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Healthcare In Guatemala: The Basics Expats Need To Consider Before Arriving

When moving to a new country, healthcare is one of the most important issues to consider.

Nobody wants to get sick and not know what to do or where to go.

That’s why it’s great to have options in case of emergency and knowing the facts about healthcare in your new country is a must.

The public healthcare system in Guatemala is bad, to be very honest.

Many reports exist underscoring the inefficiency of public healthcare in Guatemala. Even though the medical attention itself is free, the government doesn’t guarantee it will be of any quality.

After navigating the politics of getting to a doctor in the first place, public hospitals lack equipment, staff, and basic medications. So having private health care coverage is key.

Healthcare in Guatemala: Hospital sign in Antigua
Healthcare in Guatemala: Hospital sign in Antigua / Molly Miller (Flickr) / Commercial use allowed

Here are the three basics to keep in mind when considering healthcare in Guatemala:

1. Coverage

Healthcare coverage varies from provider to provider and from country to country.

So it pays to look into your existing health insurance policy.

Most private health insurance plans offer coverage outside your home country. While your current policy may not include overseas coverage, it’s worth looking into how much extra this would cost.

There are several expat medical insurance plans out there, starting at around $50 a month for basic coverage. When considering pre-existing conditions, the premium can go up.

Another concern among expats is medication. Is the prescription medication you need available in Guatemala? It pays to do your homework on this before traveling. If you can stock up in advance, a good three-month supply should work while you sort out getting prescriptions filled.

Switching doctors may also be a challenge.

It’s easy to find a good doctor, but finding a doctor who speaks English can be tough. Most healthcare professionals speak at least a little English, so occasional checkups shouldn’t be a problem. More regular, complicated treatments might be difficult for some though. Most expats schedule visits with their regular doctor when traveling back home.

2. Expense

Despite the sorry state of public healthcare in Guatemala, most large, private hospitals in Guatemala are good (note the word private).

But their prices match their reputations and emergency treatment paid out of pocket can be costly. Expect an emergency to set you back a few thousand dollars. Unless you’re wealthy enough to not care about health insurance, this can derail anyone’s budget.

It pays off to research specific private hospitals in Guatemala. For example, when looking into overseas insurance, also check which exact hospitals the coverage includes. Different insurance companies work with different hospitals, some of which may be better at some procedures than others.

Reputable hospitals in Guatemala have English-speaking staff and can handle any emergency. Most treatments will not be an issue, barring freak illness or injury.

If you have a pre-existing condition, it would also pay to double-check to make sure these hospitals can handle your specific needs.

3. Quality

Many expats worry about the quality of healthcare in any country they visit and as mentioned, private healthcare is the way to go in Guatemala.

Since the public system is something you don’t want to rely on, private healthcare, coupled with good insurance, should handle any needs you may have.

The key is to do your homework and research in advance.

Many of the larger private hospitals in Guatemala are members of international medical associations. So, a little research can put your mind at ease.

Scrambling around for a doctor – or hospital – can cost you precious time and even put your life at risk.

Healthcare in Guatemala: Indigenous rural midwives
Healthcare in Guatemala: Indigenous rural midwives / John Barrie (Flickr) / Commercial use allowed

What if you don’t trust healthcare in Guatemala or can’t get coverage?

Switching doctors, pharmacists, and hospitals can be arduous, especially with a pre-existing condition.

Expats in this situation often prefer to schedule regular trips back home to refill prescriptions, see their doctors, or get check-ups. Some expats are comfortable doing this and take it as a part of their regular life in Guatemala.

But it’s always a good idea to make plans in case of an emergency.

Some emergencies can wait long enough for you to travel home and others can’t. For those cases when it can’t wait, checking out hospitals and visiting doctors can put your mind at ease. But you may be on the hook for covering expenses.

Your best option is to know of any medical conditions you may have. That way, the only surprises you encounter will be the pleasant kind.

The top hospitals in Guatemala:

*Santa Maria is a fertility center offering IVF treaments, etc rather than a full hospital.

Source: Webometrics Ranking of World Hospitals

Related:

Nestor Quixtan is a Canadian/Guatemalan economist, linguist, and writer. He lives in Guatemala City.



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