Costa Rica offers some of the best health care in Latin America

Experience Superior Health Care in Costa Rica

Secure your wellbeing with Costa Rica’s superior health care services

Costa Rica is well-known for offering fantastic health care for its residents, both from public and private practitioners. In fact, according to rankings by the World Health Organization, Costa Rica is one of the top countries in the entire world when it comes to life expectancy. This is a huge plus factor if you are thinking about a Costa Rica retirement. Naturally, you want to live the rest of your life in a country where your health will be well taken care of, especially as the need for quality health care services will definitely become more important as you advance in years.

Best Basic Health Care in Central America

Compared to all the other Central American countries, Costa Rica definitely has stellar health care services and facilities. It is actually quite surprising for many people to find out that the health care system in Costa Rica with a world rank of 37 is even higher than that of the United States at 38, according to World Health Organization surveys. Furthermore, the UN has placed Costa Rica in the top 20 countries when it comes to the public health care system, as well as the top country in Latin America.

In 1941, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social or Social Insurance Administration of Costa Rica was established. This led to the provision of comprehensive health care to every resident of the country. In 1973, the agency took control of all public hospitals and health institutions and the government started the Programa de Salud Rural that aimed to provide basic health care to remote areas. Two decades later, over 80% of Costa Ricans were already covered by social health insurance. The country has 83 cantons and for each of these cantons, there is a health committee that is specifically assigned to manage the health coverage of its citizens.

The government places health care at high priority and allocates at least 7% of the country’s GDP towards the health sector. As of today, the health care system in Costa Rica includes high quality basic facilities that are staffed with at least one general practitioner, a nurse, a clerk, a pharmacist and a primary health technician. There are several public and private hospitals across the country. Costa Rica health care also offers medical services specifically for families and communities, and they also regularly hold prevention programs.

High Life Expectancy

The excellent quality of Costa Rica's free healthcare plays a significant role in the high life expectancy for the people living in this country, which is 79.6 years. This number is the highest in Central America and second in all of Latin America. In the so-called Blue Zone in Nicoya, Guanacaste, people live even longer. Men here have an average life expectancy of 78.5 while women are expected to live to 84.9 years. Aside from the exceptional health care system in Costa Rica, health groups also attribute this impressive life expectancy to the high happiness level of its people.

Costs of Healthcare in Costa Rica

It would be wise to be prepared for medical expenses if you do decide to retire in Costa Rica. Generally, the costs are much lower than you are probably used to in the United States, Canada and Europe. Doctors’ fees are about a third of the US cost, while hospitalization and prescription are half of what they would cost in other countries, or even less.

One of the great things about the health care system in Costa Rica is that it is focused more on preventive rather than curative strategies. They have numerous preventive programs that keep people healthy instead of scrambling to cure them when they are already sick. There is also equal health care coverage for everyone as they do not consider preexisting medical conditions during consultation or treatment.

The costs of healthcare in Costa Rica are covered by the funds of the CAJA. These are derived from contributions from employees which is 10.5% of their salary, contributions from employers and contributions from the government itself. Everyone is required to register with the CAJA so that they will have health care coverage but not everyone is required to make contributions. If you have no income or if your income is below the minimum required by the CAJA, you don't have to pay. You do still qualify for free health care and may even apply for a health pension.

Public Hospital System

As mentioned earlier, the Costa Rican government maintains control over several public hospitals. These include the 3 general hospitals, 7 regional hospitals, 13 peripheral hospitals, 5 specialty national hospitals and 10 major clinics where patients can consult and be referred to primary care clinics. The CAJA controls these hospitals, along with the rest of the country’s public health sector.

According to Costa Rican law, anyone living in the country is qualified to receive care and treatment at the public hospitals of Costa Rica. This includes local Costa Ricans that are not insured, foreigners that are currently staying in Costa Rica, and even undocumented immigrants. As long as you are in Costa Rican territory, you can experience the superior Costa Rica health care services that this country is known for. And if you are part of the 12% of the population who are low-income residents, you can get health care absolutely for free because the state will cover all expenses. Free emergency care is available to all, regardless of income or status.

