Kevin Bürchler is Managing Director of SIP Medical Family Office, Zurich.
Medical tourism — the practice of traveling abroad to seek medical treatments or procedures — has gained significant traction in recent years. Several countries that host investment migration programs have emerged as leading destinations for medical travelers as they offer high-quality healthcare services that are increasingly attracting patients from around the world. These countries see investment into state-of-the-art healthcare offerings as an important differentiation factor to attract future investors owing to the importance of premium healthcare to high-net-worth individuals.
Countries such as Canada, Singapore, Spain, and the UAE, as well as Greece, and Türkiye, have emerged as prominent destinations for medical tourism, joining the ranks of Switzerland, the UK, and the USA, bolstered not least by their investment migration programs. These countries offer attractive healthcare infrastructure, skilled medical professionals, and, in many instances, competitive pricing. Certain treatments that may be available only in specific countries, or that may be considerably more affordable in some places — for example, fertility treatments in Spain or cosmetic surgery in Türkiye — also contribute to their growing medical tourism markets.
One of the many benefits of acquiring residence or even citizenship in return for investment is the opportunity for investors and their families to access quality healthcare in addition to the right to remain in the country. While investment in developing specialized healthcare services attracts medical tourism, it is also seen as a big plus by affluent economic migrants. But further to that, it also increases the quality of medical services that locals can access.
Globally, the medical tourism market has experienced substantial growth in recent years, driven by various factors such as increasing healthcare costs in developed countries, long waiting times for certain procedures, the availability of affordable, high-quality medical treatments abroad, accessibility to international travel, and advancements in medical technology. According to the Fortune Business Insights report, the global medical tourism market is projected to grow from USD 13.98 billion in 2021 to USD 53.51 billion in 2028. This is a growth rate of over 20%.
Key trends that attract medical tourists are the development of state-of-the-art facilities, centers of excellence for specific treatments, collaborations with renowned medical institutions, and personalized healthcare — tailoring medical treatments and services to the specific needs and preferences of international patients by including multilingual staff, cultural sensitivity, and concierge services around medical service providers.
Cutting-edge medical technologies and procedures are furthermore becoming a differentiating factor. Robotic surgery, precision medicine, and telemedicine are integrated more and more into healthcare offerings, ensuring advanced treatment options for medical tourists.
Another important global trend is wellness and recovery tourism. Beyond medical treatments, rising medical tourism hubs in some investment migration countries are offering wellness and recovery tourism on an increasingly broader basis, integrating holistic therapies in spa and wellness facilities set in scenic locations. Having access to the latest medical treatment in a country is a big advantage when comparing different investment migration destinations.
Canada has positioned itself as a leading medical tourism destination, offering a harmonious blend of excellent healthcare facilities, picturesque landscapes, and great outdoors. The country’s reputation for advanced healthcare technologies, highly qualified medical professionals, and stringent safety standards has attracted patients seeking specialized treatments such as cardiac surgeries, organ transplants, and cancer therapies. Additionally, Canada’s proximity to the USA makes it an appealing option for Americans seeking affordable healthcare alternatives.
Renowned for its ultra-modern medical infrastructure and top-notch healthcare professionals, Singapore has emerged as a key player in the medical tourism industry. The city-state’s strategic location, multi-cultural environment, and favorable government policies have attracted patients from Asia and the West alike. Singapore offers a wide range of medical services, including advanced cancer treatments, complex surgeries, and organ transplants. With its focus on efficiency, patient safety, and quality care, Singapore has built a reputation as a global hub for medical excellence and has become one of the world’s high-end destinations in this regard, comparable with Germany, Switzerland, and the UK.
Spain is renowned as a world-class tourist destination, with among the highest numbers of annual tourist arrivals globally. With its well-established healthcare infrastructure, skilled medical professionals, and competitive pricing, the Mediterranean country has successfully capitalized on its appeal as a medical tourism hotspot. Patients traveling to Spain not only benefit from its high-quality healthcare services but also enjoy the country’s rich cultural heritage, warm climate, and beautiful mountains and beaches. Spain’s expertise in areas such as cosmetic surgery, dental procedures, and fertility treatments has attracted patients from across Europe and beyond.
The UAE has rapidly become a leading destination for medical tourism in the Middle East. With its innovative treatments and cutting-edge medical facilities attracting European and American hospital chains to its shores, the UAE is favored by patients seeking specialized healthcare services such as advanced diagnostics, cosmetic surgery, and orthopedic procedures. The country’s state-of-the-art hospitals, renowned medical professionals, and luxury hospitality services contribute to its growing popularity among health tourists.
While medical infrastructure in the UAE has become truly high-tech in recent years, there is room for development in terms of the quality of and approach to medical care. For significant interventions, patients continue to seek second and third medical opinions, primarily in central Europe. Furthermore, the UAE’s high overall healthcare expenditure combined with private health insurance companies not being allowed to exclude pre-existing conditions has led to extraordinarily high insurance premiums for individuals with even minor health conditions as well as significantly above-market health insurance premiums for healthy individuals.
Türkiye has positioned itself as a premier medical tourism hotspot, offering a wide array of treatments at competitive prices. The country’s advanced facilities, highly skilled healthcare professionals, and comprehensive range of services have made it a go-to destination for various treatments, including cardiovascular procedures, cosmetic surgery, and hair transplantation. Türkiye’s convenient geographical location, cultural richness, and affordable healthcare make it a popular choice. Its flexible and open visa policy, which includes options for residence and citizenship by investment, supports this trend and increasingly makes Türkiye a leading destination in competition with major hubs.
As popular investment migration countries gain prominence in the medical tourism landscape, the market continues to expand, driven by factors such as quality healthcare infrastructure and services, cost-effectiveness, and tourist attractions. Medical inflation has become a significant issue in most developed countries, with no solution or reduction yet in sight.
In the evolving health tourism landscape, investment migration countries are set to play a pivotal role, offering both healthcare excellence and expertise and the possibility of long-term stays for individuals seeking treatment and their families wishing to accompany them — a crucial factor in well-being and recovery. As these countries continue to invest in infrastructure, technology, and service quality, the future of medical tourism looks promising, fostering global collaborations and benefiting patients seeking superior healthcare solutions beyond their borders.
A flourishing medical tourism industry creates new opportunities for economic development, job creation, and foreign direct investment. Furthermore, it fosters cross-border collaboration, knowledge exchange, and advancements in medical research, not least through the global expansion of established hospital groups that bring their expertise and experience to new locations. However, this also raises considerations regarding regulatory frameworks, patient safety, and ethical matters to ensure high-quality healthcare delivery and protect the interests of both patients and healthcare providers.
As this market continues to grow, it is crucial to monitor the evolving dynamics, legal mechanisms, and patient experiences to maximize the potential benefits and address any challenges. By embracing this trend, countries can position themselves as global healthcare leaders that will attract both medical tourists and high-net-worth investor migrants.