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C O U N T R Y caribbean, west indies, real estate, property, land, retiring, moving, relocating, living, working, expats, international living, overseas, abroad, caribbean property magazine, caribpro F O C U S : BELIZE

By Roberta DeFrisco

When we think of medical and dental procedures, we have visions of sparkling white medical facilities, first world trained medical practitioners and taking out a second mortgage on our homes to pay for even the most straight forward of dental procedures! In particular, Americans are finding the availability of first world facilities and practitioners providing medical and dental services at truly affordable prices to be an unattainable dream ......however, if they look south to a lovely little English-speaking country nestled right below the Yucatan of Mexico, along the Caribbean Sea, they will find a solution to their dental cost crisis.

Belize, you say? But isn't Belize a Backwater?

Belize definitely lacks the glitz of Bangkok or other destinations frequented by Medical Tourists, but many don't consider this to be a negative. Why? Most people prefer spending their medical/dental procedure healing time combined with some vacation time in a small, sparsely populated place like Belize where life generally moves at a snails pace, rather than a hustling, bustling third world mega-city, with its crowds, noise, traffic, and smog.

Belize offers the perfect environment for relaxing and healing body, mind, and spirit.


Belize is so small you can actually stay in a luxury condo on the beach on one of Belize's offshore islands and take a 15 minute air taxi ride to your appointments. From Belize, you can also utilize medical and dental services in the Mexican capital city of Chetumal, home to several large modern clinics, just a 20 minute ride over the northern border of Belize. One of the clinics has a state of the art gastroenterology section offering colonscopies for around $250 compared with $1000 and up in the USA.

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In this article we will spotlight the world of dental tourism in Belize and talk with a few people who traveled to Belize for dental services.

When Ken Heutmaker the 42 year old owner of Modern Webspace Inc. in Seattle got a toothache he had no idea his quest for relief would lead him to exploring Mayan ruins in the jungles of Belize.

Belize Dentist

After searching the internet for affordable dental care options, Ken made a call to Offshore Medical Dental Services ( in Belize to make sure an almost too good to be true sounding website wasn't a scam. They suggested he get an exam and proposed treatment plan from a local dentist and then send it to them for a quote to see what the potential savings would be weighed against the added expense of travel and accommodations

First, his local dentist insisted on a complete periodontal cleaning- $600, then an oral examination and impressions of his teeth for an additional $200, after that the dentist said he would check the tooth that was causing pain. After spending $800 out of pocket and still in pain, Ken still didn't know what the problem was or how much it would cost to fix it.

6 weeks later Ken called back to say he was ready to hop the next flight for Belize.


Like millions of Americans, Ken has no dental insurance coverage and so was willing to join the rapidly growing number of "Dental Tourists" who cross borders to get high quality dental treatment they can afford in a short time frame.

For decades Europeans; Germans, Italians, Austrians, for example, have crossed into former Eastern Bloc countries like Hungary and Slovenia to save bundles of Euros on dental care.


Hungary is being called the dental capital of the world with some of the biggest dental universities and entire towns devoted to providing dental care for visiting "Tooth Tourists". The Hungarian town of Mosonmagyarovar for example with a population of 33,000 has 150 practicing dentists. Tooth-shaped signs in English line the main street directing visitors to clinics, some so large they take up a whole block.
Belize Dentist

Now with the worldwide trend of "Medical Tourism", one of the fastest growing sectors of tourism, smart consumers worldwide are hitting the road for medical and dental treatment combined with a vacation.

Travel agencies around the globe are specializing in Medical Tourism packages, a face lift with tango lessons in Argentina, tummy tuck and safari in South Africa, bypass and beachcombing in Thailand are just a few of the bundles being offered by companies. Huge mega-hospitals that offer all the amenities of a 5 star hotel have sprung up in Asia during the past 10 years.

Ken didn't have to take a transcontinental flight or deal with a foreign language when he went abroad for his dental treatment. A 2 hour flight out of Houston got Ken to English-speaking Belize where the November weather was balmy.

We spoke to Ken shortly after he arrived in Belize and again a week later:

Q-"This was your first full day in Belize and you spent it all at the dentist. How did you end up in a dental clinic in Belize?"

A-"When I realized how much this was going to cost me up in Seattle I started looking for alternatives. This sounded like a great opportunity to come to Belize and get the dental care I needed."

