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Cosmetic surgery abroad - is it right for me?

The popularity of medical tourism is continuing to rise with more people in countries with expensive private healthcare realising the potential to getting better value for money beyond their borders. Canadians and Americans are opting for South America and Asia. Europeans are crossing borders for cosmetic surgery;  some are taking advantage of the many cosmetic surgery clinics in less expensive Eastern European countries.

However, just because it’s possible, that doesn’t mean that travelling abroad for treatment is right for everyone. Things can go wrong anywhere and choosing whether to have cosmetic surgery abroad is a very personal decision.

Why are you considering cosmetic surgery?

Whether you are having treatment at home or abroad, you need to be very clear about your expectations. Cosmetic surgery can straighten a broken nose, remove excess skin after weight loss, and it can enlarge or reduce breast size. What it can’t do is change your personality or get you a better job/house/partner. Take some time to think about what you want from your treatment, what you expect from the end result, and work out the best way to explain this to your surgeon and medical team.

Advantages of cosmetic surgery abroad

  • You can save money. Cosmetic surgery is not classified as a medical necessity in most healthcare systems, so most people have to pay for their treatment, even if their medical healthcare is free. The price for individual procedures varies, but specialists and private cosmetic surgery clinics in the USA, UK and other western European countries tend to be towards the higher end of the price band compared to Czech Republic, Poland, India, Turkey, South Africa, and countries in Eastern Europe.
  • Greater privacy. If you are having cosmetic surgery, you may not want your friends, neighbours or family to know. You may not want them to see you with stitches, bandages or when you are in recovery. Cosmetic surgery abroad offers the chance to tell everyone you are simply going on holiday.
  • Increased choice. While your own country may offer a wide choice of cosmetic surgery clinics, extending your search for clinics abroad will expand your options considerably. You may want a procedure for which there is a specialist centre in another country, and travelling there may offer you expertise that you cannot get at home.

Disadvantages of cosmetic surgery abroad

  • Added stress. Any type of cosmetic surgery is stressful. You are having a medical procedure, which always carries risks, and you are counting on the cosmetic surgery to have a positive effect in your life. Going abroad for treatment means that you will have your surgery in unfamiliar surroundings, recovering in a hotel or apartment, rather than your own home.
  • Less support. While some people may want to get away to avoid their family and friends knowing about their cosmetic surgery, others may find it difficult to be isolated abroad. Most people go with a companion, but you need to ask yourself whether you would rather go through the experience with the support of your best friend, your mum and your partner, rather than having to choose.
  • The travelling. If you are having a minor procedure, and you can enjoy a holiday and some relaxation time before and after your cosmetic surgery, travelling may not be an issue. If, however, you are having major surgery such as a tummy tuck after weight loss, or a full facelift, the prospect of travelling on a plane a few days later may worry you and may not even be advisable on medical grounds.
  • You need to do even more research. While cosmetic surgery abroad gives you greater choice, it also makes it harder work to find a reputable clinic and a good surgeon, as it’s more difficult to see either before you commit to your treatment. Spending dedicated time deciding on a destination country, a specific clinic and a reputable surgeon is vital to make sure you are not putting yourself at risk.

Cosmetic surgery abroad – deciding where to go

When narrowing down a shortlist of countries that may be suitable for you, consider:

How far do you want to travel? If you are in Europe, a train journey, or a short haul flight may be more sensible than a 16-hour long-haul flight to a distant country. If you are in the USA, Mexico or South America offers a closer option than Poland or Turkey. Or you may relish travelling, and want to experience a country that you wouldn’t otherwise get to visit.

The language barrier. This will be inevitable for many destinations, but you need to think about how clinics in a country approach overseas business, whether managers or medical staff can speak to you in your native tongue, and whether you are fluent in the language of a country you are considering.

The climate. Think about the time of year when you want to have your cosmetic surgery. Travelling to Turkey in July or August is fine if you want to lounge around and sunbathe, but temperatures of well over 30oC may not be ideal after you have had surgery. Advice from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons states:  “To properly heal and to reduce the possibility of complications, patients should not sunbath, drink alcohol, swim/snorkel, water ski/jet ski, parasail, take extensive tours (walking or bus), or exercise after surgery.” So, you may be more comfortable choosing a time that’s out of season as the tourist hotels will also be quieter and less expensive.

Religion and culture. If you have strong religious beliefs, it makes sense to consider a country in which that religion is practised, particularly if you want to visit a place of worship during your trip.

Infection rates. The high rates of MRSA infection in the USA, Canada and the UK have fallen somewhat during the last few years but are still higher than other countries; Norway and Sweden, for example, have very low numbers of MRSA hospital infections.

General level of facilities. This includes accommodation, the general clinic facilities and the medical and surgical equipment and facilities.

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