The Resource Drain: Medical Tourism and Retiring Abroad

Are failed economic policies driving Americans and their dollars away? A coronary bypass operation, complete with post-op intensive care, costs $1200 US dollars in Ecuador. A kidney transplant done in India may cost around $2500 –total. A beachfront house in Mexico sells for a fraction of the cost of an equivalent American home. Increasingly, American retirees are moving abroad to places such as Quito, Panama City and Belize in an effort to flee rising costs of healthcare and living expenses at home. And they’re taking their skills, experience and plenty of American dollars with them.

A relatively new phenomenon, “medical tourism” is on the rise. That’s the practice of traveling to another country with lower medical costs to have expensive medical procedures and treatments done. Hospitals in the medical tourism hotspots such as India, Mexico and South America have upgraded facilities, intensified English language training for their staffs, and begun to offer tour packages that include hotel stays, meals and even tourist attractions for treatment seekers and their families.

Another emerging profile is that of the expatriate retiree – people whose shrinking pensions and Social Security checks simply go farther in a country where the cost of living is lower and the local culture is welcoming. Often reasonably wealthy, sometimes not, these individuals buy homes at local housing rates, make ample use of the host country’s resources and return home once or twice a year for shipping and visits.

In an era where jobs are outsourced to other countries at an alarming rate, especially in key areas such as technology, the exodus of revenue and talent to foreign lands also raises concerns about more resources vanishing from the country’s coffers. As the average lifespan in the US nears 80, retirement isn’t what it used to be. Many individuals are embarking on second and maybe third or fourth careers after retirement, serving as consultants, mentors and other kinds of advisors in work that parallels what they did during their pre-retirement days. Still others have used low financing rates and local currency loopholes to fund their own businesses in small countries with lower overhead.

The reasons for this retiree exodus are certainly as varied as the individuals themselves. But a recurring theme underlies most of

their stories: worry about conditions at home: spiraling healthcare costs and living expenses. Some cite fears of social upheaval and even civil unrest as reasons for establishing a safe haven abroad. But the end result is the same: money spent on foreign hospital stays and pumped into the daily economies of other countries equals resources that are not reinvested at home. And the skills and expertise of professionals in many fields are not being returned to the community.

The expatriate abroad has always been seen as a romantic figure, and maybe even a tragic one. But when failed social and economic policies at home result in the loss of resources, skills and income, the romance of the traveler comes at a significant economic cost.

The American Monetary Association

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