Benefits and Risks of Medical Tourism in Brazil

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Medical tourism is known to date back to the 1980’s and 1990’s when health costs rose. This caused Americans to start traveling to Central American countries like Costa Rica for dental bridges and caps not covered by their insurance – which was later known as “tooth tourism”. By the late 1980’s Cuba saw an opportunity to lure citizens from India, Latin America, and Europe to receive procedures such as eye surgeries, heart procedures, and cosmetic procedures. This led Cuba to welcome 2,000 medical tourists in 1990. Since then, more than 150,000 U.S. citizens underwent medical treatment abroad in 2006 in Asia and Latin America. Since then, the numbers have only continued to grow.


Medical Tourism is the process of traveling abroad to receive elective, nonemergency, medical care. Because health care costs in the United States are continuously rising, many people choose to travel abroad when getting certain procedures done. Many times, the whole trip (travel, hotel, as well as the medical procedure) is actually cheaper than if you were to get it done in the United States somewhere.

Brazil is known to be a pioneer when it comes to Medical Tourism. They are known for being innovative and pushing boundaries as far as medical tourism goes. Brazil is known to have the best healthcare system in Latin America and is the first country behind the United States in the number of plastic surgeries performed. Brazil was also the first country with an institution outside of the U.S. to be accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI) in 1999. Since then, Brazil now has 43 Joint Commission International accredited hospitals and institutions. One of the main reasons people travel to Brazil specifically is for cosmetic surgery in particular. In the United States, most cosmetic procedures have to be paid for out of pocket, since many insurance companies fail to see cosmetic surgery as “medically necessary” in most cases. In Brazil though, it is known that the citizens have a “right to beauty” which leads to many plastic surgeries being free or very low-cost for patients. (5)


Some of the services that you Brazil has to offer include:

  • Cosmetic & plastic surgery
  • Ophthalmology
  • Fertility treatments
  • General surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Weight loss/Obesity Surgery
  • Cardiac surgery
  • Dermatology
  • Dental treatments
  • Hair transplant

To put an example into perspective, you are able to get a rhinoplasty (also known as a nose job) for 1,550 Brazilian Real which is equivalent to 388.11 U.S. dollars. The average cost for a rhinoplasty in the U.S. is $5,350.

Marketing Mix

Marketing mix is the mix of controllable variables that a firm uses to pursue the desired level of sales. These variables are commonly classified as the four P’s – product, price, place, and promotion. Product represents goods, services, or ideas offered by a firm. In medical tourism, the product is the surgery or procedure that you are traveling to obtain.

Price focuses on what customers are willing to pay for a service. This is one of the main reasons that medical tourism is so popular. Pricing is very important for a consumer and having to travel to save a bit of money is definitely looked at as a positive. A lot of the time dental procedures for example, aren’t covered since procedures such as braces, porcelain crowns, veneers, and bridges are considered “cosmetic”.

Place represents the manner in which goods or services are distributed by a firm for use by consumers. For medical tourism, it involves the consumer to travel out of the country so that they are able to receive their service. Promotion deals with the advertising/marketing. A lot of medical tourism websites incentivize getting to go on vacation after getting the procedure. This attracts customers as they are able to travel and visit new places, on top of getting their procedure, while still saving money compared to doing it in the U.S.

SWOT Analysis

A situational assessment is an analysis of the organization’s environment and of the organization itself. This is referred to as the SWOT analysis because it got its name from examining the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, as well as the opportunities and threats relevant to the organization’s future strategy.

Strengths are positive traits that reflect what’s working for a company, product, or topic. They’re what set you apart from your competitors and give you an advantage. A strength of medical tourism is that you get to save money, while getting to travel, and getting a procedure done.

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Weaknesses are problems, or something you should aim to change. One of the biggest problems in traveling abroad to get a procedure done, is that there are a lot of risks involved. From having a language barrier, to something possibly going wrong and having the consumer stay extra days in a foreign country.