"I was at the dentist all day today and the office was clean and the staff was very friendly and professional. They have a very no nonsense approach to dental care which is great because I am here to save money."

Q-"What did you have done today?"

A- "He immediately went to work on the tooth that was bothering me; he did a root canal and took some impressions so that he could build a crown. Then he checked my other teeth and found a tooth that had a filling that needed to be replaced so he decided to take care of that right away. He looked at my other teeth and although he had concerns about some of them, he didn't feel that any of them required crowns at this time. He decided to build up my eye teeth to put veneers on them because I am a grinder. He did a cleaning and a whitening as well."

Belize Dentist

"At the end of the appointment the dentist went through all the procedures and gave me a list of everything, it will cost $2,150. This would have cost at least $6,000 in the US. So between the airfare and the hotel which was about another $1,000, I figure I'm saving about $3,000 doing it this way.

"I know that there are about 3 or 4 teeth that are gong to need crowns in the next couple of years and I will definitely come back and have it done here.

I'm a small business owner and I just recently was able to afford to buy health insurance for the first time in 3 years, we have a $6,000 a year deductible and no dental coverage. So we started looking around at different health insurance options and we decided to go with what's known as a health savings account. If you have a health savings account one of the things that you can use those funds for is dental care. So that's one of the reasons why we did that. The way that the health savings account works is that we can put money into this account like an IRA, so it's going in tax free, the money comes out of the account tax free, so the money that I'm spending on this trip is all tax free money, so even though it's costing me $3,000 I'm actually saving $600-700 on taxes."

Q- "That's very interesting, where did you find out about health savings accounts?"

A- "On the internet of course (laughing). It's actually a fairly new thing, it came out about 2 yrs ago so it hasn't really taken off yet but I think that a lot of people are going to be faced with that as their best option in the future, because health care costs are just spiraling out of control in the US and it's the only way you can afford insurance anymore, it's a pretty good option."

Q- "Tell us about the logistics of your trip?"

A- "All the transportation to and from the airport and the dentist office everyday was taken care of for me. I'm staying in a European style Bed & Breakfast right in town that's just 2 blocks from the Caribbean Sea and it's a beautiful facility, they have great breakfasts, the rooms are spacious and there lots of restaurants in the neighborhood. I feel comfortable, I feel safe."

Q- "You're not actually on vacation here this time are you?"

A- "Since I run a small business, I'm an independent contract programmer, I needed to be able to work while I was here, it just wasn't the right time for a vacation. I'm right at the tail end of a big project and I have to get it done. So I made sure that I had all the accommodations that I needed to work, I have an internet connection in my hotel room and I brought my laptop along and an extra big screen because I do web development and so I set that up and continue to work and I was able to get online and work just like I'm at home.

I had asked about renting office space by the day and was able to arrange that as well, I ended up not doing that because I was able to work at the hotel but next time I'm going to rent the office space and my clients will never even have to know that I'm in Belize.

Q- "Did you get to do anything fun while you were in Belize?"

Belize Dentist

A- "Yes, I went on the Lamanai tour. It starts out as a jungle cruise for about 40 miles up the river and you end up at Mayan ruins, it is a huge, huge site. The ruin was fabulous, it is amazing to me that there is something that old here; I mean its thousands of years old. Saw lots of wildlife and interesting plants. We did see the monkeys, they were in the trees, I was standing on a pyramid when I heard them so I was eye level with them. So we spent the day there and they gave us lunch, for the whole day I spent $45... it was just fabulous. And on the way out there we stopped at the Mennonite community.

I'll come back to Belize for a vacation and for more dental work; my wife and I will come back for a vacation maybe as early as January or February."

Ken's Final Bill:
  • Oral exam with 4 x-rays-$60
  • Cleaning and scaling-$45
  • 2 porcelain veneers-$950
  • 2-step in-clinic whitening treatment-$350
  • One porcelain crown-$260
  • One ceramic filling-$45
  • One root canal w/ 3 roots-$225
  • Post and Core-$90
  • Night guard and impression-$100

Ken's total bill at the clinic was $2,125

Belize Dentist

But not everyone is as adventurous as Ken.

Chuck Martin, from Dallas, whose mother and step-father retired in Belize in the 1990's, had been afraid to even come to visit.

