“Where’s the best hospital near me?” A valid question at the best of times, but especially pertinent in Central America, where world-class medical facilities are thin on the ground. We take a look at the best hospitals in Central America for travelers and expats.
One of the key questions many potential expats ask is about the healthcare. For many years, I admit, the question went right over my head. When I first came to Costa Rica, I never thought about healthcare. I was in my 20s and I thought I was invincible.
I imagine my not considering healthcare as a factor when moving abroad was/is common for most people in their 20s and 30s. But time marches on for us all. And although I’ve never needed – touch wood – any hospital care in the 23 years I’ve lived in Costa Rica, the odds are that’s likely to change at some point. It’s called getting old.
Most expats in Costa Rica, or elsewhere in Central America, didn’t come when they were young.
Most of them arrive quite a bit older than I was when I reached these shores. Which is why the healthcare question is so important. You see it time and time again on social media.
It’s the most important question for many people coming to retire in a tropical destination. Sure, you can seek great weather, a lower cost of living, and a wonderful lifestyle. But if you need access to good healthcare and don’t have it, all that can go out the window fast.
So we decided to list the best hospitals in Central America.
The Joint Commission is a U.S. non-profit that accredits healthcare providers. Their main site accredits hospitals and clinics in the United States and their Joint Commission International (JCI) site does the same thing around the world through WorldHospitalSearch.com.
If a hospital in Central America has JCI accreditation, you know that health care experts have thoroughly assessed it. They’ve deemed it a hospital that meets their high standards of quality and patient care. A JCI accredited hospital, in other words, is a good hospital, a trustworthy hospital. A great hospital, even. This is vital for expats in Central America for whom access to excellent healthcare is critical.
There are only five JCI-accredited hospitals in Central America. These five hospitals are in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. We’ll take a look at these places first. After that, we’ll look at some other hospitals around the rest of the region.
JCI-accredited hospitals in Costa Rica
Both the JCI-accredited hospitals in Costa Rica are in the Central Valley, either in or near the capital city of San José:
- Hospital CIMA, Escazu. Located in Escazu, on the west side of San José, Hospital CIMA is the gold standard of hospitals in Costa Rica, one that everyone touts as the best in the country by far, and who can say everyone is wrong? CIMA is a state-of-the-art facility with an English-speaking staff. Expats from the United States, Canada, and Europe will feel at home in this hospital, which looks and feels like anything they’re familiar with from back home.
- Clínica Bíblica, San José. Clínica Bíblica is in downtown San José. It’s not in the best area of the city, but don’t let that worry you. While most expats tout CIMA as the best hospital in Costa Rica, many Costa Ricans themselves will say no, it’s Bíblica. Either way, this is another state-of-the-art facility, although less of the staff speak English than at CIMA.
For an in-depth, independent, description of both these hospitals, WeLoveCostaRica.com has a great piece outlining them, and also a third hospital, Clínica Catolica (on the east side of San José) that was once JCI-accredited, but now no longer shows up on their site.
— Joint Commission Int (@JCI_GoldSeal) February 8, 2023
Other hospitals in Costa Rica
Which brings us to a couple of other hospitals in Costa Rica. Places not currently JCI-accredited but still with good reputations of care and quality. Again, these hospitals are in the Central Valley.
There are no decent options outside of the Central Valley, which is something to be aware of. That’s not to say you won’t find adequate healthcare outside of the Central Valley in emergencies. But it won’t be anywhere as good as being close to the capital.
- Clínica Catolica, Guadalupe. Guadalupe is a district on the east side of San José, home to Clínica Catolica. This hospital has a slightly less modern feel than CIMA and Bíblica, although still offers excellent care and quality of service.
- Hospital Nacional de Niños (National Children’s Hospital), San José. Located close to downtown San José, on Paseo Colón, this is the only public hospital in our Costa Rica list. It offers some of the best pediatric care in the region.
- Clínica Pediátrica Kidoz. And speaking of great pediatric care, expat families in Costa Rica can also rely on the Kidoz Pediatric Clinic in Rohrmoser on the west side of San José (they also have a center in Curridabat on the east side of the city). In May 2023, Kidoz aligned with the JCI-accredited Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. This agreement allows Kidoz patients access to some of the best pediatric healthcare in the world.
