Plastic Surgery Abroad: Pros, Cons and Considerations

by Edie Pastis

In the current state of the economy, some cosmetic surgery patients are finding it difficult to afford the procedures they've been saving and planning for. While many plastic surgeons in the U.S. offer helpful financing options or payment plans to assist patients with a tighter budget, the fact remains that cosmetic surgery is a sizable monetary and physical investment. Looking to solve the problem of undergoing cosmetic surgery with a dwindling bank account, many patients are looking abroad for cheaper costs to some of the most popular procedures. So, what are the pros and cons of choosing cosmetic surgery abroad? Are you better off hopping a plane, or pursuing treatment locally? Let's find out.

Plastic Surgery Vacation and Tourism: Pros

Often referred to as plastic or cosmetic surgery tourism and plastic surgery vacations, the practice of going to a foreign country to cash in on plastic surgery at lower costs is nothing new. And now that the economy is in such a state of crisis, the affordable cosmetic surgery costs touted at some of these foreign destinations is all the more appealing, leading some patients to plan their summer vacation abroad in a popular plastic surgery destination. Some of the most popular foreign destinations for cosmetic surgery include Mexico, Brazil, Thailand, India, Korea and Tunisia.

When it comes to undergoing a surgical procedure such as liposuction or breast augmentation, the idea of planning a vacation surrounding the surgery doesn't seem like a bad option—you're going to be missing 1-3 weeks of work regardless, so wouldn't you rather recuperate in a beautiful foreign locale, rather than on your couch at home? Some cosmetic surgery tourism companies even arrange for sight-seeing possibilities for those in recovery, taking into consideration patients' weakened conditions and immobility.

These perks have caused the industry to grow tremendously in recent years. Prospective cosmetic enhancement patients can even purchase surgery travel packages that include a hotel or spa stay, reduced procedure costs, and a personal concierge to accompany you through the entire process, including airport pick-up and transportation to and from the hospital.

It's true that a cosmetic surgery vacation can create an opportunity to have work done in an exotic location, provide an enriching enhancement experience, and achieve beautiful cosmetic surgery at reduced costs. But there are certainly downsides to taking this route as well.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Cons

While the lower costs are certainly one of the first draws of cosmetic surgery tourism, that lower cost is strictly exclusive to the procedure itself. Once you factor in travel expenses, airfare and hotel or hospital accommodations, the final tally looks equally or more forbidding than the U.S. surgical bill. And for those who don't have the luxury of paid vacations, the time spent out of work will be greater if you have to travel for surgery. As a result, you could wind up depleting your savings entirely to fund, not only the surgery, but the trip itself.

Another thing to think about is the consequences if something goes wrong with the foreign surgery. The licensing and certifications for surgeons in the U.S. are often much more rigorous than those required for foreign medical staff. Of course, there are many exceptional doctors and plastic surgeons throughout the world, but they are fewer and farther between in some of the third world countries boasting the lowest cosmetic surgery prices. If something does go wrong, you're potentially thousands of miles from home, your insurance may or may not cover medical complications overseas, and unless you have someone to make other arrangements or help negotiate a next move, you could be in a real fix. Similarly, if you fall victim to a botched surgery overseas, or aren't met with the results you had wanted, you may wind up paying more (there or at home) to correct the damage with additional surgery.

Questions to Ask

If you are seriously thinking about having your cosmetic surgery performed in Brazil, Japan, or another foreign location, it's best to proceed with caution and wariness. In order to ensure you aren't making the decision impulsively, and have weighed the possible risks and complications, here are some guideline questions to ask beforehand from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS):

  • Unless you have met the surgeon on a prior visit, and have seen the surgery facility, how do you know that you will be comfortable with him or her, and feel secure in proceeding with surgery? Remember, a successful doctor-patient relationship is based on confidence and trust, not on perceived savings and price. Make sure you are fully comfortable with the surgeon providing your care.
  • What are the risks of long flights and any additional land travel before and after surgery? Will travel have an impact on my surgical outcome? Will I have to stay longer at the tourist destination to decrease the risk of post-surgical deep vein thrombosis (DVT) before I get on a plane?
  • Is there an increased risk of DVT in the legs, or pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs) associated with long air travel before and after surgery?
  • What is the surgeon's training?
  • What specialty certification does the surgeon hold?
  • What happens if you develop complications?
  • If you feel the surgeon has been negligent, what recourse will you have?
  • What are the local standards of anesthesia and nursing care? What credentials do these providers hold and what are the standards of the credentials?
  • Is there an acute care hospital nearby if complications should arise? Is it a fully licensed, modern facility?
  • What physician will care for you at home if complications arise?
  • What are the surgeon's recommendations for aftercare? How long after your procedure will you need to stay in the area? Who will care for you in your initial recovery? What are the costs for this post-operative care?
  • Do the key personnel at the surgeon's office and in the operating room speak fluent English?
  • Carefully consider the total costs involved with having surgery abroad, including the additional time off work required for travel and recovery, the costs of air travel and extended stays abroad, potential costs if surgery revisions are needed subsequently, and unanticipated expenses if complications occur.

Plastic Surgery Close to Home

On the flip side, what are the benefits to having cosmetic surgery performed on your own turf? Well, right away you have the edge of immediacy and familiarity. You can easily research doctor reviews and procedure information on the web to educate yourself before you even get started. You also know more about local insurance policies, coverage options and payment plans. Another benefit to having the surgery at home is that you can talk to people you know and trust who've undergone plastic surgery, and use word-of-mouth recommendations to inform your choices in clinics and cosmetic surgeons. It's also helpful to view cosmetic surgery before and after photos of a surgeon's work, and see for yourself what kind of results you can expect.

It's also important to establish trust and confidence in your surgeon's capabilities and their surgical facility before the procedure is performed. By meeting with a local plastic surgeon for a consultation, you can ensure that you are comfortable with their capabilities before the day of surgery and before you fly halfway around the world to have it performed.


If you're interested in finding out more about plastic surgery costs in the U.S., or would like to learn more about the possible risks and benefits of cosmetic surgery, it's helpful to meet with a certified plastic surgeon with expertise in the procedure you're considering. Not only can they give you more information about the procedure you're interested in, they can inform you of the best ways to prevent risks, surgical complications and poor outcomes from occurring. You can also meet face-to-face with an expert who can field your cosmetic surgery questions right up front. But, whether you remain on home soil for your cosmetic procedure, or journey to a distant land, do your homework and weigh out all of your options and considerations beforehand.

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