Plastic Surgery Abroad Is an Operation, Not a Vacation

by Matthew Shulman ,  US News and World Report | 2008-05-01

Broad incentives but big pitfalls in traveling for cosmetic care

Americans unhappy with what they see in the mirror are looking past borders—and oceans—to save money on face-lifts, breast augmentations, and other elective procedures not covered by insurance. The Internet is littered with companies offering cosmetic surgery vacation deals to exotic locales like Costa Rica, the Philippines, Mexico, and Brazil. But experts caution that so-called cosmetic surgery tourism can wind up costing patients more—both in health and money—than they expect.

Many overseas surgery practices use specialized travel agencies to package their cosmetic procedures with vacations. A typical offer includes your pick of operations—say, liposuction and a tummy tuck, for as little as half the U.S. cost—plus tour itineraries, tony resort stays, and pampering at posh spas during recovery.

But shopping around for the lowest fee or the best destination is not the way to choose a cosmetic surgeon. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery has vetted and certified about 1,500 surgeons in 73 countries who meet U.S. standards; has a surgeon-finder tool. Surgeons who aren't on that list may be good, but their credentials, training, and prior disciplinary record can be hard to verify, says John Canady, incoming president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

A long list of unknowns didn't stop Felicia Pappas, a Woodbridge, Va., medical assistant, from traveling to Bolivia in February for breast augmentation, liposuction, and a tummy tuck. She found her surgeon through a friend, never researched the doctor's qualifications, and had no communication with her until the day of the first surgery.

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