While we thought we were being funny, this trend started out of need: residents of countries with socialised medicine who didn't want to wait for a procedure, and Americans, travelling to get care they couldn't afford.
Now, cosmetic procedures are the most popular thing people travel for, mostly because people have to pay for these out of pocket. So if you can get equivalent care for 50% less for the plastic surgery cost, why not? Indeed, why not. My friend and I thought we were going to leave town so no one would see us recover, and perhaps not even notice the changes. (I'm not sure what we thought we'd do with our kids during that time, though.) We hadn't considered the savings that would allow us to buy the requisite new wardrobe.
We've decided not to go this route, but we still think it's a pretty good idea. Should you agree, following are the best (i.e., reputable) places to go for procedures. Note that JCI stands for the Joint Commission International, which is part of a non-profit that accredits health care providers around the world. You want this.
The Gulf States
Dubai is building a healthcare city to deal with the demand. The region as a whole has 38 JCI accreditations, 17 of which are in Saudi Arabia. Most medical procedures (including cosmetic ones) are available at a significant discount, but maybe not enough to allow you to make a dent in The Dubai Mall.
In 2007, 450,000 medical tourists came in for procedures, including cosmetic, and prices are generally about 80% less than comparable ones in the US, so the saving is huge. (And who doesn't want some delicious Indian food whilst recovering?)
In 2006, 1.2 million people went to Thailand for plastic surgery and other procedures. Again, the savings are huge, about 70% less than prices in the US. And for sure the beaches are better. (Oh, and the legitimacy part! There are four JCI accreditations in the country.)
Singapore is a great choice, offering a super civilised city, 13 JCI accreditations, and a savings of about 65% off US prices. If my girlfriend and I change my mind, we'll go to Singapore and stay at the Mandarin Oriental. And it's an island!
Another good choice, what with Malaysian food and lovely people. Malaysia has one JCI accreditation, and the savings are 75% than in the US.
South Africa gets a high volume of medical tourists, despite having no JCI accreditations, and offering savings of about 65% off US prices. Maybe it's the wine. Or the safari you can go on afterward.
Just a quick flight south, Brazil is popular with the Americans. It offers 12 JCI accreditations, and savings of 60% off US prices. Plus, it's Brazil. Come on.
Also close to the US, Costa Rica sees a lot of Americans, and has one JCI accreditations, savings of about 65% off the prices in the US, and an awesome Four Seasons resort.
Long have Americans driven across the border to get inexpensive medication. Now they're going for medical and dental procedures, and saving about 70%.
This is mostly a hub for Europeans, and although there are no JCI accredited surgical programs in Hungary, the country has reliable dental and cosmetic surgery programs, which are generally 40-50% less than in the US.
So if you go, have fun! Get the sightseeing over first. Enjoy the local cuisine. And just make sure you select your plastic surgeon carefully. After all, this a particular kind of trip with a result in mind.