Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: Medical/Dental Tourism: Libbys on the Loose goes International - Jacó, Costa Rica

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Medical/Dental Tourism: Libbys on the Loose goes International - Jacó, Costa Rica

The great thing about living the nomadic lifestyle is that it's very easy to just.... go - sometimes at a moment's notice.  The ability to be completely spur-of-the-moment has a way of presenting opportunities and sometimes even savings.

For the past few years, regrettably, we admit that we've both needed a good bit of dental work, but just simply didn't take the time (and didn't want to spend the money - no dental insurance) to get the work done.  On top of that, it's insane what dentists in the United States charge for some of their procedures.  I (Eric), according to at least two dentists in the Orlando, Florida area, needed two, possibly three implants, two crowns, and a number of fillings.  All told, anywhere from $6000-$7000 or more.  With Jeanine's medical bills for her back, it simply wasn't in the budget.  In addition to the work that I needed to have done, Jeanine also needed a couple of fillings and at least a crown.  By the time we factored in everything that we would need to get our teeth back to where they should have been, we would have spent well over $8000.  So, like many things, we had to put it off until later.

Since going full-time, we've found that as long as we have a great internet connection and are able to make and receive phone calls, we can be just about anywhere and still able to complete our work and personal responsibilities.  This opened up our ability to spend longer amounts of time internationally providing we had the aforementioned necessities.  We did a lot of research into different areas taking many different factors into account:

  •   Transportation costs - this was broken down to whether we should park the trailer long term and have our dog sitter stay, or travel with the trailer (most likely Mexico) and take the dogs with us.
  •   Cost of accommodations - whether we flew and rented a place or drove and paid camping fees. 
  •   Cost of procedures  -  if we weren't going to save that much money, it didn't make sense to make the trip!
  •   Safety of area - sure, we want to save money, but not at the cost of our safety!
  •   Quality of work/care - we wanted to have our cake and eat it, too.  We wanted dentists that were qualified based on the same standards as US dentists.
  •   Where? - we knew that we were going to need at least 15-20 days (so the dentists had time to fabricate what we needed) wherever we went so we thought it was smart to make it somewhere that we actually wanted to go. 
Taking all of these things into consideration, it really came down to two places - Los Algodones, Mexico or Jacó, Costa Rica.  Our first thought was, since Los Algodones was so close to the border, it would be easy for us to "swing by" on our way back from the western US.  The only problem with that idea was that we wouldn't be able to do that until fall 2017 at the earliest (without being significantly out of the way).  Another thing that we found out was that, despite having the lowest prices, Los Algodones didn't have the best track record in terms of facility quality or the quality of the care received.   This ultimately ended up being the reason for our decision to have our dental work done in Jacó, Costa Rica.

Our house in Cocoa Beach was scheduled to be sold and closed on the 15th of August so I started looking at the fall to see if we could squeeze a trip in after the closing of the house (plus a wedding in Pa) but before we planned on getting back on the road in the middle of September.  This gave about a four week window with which to find something that might work for us.  Fortunately, given our past and current work in the travel industry, I knew that it was prime season for cheap travel!

Some of the best Ceviché we've ever had!
Typically, the way that I search for travel is to get a gauge of what the accommodations are going to cost.  Airfares are usually pretty similar for the low cost carriers, so there isn't going to be much variation in the costs.  Plus, when you're looking at spending at least two weeks, the cost of accommodations plays a much larger factor in the overall costs.  We aren't usually the type to stay in hotels, but occasionally, it is nice to have everything taken care of.  That being said, not in Jacó!  Hotels were outrageously priced.  Not in the way of hotel pricing, but in costs in general.  The least expensive (that wasn't a crappy one!) was nearly $100 a night!  We were planning to stay for two weeks and wanted to spend money on our dental work and experiencing the food, drink and culture of Costa Rica.  

