June 13, 2024

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Receiving medical care outside Canada



This information is for people planning to travel outside Canada to have a medical procedure.


If you’re travelling for other reasons and have a medical emergency, consult the following:


If you become sick or injured while travelling outside Canada or after your return


On this page




Medical tourism


Medical tourism is the term used when travellers go to another country for medical treatment. This can be for surgical and medical treatments or procedures, including cosmetic and dental.


You may 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
  • recommendations from friends and family
  • preference to receive care from a culturally similar provider
  • opportunity to combine medical care with vacation destination


While most procedures go as planned, there can be serious complications. If you choose medical tourism, discuss your plans with a travel health clinic or your health care provider in Canada first.


You should also:


  • only use trusted health care providers
  • research the facility where the procedure will take place
  • buy comprehensive health insurance that covers medical procedures in other countries


Travel insurance


Health risks


All medical and surgical procedures involve some risk to the patient. These risks may be higher in hospitals outside Canada, depending on where you choose to travel.


General complications


There have been reports of serious illness or complications from medical care received in health care facilities outside of Canada. These can include bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.


If you become ill after your procedure, health care providers in Canada may not have enough information to properly assess and treat you.


Language barriers can also lead to misunderstandings about your medical care, including proper aftercare.


Flying soon after surgery may also increase your risk of complications, including:


  • blood clots in the legs
  • blood clots in the lungs
  • air becoming trapped in a blood vessel post operation


Different standards and risk of infection


Hospital or medical clinic accreditation standards may be different from those in Canada.


Licensing standards may differ for:


  • nurses
  • doctors
  • pharmacists


Some countries use different standards for regulating drugs.


Medication outside of Canada may be:


  • counterfeit
  • poor quality
  • outdated or damaged
  • unsafe, toxic or untested
  • ineffective or watered down


Infection prevention and control procedures in medical facilities may also be different, which could lead to a higher risk of complications.


Standards for screening blood products or sterilizing medical equipment may be different than in Canada.


This could increase your risk of infections like:


  • HIV
  • hepatitis B
  • hepatitis C
  • meningitis
  • drug-resistant infections


Safety concerns


You may be pressured into undergoing procedures you don’t fully understand or consent to. If something goes wrong, your options for legal action may be limited.


Some international businesses pay people from developing countries to donate their organs. Organs may also be harvested from vulnerable people (like prisoners) without their consent. As such, the safety of these organs or the surgical procedures used to transplant them may not meet Canadian standards.


Financial risks


You may be seeking treatment outside of Canada to save money. However, complications or unplanned aftercare could result in greater costs to you 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’re having the procedure. Most travel insurance policies also won’t cover planned medical procedures in another country.


Learn more about:




Planning for your procedure


When planning your procedure, be wary of:


  • people pressuring you into making a quick decision
  • prices or claims of success that seem too good to be true

    • this includes claims that the procedure is of lower risk than what’s reported in Canada

  • companies selling packages that include a holiday as well as the treatment


You should also be cautious if:


  • there’s little information about the health care team available
  • you have no opportunity to consult the physician before treatment


Talk to a health care provider in Canada


Before you decide to have a medical procedure done in another country, talk to a health care provider in Canada.


You should discuss if:


  • you’re healthy enough to travel
  • air travel is a risk after the procedure
  • your routine vaccinations are up to date
  • you need any other vaccinations before you travel
  • any ongoing medical conditions are well controlled and stable
  • you have enough required medication for the length of your trip


You should also talk about:


  • whether you’ll need a follow-up consultation
  • making a medical recovery plan when you return to Canada


Even if you don’t discuss it with a health care provider, you should make a plan for your aftercare in Canada.


Learn more about:




Research


Consult with the health care provider who will do your procedure at your destination to discuss the specific risks. Find out what legal rights you have if something goes wrong.


Check the credentials of anyone who will be providing medical care. Most countries publish this information on an official government website.


Research the facility where your procedure will be performed. Do not go to an unofficial medical facility. Find out whether the facility is accredited by the country’s state or federal body responsible for regulating health care.


Calculate all costs, including for emergencies. For example, an unexpected medical evacuation back to Canada if a procedure goes wrong or there are complications.


Read the travel advice and advisories for your destination to find out:


  • about health risks
  • advice to protect your health
  • about medical services and facilities


Travel advice and advisories


Preparing to travel


Get written agreements with the health care providers or medical tourism group arranging your trip that fully outline what your fees cover, including:




Bring copies of your medical records, including:


  • known allergies
  • pre-existing conditions
  • information about all the medications you take, including their:

    • dosages
    • brand name
    • generic name
    • manufacturer


You may need to have your records translated into another language before you go.


You should also:


  • pack essential items in a travel health kit
  • consult with your airline about rules for travelling after a medical procedure
  • plan how you’ll communicate with your health care providers if you don’t speak their language


Travel health kit


During travel


When you arrive:


  • ask to see the clinic or hospital where the treatment will take place
  • have a medical consultation before your procedure
  • check that your health care provider has prescribed you with appropriate medication, including pain relief


If you have any concerns, do not proceed with the treatment.


Get copies of all medical records related to your procedure before departure, including X-rays and scans. This is important for follow-up care and if there are complications after you return home.


Returning home


Review everything with a health care provider when you return to Canada, including:


  • the results of medical tests
  • descriptions of the procedures you had
  • information about the medications you received


You may need to translate this information into English or French.


Monitor your health, especially if you have a chronic illness.


This includes conditions such as:


  • diabetes
  • respiratory disease
  • cardiovascular disease


See a health care provider immediately if you notice any changes in your condition or signs of infection after you return, such as:


  • fever
  • redness
  • swelling at the surgical site


If you had injections or blood transfusions while you were in another country, discuss blood testing with a health care provider. A test will look for infections transmitted by blood.


Tell any health care provider you consult for at least 12 months after you return that you have received medical treatment outside of Canada.


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