Public vs Private Healthcare in Costa Rica: What You Need to Know

Public vs Private Healthcare in Costa Rica: What You Need to Know

The list of things to love about Costa Rica is endless—the breathtaking beaches, stunning mountain vistas, and the pura vida lifestyle desired by so many. But a feature that surprises many is the quality of Costa Rica’s healthcare system…because it is so good…like, really, really good.

In 2020, Costa Rica took 3rd place in the healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, beating out other swoon-worthy locales like Spain and France thanks to lower healthcare costs.

Costa Rica offers some of the best healthcare in all of Latin America, and legal residents can choose to use the country’s universal healthcare system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CAJA), or opt for a private system.

But which option is best?

To help you make the best decisions for you and your family, we’ll be breaking down the differences between the two systems today.

Public Healthcare

Talk to any expat living in Costa Rica and they’ll likely tell you that the quality of CR’s healthcare system played a major role in their decision to relocate.

With CAJA, both citizens and residents enjoy 100% coverage for doctor visits, prescription medications, hospital stays, and medical procedures. Residents pay small monthly fees based on their income level to fund Costa Rica’s universal healthcare system.

Healthcare costs in CR are markedly lower than those in the U.S. with residents paying one-third to one-fifth of what they would pay in the states. Another perk—many medications that require a prescription in the U.S. are available over the counter in Costa Rica.

As you might expect, people sometimes complain about long wait times and the inconvenience of struggling through red tape to have procedures approved, but most users report a positive experience when using the public healthcare option.

Private Healthcare

Private healthcare is another high-quality option for those living in Costa Rica. The country boasts three private hospitals in and around the capital of San José and another in downtown Liberia that serves people living in beach communities like Tamarindo, Flamingo, and other towns within the Guanacaste province.

Residents can purchase private insurance from local companies or those based in the U.S. or Europe. Familiar providers like Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, and Cigna offer insurance policies to those living in Costa Rica.

With private insurance, users can expect to pay around $65 – $85USD for a standard doctor’s visit, and approximately $100USD to see a specialist. Many residents opt to use a blend of public and private healthcare. For example, you could use public healthcare for routine checkups at no cost. If you need to see a specialist for any reason, you could opt to use private healthcare to avoid the long lines and red tape that sometimes plague the public system. And many specialists are happy to write prescriptions to public healthcare pharmacies, allowing you to pick up medications at no cost to you.

The bottom line…

Don’t feel as though you must make an “either/or” decision. Both healthcare systems offer incredible benefits to citizens and residents that can be used in combination, allowing you to choose the best option for you and your family.

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