The article originally appeared on InternationalLiving.com.
I was sitting on our cantilevered terrace, listening to birdsong and the river flowing below me. I pondered the 11,000-foot-tall Volcano Irazú in the distance. From the top of the tallest volcano in the country, it's possible to see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on a clear day.
Suddenly there came a rapid-fire knock at the door. I knew something was different this morning—Costa Ricans rarely get worked up.
A neighbor, who knew I'd worked as a doctor in the U.S. before retiring to Costa Rica, wanted me to check his uncle, who was "having a problem." I found an elderly fellow, surrounded by supportive family members, who was in pain and having a nosebleed. We loaded him in my car and drove the three miles to the nearest Caja—the nickname for the local public healthcare office.
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Although the waiting room was occupied by folks waiting their turn, everyone generously ushered us to the front of the line. The old man was immediately assessed by the physician, received an ECG (to check for electrical problems with the heart), was stabilized, and later transported to a large hospital about 30 minutes away. There he was treated for his heart attack. I never saw it handled any faster when I was working in the U.S.
When my partner and I left Texas for Costa Rica, many friends said, "Well sure, you're not worried about medical care; you're a doctor." To tell the truth, that actually makes me much more critical of the medical care available in other countries. Unlike some foreign nations, Costa Rica has nothing to worry about; state-of-the-art services are available here in all branches of medicine and dentistry.
Costa Rica has both public and private healthcare sectors. Every town has its EBAIS (Caja) office where people from the neighborhood—expat residents as well as locals—can receive preventative and primary care. And there's no pre-existing condition exclusion.
There are also private doctors and hospitals, just as you're used to in North America.