Medical and cosmetic “vacations” have become a phenomenon over the years. The late 80s saw medical care costs rising dramatically in the United States, leaving many Americans seeking an alternative. Enter Cuba, who as early as 1990, welcomed up to 2,000 American patients for cheap cosmetic surgery. Thailand was quick to follow, and countries worldwide began offering packages designed to lure surgical customers, including golfing in South Korea or rainforest tours in Costa Rica. A once fledgling industry boomed to a $20 million market in 2010.

Why Travel For Breast Implants?

Savings vary significantly by country, though on average, you can expect to pay about half of the cost in America; less in India, where prices start around $1,000. An accredited facility in Bolivia offers a package including breast augmentation, a 10 day stay in a five-star hotel, as well as fees, anesthesia, translation and airport transportation, priced beginning at $3200, a savings of several thousand dollars compared to average U.S prices.

Potential Problems

Breast augmentation surgery comes with its own set of risks, even in the United States. However, traveling outside the country has its own risks; for instance, medical devices may not meet the FDA standards for use. In 2010, a medical alert was issued about Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) silicone implants; these implants have caused problems with hundreds of thousands of women, with the implants bursting and infected silicone settling in their lymph nodes. These women have no legal recourse, and while some doctors are willing to remove the faulty silicone, the long-term damage is still unknown.

There can be ethical considerations as well. Americans electing for these procedures are able to pay upfront and in cash; often, doctors in developing nations prioritize these patients as a major source of income, potentially endangering native citizens less able to pay for care. It’s worth investigating the impact of the host country and evaluating this aspect of your surgery as seriously as you evaluate the medical credentials of the surgeon.

Avoiding Risk

Choosing an accredited hospital can avert the major risks of surgery. The CDC estimates some 750,000 Americans travel abroad for surgery annually, many with no side effects. They recommend visiting the facility in advance if possible and arranging follow-up care in advance with your local physician. All surgery does carry a risk, and some medical tourism does result in death of the patient. One academic study cites 26 documented deaths directly correlated to cosmetic surgery abroad, due largely to complications resulting in respiratory failure or infection.

Whether you book your procedure yourself, or use an intermediary service, ensure the qualifications of your surgeon and their facility. There are currently 400 facilities worldwide that meet US Joint Commission standards. These standards are a way of ensuring that the hospital will provide safe, high-quality care for the patients. These standards, as well as current medical technology, make outsourcing breast augmentation a very attractive proposition. Add in the five-star recovery suite, and, well, now you’re really talking.

Wherever you choose to have your breast augmentation surgery, be informed and research more than just the perks of the location—make sure the surgeon and facility are accredited to US standards, and find out as much as you can about the surgeon and surgery itself. Tourism can be an economically sound and medically safe way to achieve the cosmetic results you want, but as with any surgery, it pays to be prepared.