Living in Costa Rica can be a healthy experience! According to the United Nations, Costa Rica is in first place in Latin America for the development of curative and preventative diseases, a ranking that places it with Canada and the United States in the top 20 in the world. In fact, this small topical paradise surpasses the United States in both infant mortality and life expectancy.
So what sets Costa Rica apart form Mexico and other Central American countries? There are many factors, but probably the most fundamental is Costa Rica's strong and undying commitment to maintaining a high level of water quality. Unlike most of Latin America, you can drink the water! This applies to San Jose and the larger cities as well as small rural villages. All over the country, water quality and sewage treatment facilities are stringently monitored, and those few sources that are deemed unsafe to visitors are exposed. As a result, water quality standards have greatly benefited the restaurant industry. This coupled with their natural tendency for cleanliness and sanitation, Costa Ricans maintain extraordinarily high standards for their restaurants.
Like the water, Costa Rica's health care system is well above par. Subsidized through the social security system (Caja Costarricense de Sergo Social, or CCSSS), low-cost, high-quality medical care is readily available to those who need it. CCSSS hospitals treat all Costa Ricans for free. In addition, foreign residents who pay a small, monthly income-based fee (between US$40-50) can be covered under the government plan. While the medical care is of high quality, patients can expect to encounter long lines and shorter appointments. Generally, the CCSSS hospitals can be crowded and well-used.
Patients that want a higher level of care and more attention can opt to see a private doctor. Prices can vary considerably, but generally they are remarkably lower than in the United States. On average, a routine visit to a private doctor can cost between US$20 and US$40 in San Jose. A night in a first rate private hospital might cost US$95. That rate is for a private room with private bath, color television and what many consider as "excellent" hospital food.
Foreign residents have a lot of choices when it comes to how they want to handle their health care needs. Choosing clinics, doctors, and the mode of payment all take careful consideration. As a foreign resident, one must ask the question, "What kind of health care experience do I want?" As a general rule, the more one pays for their medical treatment, the more choice that person will have in which doctor they will go to, how quickly they will be seen by a physician, and how comfortable their accommodations will be. To answer this question, many residents have combined the best of both the public and private medical systems to create a hybrid health care plan for them and their families. Here's how it works: Many doctors in Costa Rica that work in the public CCSSS hospitals also conduct their own private office hours during the afternoons. Foreign residents can pay the CCSSS membership fee (US$40-50) and visit the free clinics and hospitals in search of a doctor that they like. If this doctor provides a private service in addition to his public practice, the resident can take advantage of both worlds. They can make routine appointments with ease and little delay; however, should they need a complicated and expensive procedure, the CCSSS will cover the expenses.