More than 50,000 Canadians make trips abroad for medical or elective cosmetic procedures every year, according to a report from the Fraser Institute. Medical tourism can be enticing due to competitive pricing, but it’s not always safe. Make sure you weigh all your options carefully and proceed with extreme caution.

Dr. Jack Kolenda, an Otolaryngologist practicing in Facial Plastic Surgery,  has this advice:

“People have to realize that standards for private medical facilities vary from country to country. Canadian standards are much higher than other parts of the world. Cosmetic surgery done abroad in most cases can go well. However, complications can occur with any surgical procedure. You have to be prepared for that possibility and have someone manage the complications. In general, the recommendation is for patients to see their own surgeons when complications do occur.”


1. Know all your risks.  Surgery is not like getting a haircut – it’s an invasive procedure. Patients who are otherwise healthy can get complications. Make sure you are well informed of every possible risk that can arise from not only the procedure, but the environment, accommodations, and travelling. If you develop any kind of complication or infection from your surgery, you should be prepared to go back to the surgeon who originally operated on you, because many doctors won’t treat a patient whose case they are not familiar with. Keeping this in mind, reaffirm your reasons for wanting to have the surgery far from home and have realistic expectations of the outcome. The appeal of combining vacation time with your surgery may not be a good enough reason.

2. Research and plan ahead. Make sure your procedure is done in the safest possible environment by the most qualified doctors. Here in Canada, doctors and surgical facilities are closely regulated, but in many countries, this is not the case because the standard of care is very different. Not only can regulation be an issue, but the post-surgical care is also a rising concern. When you find a surgeon or clinic that appeals to you the most, contact the facility and ask lots of questions:

  • Is the surgeon affiliated with a hospital?
  • Are the surgeons and the medical team fully licensed and trained?
  • Does the facility have safety accreditations or certifications?
  • What would happen in the event of any complications?
  • Who would be responsible for paying for any additional treatments?

3. You are not covered by travel insurance.
Many travel insurance companies (e.g.; RBC, TD, Scotia Life, AMEX, Manulife) do not cover medical emergencies related to elective cosmetic surgeries (refer to their ‘Certificate of Insurance’).
Here is a typical insurance policy exclusion:
“Any non-emergency, experimental or elective treatment, including cosmetic surgery, chronic care or rehabilitation, when you knew or for which it was reasonable to expect before you left home, or before the effective date of coverage, that you would need or be required to seek treatment for that medical condition; and/or for which future investigation or treatment was planned before you left home.”