If you’re an American, the combination of affordable AND high-quality health care just doesn’t exist in the United States.
Obamacare is better than nothing to be sure, but unless you have a cushy job with great health benefits, a lack of options can leave you shelling out money you don’t have if you have a chronic condition.
I found myself pinned between the U.S. pharmaceutical rock and medical hard place after getting laid off from a big, multi-national oil company geology job back in 2015.
To be honest, I’d been daydreaming about ways to eject myself from the fossil fuel extraction industry for a while before getting axed, but I never had the courage to leave my health care behind.
Maybe you can relate to a similar sort of feeling with your job...
Maybe Your Options Aren't As Limited As They Seem
If you want to change careers or embark on a digital nomad adventure – living around the world and working remotely online – health care challenges might not be the obstacle you’re making it out to be in your head.
I had the same fears about my own condition (a genetic hormone deficiency disorder called Kallmann’s Syndrome), especially since my cushy oil company health care was the only insurance plan I’d ever had in the U.S. that actually covered the correct medications I required.
After being laid off however, I was forced to find another way to get my medicine or go without.
Struggling for months to figure out another way to afford my $2000 per month medication, I was finally able to hack my way around the U.S. health care system altogether...
...but it required me to do something drastic and a bit risky. I had to become a U.S. Medical Exile.
Turns Out, the U.S. Health Care System Is an Overpriced Joke
Whether you realize it or not, Americans pay anywhere from 2 to 10 times more for the same medical treatment & pharmaceutical drugs than most of our foreign counterparts do.
For my particular hormone treatment (the FSH, LH and hCG gonadotropin hormones), there’s an insane 10x price hike on the medication if purchased in the U.S. That black market style price gouging extends to primary care physicians and specialist appointments too.
If you think I’m joking, keep reading.
It turns out that one visit to my U.S. endocrinologist (a hormone specialty doctor) can cost anywhere from $250 to $500 without insurance — just for the pleasure of a consult. Seeing the same kind of specialist without insurance in Budapest, Hungary will cost you just $30.
In the States, the monthly price of my medication is $2000. In Hungary, the same box of meds from the same pharmaceutical company (in the same packaging, just different language) only costs $200 per month.
How’s that sort of price difference even possible?
How can the same medicine from the same manufacturer cost one-tenth the price compared to the U.S.?
Your Alternative to U.S. Medical System Extortion
Now, I’m not attempting to solve the U.S. health care problems in this article (that's what Bernie Sanders' Medicare 4 All Healthcare Bill is for).
Instead, this post is about laying the foundations for adventurous spirits to find health care while slow-traveling abroad.
There’s actually so many places you can find low cost, high quality healthcare when you start comparing prices in countries around the world to the United States.
Of course, I can’t sit here and claim that your specific medicines and treatments will be both available and affordable anywhere you travel. However, I am going to give you a sure-fire method to find out all these things before you ever start packing your suitcase.
For my own chronic condition, I developed a method to scout out and forage for health care in virtually any country around the world.
Now I want to teach you how to do the same for yourself.
I call it Hunter-Gatherer Health Care.
The Hunter-Gatherer Health Care Method
I’ve been living successfully as a digital nomad since March, 2016 using this method to quickly and affordably plug into the health care systems wherever I go.
You’re going to like this method because it’s dirt cheap and super simple.
TL;DR – In simple terms, this method outsources your health care research to a foreign national with strong credentials in the local healthcare system for the country and city you’re interested in traveling to (Budapest, Hungary for example).
Read on to find out how to use this method for yourself.
Hunter-Gatherer Health Care Step-By-Step
- Begin by starting a “Client” account through a freelance platform like UpWork. Don’t worry, the account is free to set up. You only have to pay if you hire someone to complete a job for you. This step will allow you to hire virtual assistants around the world that will be doing your detailed health care research for you.
- Prepare a Google Doc with all of the health care questions you want answered. Ask questions about Local Health Insurance availability, Dental costs, General & Specialist Doctor costs, specific prescription medication availability and costs, English speaking clinic & doctor locations as well as their contact info.
- For each of the countries you’re interested in traveling to or living in, post a job on UpWork requesting the help of a native resident with a health care background to research and answer all the questions you need answered. (This shouldn't cost you more than $50 USD per country to complete)
- Since you can share your Google Doc with your virtual assistant, evaluate their research as they complete the questions. This allows you to evaluate their work in real time and ask for more detail when needed.
