Receiving medical care outside Canada
Travellers from Canada may have to access medical care in other countries due to a medical emergency as a result of an injury or illness. However, they may also travel outside Canada to receive specific medical care, known as “medical tourism.”
On this page
- Medical tourism
- Health risks of medical tourism
- Financial risks of medical tourism
- Warning signs
- Before you leave Canada for medical treatment
- Returning home from medical treatment outside Canada
Medical tourism is the term used for travellers who go to another country for medical treatment. While most procedures go as planned, there can be complications.
Before considering going to another country for a medical procedure, gather the information you need. As with medical procedures in Canada, there are always risks.
Some people choose to go to other countries for reasons such as:
- lower costs for treatment
- quicker access to medical services
- medical care not available in Canada
They may be seeking:
- organ transplants
- dental procedures
- neurologic therapies
- fertility and cancer treatments
- cosmetic, orthopedic and bariatric surgeries
Health risks of medical tourism
All surgical procedures involve some degree of risk. These risks may be higher in hospitals outside Canada. Medical practices, health standards and infection control measures may be different in other countries. This could result in lower quality medical care.
- hospital accreditation standards may differ or not be as strict as in Canada
- licensing standards may also differ for:
- infection prevention and control in medical facilities may not be regulated enough to ensure patient safety
- serious illness or complications arising from medical care received in health care facilities in other counties have been reported, including bacterial infections resistant to antibiotic treatment that are a global problem.
- there is an increase in international businesses paying people from developing countries for donating their organs. Organs may also be harvested from vulnerable people (e.g. prisoners) without their consent, and the safety of these organs or the surgical procedures used to transplant them may not meet Canadian standards
- standards for regulating drugs may be different than those in Canada and, as a result, medication may be:
- of poor quality
- standards for screening blood products or sterilizing medical equipment may be different to those in Canada, exposing you to increased risk of:
- hepatitis B
- hepatitis C
- language barriers can lead to misunderstandings about your medical care
- you may be pressed into undergoing procedures you do not fully understand or consent to. If something goes wrong, your options for legal action may be limited
- flying too soon after surgery may increase your risk of blood clots, including:
- deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in the legs)
- pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs)
Financial risks of medical tourism
If you are seeking treatment outside the country to save money, complications or unplanned aftercare could result in greater costs than having the same procedure in Canada.
- Your provincial or territorial health plan may not cover your expenses if you develop complications in the country where you are having the procedure.
- Most travel insurance policies will not cover planned medical procedures in another country.
Remember that medical tourism is at your own risk, so beware of:
- people pressuring you into making a quick decision
- prices or claims of success that seem too good to be true, including claims that a procedure is lower risk than reported in Canada
- companies selling packages that include a holiday in addition to treatment
- little available information about the health care provider, or no opportunity to consult them before treatment
Before you leave Canada for medical treatment
Discuss your plans with your primary health care provider in Canada before making any decisions about having a medical procedure in another country.
You should discuss whether:
- you are healthy enough to travel
- your routine immunizations are up to date
- any ongoing medical conditions are well controlled
- you have enough of any medication needed for the length of the trip
- you will need a follow-up on your return
- air travel poses risks after the procedure
You should also:
- consult a travel medicine clinic for a pre-travel health assessment at least 6 weeks before travelling outside the country
- learn about the health risks in the country you plan to visit
- receive any required or recommended vaccinations based on your proposed travel activities and the local conditions where you are going
Before you go outside Canada for medical treatment, read the Travel Advice and Advisory for your destination.
Prepare ahead of time
Consult with the health care provider who will be carrying out your procedure at your destination to review the specific risks related to your treatment and travel plans.
Check the credentials of anyone who will be providing medical care for you. Most countries publish this information on an official government website.
Thoroughly research the facility where your procedure will be performed. Find out whether it is accredited by the country’s state or federal body responsible for regulating health care. Do not go to an unofficial medical facility. See the Health section of the Travel Advice and Advisory for your destination for information on medical services and facilities there.
If you are considering undergoing a procedure that is not offered in Canada, look into why it is not offered here.
If you still choose to go:
- buy comprehensive health insurance that covers medical procedures in other countries
- get written agreements with the health care professional and the group arranging your trip outlining what treatment, supplies and care are covered by the fees you are paying
- find out what legal rights you have if something goes wrong
- carefully calculate all costs, including money for contingency plans
- know how you will communicate with those who are providing your care, if you go to a country where you don’t speak the language
- take copies of your medical records including:
- known allergies
- pre-existing conditions
- information about all the medications you take, including their:
- brand name
- generic name
Understand what care you will need after the procedure. Before you leave, make arrangements with your Canadian health care provider for any follow-up care.
Pack essential items in a travel health kit.
Returning home from medical treatment outside Canada
Get copies of all medical records related to your procedure to bring back to Canada. This documentation will be important if there are complications after you return home.
Review everything with your health care provider when you return, including:
- the results of medical tests
- descriptions of the procedure(s) you had
- information about the medications you received
See your health care professional immediately if you have any signs of infection after you return, such as:
- swelling at a surgical site
Have a medical exam when you return to Canada especially if you suffer from a chronic illness and have noticed any changes in your condition. This includes such illnesses as:
- respiratory disease
- cardiovascular disease
If you had injections or blood transfusions while you were in another country, discuss testing for blood-borne infections with your health care professional.
For at least 12 months after you return, tell any health care professional you consult that you have received medical treatment outside of Canada.
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