Skip to main content

Cosmetic Tourism:
What You Need To Know

Considering travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery? You’re not alone. Cosmetic tourism is on the rise, but while many travel overseas to try and save money, it’s important to consider the full picture. A successful venture could be incredibly fulfilling, but if things go wrong, any savings made will be outweighed by the financial and psychological repercussions. So, what should you consider? Here are some things to think about:

Protection

What about if something goes wrong? The reason for higher costs on home turf is often attributed to regulations the Healthcare Commission and the General Medical Council, which falls on surgeons and clinic owners. With these regulations come extensive malpractice indemnity in case something goes seriously wrong with treatments. Yes, this results in higher prices, but the increased costs come with protection, too. As costs differ from country to country so too do standards and regulation, so you should bear this in mind when making decisions about where to have work done. Travel home in an emergency should anything go wrong with your treatments may not be covered under your insurance, so this risk should also be factored into your decision-making.

Aftercare

You need to consider the aftercare you’ll require post procedure. No treatment is without risk, and access to aftercare and advice may be harder to access if you’ve travelled to have your procedure. Many clinics outside of the UK do not have someone on home soil for you to speak to, and any representative in the UK may be a nurse or surgical adviser, rather than a cosmetic surgeon. Building confidence in your surgeon pre-surgery is a luxury often only afforded to those having treatment on home soil, since those travelling abroad may meet their surgeon for the first time on the day of their procedure.

It is fairly common when you have work done overseas to have limited or no aftercare, particularly once you’re back in the UK. If you have work done at a BAAPS accredited practice in the UK, you will receive full aftercare during your hospital stay and at follow-up consultations or treatments.

Hidden Costs

The surgery or procedure you desire may cost less overseas at face value, but it’s important to consider the true impact of travelling for treatment. It is rare that treatment you’re seeking is only available oversees, so if the decision is purely financial, you should consider additional travel and accommodation costs, plus time off from work. You should also factor in any corrections or follow-up treatments you may need, and whether you will have these done overseas or back at home.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

The NHS will generally treat life-threatening complications, but any other problems may have to be covered by you if you’ve received treatment overseas. Your options may be to return abroad to your clinic or to shoulder the costs of corrections in the UK.

CASE STUDY: JUDY WILLIS

Judy Willis, 54, travelled to Turkey in 2021 for a face lift. She paid £8,000 for the surgery, which went disastrously wrong, leaving her with a disfigured face and over £30,000 in subsequent surgery fees to correct her eyes, ears, cheek and neck.

“If someone had told me how much the decision to go to Turkey could have cost me financially, physically and emotionally I would never have got on that plane. The last 16 months of my life have been a living hell.” – Judy

Fly & Flop

If you’re thinking of combining your next sun holiday with a surgery, think again. Most procedures require serious rest and relaxation afterwards, with absolutely no sunbathing, alcohol, or swimming. If you are planning on taking a holiday, take it before, not during the treatment. In addition, surgery and air travel can increase the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism, so combining the two is a bad idea. You should wait five to seven days following a breast surgery or liposuction or seven to 10 after a face lift or tummy tuck. Speak to your surgeon before finalising travel plans.

What About Insurance?

It’s important to be aware that most holiday policies will not cover surgery gone wrong. BAAPS have estimated that the average cost to the NHS per patient for emergency aftercare of surgeries gone wrong is a staggering £15,000. If you require prolonged medical care abroad post-surgery, costs could escalate very quickly and are unlikely to be covered by regular insurance policies.

The GMC

In the UK, plastic surgeons are required to be on the specialist register for plastic surgery held by the General Medical Council. Other countries use difference systems, and you may find similar associations abroad, but you’ll have to do your research. Ask your surgeon which organisations they belong to and ensure they have the correct training and qualifications. In addition, UK clinics are regulated by the Healthcare Commission to ensure cleanliness and standards. If you’re travelling abroad, you should be sure to ask how your clinic is regulated and ask for details of infection rates and back-up services. 

Still considering travelling abroad?

If you’re set on your cosmetic tourism venture, these are the things you should consider before making your final decision.

How confident are you in the clinic’s credentials and can you see former patients’ results or speak to them for first-hand testimonials? Ask them what back-up they have if things go wrong and if they always have a doctor on hand. Find out if there is a body that regulates the clinic or practice to ensure it meets the correct standards.

Think about your surgeon’s experience, including how long they’ve been practicing and how many similar procedures they have successfully completed. You should research their qualifications, consider communication barriers and ensure you can have a consultation prior to your treatment.

Ensure your clinic can provide you with answers about the complications or risks associated with your treatment and ask for rates for these. Find out who will be on hand during your treatment and ask what the follow-up care arrangements will be. You need to know what the plan is should any complications arise during or after your treatment, particularly if you’ve already travelled back home.

Finally, as well as having a clear understanding of the costs of the treatment (including hidden costs), make sure to be clear on both your travel insurance and medical insurance cover and whether either or both cover the type of procedure you will be undertaking. Any mistakes could be costly.