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What if something goes wrong with cosmetic surgery abroad?

Cosmetic surgery abroad is a growing business, with thousands of people heading to other countries every year to enjoy cut price treatments. But what happens if something goes wrong with your cosmetic surgery abroad? Who is responsible for the extra costs and will you be covered by your own healthcare insurance or your country’s own healthcare system on your return?

What if something goes wrong while you are there?

Before you agree to have treatment in a cosmetic clinic abroad, you should be absolutely clear about who will pay for what, should your treatment go wrong while you are still there. It is highly unlikely that your travel insurance will cover any additional costs that arise from elective surgery, especially if this was the main purpose of your trip. If you have purchased specialist medical insurance, you need to check the terms carefully so that you are prepared.

Complications will inevitably mean extra time in the hospital or clinic for you, extra nights in the hotel for your companion and the additional costs of rearranging your flights. That is on top of the cost of corrective surgical procedures and additional drugs. Never sign a contract or consent form for cosmetic surgery abroad without reading it first, as you may end up waiving the clinic’s responsibilities if anything goes wrong.

It is vital that you make sure that your clinic will cover all of your costs if anything goes wrong that is their fault, such as infections due to bad hygiene or poor quality care. You should also check who pays for what if there are complications that are not the fault of the clinic. You may be able to get specialist insurance against such complications, but this is not widely available.

What if something goes wrong when you get home?

The biggest risk with cosmetic surgery is infection, and this may not start causing you problems until days after your surgery, by which time you will probably be back home. So what are your rights if you need treatment back home as a result of cosmetic surgery abroad?

For UK residents having cosmetic surgery in a clinic abroad, it is a quirk of UK law that any complications that arise from private cosmetic surgery within the UK are the responsibility of the private clinic, yet complications from cosmetic surgery abroad will be covered by the National Health Service (NHS). This is highly controversial, especially in times of shrinking budgets. The British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons has complained that the NHS provides 'a safety net' for patients going overseas, at the cost of more deserving cases who need plastic surgery following cancer or trauma. However, it is unlikely that the public healthcare system in the UK will ever be in a position to ethically withdraw emergency treatment from cosmetic surgery patients who have had treatment overseas, or even successfully charge them for their care.

For residents of other European countries, the situation is complex. It will depend on which country, what type of medical insurance and healthcare you have access to normally, and what their policies are on cosmetic surgery. In the USA, you will need medical insurance to access any care that you need to treat any problems arising from cosmetic surgery abroad and you could find that your insurance costs escalate afterwards as a direct result.

What about aftercare?

If you have your procedure abroad and then return home, you obviously will not have access to your surgeon and medical team. If your situation means that you don’t have easy access to aftercare in your own country there will be no one to monitor your healing and spot any problems early. Some larger clinics specialising in offering cosmetic surgery to medical tourists may have the facilities to organise some aftercare back in your own country; this is relatively rare but when it is available, it carries a premium price. Find out more about your aftercare options.

Can you claim compensation?

Another important issue if things go wrong with cosmetic surgery abroad is that of compensation. Many cosmetic surgery contracts will have a jurisdiction clause, which means that their clinic is governed by the laws of their country. This means that any claim for compensation must be made through the local courts, rather than the courts in your own country. This not only makes it much more difficult, and expensive, to pursue a claim, but it could also mean significantly lower compensation payments, in line with the laws of the land.

Finding a lawyer in your chosen country, and understanding a foreign legal process, can be highly traumatic, and returning repeatedly for trials and hearings can be prohibitively expensive. Once again, the further you go to save that little extra, the more it could end up costing you in the long run if anything goes wrong.

Be prepared

Your main focus when choosing cosmetic surgery abroad will always be a successful outcome and an improved face or body. However, you should always consider carefully what would happen if anything does go wrong. You need to understand clearly where you stand with your clinic, checking out their procedures thoroughly and reading any contracts carefully. If in doubt, get qualified legal advice to ensure your rights are protected and your costs are covered before you agree to any treatment.

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