Is Traveling Abroad for Cosmetic Surgery Safe?

A photograph of surgical instruments in the operating room with surgeons in the background representing Dr. Jason Roostaeian's article about cosmetic surgery tourism

People considering traveling for cosmetic surgery (commonly known as “cosmetic surgery tourism”), need to properly evaluate the risks – financial, medical, health – against any potential benefits. When it comes to aesthetic surgery abroad, a cheaper price may mean a higher cost in the long run.


Cheaper – but safe?

Whenever there’s a story in the media about plastic surgery gone wrong, particularly when it’s happened abroad (a case of “cosmetic surgery tourism”), I think it’s very important that people keep in mind that the issue isn’t so much about where it happened, but why. There are many, many qualified, reputable surgeons operating in safe, regulated facilities around the world – but unfortunately, there are also many unqualified, inexperienced doctors performing operations in unregulated, unsafe environments as well. It really all comes down to patient safety: is it your surgeon’s priority? Because it is absolutely their responsibility. Here are some important factors to consider before considering a cosmetic surgery trip abroad:

“Cosmetic” surgery is surgery, period

No matter what the procedure, there are real risks associated with both anesthesia and any surgical procedure. Not understanding – or minimizing the potential impact – of these risks can land you in trouble, in any country.

Patient Safety

Every country has different regulations for overseeing the safety of medical facilities. In the U.S. there is The Joint Commission (JCAHO), a non-profit organization that evaluates and accredits more than 16,000 health care organizations; AAAASF, The American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities; and also Medicare accreditation. These organizations help ensure the health and safety of all patients who undergo surgical procedures at accredited facilities. Presumably many foreign nations do have some form of oversight, though the level of scrutiny performed by foreign agencies is difficult to determine. Whether or not this oversight is adequate is uncertain, not to mention the fact that the average “medical tourist” likely does not conduct a thorough investigation into those certification processes.

Cosmetic surgery is not a “vacation”

People tend to underestimate the impact that aesthetic procedures can have on your body. Combining this lack of understanding with the typical temptations of travel – sightseeing, fun in the sun, overindulgence, jet lag – can be highly detrimental to the healing process. Moreover, long flights after surgery put you at greater risk for dangerous post-operative blood clots.

Postoperative Management

When traveling for a procedure, most patients focus primarily on the details leading up to and including their surgery. But when there is a complication after surgery, who will manage it, and how easy will that be? Ideally, the surgeon who performed your operation is the best choice for postoperative management; however, if you encounter a complication while traveling, or after returning home, finding another surgeon to adequately handle those problems may prove challenging.

The price vs. the actual cost

Even if you’ve priced out the financial cost of your cosmetic surgery abroad, and factored in travel expenses, plus incidentals, there’s simply no way to predict what complications may arise. Even if the foreign facility is equipped to properly handle any aftercare emergency, you will still have the monumental responsibility of figuring out the logistics of an unplanned, extended stay abroad. And if you’re incapacitated, your family and friends will have to navigate the process from afar. When you consider not just the monetary costs, but the potential risks to your health and well being, cosmetic tourism may not be such a bargain.

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      Plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Roostaeian is a member of ASAPS
      Plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Roostaeian is a member of ASAPS

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