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A Foreigner’s Guide to Public Health Systems in Costa Rica

April 29, 2020

When you visit another country either as a tourist, for business or other reasons, there are high chances that you might fall sick or require medical attention. In such a case you will not know what to do unless you prepared in advance and know a thing or two about the health care systems in a foreign country. Costa Rica medical care is regarded as one of the best medical systems hence the rise in medical tourism. Here is a simple guide to public health systems in Costa Rica.

Public Health Systems in Costa Rica

The government department that is tasked with providing essential medical care is known as “Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social” usually referred to as CCSS. One of its main jobs is to ensure that salaried employees contribute part of their monthly earnings to cover their medical care among other things. The health care system is similar to the one in England and Canada but Costa Rica medical care is considered one of its kind in Latin America and beyond. Furthermore, it is quite cheaper compared to other countries which are another factor that has immensely contributed to the rise of medical tourism.

Structure of the Public Health System

There are three levels of infrastructure as far as public health buildings in Costa Rica are concerned

The Ebais

Ebais is at the very bottom of the public health infrastructure since it is a community- based facility. Each community in Costa Rica has an Ebais which is open on weekdays from around 7 am to 4 pm. They have a general doctor and a well-stocked pharmacy necessary to provide primary medical care to those in need.


At the middle of this infrastructure, there are clinics, they are well designed fully stocked. The clinics are equipped to offer general consultation, laboratory services, emergency services together with ambulances. The clinics are manned by general doctors and the pharmacies are fully stocked.

Public Hospital

The top of the public health infrastructure is public hospitals. They can be found in all major cities in Costa Rica and consist of 24-hour emergency services, surgery rooms and all essential services found in other hospitals around the world.

The three distinctive infrastructure is designed to provide better health care services to all citizens and even foreigners. Every hospital, clinic, and Ebais are fully equipped depending on what they can treat. Therefore, if you are a foreigner and you feel unwell, the first and best thing to do is to ask a local if you are near any hospitals, clinics, and Ebais.

Visiting a Public Health Facility in Costa Rica

The hardest thing is to know where you can get the help you need. Once you are in the health facility, you will see a medical doctor even without an insurance card. If the medical condition is not that serious you can easily visit a clinic or Ebais. You will have to make appointments that is why you should visit very early in the morning before opening hours which is 7 am. The secretary will then inform you when to see the doctor if it is later that day or the next time the doctor will be available.

Ensure that you take your passport with you and have at least $40 to $50 which will cater to everything including the medications. You will have to be patient since you are in a public hospital or clinic and therefore have to wait for the doctor to call you in. If the tests are done and treatment given is not conclusive, your doctor might refer you to another health facility where there is advanced equipment for comprehensive analysis.

Private Clinics and Hospitals

Costa Rica has also many private health facilities. They are good if you have primary medical insurance or if you are certain you can cover the cost. Many doctors in the private sector can also speak English and will have everything you might need.

Useful Tips for Foreigners

Now that you are certain about how public hospitals work in Costa Rica, the following tips can be helpful when seeing a doctor.

  1. When visiting a public health facility, ensure that you go with a translator or ask any staff member who speaks English to help you out with the forms.
  2. You also need to bring a list of any prescription drugs you have been taking, if any. Try to search for their Spanish equivalent names to make the process easy for both doctors and nurses.
  3. Inform the medical staff if you have any underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma or diabetes as they will see you immediately. The same conditions apply to people who are over 65years, pregnant women and patients with severe conditions.
  4. If you decide to visit a clinic or the Ebais, then ensure that you arrive early enough because they are usually full and the lines can be very long.