Airbnb has always been hit or miss for us.  For shorter stays in major cities, there's no comparison.  But for longer stays ie two weeks, we usually do much better on VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner).  After looking at many places, we decided on this listing in south Jacó.  Known as a Tico style home, it was perfect for what we needed - inexpensive and close to the beach.  On the downside, no air conditioning.  But it was during the rainy season which usually cooled things off, at least as far as our experience living in Florida taught us.  It was also a very reasonable taxi fare - about $5 roundtrip from Premier Dental Jacó  where we ended up going to get our dental work completed.   At just over $400 for two weeks and only a five minute walk to some of the cleanest waves I've ever had the pleasure of riding, this spot was perfect for what we needed.  

Sunsets like this only a 5 minute walk from our tico!
Next up was the task of finding a flight.  Since we were going to be back in Florida after the wedding in Pa, I knew I could have my pick of just about any major airport as we had friends, family, or an office (the company we work for) near all the largest ones.  I knew I had a two week +/- to work with since the place in Jacó had availability and we planned to leave Florida mid to late September at the latest.  SpiritAirlines always had great flight deals between Orlando and most east coast city short trips, but I never knew that they had flights to Central (and South) America.  We would be flying into San Jose then either renting a vehicle, taking a bus, or finding private transportation to Jacó - about 45 minutes to 1 hour away (we'll get to that in a sec).  Since we would be parking our RV at Manatee Hammock Campground, the first airport my search started with was Orlando International.  While finding flights on par with normal pricing at $350-$400 round trip, it was still more than we wanted to spend.  We were really trying to stay under $750 for flights, accommodations, and transportation.  While this seemed like a daunting task, we had to start somewhere!  We ended up flying out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for $130.  Each.  Roundtrip.  So that's $260 for both of us leaving August 29th and returning on September 12th.  After this score, it looked like it was definitely going to be in budget!  Well - almost.  On the search for transportation, my first thought (given past experience) was to simply rent a vehicle.  This was all well and good and I actually got really excited when I first started to look and saw that vehicles were as low as a few dollars per day!  The insurance was the catch.  From what we gathered, it was about $40 per day... and mandatory.   We were pretty sure that we wouldn't need a vehicle once we got to town.  The beach was close and the downtown area of Jacó was about a 15-20 minute walk from the tico and we didn't plan on travelling to any of the

2016 Spirit Airlines Route Map

surrounding areas.  So, after weighing the options, our Airbnb host offered round trip transportation for $100 including any stops for groceries, etc we wanted along the way.  We also thought that was a great way to gain a lot of insight inside local knowledge as well.  We could have taken the bus, which was significantly cheaper, but it would take 3-4 hours as opposed to just under an hour.  Since Jeanine had another back procedure a few days before departure and was ordered to rest for two weeks (the other reason for the trip), riding on a bus for that duration of time didn't seem to make sense.  So yes, the cost exceeds our original proposed budget, but for the sake of Jeanine's back's health, we opted to spend the extra money.  

So, to do a quick travel budget recap:
Flights for Jeanine and Eric from FLL to SJO   $260
Airbnb stay in south Jacó for 14 days                  420
Transportation to and from SJO                           200

Yep, we went over our travel budget.  But, like mentioned, it was a calculated and necessary additional expense.  So now on to the best part, our savings on dental work.  Fast forward to our third day in Jacó:  we just finished our initial consultation the day prior and completed our panoramic x-rays to find out that the amount of work we were quoted in the US was significantly more than we really needed!  The breakdown as follows:

                          US Needed + Cost       Total                         Costa Rica Needed + Cost         Total

Implants            3 at $1800 each            $5400                       0 at $850 each                             $0
Crown               3 at $750 each              $2250                       1 at $400 each                          $400
Fillings              6 at $200 each             $1200                        7 at $50 each                            $350
Cleaning           1 at  $100 each             $100                          1 at $50 each                              $50
X-Ray               1 at $225 each              $225                          1 at $50 each                              $50
                                                               $9175                                                                           $850

                         US Needed + Cost         Total                        Costa Rica Needed + Cost        Total

Crown               1 at $700 each                $700                       1 at $200 each (Onlay partial)   $200
Fillings              3 at $200 each                $600                       3 at $50 each                             $150
Cleaning           1 at $100 each                  $50                        1 at $50 each                               $50
X-Ray               1 at $150 each                $150                        1 at $50 each                               $50
                                                                 $1500                                                                        $450

