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Should I get my surgery out of the country?

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Before my plastic surgery procedures in 2020, my sister sent me the book 'Medical Tourism travel guide' by Paul Gahlinger. Some countries are known for being the "best" at certain things, and I did my due diligence in typical Teri fashion. I spent some time reading through this book and contemplated my many options. The procedures I was going to get were a mini arm lift with lipo, mini thigh lift with lipo, butt lift, 360 liposuction, and BBL. That's much surgery at once, but I was up for the challenge! When researching, it was a matter of finding my best result, but with so many procedures, I was having issues finding a surgeon who was the best at EVERYTHING I was getting done. Ultimately, I opted for the most crucial approach I was having and decided on a local Salt Lake City surgeon whose work I admired. My results are excellent, and I was happy I chose this route. It was the right choice for me.

Many people will choose to get plastic surgery in another country for many reasons. The most popular reason is cost. It's more expensive to have procedures in the US, our board-certified plastic surgeons go through extensive schooling, and their fees reflect that. I'm not saying plastic surgeons in other countries are not as extensively trained, but education here in the US is costly. You'll also notice a price difference in the US between Board Certified Plastic Surgeons vs. Cosmetic Surgeons who don't have as much training, but that's a different blog.

There's also the aspect that plastic surgeons from other countries can perform limited surgeries here in the US. For instance, when performing liposuction, it is standard that in the US, a maximum of 5 liters of fat is the most surgeons can remove during surgery. Whereas in other countries, plastic surgeons are allowed to remove more fat. I knew someone with a BMI of 38, but no plastic surgeon in her state would do her surgery. She found someone in Tijuana who gave her a tummy tuck, and she looks fabulous now, but it was a difficult recovery for her. Was it because of her weight? Who knows? US surgeons appear more selective when operating on those who don't meet a specific weight requirement.

One thing to consider when going abroad is to be prepared to stay longer. A client told me she developed necrosis (when skin tissue dies due to lack of oxygen). This prolonged her stay by several weeks until it was safe for her to travel. It caused issues not only with her finances but also with her employer.

Another reason people opt to have plastic surgery out of the country is that the procedure they are getting is not practiced in the US often. Take, for instance, the BBL. Although this surgery dates back to the 1960s from a surgeon in Brazil, it has only been relatively recent since it has become popular in the US. In saying this, it is also the most dangerous plastic surgery regarding fatalities. If the fat is placed in the muscle instead of the subcutaneous fat layer, a blood clot can travel from the blood vessels to the lungs, killing the patient. With ultrasound, BBL is a safer procedure, and more American surgeons are performing it.

It would be best to consider the cost of travel and recovery centers when traveling to another country for plastic surgery. Doing this may save you much money, but be aware that traveling back from your procedure may cause unexpected risks and complications. If anything should go wrong in your recovery journey, you would most likely have to find a local doctor to help you, as traveling back to the country would be costly.

I've seen people who have had complications and ended up in the emergency room because their out-of-country doctor could only zoom them. If there are other complications, such as infection or a seroma developing (a pocket of fluid), many local plastic surgeons don't want to treat someone on whom they did not operate. They must also find a doctor or nurse to remove any drains. Some of my clients have told me they YouTubed how to clear surgical drains and had their husbands or sister do it. Yikes! Just. Don't.

If traveling out of the country for your surgical procedure, make sure you ask your surgeon these things:

1. Is the doctor up on his/hers credentials?

All doctors in the US and Canada must take continuing education courses to keep their licenses valid. Other counties may have different standards. Make sure you ask about the surgical facility as well. Is the surgical center a hospital? How is it regulated? Or is it in the doctor's office?

2. What is the surgeon's training or specialty?

You do not want an oral surgeon performing a mommy makeover. Nuf said.

3. How many surgeries has this doctor done similar to mine?

This question makes much sense to ask. They may be inexpensive because they don't perform many surgeries of this kind. They may perform a particular surgery only a few times a month. You want to choose a surgeon who performs your type of surgery often. VERY often.

4. Have complaints, judgments, or lawsuits been filed against them?

Do your homework! Make sure you are going to a safe and reputable surgeon. Ask them about the case and if they have something filed against them. Sometimes patients have different expectations, and emotions can provoke a complaint that may or may not be valid. However, negligence on the surgeon's side is a different story.

5. Ask your surgeon about their success rate for the surgery you are getting

They may perform many procedures, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are good. I've seen too many botched plastic surgeries when people come in for Lymphatic Drainage. Ask about the doctor's complication rates after surgery. Ask them about the favorable success rates they have. The more questions you ask, the better.

6. Ask the surgeon if they will fix errors

Will they fix anything if they botch it? Not that you would want them to, but ask anyway. Will they help with the travel cost or expenses? What about the surgical facility cost? You are traveling a long way to have your surgery performed, and if they mess it up, how will they compensate you? It's also good to ask what common post-surgical issues can happen and what to watch for.

7. Have medical personnel in your city to help you if needed

In case of something goes wrong, or even to remove stitches, establish a relationship with a physician or nurse who can help you.

It would also be a good idea to purchase traveler's insurance. Many countries make you pay out of pocket for hospital visits even if you have medical insurance in the US. Most of the time, your insurance will reimburse you for hospital stays in other countries, but travelers' insurance is worth it if something goes awry. I purchase traveler's insurance every time I travel out of the country on vacation, just in case!

Whatever decision you make for your surgical procedure, make sure it is your choice, and don't let others influence you. This is your journey. Trust your gut and good luck!

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