a cost-cutting venture. Why not go to Thailand and have a holiday and your teeth fixed, all-in-one? This is the thought process behind many of our reasonings for participating in this growing industry.

And is it just in Thailand? Nope – Australians have found dental and plastic surgery is a fraction of the cost in India, South Korea, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia – though it’s not always cosmetic work they want done…these countries offer other medical surgeries for costs that are unheard of here in Australia.

There are companies such as Global Health Travel which helps travellers plan their medical holiday and a representative, Sharon Wilsnatch said, “The most popular procedures overseas are obviously cosmetic surgery: your breast augmentations, facelifts, tummy-tucks and more and more we’re seeing an increase in enquiries for spinal surgeries, neck surgery, hip replacements, knee replacements, shoulder reconstructions, fertility treatments”. With this considered, would you think about having an otherwise expensive surgery carried out overseas, especially in light of changes to the health system?

You hear the horror stories but there are some stories that may sway you the other way, including one by a woman who had dental procedures done in Thailand – teeth whitening, dental bridges and crowns. She told SBS, “I don’t think their technology is that great in Australia, because they gave me a plate that goes under the roof of my mouth and with wires. Whereas in Bangkok the temporary tooth they gave me was just a tooth that kind of just slipped in, it was just amazing. Very, very cheap it would have cost me probably 160 dollars, whereas here they charged me 700 dollars for that barbaric thing they put in my mouth”. She also said that the Thai dentists worked more quickly and were “more superior and much more advanced”, a claim that may shock some but when you think of the money charged in Australia, perhaps it is no wonder they take their time when so much money is at stake.

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According to, these are the price comparisons between Australia and Thailand:

Breast implants: Australia — $8,000-$12,000; Thailand — $3,000-$4,000

Facelift: Australia — $9,000-$10,000, Thailand — $4,000-$5,500

Tummy tuck: Australia — $7,000-8,000, Thailand — $5,000-$5,200

Dental implant: Australia — $3,500-$7,500, Thailand -$2,300

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So how would you go about organising a trip to be nipped or tucked overseas?

You need to be aware of standards of the facilities and carefully review and critique the place where you would like to have surgery or procedures – and always have travel insurance. The Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, Geoff Dobb, says Australians should avoid undergoing medical procedures overseas altogether.

Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages, so here they are:


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  • Cost: obviously the cost is one of the most important factors in having a procedure done overseas. Costs can be less than half of what you’d pay in Australia, with some dental procedures a third of their cost here.
  • Availability: for more crucial health-related surgeries, waiting lists can be a nightmare. Overseas, you rarely have to wait.
  • Relaxation: going overseas gives you an excuse to relax and take some time off in a peaceful setting.


  • Legal issues: if something goes wrong while you’re overseas and having a procedure, it’s doubtful you will have any luck suing or getting your money back.
  • Language barriers: it can be difficult to convey what you want when the other person does not speak your language. They could use it against you as well if something happens.
  • Complications: in the event that something goes wrong at home, you could be out of pocket even more than if you were to have the procedure in Australia i.e. corrective surgery.

Of course, check with your health insurer and doctor before going ahead with any plans for a procedure in another country.


Would you have a medical procedure done overseas? Or have you? Why or why not? What would you have done?