When Philip Sheldon* was told by his Toronto doctor that he was on a six-month’s waiting list for cataract surgery, this retired  executive had the foresight to call his son-in-law in Bogotá to see what could be done. Despite comprehensive medical coverage in his native Canada, Sheldon wanted to speed up a condition that was getting worse by the month and was affecting the possibility of getting his driving license renewed.

After making some phone calls to some of the best ophthalmologists in Bogotá, Sheldon decided that the investment of buying a plane ticket to Colombia, spending days with family and recovering in an apartment in the capital, more than paid for itself as compared to six months of anguish, waiting for his government to define the place and time of his surgery.

Sheldon’s medical condition was not life-threatening and the surgery was performed in in under two hours. As a foreigner with limited language skills, his surgeon spoke impeccable English, having done part of his medical studies at Moorsfields in London.

Sheldon is one of thousands of foreigners who come to Colombia to be treated with outpatient procedures and in state of the art  facilities. From eye surgery to dentistry, fertility and reproductive treatment, Colombia ranks with 16 of the best 40 hospitals in the Latin America, according to  recent report by the economic journal, America Economia. Within the ‘top 10’ are: Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá, Fundación Valle del Lili de Cali, Fundación Cardioinfantil de Bogotá and the Fundación Cardiovascular de Bucaramanga.

The country is also recognized internationally for specialized treatment in oncology, cardiology, neurology and orthopedics. Many of Colombia’s leading doctors have specialized overseas and are experts in their fields and recognized internationally.

With rising health costs rising in the U.S., some 1.6 million Americans  travel overseas for medical treatment every year, according to the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, and a yearly growth of 35 percent. The American Medical Association claims that the trend is partly the result of high insurance premiums in the United States for non critical surgery.

Colombian hospitals are accredited with the highest international standards, as is Bogotá’s Fundación Santa Fe. Specializing in cancer treatment, neuro sciences and cardio-vascular surgery, the Santa Fe recently signed a joint venture with John Hopkins Hospital, so that specialized medical research can be shared on both continents.

Along with specialized care, Colombia is a pioneer in the development of pace makers, laparoscopic and transplant surgery. Another of the country’s top medical institutions, the FCI, Fundación Cardioinfantil – Children’s Cardio Foundation – is a global reference for cardiac surgery, electrophysiology and hemodynamic monitoring.

With 50 medical faculties in a country of 44 million, Colombia takes great pride in forming world-class professionals, who work alongside dedicated teams. In Cali, the Valley of Lilli Foundation Hospital is the largest Cardiac Hospital in Colombia. In Medellin, the University Hospital of San Vicente de Paúl has received international recognition for its use of digital and CT technology. Medellín has also become a global reference for research into dementia and early on-set Alzheimer’s thanks to valuable scientific work by the University of Antioquia’s Dr. Francisco Lopera.

While Mexico and Brazil compete for the health tourism market, Colombia has  advantages which can’t be measured in numbers and statistics. The kindness and understanding of its health professionals can make a world of difference in the recovery of a patient from surgery. Thanks to generous funding from private foundations, many of the country’s hospitals are expanding with new wings and adding more private rooms to their existing ones. The expansion of specialized treatment can be seen in Bogotá with the  ‘Clinica de Prostata’ (Prostate Clinic) of the Santá Fe Foundation.

To cure any doubts as to the importance of Colombia as a place which personalizes attention and care, one can follow the important achievements of doctors Manuel Elkin Patarroyo and his vaccine against malaria or neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás who is Chairman of the department of Physiology & Neuroscience at the NYU School of Medicine.

As one of the most important scientists of reproductive medicine, Elkin Lucena, is credited internationally for performing the first successful In vitro fertilization in 1985 and which gave birth to the first Latin American reproductively assisted baby.

Colombia has a privileged location when it comes to attending to the health needs of foreigners. Just four hours from Atlanta and six from Toronto, Bogotá, is a world-class city with great gastronomy, cultural exhibitions and historic attractions. These are also important reasons for planning your next trip to the doctor. Hospitality in this country starts with your health.

*name changed for identity purposes. 


  • Diana Plazas

    The comment posted by Juan F. Camargo is correct. Health Care system in Colombia is not the best and has many weaknesses, but compared to other HC systems in Latin America, is one of the best. Doctors and nurses are really humanitarian, they do what they can. The real problem in Colombia that puts a shadow in health care system is, as usual, politicians. Politicians are corrupt and it makes HC system be unequal, in many public known cases, patients are treated depending on their economic condition. A good example is the case with Rosa Elvira Cely, the woman who was raped and tortured at Parque Nacional in Bogota last year. When the ambulance finally came to assist her, the first thing they asked her was the kind of health care system she had. It resulted she had the basic (charity) service. As a result, she was taken to the farest hospital four hours later, being the area where she was attacked, surrounded by hospitals. She died and she would have probably died anyway due to her terrible injuries, but the ambulance people were more concerned on what coverage she would have with her current insurance, rather than trying to save her life first. You judge.

  • All I can say is that you are deluded. I don’t care what you believe! Do you think all Canadians are rich? Not true. You can wear blinders all you want. If you think that poor Colombians have the same access to health care here as the rich, you must be rich and out of touch. Well, the attention might be equally as “good”, but overall the access to it is bad. I know it. I live it, so say what you like. I understand that you want to defend your country and policies at any cost. I do not promote better access to healthcare for the rich which is what you have here and in many other countries, too. It does have to do with money. How can you expect the best medical care when doctors do not get paid? My husband is one of those excellent, humane COLOMBIAN doctors you speak of. He is the reason why I am here. And, make no mistake, it has EVERYTHING to do with “salary structures”, these docs get into medical tourism and conceriege medicine to make more money and to get paid and I don’t blame them. But, please so not expect anyone to think it doesn’t have anything to do with money. I know so many Colombian docs in the US and in Canada who ran away from Colombia because they could not get paid here. Fact. Like it or not.

