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5 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in Guatemala

By Joshua Wood

Summary: Expats in Guatemala have a variety of healthcare options available to them. Understanding what is available is a critical part of preparing to move there. Advice about proximity of care and prescription medications in Guatemala is also provided by expats living there.

Expats in Guatemala - 5 Important Tips about Healthcare for Expats in Guatemala

Expats in Guatemala have options for health care while living there. However, it's important to develop an understanding of what is available in Guatemala, where it's available... and where it isn't.

Universal Health Care in Guatemala

Like many other countries throughout the world, Guatemala's constitution guarantees universal health coverage but is, as of yet, unable to deliver on that promise. The Guatemalan Civil War, which took place from 1960-1996, greatly impacted the development of a health care system capable of providing adequate health care to a large percentage of its citizens.

It still suffers from a significant lack of funding, which continues to impede the ability to expand the public system. Most expats utilize the private sector for this reason.

Right now Guatemala has less than one doctore per 1,000 patients. For comparison, the U.S. has 2.55 doctors per 1,000 patients, while the U.K. has 2.81 and Canada 2.48.

Health System Structure

There are 3 parts to the Guatemalan Health Care system. They are the public sector, non-profit private sector, and for-profit private sector. Both the public and private sectors operate hospital, clinics and offices. The vast majority of Guatemalans use the public option.

Know that the further away from the main cities, such as Guatemala City, the lower the standard of care becomes. Some expats that have developed serious chronic conditions have stated they felt they needed to move back to their home country in order to receive the care they needed. Know your individual situation before you go and respond quickly when this changes once you are there.

Prescriptions in Guatemala

An expat reporting about health care in Guatemala about prescriptions in Guatemala that:

"So far, we haven't need a Rx prescription for anything. Everything has been just 'walk in and ask' with no doctor's note required. I'm talking about everything from blood pressure medicines to some reasonably heavy duty pain killers. I'm sure there are some classes of medications that require a doctor's prescription, but we haven't run into any yet.

"On a related note, we have also seen very wide variations in how much lower the local prices are than in the USA. Some meds, like generic Protonix and thyroid medicines, are downright cheap. Others are almost the same as the USA. So it really depends on what you are taking. I will say though that we haven't seen anything cost MORE than the USA. The grand ol' United States of America does hold the dubious honor of most expensive health care and prescription drugs in the world."

Another expat wrote:

"In Guatemala, all farmacias sell medicines. Some very small ones might have only basic medicines like pain medicines and simple antibiotics. Not surprisingly, the bigger the pharmacy, the more variety you will find but also you can expect bigger prices and less generics. (e. g. Carolina & H, Galeno) The "community" pharmacies (e.g. Similares, Comunidad) generally have everything 95% of people might need, such as diabetes, hypertension, antibiotics, moderate pain, and digestive meds for very cheap prices. For rarer conditions, you may have to hunt around or go to a specialty pharmacy. If you have a particular need, you might want to first find a doctor that treats it and ask them about sources for inexpensive medicine for your case."

Health Care Quality in Guatemala

Expats in Guatemala can use private international health insurance in Guatemala.

An expat in Guatemala City advised other expats to "Make sure to look for the best doctors, get private Guatemalan insurance to take you [at] the best hospitals... forget about public hospital[s] unless it is for [an] emergency.

Another expat who had emergency surgery in Guatemala shared:

I had an appendicitis last year and was referred to MultiMedica off Vista Hermosa 1 in zone 15 in Guatemala City. It was wonderful!!!! I was referred to an internal specialist who then took me to the small emergency room in the same building (I didn't even know they had one there!). They did a laproscopic surgery within 4 hours of me arriving. I recovered perfectly, had great English-speaking doctors, and best yet, my two scars are the size of hair follicles!! My surgeon (whose office is in the same building) later told me that he is responsible for training many Latin American doctors on laproscopic surgeries. My family and I were shocked that I was able to receive such great care here. I do have international insurance (RPN) so my copay was 20%. I only paid $450 for the surgery and two nights in the hospital AND my prescriptions. I was very impressed!

If you decide you'll be more comfortable with expat health insurance for private medical care, get a quote from our trusted expat health insurance partner, CIGNA.

Hospitals in Guatemala City

Here is a list of hospitals in Guatemala City from the U.S. department of state's travel site.

For more information about living in Guatemala, read our article Top 10 tips for moving to Guatemala.

Need more information on living in Guatemala?

Login or Register and visit our Guatemala Forum. Talk with other expats who can offer you insight and tips about living in Guatemala.

About the Author

Joshua Wood Joshua Wood joined Expat Exchange in 2000. His areas of responsibility include creative aspects of the community, research, sales and business development. Joshua received his Master's Degree in Clinical and Counseling Psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University and graduated from Syracuse University with a BA in English Textual Studies.

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First Published: Jan 09, 2018

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