Health Care Options
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Costa Rica's health care system ranks third in Latin America and 36th worldwide in overall efficiency – one step better than the United States. Thanks to a combination of low-cost public health care and excellent private options, Costa Ricans have a life expectancy (almost 78 years) and quality of health similar to first-world nations.
Public Health Care
The public health care system, known as the Caja, is available to Costa Rican citizens and legal residents. All legal residents are required to pay into the Caja system, which combines health care, pension and, in some cases, worker benefits.
• Cost: For many, the Caja's biggest advantage is its low cost. For 10-11.5% of your monthly income, you'll have complete access to the system. You'll never pay a copay or deductible, and everything from well visits to emergency care, as well as prescription medicines, is included at no extra charge.
• Availability: Public health care is available countrywide at small clinics and health centers (known as EBAIS) located in almost every town. Additionally, there are ten public hospitals located throughout the country.
• Preventative medical care: The Caja excels at preventative health measures, including regular blood tests and yearly check ups as well as mammograms, and colonoscopies as necessary.
• Automatic Pension: If you're under 65, your Caja payment automatically includes a contribution to a pension plan that you will begin to collect at age 65.
• Wait Times: The Caja is known for long wait times, both for immediate and long-term needs. For daily attention at local clinics, you'll have to arrive early – at least an hour before opening – to secure a place in line. For non-emergency specialized appointments (ultrasounds, colonoscopies, and even dental cleanings), you'll wait months; for surgeries, you may be on the wait list for years.
• Prescription Medicines: The Caja uses generic drugs almost exclusively, so you may not be able to obtain certain medicines free-of-charge.
• Little Choice: With the Caja, you have no choice in medical provider. Each health clinic has one doctor assigned to each area, and when you're sent for additional tests, you will not have the choice of choosing your specialist – or switching if you're dissatisfied with your care.
Private Health Care
Private health care options abound in Costa Rica. From general practitioners to neurologists, there's an option for every specialty. Additionally, there are more than ten private hospitals throughout the country.
• Choice: With private health care, you can choose your own provider or make a switch whenever you like. In most cases, you do not need a referral from your general practitioner to see specialists like dermatologists or nutritionists.
• Mixed medicine: A huge benefit to Costa Rica's health care system is the hand-in-hand cooperation between some private providers and the Caja. If you choose a doctor who is affiliated part-time with the Caja, you'll pay per visit, but the doctor can prescribe tests and other expensive procedures through the Caja, therefore saving you money while also providing the flexibility and personalized service of private medicine.
• Modern facilities: Costa Rica's private hospitals often purchase state-of-the-art equipment and hire medical professional trained in cutting-edge procedures.
• Comfort: For a price, private clinics and hospitals offer private rooms, restaurant-quality food, and other perks that will make your stay comfortable.
• English-speaking staff: Many private hospitals have bilingual employees, so you'll never have trouble communicating your medical needs and questions.
• Availability: There are numerous private clinics and hospitals around the country, especially in the Central Valley and popular beach towns.
• Cost: Though much less expensive than medical care in the United States, Costa Rica's private medical care isn't cheap. Without insurance, you'll be required to pay for each step of your medical care – every needle, pill and sheet change will be charged to your account. Insurance is available, usually for $50-$100/month, and covers 70-100% of costs. If you're a legal resident, keep in mind that you'll also have to pay into the Caja whether you use their services or not.