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Winning Strategies for Retirement Abroad (cont.)

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Like health-care costs, private medical-insurance premiums are less expensive abroad than they are in the United States, according to International Living. Despite the increase that Aon Hewitt noted, a couple who are in their 60s pay $145 per month for health insurance in Panama. In Colombia, residents pay a flat rate of 12 percent of their retirement income to participate in a government health plan and have supplemental insurance available, which allows you the choice of private hospitals, for about $400 per year. In Malaysia, prices range from $400 to $1,000 per year for private health insurance, depending on your age and health status, according to International Living.

These insurance costs compare with about $7,000 per year in the United States for a 65-year-old couple who have Medicare and a supplemental insurance policy, according to HealthView Services. Whether the coverage is comparable with U.S. standards varies from country to country. In general, experts whom we interviewed found that health care was easier to access in foreign cities, regardless of whether consumers paid for insurance.

“In general, you can expect to spend about 50 percent less” on health care when you’re outside of the United States, depending on the procedures and how you pay, Vequist says. For example, Jim Santos had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in Ecuador. His overnight hospital stay totaled $6,000. The same procedure stateside would cost $14,000–$28,000, according to Kaiser Permanente’s Treatment Cost Calculator.

Santos decided to pay out of pocket. He also had the option to get a private medical-insurance policy ($400 monthly premium) or, because he qualified because of his residency visa, have the operation performed through Ecuador’s national health system. The latter typically would mean fewer hospital and care-provider choices, less specialized care and longer wait times.

Unsurprisingly, health-care systems abroad vary depending on the country, but statistics show that the quality of health care in developing countries has been improving for years. World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that life expectancy increased in popular expat locations since 1990. WHO says, that as of 2013—the latest statistics that the organization lists—a 60-year-old of either gender can expect to live an additional 24 years in Colombia and Panama, 23 in Costa Rica (the same as in the United States), 22 in Ecuador, 19 in Malaysia and 21 in Thailand. Life expectancy statistics are a typical measure of health-care quality, experts say.

More first-rate health-care facilities exist overseas today than ever before, according to Vequist. For example, Hospital Punta Pacifica in Panama City, Panama, is affiliated with Johns Hopkins University. Colombia and Malaysia are home to several hospitals that have accreditation from Joint Commission International, which is a U.S.-based organization that sets the benchmark for standards. According to WHO, Colombia’s health-care system ranks 22 out of 178 countries, which is the best in South America, compared with Canada (30th) and the United States (37th). The analysis is based on health-care efficiency and life-expectancy outcomes.

That’s good to know, because the goal is to enjoy your retirement years  and not spend that time worrying about health care.

Joe Bousquin is a former staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal. From 2004 to 2007, he lived and worked overseas in New Zealand.

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