Foreigners have long been enticed by Argentina for its gigantic steaks, abundant natural beauty, famous tango clubs and it’s all around “buena onda,” but something less obvious is luring foreign travelers to the vast Latin American nation: medical tourism.

Medical tourism means different things to different people, but as concept occurs when people leave their country of residence in order to receive various medical procedures elsewhere — for a whole host of reasons. The intersection of low prices, world renowned doctors, and a more open acceptance of elective surgery has made Argentina a tempting place for those seeking health or aesthetic procedures at comparatively competitive prices.

In 2016 alone, an estimated 14 thousand people traveled to Argentina either exclusively or secondarily motivated as medical tourists. It was reported that during their visits to Argentina, medical tourists end up spending five to nine times more than the average person who visits Latin America.

The Competitive Edge

Argentina’s status as a popular medical tourism destination was cemented in early 2002 in the wake of the rapid depreciation of the Argentine peso after the financial crisis of 2001.  The exchange rate for tourists (many from the US) was to put it mildly — exceedingly desirable. Buenos Aires health clinics began filling up with foreigners, many finding that they couldn’t keep up with the immense international demand. Experienced doctors who were used to conducting two or three procedures a day found themselves working overtime. Since the economic crisis of 2002, the demand for medical tourism risen steadily, reaching 200 percent last year. The sustained growth of within the health niche of tourism has positioned Argentina firmly on the list of the world’s top ten most popular medical tourism destinations.

One of the downsides in low prices and high demand may be surgeon quality, according to Jude O’Hara, the founder of an Argentine-based medical tourism information hub. “What started up as a slow trickle of people coming to have their surgeries here has really exploded….people who have no background in plastic surgery [are] setting up medical tourism businesses to try and get their hands on this great market.”

But others have felt that the quality of medical practice has not strayed in Argentina, despite the enticing prices. “Argentine doctors are highly valued in their quality, level, and training, as well as there is a warmth in the doctor-patient relationship that does not occur in others countries of the world,” Canan said in an interview with La Nación.

Legislators View Medical Tourism as Worthy of Investment

It’s no coincidence that Argentina has so rapidly become a prominent fixture for those with an active medical tourism radar — it’s been an industry that has been subsidized to a certain extent by the local federal government. Legislators have recognized the industry as having great potential in regard to the generation of stable employment, and the influx of international currencies. The Argentine Congress of International Medical tourism — the only government organization internationally that focuses on positioning medical tourism as an economic motor — agreed on a long-term plan that seeks to augment the popularity of medical tourism in Argentina through government incentives and subsidies. The government organization plans to achieve an annual revenue of US $300 million in the next year.

The Minister of Tourism, Enrique Meyer, stressed the importance of situating medical tourism as a pillar of his office’s mission. “Globally there are about fifty-five million medical tourists a year who spend, on average, five to nine times more than an ordinary tourist in each of their trips, demonstrating the great potential that this segment can mean the tourism industry of our country,” Meyer said.

Meyer also stressed the importance of bringing together the private and the public sectors in order to strengthen medical tourism development in Argentina in different segments. “The completion of the Argentine Congress of International Medical Tourism puts demonstrates the commitment of all parties towards strengthening growth and the consolidation of one of the products of great potential for our country,” Meyer commented.

The ‘Complete’  Health Package

When patients embark on their medical tourism journey, the amenities provided often extend beyond the going under the knife. Indeed, “The service starts from the time they get off their flight in Ezeiza or Aeroparque until they take Your return flight,” said a member of CIAPS, a popular Argentine healthcare provider. Medical centers occasionally offer sleeping arrangements, city tours, dinner reservations and a host of other amenities they use to compete with various other medical tourism package providers. “More clinics and sanatoriums are being inaugurated with top quality hotels and state-of-the-art technology to compete with any country in the world,” added Karina Canan, commercial director of the Instituto de Neurociencias Buenos Aires.

In more ways than one, medical tourism Argentina exists as an increasingly attraction option for those looking for low-cost surgery, highly experienced surgeons and state-of-the-art post-op recovery options. It’s no wonder why the escalation medical tourism industry shows no signs of slowing down — and Argentine legislators seem thrilled!