The World Health Organization defines "medical tourism" as “tourists who elect to travel across international borders to receive some form of medical treatment - most commonly: dental care, cosmetic and elective surgeries”. The U.S. Center for Disease Control states this can be risky.
According to ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) the motivation for medical tourism is "price-driven" and numerous facilities on the internet use cost as the main motivational magnet. Women aged 40-54 made up a large percentage of the group having procedures done outside of the U.S. and one ASPS survey resulted in 97% saying they would consider going abroad for cosmetic surgery.
While the vast majority of my patients opt for safer, more reliable surgeons in the U.S., I have seen a few patients in my office that had surgery in another country and did not realize it was so extensive. First, cosmetic surgery is real surgery, and vacation-related activities may compromise results. Travel activities also increase risks for optimal recovery and you may not be legally protected for surgery performed outside the U.S. While considering the lower price points and the "allure of combining a desired procedure with an exotic location”, you must also consider the possibility of complications, and who will be taking care of these, especially when you return home.
There are certainly factual accounts to support the risks: one disturbing report noted that during a patient's breast augmentation, the surgeon left the operating room, and the nurse performed the procedure. Upon return to the U.S. many patients have reported visits to emergency facilities, and in some cases had extensive stays in the hospital. Do your homework before leaving the U.S.: research the procedures, the overseas facilities, surgeons; and have realistic expectations; can you follow up with a "local plastic surgeon", is it possible talk to other patients who have had the same procedure. The most active countries involved in plastic surgery tourism include: South America, Costa Rico, Europe, India, and Mexico.
Do your homework up front:
Is the "overseas" facility is accredited?
Who is brokering the process?
Are the surgeons accredited?
Can you communicate with them/do you speak their native language?
Will they understand what your aesthetic goals?
Who will be responsible for complications and post-op care?
Other resources to check:
JCI (Joint Commission International)
ISAPS (International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery)
CDC Pre-travel Info
ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons): In plastic surgery tourism, be sure to watch the video featuring Dr. Susan Downey discussing important things for you to know.