San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Medical Tourism

US group to open hospital focused on attracting medical tourists

Arizona-based company American World Clinics (AWC) confirmed the construction of a private hospital in Costa Rica that will offer health care services to foreign retirees and medical tourists.

The group will invest $150 million in the construction of a 12,000-square-meter hospital scheduled to open in 2016 in San Rafael de Alajuela, on a nine-hectare property along Route 27, the main road connecting San José with the Pacific province of Puntarenas.

The hospital will provide general surgical services and medical specialties including orthopedics, cardiology, urology, oncology, plastic surgery, and others.

AWC estimates the hospital will have the capacity to perform up to 18,000 surgeries annually.

The project also includes construction of a five-star, 100-room hotel operated by California company K-Hotels, and a retirement community  for some 400 people.

The initiative will be funded with capital from National Standard Finance, a long-term investor based in New York, and locally, AWC will work with real estate developers Brenes & Salas, said Enrique Volio, AWC’s representative in Costa Rica.

The venture will create some 300 direct jobs, mostly for Costa Rican professionals including doctors, microbiologists, nurses, physical therapists and other support staff.

“The quality of its medical professionals, political stability and geographic location of Costa Rica were the main factors for choosing the country,” Volio said.

The company currently is developing similar projects in the Dominican Republic and Barbados.

Data from the Council for International Promotion of Costa Rica Medicine (PROMED) show that Costa Rica in 2012 attracted nearly 50,000 medical tourists and each one spent an average of $7,000. Medical tourism generated some $338 million in revenue for the country that year, PROMED reported.

Contact L. Arias at

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Ken Morris

Medical tourism is difficult to assess.

On one hand, it is a more attractive form of tourism for Costa Rica than most others, since at least some of the jobs it creates are good jobs. Most tourism creates only menial jobs, which makes medical tourism a better way to go.

On the other hand, medical tourism still amounts to foreign investors running a business that caters to other foreigners, with Costa Rica providing only the land and the staff. The profits won’t remain in Costa Rica, and thus neither will the investment dollars needed to finance local businesses.

Then too, while providing good jobs, medical tourism will have the effect of increasing wages for medical professionals. This will require the Caja to pay higher wages, which in turn will require it to increase taxes on people who don’t benefit from medical tourism.

On the balance, some medical tourism (and some tourism in general) is probably good for Costa Rica, and that may include this hospital. However, too much of it will be harmful. I hope decisionmakers get this balance right.

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