Central America healthcare system

Central America Healthcare System & Insurance Options for Expats

Central America is made up of exciting destinations to explore and a mostly Spanish-speaking population that practices diverse cultures. A large number of expats have adopted Central America as their home away from home. If you’re moving to this region, it is obvious to have questions and concerns regarding its healthcare system. Here’s what you need to know about Central America healthcare system and insurance options for expats.

Central America consists of seven nations, namely: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Belize. In the past few years, all seven countries have been investing significantly in health. But the region is still fighting its battle to improve overall health outcomes on the one hand and lower healthcare costs on the other. Improvement can only be possible if patients have access to the latest treatments.

Costa Rica is one such example of a good quality of the healthcare sector. It has the best healthcare systems in the region. Also, both the public and private sectors have been attracting investments from across the globe. Its universal healthcare system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, known as Caja, has been a success.

The healthcare system in the majority of the countries is divided into the public and private sectors. As is the case elsewhere in the world, private care is excellent but costly. In the case of public healthcare, there is a lack of prompt access to physicians, inadequate availability of effective medications, and quality attention is almost absent in public hospitals.

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Healthcare Systems in Various Central American Countries for Expatriates

HondurasCosta RicaPanamaEl SalvadorBelizeGuatemalaNicaragua


Understanding Central America Healthcare System for Expatriates

Costa Rica

Of all the Central American nations, Costa Rica has the best healthcare system, followed by Panama and Nicaragua. Costa Rica boasts a universal healthcare system known as Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), popularly referred to as the ‘Caja’. The system provides full coverage for all medical procedures via the public hospital system. Moreover, this facility is available for a small monthly fee to all citizens, expats, and permanent residents.

The approximately 30 CAJA hospitals and 250 clinics in Costa Rica cater to all with above-average quality healthcare. Furthermore, the three large, private hospitals that most expats opt for are CIMA hospital in Escazu, Clinica Biblica in San Jose, and Clinica Catolica in San Jose-Guadalupe. Visitors can choose the National Insurance Institute, or opt for international private health insurance, especially those that cover the policyholder no matter where they are in the world.


Nicaragua offers high-quality healthcare. The Managua area has several highly specialized healthcare centers and hospitals. Some of the most visited ones are the Vivian Pellas Metropolitan Hospital, Hospital Bautista, and the Military Hospital. Furthermore, health facilities in the cities of Leon, Granada, and Matagalpa provide high-quality healthcare at an affordable price. Nicaragua has a socialized medicine program, which means you don’t have to pay each time you go for a routine checkup.

Though the quality of care in the healthcare centers in Managua is high, due to lack of specific high-tech equipment, patients may need to be evacuated in case of an emergency. All visitors are advised to purchase MedEvac insurance to ensure you’ll be airlifted to Houston or Miami from Nicaragua if a medical emergency arises. Pharmacies are available abundantly in Nicaragua. Most pharmacists also diagnose and recommend treatment for everyday maladies.


One of the strongest economies in Central America belongs to Panama. Caja de Seguros Social, the social security system manages the country’s clinics and hospitals, providing access to all strata of society. Though both the public and private healthcare centers provide care to all, the main differences between the two are the facilities, accommodation, and overall level of attention received by patients. There are plenty of pharmacies in Panama: inside supermarkets, in hospitals and clinics, as well as on the street.

The prices of medicines can be low or expensive, depending on where they’ve been imported from. Panama has seen an increase in its medical tourism in recent years. Medical insurance in Panama is essential, be it the local health insurance policy that provides coverage in Panama or the international health insurance plan that can be used anywhere in the world.


Poverty is a significant issue with the citizens of Honduras. The quality of staff, healthcare facilities, and supplies in the public medical centers leave a lot to be desired. Also, inadequate public infrastructure forces many expats and citizens who can afford it to seek medical care in private hospitals and clinics. Most medical institutions often lack even basic requirements.

Plus, with the underfunding in public healthcare in Honduras,  there is a shortage of medicines in Honduras. To take care of their medical expenses, visitors to Honduras should opt for an insurance plan that covers most of the costs. For expats, an international private medical insurance plan is the best option. Also, most of these plans include emergency evacuation and repatriation benefits.


In Guatemala, the public healthcare system is not free for all citizens and residents. Due to this, the coverage of healthcare in Guatemala is low. Long waiting periods in public hospitals, a shortage of essential medicines and equipment, and poor sanitation causes patients to go to private hospitals for medical care. On the other hand, medical attention in private hospitals requires patients to make payment before treatment. Hence, we advise expats to purchase a comprehensive medical insurance plan before moving to Guatemala.

El Salvador

In El Salvador, it is the Ministry of Health (MINSAL) that regulates the El Salvador healthcare system and provides free healthcare services to almost 80% of the population. Additionally, the Salvadorian Social Security Institute (ISSS) provides health insurance to nearly 20% of the people and has the second-highest number of facilities in the country. The quality of healthcare is aspiring, with the private sector pitching in to provide for the citizens and residents. An international health insurance coverage is a must for all expats and travelers moving to El Salvador.


The public healthcare system of Belize has a long way to go as it is not at par with the standards of most of the North American countries. Given that, expats can access public healthcare facilities for minor treatments. However, patients should opt for private facilities like Belize Medical Associates of severe illnesses. The best part is that private healthcare in Belize is reasonable and not too expensive.

Expats usually go to private hospitals where adequate medical equipment and professional staff are available. In the case of critical or complicated treatments, expats can also go to neighboring countries for proper healthcare.

Health Insurance for International Citizens in Central America

The only way to safeguard against these uncertainties is by obtaining a quality international health insurance plan. Furthermore, the most significant advantage of this is it provides you the flexibility to visit the hospital of your choice, globally. These health policies ensure you receive the best medical care available. Additionally, most plans cover a wide range of services with optional benefit packages, including outpatient, inpatient, maternity, dental, specialist consultations, and more. Furthermore, there are many insurance companies to choose from, depending on your preferences and budget. Some of the leading health insurance providers are Allianz Care and Cigna Global.

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Check our page top 5 countries in Central America to retire to learn more about it.