Was I ready to go on vacation? Let’s see. Airline tickets purchased? Check. Bags packed with all necessary toiletries? Check. Travel documents located and secured? Check. Wait! I nearly forgot to purchase travel insurance. While praying nothing happens to me on vacation, I make sure to acquire the kind of insurance that flies me back home just in case.

The thought of encountering a health issue abroad invokes a single thought in most Americans while on vacation – head straight back home ASAP! Why is that? Is it because we think other places in the world have an inadequate healthcare system when compared to the U.S? Or that we might catch some disease or die in the hospital from something other than that which we had going in? Or perhaps that it’s going to be expensive?

You may find that most times, all those thoughts and statements are very much a lie! Yes, I said it: A lie!

Here is my story…

On our recent journey to Vietnam, we, the Griots Team, had a layover in Singapore for a few hours before catching our connecting flight to Ho Chi Ming City. There we went to the lounge, watched a movie in the airport’s theatre, rested and had dinner. During dinner, I chewed on something that caused my composite filling to fall out.  Every time I ate or drank something hot or cold it was incredibly uncomfortable and sensitive. Thinking about ending my trip and head back home before I even reached my destination was my initial thought. I cannot trust these folks to fix my teeth, I said to myself.

Reality set in and I thought: “You do know you just spent quite a few dollars on this trip, as well as, took this long ass flight to get here? Suck it up! Turning back is not an option.” We boarded our flight to SGN and arrived safely to our hotel in Vietnam. As soon as I reached my hotel room and dropped off my bags, I called the concierge desk and asked, “Where is the closest dentist?”

Photographer: Camara Clayton

The man replied, “It is 5 minutes away from the hotel, and when you come down I will have walking instructions at the desk for you.” I jumped on the elevator and headed downstairs and the crew followed. Everybody wanted in on this activity.  I grabbed instructions and headed off to the office walking with confidence and determination until I reached the front door of the building and saw a janky seafood restaurant downstairs in the lobby with the biggest damn fish and lobster I’d ever seen in a tank!

Fear, once again, reared its head.

I got upstairs only to see that, although the place wasn’t the midtown Manhattan office I was accustomed to, it was clean and serene. They had one operator with one chair. I spoke to the assistant, and she said that they were about to close for the day and she wasn’t sure if the dentist could see me today. Still uncomfortable and not willing to leave, I turned on the charm and pleaded with her. Five minutes later, she returned to her desk saying “She will take you after the current client is done!” Ten more minutes and I was in the chair.

I must admit, I was a little jumpy when she started drilling.  My nervousness, while understandable, was totally uncalled for. She settled me down and speaking softly she replaced my composite filling and did a fantastic job!

Now it was time to pay, and I thought to myself, “Aww Hell! This is going to cost me big time.” I was only charged a whopping $35 U.S. dollars for the procedure! I was thankful, grateful and in awe!

Fast forward to my return to the U.S. I went to my dentist for a check-up in which she changed out two other composite fillings and checked the filling I received in Vietnam. She indicated they did a great job, but of course, I then paid a $68 co-pay and she charged my insurance company $275.20. This left me wondering if leaving the country for small or cosmetic fixes would become my new normal.

Photographer: Camara Clayton

New Normal?

Apparently, many other Americans have decided to make this practice their new normal too. According to Patients Without Borders, a medical travel company, dental tourism accounts for nearly half of all medical travel, with nearly  800,000 Americans, many business travelers, traveling abroad to get dental work just last year!  Further, the cost of cosmetic dentistry, flights, hotels and the like still remain cheaper than home.

In the book, “A Better Life for Half The Price” by Tim Leffel, the author discusses the pros and cons of living abroad and while highlighting infrastructure, culture, employment and of course health care, he talks about the fact that  in many countries care abroad can generally be about 25% of what it would cost in the U.S. That’s a significant savings and for those of us who are price sensitive or for those who spend a lot of time overseas, it may be worth it to look into it.

So, here are some words of wisdom I can share with you based on my experience.

  1. Do not let fear control you as it is only “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

2. Healthcare abroad is cheaper! Further, the care you get is often equivalent (if not better) than in the United States. However, do your research on the best places for the care you require because sometimes too cheap can be expensive.

3. Read Tim Leffel’s book “A Better Life For Half The Price.”  It has some great nuggets of truth on how you can save money and where to go to get what you need.

4. Seek help from friends abroad or from the concierge in your hotel. Luxury hotels and those catering to westerners are usually quite discerning when it comes to where they send their guests. So ask for reputable recommendations and start small!

Have a medical tourism story? Share it in the comments!



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