As for an expat who has been living in Costa Rica for 3 years, I’ve had to see the doctor a couple times. Luckily we used to live right next to the public clinic in Coco so receiving medical treatment was not difficult and I have gone for check ups and when I needed medication. But when it comes to seeing the dentist, I actually prefer to see the dentist I’ve been going to in Costa Rica than the one I used to see in the US.
Why? You may ask. Well let’s first go over the dental system in Costa Rica, medical tourism and then I’ll talk about my personal experiences with seeing a dentist in Costa Rica as a foreigner. And if you’re thinking about coming to Costa Rica for dental work, I have some tips for you on that as well.
Costa Rica’s Dental System
When Costa Rican students graduate high school, qualified students can go straight into professional school such as medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary. Dentists spend 6 years in dental school and another 2-3 if they specialize.
At the end of their schooling career, dentists must pass an “incorporation” test. Then every dentist needs to register with the Colegio Cirujanos Dentistas in order to practice.
Medical Tourism in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the top ten countries in the world for medical tourism and it’s something people from all around the world come to Costa Rica for. Get dental implants and recover on a beautiful beach. Replace your knee and rehabilitate in the mountains overlooking the valley.
Due to the high quality of Costa Rica’s health professionals, lower cost of care and shorter wait times, medical tourism is booming. Seeing the doctor in Costa Rica as a foreigner is not an uncommon thing, in fact this is one of the reasons why so many retired USA/Canadians move to Costa Rica, to take advantage of their excellent health care system as the USA is too expensive and Canada takes too long.
Misconceptions about Medical Tourism in Costa Rica
- Health professionals in Costa Rica are not as qualified as ones in the US.
- That is simply not true as many of them go on to specialize in the US or work in North America/Europe. Since students enter professional school out of high school when they are 17 or 18, they begin hands on work much earlier and engage in more clinical practice on actual patients.
- US schools have the latest technology but it isn’t until students are at least 22 when they begin their 4 year dental schooling.
- If a dentist from another country wants to practice in Costa Rica, they must be reviewed for at least 2 years by a university supervisor and they also need to take and pass the “incorporation” exam.
- Dental work in the US is expensive because it’s high quality. Dental care in Costa Rica is cheap because it’s low quality.
- Just because something is expensive does not mean it is good quality and just because something is not expensive does not mean it’s bad quality. Like mentioned earlier, the quality of dentists in Costa Rica is extremely high and there is a reason why Costa Rica is one of the top ten countries for dental tourism.
- Costa Rica has a universal health care system thereby lowering costs of public medical services.
- Costa Rica doesn’t have the latest medical technology.
- Actually, many hospitals in Costa Rica are accredited by international organizations that requires them to meet specific standards including equipment. Some of that equipment is imported from the US and health professionals have to be up to date with the latest procedures.
- Many dentists purchase their tools from Europe or North America and use the same instruments and equipment as your own dentist.
- Costa Rican health professionals don’t speak English.
- This is a huge misconception as English is actually mandatory in school and many go on to study or do their residency in the US or Europe.
- Now that medical tourism is so big in Costa Rica, many doctors, dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, surgeons and veterinarians speak fluent English to cater to the foreign tourists.
Dental Work for Medical Tourism
Dental work is the number one procedure sought out by medical tourists since there is a large number of English speaking specialized dentists, a shorter wait time, a shorter recovery time and a much lower cost of care.
These are some procedures normally done:
Not to mention teeth whitening and orthodontic treatment.
How to Find a Dentist
With a plethora of dental professionals in Costa Rica, finding one as a foreigner can be a bit daunting and intimidating. If you don’t speak Spanish, you will have to find an English spoken clinic and you can find those mostly in touristic areas.
Dental clinics will hang a “Odontología” or “Clinica Dental” sign. Many will write on the sign or on the door/window if they are English spoken.
Not all the information is online and most people find their dentists by word of mouth. Ask in the Costa Rica expat Facebook groups, look up forums or use services like Medigo that identify, rate and recommend clinics and health professionals. These kinds of websites are extremely useful since they list information such as types of procedures available, location, prices, accreditation and you can book straight from the site.