All the facilities listed above, except for the Children’s Hospital, are private. This means you need private health insurance or to pay onsite for treatment.
We state the obvious here because legal residents of Costa Rica must pay into the public health system (Caja). This gives them treatment at any public hospital. But private hospitals are not included for those seeking treatment through the Caja. This is an important point that expats in Costa Rica need to understand.
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There’s only one JCI-accredited hospital in Nicaragua. Indeed, Hospital Vivian Pellas is the only hospital in Nicaragua to recommend for anyone seeking quality care. In fact, Vivian Pellas is one of the best hospitals in Central America.
Again, emergency care is adequate in many local hospitals around the country. But if you seek world class medical treatment in Nicaragua, you’ll go to Vivian Pellas.
Expats in Nicaragua should buy health insurance that covers treatment at this hospital.
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JCI-accredited hospitals in Panama
Panama is the third country in Central America with hospitals accredited by the JCI. There are two hospitals here, both in Panama City.
- Hospital Punta Pacífica, Panama City. Hospital Punta Pacífica is affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medicine, the governing structure of the Johns Hopkins University school of Medicine. This makes it a world class institution offering the best standard of healthcare in Panama.
- Clínica Hospital San Fernando, Panama City. San Fernando is Panama’s first private hospital, founded in 1949. It offers excellent care and is a “safe pair of hands” for expats seeking healthcare in Panama.
For more detailed info on these places, plus another recommended hospital in Panama City, the Hospital Nacional (Panama’s best maternity hospital), check out this excellent article from My Latin Life.
Again, the best healthcare in Panama is in Panama City. You’ll find adequate emergency care outside of the capital, but for anything serious, you’ll be in Panama City.
Congratulations Pacifica Salud, Hospital Punta Pacifica on gaining Clinical Care Program Certification (CCPC) for your Primary Stroke program. pic.twitter.com/muvtihFIsk
— Joint Commission Int (@JCI_GoldSeal) April 11, 2023
The best of the rest
That completes our highlighting of JCI-accredited hospitals in Central America, but if you’re not in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, or Panama, then what?
Just because there are no JCI-accredited hospitals in Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, that doesn’t mean you can’t access excellent healthcare in them. Below, we take a look at the best hospitals in these countries.
The best hospital in Belize is Belize Medical Associates in Belize City. Founded in 1988, it’s the first choice of most expats and locals who can afford private medical care.
Belize also has a public hospital, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) that offers decent service. Several of the doctors at KHMH and other public hospitals in Belize also work at Belize Medical Associates to supplement their incomes.
Hospital de Diagnostico is the best hospital in El Salvador. It has two locations in San Salvador, and is the designated hospital of choice in El Salvador should the President of the United States happens to ever need medical attention in that country (a long shot, I know).
Another good hospital is the Centro Medico Escalon, also in San Salvador. This hospital is also popular with expats living in El Salvador.
It’s fair to say the public health system in Guatemala leaves a lot to be desired, so private healthcare is the way to go if you’re planning on traveling or moving here. And if having easy access to good healthcare and hospitals is important to you, be within easy access of Guatemala City.
Two private hospitals in Guatemala City have strong expat recommendations. These are Centro Medico and Hospital Herrera Llerandi, both in Zona 10. Look into getting insurance that these places accept.
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Honduras is another country with a less-than-satisfactory healthcare system. Expats in Honduras tend to agree the Honduras Medical Center in Tegucigalpa offers the best treatment in a modern, state-of-the-art setting. Another good Tegucigalpa hospital is Hospital Viera. This hospital is older, but has many of the same doctors as the Honduras Medical Center.
Many expats and travelers in Honduras end up in the Bay Islands, so it’s worth checking out what’s there. The best hospital is Cemesa Roatán on the island of Roatán. Since it opened in 2016, Cemesa has become recognized as one of the best facilities in Honduras.
So that’s our roundup of the best hospitals in Central America.
The key in Central America is to have good insurance that any of these hospitals will accept. And if you feel nervous living far away from good medical facilities, make sure you live within easy range of the region’s capital or largest cities.
We hope you never find yourself needing any of these hospitals in Central America. If you do, though, we hope we’ve given you at least a better idea of where you and your family can go for treatment.
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.