Personal Finance

The 5 best countries for affordable health care

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If you're looking for affordable health care, consider seeking medical attention outside the U.S.

As costs continue to climb, retirees increasingly are looking abroad for less costly coverage.

Below are the five best countries in which to find affordable health care, according to Just as in the U.S., metropolitan areas in these countries will typically provide better quality of care than rural ones, says International Living senior editor and author Dan Prescher, and often matches or beats care in the U.S.

5. Panama

Aerial view of the Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal with Panama City in the background.
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Large clinics and hospitals in Panama are often affiliated with U.S. counterparts such as the Cleveland Clinic and John Hopkins Medicine International.

While most expats tend to pay out-of-pocket, International Living says it's best to still have private insurance. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Panama offers coverage for as little as $80 per month for those under age 65.

Older expats or those with pre-existing conditions may opt for a hospital membership that costs anywhere between $90 and $175 per month, according to International Living. Unlike many insurance plans, some hospitals may offer limited coverage for pre-existing conditions after a waiting period of one or two years.

4. Mexico

San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
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Mexico is known for providing health care at a fraction of U.S. costs. Expats can expect to pay half or less for medical expenses and prescription drugs.

Legal Mexican residents have access to two health care systems: government-run public health or private.

The government-run systems offers basic care with costs running as low as a few hundred dollars per year. Many expats also use private health care where you can pay with cash or use insurance. A standard visit to the doctor can run $30 to $40.

3. Colombia

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The World Health Organization ranks Colombia's health-care system 22nd worldwide, which is higher than both Canada (ranked 30th) and the U.S. (ranked 37th).

Anyone under age 60 with a national ID card, even those with pre-existing conditions, can apply for government health insurance. Co-pays average $3. Many ex-pat retirees pay a premium of $70 to $85 for a couple, according to International Living.

Private health insurance can also be added. Premiums vary yet are still are significantly lower than what a couple would pay in the U.S.

2. Costa Rica

Costa Rica
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There are two medical systems in Costa Rica: a government-run one and the private medical system, with most people choosing to combine both.

Caja is Costa Rica's universal health care system, which is available for both citizens and legal residents. As a Caja user, you pay an income-based monthly fee that covers the applicant and a dependent spouse. The fee is about $75 to $150, according to International Living, and provides complete coverage, including doctor and specialist visits, diagnostic testing and prescriptions. However, a major drawback is long waiting times for specialized surgeries, since Caja covers a majority of the population.

The private medical system is another option. A doctor's visit there is $50, ultrasounds run $75 and major surgeries are usually half to a quarter of costs in the U.S., according to International Living.

1. Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Malaysia's most popular areas of treatment are cosmetic surgery, dental work and dermatology, attracting 1 million medical tourists worldwide in 2016, according to International Living.

George Town and Kuala Lumpur are the main medical centers. Most Malaysian doctors were trained in the U.S., Australia or the U.K., and all are English-speaking, a major perk for ex-pats. Malaysia has about 11 hospitals with Joint Commission International (JCI) certification, considered the gold standard for health-care providers worldwide.