  • Sharon

    I am needing catarac surgery and will be coming to Bogota in December….but the feedback on this article has me confusd. Where is the truth in this? Would love to hear from the patient from Toronto…I too am a Torontonian!

    • I don’t like the article because it makes it seem like Colombia is a leader in health care and it is not. It is what it is: a developing country with a terrible health care insurance system, outdated equipment, rusting hopsitals, incredible waits, etc. Docs cannot even get paid here and no one cares. I lived in Toronto for many years and my opthamologist is Dr. Dean Smith in Toronto. As I stated, if you are a rich Colombian or a foreigner who can pay a private hospital, you will probably be fine. As a Canadian living in Colombia as a middle-class Colombian who has to rely on COOMEVA for my health care, this article annoys me. But, I am trying to see a specialist in Bogota because the care there is better, I am sure you will be fine, Sharon. Bogota is a great city. I dion’t want anyone to think that it’s mroe than what it is here. It needs a tremendous amount of work. Can you imagine any doc in Toronto working, for free, for 3 months, not out of choice but because he cannot get paid?

    • Richard Emblin

      Sharon: there are magnificent eye surgeons at the Santa Fe, Clinica del Country. I would seriously consider doing the intervention in Bogotá.

      • Richard, why not balance your article and write about the true state of health care here for the majority of Colombians who will never, ever get to see the magnificent eye surgeons you refer to? I am desperately seeking a glaucoma specialist specializing in pigment dispersion syndrome glaucoma. If you know anyone…

      • Richard Emblin

        Dr. Gabriel Jimenez at the Clinica del Country operated my father with a severe case of nerve damage caused by shingles to his eye. His is a magnificent eye surgeon.

  • This article is so flawed that I do not even know here to start. There might be good medical care here for rich locals and foreigners who can afford direct payment, but try living here as a “normal” aka not rich or poor Colombian. There is no good health care for us. I personally am going to go blind unless something happens. Doctors do not even get paid here. My doctor husband is owed 3 months salary and no one cares. This article makes me so angry!!!!!!! I can’t even write any more.

    • Theisen

      I can’t believe you’re a poor girl from Canada. This article is very good because there are excellent hospitals and very good scientists and health professionals in Colombia. In addition, this article is for people interested in medical treatment with quality in Colombia.

    • Juan F.Camargo

      I agree with the author. All Colombians – “rich” and “poor” – have access to medical facilities across our land. The Seguro Social counts with many highly-trained doctors and all hospitals must adhere and operate under the laws governing the Health Promotion services “EPS”. While in all countries, attention varies from health care provider to clinic, Colombia can take great pride in the humaneness of its doctors and nurses. I know of many persons who have given up paying for private health care as the attention they receive in the Seguro Social is equally good. This focus ofd this story is not about salary structures, but of the high ranking of many Colombian hospitals in the hemisphere. Thank you.

      • Ben Angulo

        I agree that the focus of this article is about the opportunities that exist for people to have great medical treatment in Colombia. However, this is for people who have the financial resources. Most people reading this site, in English, should have the money that they need to receive this care. I have received great care for “private pay” procedures and for times when my medical insurance (a very good plan offered only to foreigners at my Bogota school) covered visits and procedures. However, for my Colombian friends who were working class in Bogota, the care was NOT good. I currently know of one Colombian, 46 years old who lives in Suba, who has been waiting for over a year to have hernia surgery. He is in constant paid, has a huge herniated bulge (I won’t go into the gory details) and is not able to receive treatment due to bureaucracy and the totally unrealistic (for a working-class Colombian) co-pay. I took my friend’s 15 year old son to the Hospital of Suba (in the northwest of Bogota) when a ring on his finger was caught in a door. The ring bit deep into his finger. After waiting for two hours he was seen. The doctors attempted to remove the ring. After trying unsuccessfully for 30 minutes, that came out into the waiting room to ask if I had any tools that would help remove the ring. I went home and brought back a hack saw, pliers and some metal snips. I have seen hospital waiting rooms with blood-smeared (dried blood) walls (this hospital was Hospital Simón Bolívar of of 7th ave). I have spoken with other Colombian who have told me of visits to hospitals where the doctors are unwilling to administer local anesthesia because the “free” public insurance (SISBEN) will not cover the anesthesia! IF ANYONE knows where this place is that offers Seguro Social so good that Colombian give up their paying plans, please post that reply here, so the thousands of Colombians who are unhappy with the SISBEN in their areas can go there. Yes, the are GREAT medical services for those that can afford it in Colombia. And ANYONE who thinks that the VAST majority of the working class of Colombia has access to these excellent services is very much out-of-touch with Colombia, deluded, or just plain lying. I am sorry if I have offended anyone. After many years in Colombia in social services I cannot remain quite. If you want to FLAME AWAY! Thank you.

    • Ben Angulo

      Thank you for saying this bcadnyc. I agree with the comment that this article is more about what Colombia has to offer for the people who can afford it. However, your comment on the social injustice of the health care system in Colombia is very valid.