There are plenty of advantages to living in another country – a new climate, language, culture and adventure – however, the transition also comes with its share of difficulties. Learning how to navigate official processes like banking, insurance, immigration and healthcare can be time-consuming and expensive. Naturally, staying healthy and having easy access to medical services is a priority for any expat. Luckily, Colombia is renowned worldwide for its professional and affordable healthcare. In fact, medical tourism is very common, and in 2014 alone, approximately 41,000 foreigners traveled to Colombia for medical procedures.
Whether you’re looking for monthly coverage, prescription medicine, specialist treatment or complicated surgery, here’s everything you need to know about healthcare in Medellín.
If you are traveling in Colombia, health insurance is strongly recommended – you can pay for treatment at hospitals if something does happen but the risk is not worth the extra cost. As a tourist, you should be able to claim back any medical expenses on your travel insurance, depending on the type of coverage you have. Medellín boasts a number of outstanding clinics and medical services, and access to treatment is straightforward with some English-speaking medical professionals available.
General healthcare & EPS
If you are living in Colombia, medical coverage (‘Salud’ in Spanish) is a legal requirement. People working for Colombian companies are provided basic EPS (Entidades Prestadoras de Salud) coverage for medical, dental and vision care, plus a pension. This is normally paid for by both the employer and the employee – 12.5% is taken from your monthly wage (so the higher your salary, the more you contribute). On average, policyholders spend $250,000 COP ($77 USD) per month on this type of insurance.
Employers are usually affiliated with a specific EPS, so you’ll automatically be registered with that insurer. Some of the best and most popular EPS companies include EPS Sanitas, EPS SURA, EPS Compensar, Salud Total and Coomeva (all among Colombia’s Top-Ranking EPS in 2018).
As a foreigner, to be eligible to sign-up for EPS services, you need to have a Colombian cédula. This means that if you aren’t working but have a visa and the Colombian ID card (most likely as a student, investor, retiree) you are eligible to apply for EPS but will be responsible for covering all costs.
There is no maximum age limit to apply for EPS plans, and once you are approved, your cédula will serve as proof of your coverage. When you arrive at any medical facility, simply show your cédula to the reception staff. It’s also important to note that each EPS has contracts with specific hospitals and doctors, so you can only use services within the approved network. Your EPS should provide you with a full breakdown of facilities and the best hospitals you can visit in Medellín.
Once you successfully have a policy, you can add a partner/spouse and children as beneficiaries, meaning they too are covered. Most of the time, the extra person/people will also need a cédula, however, some companies may allow the extension without one, so check with the provider in advance.
Private and prepaid healthcare
For services beyond basic EPS care, you can take out additional insurance called ‘Prepagada’ (‘pre-paid’ in Spanish) – something many locals and foreigners alike tend to do. Private plans can only be taken out on top of a standard EPS plan for a premium cost. However, there are international plans where foreigners can sign-up for Prepagada without a cédula – only a passport is needed to register.
The advantages of private healthcare include (but are not limited to):
– Shorter waiting and approval times
– Freedom to choose doctors/specialists
– Wider choice of clinics around the city and country
– Book appointments with specialists directly (basic coverage requires seeing a general doctor before being passed on to specialists)
– Private hospital rooms
– Coverage from some non-EPS services
– Higher likelihood of English-speaking staff
– Travel insurance included for up to 90 days per trip
– House visits from doctors/nurses (only available in Medellín and Bogotá with EMI)
The maximum age for enrolling to private insurance is 60 and your acceptance is dependent on pre-existing conditions. The premium costs vary based on the level of private coverage, your age and medical history, and may require a physical exam, but can range from around $150 to $300 USD per month.
For both EPS and Prepagada, there are co-payments for any medical testing or visit to a medical facility. The amount differs for each coverage and type of treatment, although generally, is small. Furthermore, neither EPS nor Prepagada will cover non-emergency plastic surgery procedures; these have to be paid for separately and through a cosmetic company.
Living without healthcare
For those who opt not to get health insurance, paying per visit to medical centers is still relatively low. A consultation costs roughly $50 USD and, for the most part, prescriptions aren’t necessary – you can buy a large selection of medicines over the counter at pharmacies (however, not all branded medications are available in Colombia). Additionally, pharmacists are trained to give medical advice, so low-level illnesses can easily be treated without going to the doctor.
Surgeries and orthodontic treatments in Colombia are said to be a third of the price of the same procedure in the U.S, and so it’s not uncommon for expats to live in or visit Medellín without healthcare. That being said, the risk of being uninsured means unexpected long-term medical treatment can be expensive – especially if you’re on a Colombian wage.
Because the healthcare system in Colombia is privatized (except for homeless people or very low-income households who have access to SISBEN – free government-funded healthcare), you may find that doctors are more likely to recommend multiple tests and medicines. While this attentiveness is great to quickly diagnose issues, it can lead to unnecessary examinations, long courses of drugs, and higher bills. Equally, depending on your home country, some of the practices may seem a little unorthodox: for example, high-dose medicines and the strangely common bum vaccinations may make you question the processes. That said, overall, staff are exceptionally friendly and respectful, and the care is very effective; so much so, that the World Health Organization ranks Colombia’s healthcare above the U.S and Canada.
The information provided in this article is not medical advice and should not be treated as so. Contact a medical professional for any concerns about your health.