Opportunities are used to acquire new strengths to add to the list, while ruling out weaknesses if possible. One of the biggest opportunities that is available in medical tourism would be for the consumer to make new connections/relationships with others.

Lastly, threats have the ability to hurt a business or product. If more insurance companies were to accept cosmetic procedures as medically necessary, or the cost of said procedures were to go down in the U.S. for example, then it would definitely be a threat to countries such as Brazil who are used to getting that extra money from travelers.

Travel Related Issues

As of June 19, 2019, American citizens no longer need a visa to be able to enter Brazil. This is a huge positive impact as it used to be an extra $160 to obtain said visa in the first place. (8) While a visa is not a requirement to enter the Brazil, you do need a valid passport to be able to get on the plane. A passport book is about $150. The actual travel time I think is the most negative impact for anyone interested in going to Brazil to get any procedure done. Travel time can range from a 10 hour flight (a non-stop flight) to 28 hours, or possibly longer depending on the layover.

While Brazil does not require any vaccinations for tourists, they do encourage that they be up to date on their routine vaccines. This includes measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, as well as your yearly flu shot. One of the biggest challenges when visiting Brazil, is that their official language is Portuguese. This can definitely make it a little harder to communicate with other people when asking for directions, ordering food, and it might also affect the communication with the health care provider.

When traveling abroad, you also have to make sure that you notify your cell phone carrier and possibly add an international plan. I have Verizon for example, and they offer a “TravelPass” which allows unlimited calling and texting along with 4G LTE data for $10 a day, only on the days you use your cell phone. Another issue when traveling abroad is money. It’s important to also notify your bank you will be out of the country so that they do not cancel your card or think there is some sort of fraud going on. As far as the currency conversion, 1 U.S. dollar is equal to 3.99 Brazilian Real.  

Cultural & Behavioral Aspects

As far as food goes, Brazil might not be the place to go for someone who is a picky eater. Their traditional dishes include: Picanha which is a kind of Brazilian barbecue, Feijoada which is a heavy stew made with different cuts of pork and black beans, Moqueca with is a fish stew that is normally served piping hot, among others. When visiting Brazil, it is important to know that crime rates are high in most urban centers, and credit card fraud and ATM scams are very common.

In Brasilia specifically, public transportation, hotel sectors, and tourist areas report the highest crime rates. Brasilia’s Central Bus Station, or “Rodoviaria” is a dangerous area at night as is it known to have drug dealers and users. In Rio de Janeiro, tourists are vulnerable to street thefts and robberies in the evening/night especially in places close to major tourist attractions. As far as Brazil’s physical environment and the climate, it varies from the tropical north to the temperate south. Depending on where you go to get you’re procedure done, you can be in the Brazilian Highlands, or the Amazon Basin.


Below, I have created a budget in U.S. dollars to travel to Brazil and get a rhinoplasty.

  • Procedure $389
  • Airfare & Hotel $1,271
  • Pre & Post Care $100 (prescriptions, etc)
  • Meals $14 per day ($70 per person for 5 days)
  • Cell Phone $10 each day you use it
  • Accompanying Person $1,271 (Airfare & Hotel)
  • Total: $3,221
    *airfare & hotel pricing was from and included 5 nights

As mentioned earlier, the average cost for a rhinoplasty in the U.S. is $5,350 (6) and in this case the total would be about $3,221 – meaning you are able to save $2,129 by traveling to Brazil to get the exact same procedure.

Personal Perceptions

Personally, I believe the idea of medical tourism sounds great. I think it’s a great idea to be able to get a cosmetic procedure done for a fraction of the price, while being able to visit a new country. While I do think it could be a great experience for certain individuals, I do not think I would ever do this myself. I think that getting any sort of procedure done in a different country is way too risky. While it would be nice to save money, I think safety should come first. While Brazil is a very advanced country, it is scary to think that if something were to go wrong in surgery, you could possibly be forced to stay a couple of extra days in a foreign country – which could include extra nights at a hotel, and possibly booking a different flight. This can also impact having to request for more time off from work, etc.

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