Medical Tourism: The Risks of Getting Cosmetic Surgery Abroad


More and more people are choosing to get cosmetic surgery in a foreign country, especially people from Western Europe, the UK, and the US. The cost of cosmetic surgery in Western countries is often extremely expensive, so travelling abroad is usually considered as a cost-saving measure. However, there are a number or risks involved, particularly quality of care issues, and legal issues such as making a claim if surgery goes wrong.

The first thing to consider is that cosmetic surgery is, like any medical care, often cheaper when the quality of care is lower. In your home country, there may be a register of doctors or medical professionals that lists their qualifications and registration to practice. In the country that you travel to, this register may not exist or may be hard to find if you do not speak the language. Before you get any procedure done, always ask the surgeon what training they have and what medical organisations they belong to.

Another factor that goes into the cost of medical care in some countries is the insurance cost for the provider, which is passed on to the patient in the form of fees. The benefit of having this insurance in place is that if something goes wrong during the surgery, you are completely covered. Overseas, this insurance may not be in place and it can be difficult to receive compensation for medical malpractice or similar issues.

In addition, simply travelling itself may increase your risk of having a follow-on medical issue from the surgery. For example, when flying back to your home country after surgery, the risk of deep vein thrombosis is increased. Continuity of care issues arise when your surgeon and medical team cannot easily follow up with you after the surgery to ensure that you are recovering well.

These types of problems become intensified when you include jurisdictional issues. If you get cosmetic surgery overseas and want to sue the doctor for malpractice, it’s hard for patients to seek redress when the medical tourism industry has no international standards or regulation. If poor-quality treatment is provided, bringing a civil or criminal lawsuit may be prohibitive and costly.

However, these types of lawsuits are not unheard of. In 2010, a UK law firm successfully brought a lawsuit against a Belgian clinic for medical malpractice. A patient had travelled from the UK to Belgium to have eyelid surgery performed, but the surgery went wrong and she suffered permanent damage to her facial nerves. The factors that were relevant for the law firm to be able to bring the lawsuit were:

  • The contractual arrangements took place in England.
  • The clinic was targeting UK customers
  • The clinic was advertising in the UK
  • The surgeon was GMC registered
  • The patient had a pre-op consultation/part of the treatment in the UK
  • The clinic had a UK consulting address

If these factors are met in the cosmetic surgery situation that you are considering, you’re more likely to be able to bring a successful claim if something goes wrong. Consider all of the above factors and risks before you commit to cosmetic surgery overseas, as if a mistake is made you may not be able to get a remedy for it.


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