He and his wife Sandy imagined a dangerous, desolate place with bandidos lurking around every corner. When he realized the 5 unit porcelain bridge he needed would cost well over $4,000, he decided to combine a long overdue trip to visit Mom with a few dental appointments.

Chuck booked a bargain flight to Cancun, only 250 miles from Belize, and stayed in his parent's spacious custom-built home in Corozal.

Chuck- "One of the things I was concerned about was cleanliness. I saw that the dentist had all the modern equipment and used all the tools that would be used in the US., his clinic is probably less then 2 years old, very clean and I noted his staff was very hygiene oriented. The lab was right there in town to do my bridge work and they got a temporary over in a few hours for me to wear out the first day I went. Then during the second visit, later in the week, the permanent bridge was done and he was able to finish the job."

Sandy- "I was very impressed with how clean the office was and I loved the dentist's personality, he was not pushy so we enjoyed the whole visit. You can be sure that we would have not got any work done there if I had felt that there was any reason for concern for safety or sanitary reasons."

Chuck- "I thought this guy would do a sloppy job because I don't live here, and he knows that I'm not going to come back and say, ‘hey you messed up'. But he really took the time to make sure that my impressions were good and the color match was ok, that was very vital to him because he took great pride in his work."



Belize DentistThe greatly reduced costs of running a clinic in a developing country are miniscule when compared with countries like the US. Property costs are low, labor is a fraction, and because patients pay cash, the mountains of paperwork generated by billing insurance companies is non-existent, further reducing the need to staff employees just to deal with it. And the need for expensive malpractice insurance does not exist in less litigious societies.


Travel can be stressful and illness or discomfort can be exacerbated by stress. Good planning, of course, can eliminate some, if not most, of the stress. If long term follow up care is needed, you will have to pursue that back home.

Articles on Medical/Dental tourism usually carry warnings from a local professional body advising against travel for healthcare, but in reality, with out comparative data to draw on it is hard to take such warnings seriously.


Even those who are covered by dental insurance are often "under-insured" and don't have coverage for procedures considered excessive or cosmetic in nature. Dental implants for example, which will give aging baby boomers an option to dentures, are expensive and rarely covered by insurance policies.


Aesthetic procedures seen on programs like "Extreme Makeovers" are rapidly growing in demand. Porcelain veneers which can take a dull smile to Hollywood status in 2 treatments, can cost between $1,000-$2,000 per tooth if done in the States, but having the work done abroad can cut the cost by 75%.

Drew and Karen Travers are both retired physicians assistants from Wiscasset, Maine now living in Placencia, Belize. They faced the decision as to where to get a single implant Drew needed for a missing front tooth. Having undergone the initial stage, a bone graft, in the US, he was faced with a $17,000 tab to complete the procedure. He was at first hesitant to believe he could have such a highly specialized procedure done in Belize but, after consulting with a recommended Belizean dentist, Drew's outlook changed.

Q- "As someone with a medical background what were your impressions of the clinic?"

Drew- "Very modern office and equipment and everyone was so professional, I really couldn't be happier - it's just like being in an excellent office facility in the US."

Q- "What is the cost difference?
Drew- "It's a huge difference."

Karen - "The estimates we got from in the states were for everything, and ran about $17,000. Whereas the estimate here is in the neighborhood of $2,000."

Q- "And for people who are living outside of Belize?"

Drew- "Even if you are looking at coming down here from the US and paying for travel you are still way, way, way ahead of the game having it done here... and getting excellent work done."

Karen- "Because we both have a medical background we were pretty skeptical and leery and feeling very cautious and because of that we took the first appointment for an exam and cleaning as a trial and after that first visit there wasn't any doubt in our mind that we were very comfortable with getting the care here."

Q- "You don't feel that you are sacrificing anything having that done here?"

Drew- "Not at all, I think the standards here are as good and even better. I really think the infection control standards are excellent in this clinic. I'm sure there are offices around Belize that you might not find as good, but that's true even in the US. But if you know where to go you don't have to worry about it.

There is just no reason to have to spend that kind of money to have good dental care."

And, judging by the growing popularity of Dental Tourism, many people seem to agree with those sentiments.
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Author: Roberta DeFrisco is a freelance journalist transplanted to Belize who has written on issues facing expats in several magazines including International Living.

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