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Medical Tourism to South Africa

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Medical Tourism to South Africa

South Africa is among the most geographically varied nations in Africa, comprising of land that ranges from the Kalahari Desert to the Drakensberg Mountains, the huge savanna of the Eastern Transvaal to the rolling lush plains of the Highveld.

While all these regions offer endless opportunities for adventure travel, South Africa focuses mainly on medical tourism travel. In fact, it is among the fastest-developing sectors in South Africa, and Cape Town has grown to become one of the best medical tourism destinations. Actually, Cape Town is the leading medical destination for travelers on the African continent.

South Africa’s Health Care Systems

In South Africa, health care system varies from the basic primary health care, provided free by the government, to highly specialized, high-technology health services available in both private and public sector.

There are more than four hundred public hospital and over two hundred private hospitals. The larger regional hospitals are administered by the provincial health departments. Primary care clinics and smaller hospitals are administered at district level.

The public sector is under-resourced and stretched in some areas. While the government contributes about 40 percent of all expenditure or costs on health, the public sector is always under pressure to provide services to about 80 percent of the citizens.

The private sector is run mainly on commercial lines and provides to foreigners, middle and high income earners who are generally members of medical schemes. In addition, it attracts most of the nation’s health professionals. Some of the major hospitals for medical tourism include Life Healthcare Hospital Group, Netcare Group, and Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital.

At the moment, accreditation is totally voluntary in South Africa and there is no Joint Commission International accredited hospital. However, the Council for Health Services Accreditation of Southern Africa is the main local accreditation firm.

Common Treatments Done By Medical Tourist in South Africa

The most popular treatments done by medical tourists visiting South Africa are different types of plastic surgery procedures. Breast augmentation, liposuction, nose reshaping, facelifts and tummy tucks are among the most popular cosmetic surgical procedures done. Other common treatment areas include:

Cost of Medical Treatment in South Africa

Although it might not be the cheapest nation for healthcare or medical tourism in the world, depending on the type of treatment, medical travelers are guaranteed to save up to 70 percent on their treatment. [source]

Price Comparison (USD)
Procedure USA South Africa Range of Saving (%)
14,200 - 14,800
Between 74 -75
Breast augmentation
Up to 30
6,000 – 6,500
Between 57- 60
Heart bypass
Up to 65
Heart valve replacement
Up to 76
Hip replacement
Up to 60
Knee replacement
Up to 50
5,200 - 5,800
Up to 28 - 35
Spinal fusion
8,000 – 8,100
Between 91 - 92
All procedures
175,400 – 177,200
Between 70 - 71

Malpractice and Liabilities Laws in South Africa

The relationship between hospital or doctor and patient is usually governed by private law – the law of tort and the law of contract. However, public law considerations have become significant with the enactment of the 1996 Constitution as well as national legislation. After all, most South Africans depend on the public sector for their health care.

There are no social insurance systems for adverse medical events or medical malpractice in South Africa. In addition, there are no compensation schemes for criminally based injuries.

Victims who wish to be compensated by private institutions or practitioners have no choice but to sue either in tort or contract in a law court. Most cases are settled outside the justice system.


Here are the main reasons why many foreigners seek medical treatment in South Africa.
  • Affordable Price

    This is one of the main reasons most people visit South Africa for medical treatment. Medical tourists can save up to 60 percent on treatments.
  • Personalized Services

    In addition to affordability, many travelers appreciate the greater services found in South Africa’s hospitals. Whereas in the United States many tasks are done by orderlies, in medical tourism, there are a lot of registered nurses who offer personalized services.
  • Quality Services

    The main issue that medical tourists grapple with is to accept a reduction in quality in facilities and physicians. It is natural to think that if a service is cheaper, then it is of low quality, but for a professional planned medical tour to South Africa, the results are excellent.
  • Tourism

    Medical travel is usually as much about safari as the medicine. For travelers undergoing surgery, there are no better places to recover than bungalows with the best view of the beach while receiving physical therapy.


These are the reasons for not travelling.
  • Culture and language barrier

    Although good English can be anticipated from the hospital staff and doctor, many medical travelers have little or no experience travelling in South Africa and might not understand the local languages. South African’s tend to speak good English, but they are not always accommodating culturally.
  • No legal recourse

    The truth is that medical travelers have limited options in case of a problem. Although the price might be low, there might be no compensation either to pay for emotional stress or further treatment.
  • Who to contact

    Finding the right travel agent or hospital is usually a stumbling block for patients. For simple procedures such as dental work or checkup, simply calling the hospital a few days before the time and booking the flight is often enough. For first-time travelers or more complicated procedures, a more thorough consultation with the agent or hospital is required.

Travelling to South Africa

With a direct flight, medical travelers can take the following hours to travel to South Africa.

City Travel time to South Africa (hours) Visa Requirement
Los Angeles
Not required
New York
Not required
Not required
Not required
Not required
Not required
Not required
Not required
Not required

Entry and Exit in South Africa

Medical tourists require a valid passport to enter South Africa. However, they do not require a Visa (issued at point of entry) if they are visiting for less than ninety days. Some visitors might require a Yellow Fever certificate (Yellow Fever vaccination is required for people passing via the Yellow Fever belt of South America or Africa).

Passport should be valid for at least thirty days after the date of exit from South Africa.

Statistics of South African’s Medical Tourism

Number of medical tourist who visited South Africa, 2003 to 2008 from different countries: [source]

Major Country Sources of Medical Travelers, 2003-2008

Total Tourists
Total Medical
Medical (%)
UK 2,849,029 122,000 4.3
Germany 1,496,133 47,000 3.1
USA 1,451,732 41,000 2.8
Netherlands 718,368 21,000 2.9
Australia 499,416 14,000 2.8
France 677,502 13,000 1.9
Canada 265,699 9,000 3.4
Italy 303,606 7,000 2.3
Sweden 207,693 5,000 2.4
Japan 166,622 2,000 1.2
India 239,108 7,000 2.9
China 264,227 6,000 2.2
Brazil 150,188 5,300 3.5
Africa Air 800,000 38,000 4.8
Africa Land 33,200,000 2,158,000 6.5

Number of medical tourist who visited South Africa, 2006 to 2010 from different regions: [source]

Regional Sources of Medical Travelers to South Africa, 2006-2010

Total Tourists
Total Medical
Percentage (%)
Europe 6,252,331 215,000 3.4
Asia & Australia 1,169,373 29,000 2.5
Americans 1,867,619 55,300 3.0
Africa & Middle East 34,000,000 2,196,000 6.5
Total 43,289,323 2,495,300 5.8
Global North 8,635,800 281,000 3.3
Global South 34,653,523 2,214,300 6.4

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