“I was reading about this under “Top Questions” and some things have changed so I thought I would write an update.
There is a widespread system of both private and public health care in Costa Rica. There are doctors’ offices and clinics and pharmacies all over the country. In addition, there are public health clinics and hospitals that can be used by tourists in case of emergency.
Private: There are three private hospitals in the San Jose area: CIMA, Clinica Biblica and Hospital La Catolica. Clinica Biblica is part of the “Blue Cross” network so if you have Blue Cross coverage you may be able to be treated there under your insurance plan. Of course, you would need to check the specifics. All three of these hospitals are staffed by English-speaking staff and can provide the highest level of medical care. But it’s not cheap.
Both Clinica Biblica and CIMA now have facilities near Liberia, not far from LIR airport. Also in Liberia is the private hospital San Rafael Arcangel which has an excellent reputation and quite a few of their staff speak English.
All these hospitals have websites where you can get more information or send an email.
Public: Costa Rica has a comprehensive system of public clinics and hospitals — formally known as CCSS and informally known as the CAJA – and tourists can use these in case of emergency. The cost is low, if anything. The public clinics are not equipped to handle sophisticated emergencies and will usually just try to stabilize the patient and send him/her on to a hospital. Some hospitals in remote areas are not fully equipped to handle serious emergencies.
Ambulance service is available, operated by the Red Cross and is free, although many of them designated as “Basic Support” are little more than taxis with a bed. There are also “life flights.” There is also a growing industry of private ambulances that provide advanced life support.
Like doctor’s offices and clinics, pharmacies are everywhere and there are quite a few drugs or things like asthma inhalers that can be bought without a prescription. All pharmacies have a relationship with a doctor (or two) and can refer you to the doctor if you need a prescription. Some larger pharmacies have doctors that are at the pharmacy all the time.
Don’t automatically assume that you have to go to the (very expensive!) CIMA or Clinica Biblica for treatment or surgery. I read one story of tourists paying $10,000 out of pocket to have someone with a broken leg transferred by helicopter to CIMA in San Jose where they were treated. The same tourist could have gone to a local public clinic to be stabilized (paid nothing), used an ambulance or even a private driver with a van to get to the nearest public hospital and been treated for little or nothing.
Just like in the US, a private hospital will not treat you unless you have some kind of proof that you can pay. A cash deposit, a credit card or appropriate insurance is always asked for.
Trip Insurance: There is a wide array of trip insurance available and you should look carefully at the “fine print.” Some require you to pay up front and then put in a claim when you return home. Others take care of any costs. You will need to do the research and pick the one that works for you. And yes, trip insurance is a good thing for anyone traveling internationally.”