My Experience Seeing a Dentist in Costa Rica as a Foreigner
I’ve had nothing but excellent experiences seeing a dentist in Costa Rica as a foreigner. Yeison’s sister is a dentist and I have seen her for cleanings, fillings and orthodontic work. All my opinions come from an unbiased point of view, especially as I really really do not like going to the dentist.
When I went for a cleaning, Yeison’s sister did the entire cleaning from polishing to flossing to checking for cavities. Then when it came to fillings, she did the entire procedure including numbing my mouth which barely hurt at all. Before in the US, I had to have the nurse hold my hand because I would get terrible anxiety about the numbing shots.
It was surprising to me because in the US, the dental hygienist does most of the work and you see the dentist for a grand total of 1 minute. Yeison’s sister did everything start to finish and that is normal here in Costa Rica. There isn’t really a dental hygienist, when you go to see the dentist, you see the actual dentist, not just the assistant.
Yes I’m still unbiased and Yeison’s sister is the best dentist I’ve ever been to.
Unfortunately, I didn’t listen to my orthodontist as a teenager and stopped wearing my retainer in college. My teeth started moving again very badly to the point where I had to get braces again! I am almost done with treatment (only 3 appointments left) so I will update my experience on this page when it is done.
So far, I’m super happy with my orthodontist. He is wonderful, very gentle and extremely kind to someone who hates getting their teeth checked once a month. Truly a gem and my experience with him so far has been excellent and he does the entire work (cleaning, changing rubber bands, tightening wires). It has been a thousand times better than the orthodontist I had in the US who I barely saw at my appointments.
Costs of Dental Work in Costa Rica
Remember how I said Costa Rica’s health care is one of the main reasons why retired N. Americans move here? When they receive their residency, these retired expats have the same benefits and access to services as any Costa Rican citizen including medical services. For $40 a month (somewhere around there), they can receive medications that cost tens of thousands of dollars in the US or Canada for just a couple of Andrew Jackson’s in Costa Rica.
For those who don’t live here, the cost of travel, hotel, food and transportation does add up but depending on the procedure, you can indeed save hundreds and even thousands of dollars in the total costs. Let’s break it down.
- Flights: Anywhere from $300-$800. (More or less depending on time of the year and departing destination)
- Hotel: Mid range hotels can be from $80-$120 a night depending on time of year and location. But there are many other options on Airbnb or VRBO for better prices.
- Food: If you’re eating out everyday, 3 meals at a soda may run around $30 depending on where you are.
Other expenses may be tours, activities and souvenirs.
Now let’s look at how much some procedures cost in the US and Costa Rica. These are approximate costs that I found online (may have changed in 2020).
- US cost: $1,100 per tooth
- Costa Rica cost: $320
- Dental Implants
- US Cost: $3000
- Costa Rica Cost: $1000
- Removable Hawley Retainers, full set
- US cost: $500
- Costa Rica cost: $150
- Root canal
- US cost: $900
- Costa Rica cost: $300
I should mention that if you do go to touristic areas such as Liberia or Playas del Coco, the dentists may charge more because they cater specifically towards foreign medical tourists and also for speaking English. Check out less touristic areas first such as San Jose or San Isidro and compare prices from there but the local dentists outside touristic areas usually only speak Spanish so you will need to know Spanish.
Should You Come to Costa Rica for Dental Work?
It really is up to you. Many people come to Costa Rica for dental work because the wait time is too long (Canada) or it’s too expensive (United States). They see it as a two in one: fix what needs to be fixed, recover in a beautiful country and make a vacation out of it.
With everything, there are pros and cons, risks and things to think about. Take these into consideration when coming to Costa Rica for dental care.
- The dentist’s background. Make sure you do your thorough research and get recommendations from people who have actually gone to the dentist and can vouch for them. Like any other country in the world, there will be people who want to take advantage.
- Location. Pick a place that has easy access (San Jose, touristic areas) and stay somewhere that’s close to your dentist’s office.
- Contact potential dentists. Call, email, Facebook them. Get in contact with the clinic and the dentist and ask questions.
- Arrange follow up visits accordingly. Do you need to be checked every month or every 6 months? Figure these logistics out because they can play a big part of whether you should come to Costa Rica for your procedure or not.
Read more posts about Costa Rica here!