Last Updated: Feb 21, 2012
The Costa Rican health care system is rated very highly on an international level, and the country’s citizens enjoy the health and life expectancy equal to that of more developed nations. These accolades come courtesy of strong, universal health insurance and excellent public and private hospitals.
Public Health Care - Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS)
Costa Rica’s public health insurance system, commonly known as the Caja, is available country-wide to all citizens and legal residents. There are ten major public hospitals – four in San Jose, including the Children’s Hospital – affiliated with the Caja. For non-emergencies and everyday medical care, small clinics, known as EBAIS (pronounced ay-vy-ice), are located in almost every community.
The cost to affiliate with CCSS is approximately 10 to 11.5% of your income; alternatively, residents may become members via ARCR, which provides a streamlined and simple joining process. Please note that for those under age 55, Caja payments include a mandatory pension payment, which will be disbursed beginning at age 65. Keep in mind that the Caja’s low cost and high quality attract many to its hospitals and clinics, and wait times are long for anything from a routine checkup to an important surgical procedure.
Costa Rica’s private hospitals and clinics offer high-quality medical care at a tiny fraction of its U.S. equivalent cost. In fact, due to Costa Rica’s beautiful surroundings, medical reputation and very lost costs, the country is rapidly becoming a prime destination for medical tourism.
Private insurance plans available through INS, the government-owned insurance company, include dental work, optometry, well-visits and annual check-ups. Prescription drugs, certain medical exams, sick visits and hospitalization are covered at 80% cost, and surgeon and aesthetician costs are covered at full cost. Currently, private medical insurance costs about $60-$130/month per person, depending on age, gender and other factors.
In addition to INS insurance, expats may also purchase international health care insurance from abroad, which will cover most private hospital costs. Be aware that these plans often cost more than their INS equivalents.
Many drugs (like birth control pills, high cholesterol medication, migraine medicine, etc.) are available in Costa Rica without a prescription, and pharmacists can easily and accurately diagnose and treat many common problems. If it is not an emergency, the first course of action is to head to your neighborhood pharmacy, and consult with the pharmacist (referred to as doctor or doctora) about your ailment. If the pharmacist determines that it is serious, he or she will send you to the nearest hospital for treatment.