We loved Dr. Núñez!
So there it is.  Initially, when we first started looking and doing the research, we never considered that we were advised to get work done that we didn't actually need to have done.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  The largest cost savings didn't come from the difference between the services provided - it came from having work done that needed to be done, not what could have the most profit made.  Maybe that's being a bit cynical, but numbers (and thousands of customers) don't lie.  Factor in the cost of transportation, accommodations, and dental work and it's just under 20% of the total cost of what we were told we needed by dentists in the US.  Oh yeah - we also got to spend two weeks in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world filled with some of the friendliest people, black sand beaches, and glassy walls of waves regularly.  Didn't seem like a bad deal to us either!
So now you know the expenses comparatively speaking.  The only other thing to look at is the cost for goods, services, etc, ie cost of living in Jacó vs the US.  Turns out that most things service oriented are quite a bit cheaper whereas foods, products, tangible items, etc, are on par or slightly more expensive.   There was a bar / restaurant just down the street from our place that we could easily have lunch or dinner with a few beers for about $15 US.
Jeanine's  onlay crown - sadly no diamonds!
Eric's crown

For the day to day living, we would spend slightly more than we do in the US since we didn't have as many things on hand to cook with such as spices.  We did tend to eat out for more meals, but we always tried to seek out the less expensive options. For example, you could get the typical Costa Rican lunch which was a protein, usually chicken, steak, or fish, accompanied with red beans and rice and a side salad for about $5 US.  Trust us when we say that it's filling.  If you walk away hungry, you ordered the wrong thing!  Taxis were very cheap as well.  We found that we could get around for about $2-3 US dollars to most places in town.

Return of the pearly whites!

Don't miss Jacó Fine Meats for all your carnivore needs!
As far as everyday life, most of our days were spent working, reading, surfing the internet/watching Netflix, or just swinging in our hammocks.  Our Airbnb had a small spring-fed pool (we emptied the water every few days and refilled) that was refreshing albeit shallow.  We found that setting up our chairs in the pool was the right combo of refreshing and warm!

Around town, we found many shops and restaurants that we enjoyed.  You'll definitely want to check out Jacó Fine Meats for the best bacon in town.  Bonus: if you ask nicely, he might just season up and marinate a piece of meat for you!  Tell Craig we said hi!  There is a great farmers market every Friday with tons of local fruits and veggies.  You'll also want to check out Hotel Poseidon.  We went there for lunch and drinks.  If they have it, get the Tuna Poké!  It was incredible!  

I was going to take my surfboard, but decided against it after looking at the baggage fees the airline was charging.  Even though they classified it as sporting goods, I would have had to pay $170 roundtrip to take mine.  Before  committing, I spoke to our Airbnb host who directed me to Carton surfboards just around the corner.  I was able to negotiate on a great board (and swap it out to try others) for $150 for the entire two weeks!  This worked out perfectly since I ended up changing boards three times before settling on one for my size and skill level.  I got in some great surfing and definitely recommend Jacó for all surf levels - beginner to advanced.  If you're looking for something a little larger,  just take a short drive (or taxi) south to Hermosa Beach.  Shoulder to head high glassy waves are not uncommon!

That pretty much sums it up.  In total, after all things included.  We spent just under $3000 US for two weeks in Jacó, Costa Rica.  This includes all of our dental work, food, drink, accommodations, entertainment, etc.  We couldn't be happier with our decision!  In the end, we got a two week stay in one of the most beautiful places in the world, all of our dental work completed at a fraction of the cost and no compromise in quality (I would call our dentist more of an artist after having her clean our teeth - no hygienists here - and handcraft our temporary crown in seconds), and is now a place we will plan to return to on an annual basis to have our checkups and cleanings done.  In addition, Eric does plan to have the implants done in the future, so the difference in costs will more than make up for the upcoming years' trips.

Did we get it right? Do you have experience or knowledge about this post? Please make yourself heard! Comment below and we will respond as soon as possible. As always, thanks for following us! Disclaimer: We are not paid writers. We write for enjoyment and to share information about our travels with our families, friends, and our followers. The information that we provide is based on our experiences with the products, services, etc, that we write about. It is 100% non-biased!

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