- Evaluate the health care research and decide which countries you can afford purchasing your particular medical treatment in. If you’re going to be digital nomad-ing, don’t forget to include the cost of flights and normal cost of living expenses into your final decision budget.
- Purchase an international travel insurance plan to cover unexpected and potentially catastrophic accidents while abroad. If you can get a long-term visa to stay in a country for more than 180 days, consider getting expatriate health insurance (not usually available if you’re staying in a country for less than 180 days).
If you’d like a template of questions to model your Google Doc after, you can download my free PDF in the content upgrade below. It contains all the questions I use as well as an example of an UpWork job listing I use to hire my Medical VAs.
The 2 Styles of Hunter-Gatherer Health Care
Although you can use the Hunter Gatherer Health Care method to do health care research almost anywhere around the globe, there’s usually two ways to go about making it work:
- Medical Holidays
- Go Into U.S. Medical Exile
1. Medical Holidays
I got the idea to take medical holidays from Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek.
In it, Tim Ferriss discusses the idea of how to use vacations as a way to get 1st class health care for 3rd world prices. You simply plan your holidays around procedures like root canals to awesome countries like Thailand to have fun and see an expat serving dentist at the same time.
“Why not combine a mini-retirement with dentistry (or medical) geoarbitrage and finance your trip with the savings? … There are many upmarket clinics set up for “expats” and health travelers in Thailand, Philipines, Vietnam, Goa, etc., with English-speaking dentists. And in Europe many people go to Poland or Hungary.” - Anonymous in The 4-Hour Workweek
Note that the U.S. has some pretty strict pharmaceutical import laws to protect the price gouging profits of the pharmaceutical industry so check to make sure what you can import, how much bring back with you and exactly what you need to do to enter the U.S. with legally prescribed medication abroad.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website has guidelines about this and currently states that:
“Prescription medications should be in their original containers with the doctor's prescription printed on the container. It is advised that you travel with no more than personal use quantities, a rule of thumb is no more than a 90 day supply.”
2. Indefinite U.S. Medical Exile
I took the medical holiday idea a step further and designed a digital nomad lifestyle that centers around where I can easily and affordably get the health care I need for a fraction of U.S. prices.
I do this by using the Hunter-Gatherer Health Care method to figure out where I can afford great care, Digital Nomad in that place and then purchase International Travel Insurance to cover me in case of any catastrophic accident.
To make the Medical Exile option work for the long haul, you need to either have sufficient savings socked away or a solid way to make money online. You can start an online business (read the 4-Hour Workweek to learn more about this) or become an online freelancer through platforms like UpWork to support yourself.
Personally, I started out my digital nomad and Hunter-Gatherer Health Care journey by using savings and then transitioned to remote work as I built up a new writing and online marketing skillset. Now I support my vagabonding lifestyle by monetizing this blog through affiliate marketing as well as working remotely for the all-in-one WordPress website building toolbox company – Thrive Themes.
If you can learn how to start your own online business or find remote work, you can switch in to a perpetual mode of slow-travel mode across countries that have high-quality health and pharmaceutical care at a fraction of the equivalent U.S. cost.
If you like the sound of that, understand that the flip side of this vagabonding lifestyle is that you must first be out of debt, have some savings to begin with and eliminate most of your monthly expenses back home.
For me, that meant selling off all of my stuff (couches, furniture, cars, non-portable electronics, etc.) and saying goodbye to my family for...a while.
Tired of Waiting For Single-Payer? Give Hunter-Gatherer Health Care a Try!
If you’re like me and have chronic health care needs that you struggle to afford in the U.S., it might be time to investigate what a Hunter-Gatherer Health Care strategy might look like for you.
Alternatively, if you’re interested in a slow-travel lifestyle, but fear the loss of your employee health care benefits, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much better medical expenses abroad can be for you. Become an adventurous vagabond while saving money on your medications at the same time!
You can take a simple, no-obligation first step by creating a Client account on UpWork to investigate what health care options you have in another country you're interested in.
It may be actually cheaper and easier to get than you think!
Feel free to ask any questions about the Hunter-Gatherer Health Care method in the comments section below.
P.S. Don’t forget to download your free VA Medical Research Questions template and UpWork job posting template in the content upgrade below!