The Costa Rica health care system mandates public hospitals to implement preventive programs like vaccination, information dissemination and fumigation, and curative programs like clinical treatments, surgery, therapy, and so on. The health care system also includes basic dental and vision care for all residents. More than 90% of Costa Rican doctors work in the public hospital system, but about a third of these also give private consultations.

Private Hospitals

Private health care in Costa Rica is renowned for its high quality and affordable costs. In fact, more than 40,000 people a year travel from all over the world to Costa Rica specifically to undergo some kind of medical treatment. There is also an attractive selection of private medical insurance plans available, or you can purchase insurance from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros, which is the Costa Rican government’s own insurance agency.

If you are thinking of a Costa Rica retirement and already have an existing insurance plan that you purchased in the US or another country, it’s very likely that the private hospitals will accept your coverage. Most private insurance plans cover regular checkups, wellness checkups, optometry and dental work. The exact amount of coverage will depend on the details of your plan but it is customary for a private plan to cover 80% of the cost of treatment or medications, as well as 100% of the cost of surgery and anesthesia.

If you wish to utilize the private health services of Costa Rica, the country has three major private hospitals, all in San Jose. These are the Hospital La Catolica, the Hospital Clinica Biblica, and the Hospital Cima. For these private services, you might expect to pay $50 per doctor visit and $200 per night if you need to check into a private room. There are also health service packages that you can avail yourself in private hospitals.

Pharmacy Services

In Costa Rica, pharmacies are not just for buying medications. Local pharmacists can also diagnose and recommend the right medication for common ailments. If they are not able to make a diagnosis, they will consult with the doctor on staff. If the situation is beyond their capabilities, they will refer you to a nearby clinic or hospital.

There are many types of medications that you can buy in Costa Rica even without a doctor’s prescription, like pills for migraine, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and birth control.


The health care system in Costa Rica is highly favorable for pregnant women because of the comprehensive program for prenatal care all the way to childbirth. All services, including prenatal checkups, blood tests, ultrasounds and even dental appointments, are free of charge. Even childbirth classes are also covered by the system. The reason for all these free services is because Costa Rican law states that all children are fully insured, from conception until they turn one year old. Thus, all health services related to them, including the mother’s maternity leave after giving birth, are shouldered by the government.

If you are giving birth in Costa Rica and prefer to hire private medical services, you have greater freedom when it comes to the decisions regarding your prenatal and postnatal care. You also get to choose your own doctor, as well as the manner in which you would like to have your pregnancy tests and procedures. Abortion is illegal in Costa Rica, except in situations where it is absolutely necessary in order to preserve the mother’s life or wellbeing.


In line with the government’s active stance in preserving the health of their citizens, smoking is prohibited in public vehicles, establishments, and recreation areas in Costa Rica and doing so is punishable by law. The only places where you are allowed to smoke are on the public street and inside your own home.

Dental Health Services

Dental procedures are among the most popular health procedures in Costa Rica. Many foreigners travel from all over the world just to get dental implants or other procedures done because dental health services in Costa Rica are world-class but comparatively cheap.

Cosmetic Surgery

There is a very fast-growing market for cosmetic surgery in this country. Laser technology is a fairly new development in Costa Rica but the cosmetic surgeons here are very well-trained in other countries and they are able to provide superior results at half the price that you would have to pay in the US or Europe.

Medical Tourism

As mentioned earlier, more and more foreigners are now booking trips to Costa Rica in order to undergo medical treatment and consultation. Because of the efficient, affordable and high quality health care system in Costa Rica, patients from everywhere are flocking in to get a variety of procedures done at a fraction of the cost that they would have to pay in their own country. Costa Rica is particularly attractive to US patients because of the proximity and also because almost all the doctors are not only highly skilled in their craft but also speak very fluent English.