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Costa Rica has received international praise for its modern healthcare system, and both citizens and legal residents can enjoy universal healthcare. Read this article to find out more about the kind of high-quality standards at low costs that you can expect in the Switzerland of Central America.

The United Nations has ranked Costa Rica’s public health system in the top 20 in the world, and as the best in Latin America. In addition to an applauded public system, Costa Rica has a private health care system that is much more affordable than the private care in the nearby United States.

Both the private and public systems are consistently upgraded, so new hospitals and new clinics are popping up, and improvements in staff training and equipment are always being made. Thanks to the availability of bilingual medical personnel, it's understandable that Costa Rica has become a popular destination for medical tourism (over 55,000 foreigners travelled to Costa Rica for medical care in 2017).

Costa Rica has well earned its fantastic reputation in healthcare, thanks to its clean hospitals, highly trained doctors, and affordable care.

Medical care

Pharmacies are called 'farmacias' and can be found in major supermarkets, shopping centres and on many main roads. They tend to be well-stocked, and you'll find that the regulations covering prescription medicines are not too restrictive. Only narcotics, psychotropic drugs, and antibiotics require a prescription, and it's worth building a strong relationship with your local pharmacist so that they can be your first point of call instead of heading straight to the doctor’s surgery.

Many expatriates are happy with the medical care that they can receive in San José. Once you're in Costa Rica, you'll find that friends, neighbours and colleagues can advise you in finding a suitable doctor. If you don't speak Spanish, it's a good idea to go to a private hospital in or around the capital, such as Hospital La Católica in San José-Guadalupe, Clínica Bíblica in San José, or Hospital CIMA in Escazú, where many of the doctors and nurses speak English. When you're in more rural areas, you can find it harder to come across English-speaking practitioners.

Dental and optical care are also world-class and affordable in Costa Rica. Biodental Esthetics is a particularly renowned dental clinic that specialises in oral rehabilitation, including dental implants, root canals, dental esthetics, and orthodontics, where the dentists have graduated from top dentistry colleges and teach in universities across Costa Rica.

Insurance

Do ensure that you have comprehensive health insurance (some international policies are valid, or you can get insurance from a Costa Rican company) to cover you while you are living in the country if you wish to go private. Alternatively, you can pay cash when medical needs arise, as costs tend to be quite low.

If you do not have residency yet, then you can get private health insurance from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS), which tends to be a cheaper alternative to an international policy from your home country.

One advantage for expatriates in Costa Rica is that they can be covered by the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), which is a government-run universal health care system that is responsible for providing low-cost healthcare services to both local citizens and legal residents (it is only available to non-resident foreigners in the case of an emergency). This is commonly referred to as Caja and, by contributing a percentage of your monthly income to this, you will be eligible to receive free medical treatment at certain hospitals around the country.

In 2010, it became mandatory for residency applicants to become members of Caja, and it covers everything from doctor visits to hospitalisation. However, be warned that lines are long, medication can be generic, and you can wait a long time for appointments, surgeries or treatments. Consequently, even if you are covered by Caja, it can still be worth buying a separate health insurance policy. Many expats choose to use a mix of public and private care, due to waiting times for certain procedures in the public system.

 Useful links:

Expat.com – Health care in Costa Rica Forum
National Insurance Institute (INS) www.ins-cr.com
Costa Rican Department of Social Security www.ccss.sa.cr
CCSS - FAQ www.ccss.sa.cr

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