Overseas Vietnamese opt for medical treatments during Tet visits

By Ngoc Ngan   January 31, 2024 | 04:37 am PT
Overseas Vietnamese opt for medical treatments during Tet visits
Hong Phuoc, a 46-year-old Vietnamese living in Canada, had 20 porcelain teeth made for $6,000 while she was in Vietnam for her 3-week Tet (Lunar New Year Festival) holiday.

She chose a dental center in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City to get her teeth done because the cost was "surprisingly cheap."

In Red Deer City, Alberta, where she now lives, she was told it would cost $1,000 per tooth. Phuoc's daughter’s braces had already cost $10,000 for both jaws.

"In addition to medical examination and treatment under insurance, other medical services are very expensive [in Canada]," Phuoc said. "Meanwhile, medical services in Vietnam have the same quality but are much cheaper."

Phuoc is from Ho Chi Minh City, got married, and followed her husband to settle in Canada. The first time she returned to Vietnam in 2015, one of her teeth was broken and needed a filling. At first, she hesitated to return to Canada for treatment, so an acquaintance introduced her to a dental center in District 1. Phuoc was surprised by the satisfactory results.

Phuoc has now been returning to Vietnam regularly ever since, with her Canadian children and brother in-law in tow. While her family often gets some kind of dental or medical work done, Phuoc also often pays for cosmetic care and procedures like facials, minor plastic surgery, eyebrow tattooing, to name a few.

Last year, she spent VND26 million (US$1,064) on two facial massages and VND18 million on smile lines.

Phuoc said that over the last three years or so, the quality of beauty and medical examination and treatment services in Vietnam have become well-known to the wider Asian community.

Thus, "medical tourism" has been on the rise here.

"In the past, people often thought of Thailand or South Korea for beauty and cosmetic surgery, but now they are interested in Vietnam," she said. "I feel comfortable using the service in my hometown. They speak Vietnamese, understand customer psychology, and aim for Asian-style beauty standards."

Hong Phuoc (far right) with her children at a beauty clinic in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Hong Phuoc

Hong Phuoc (far right) with her children at a beauty clinic in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Hong Phuoc

Four years ago, persistent headaches worried Nguyen Linh, 38 years old.

In Edmonton, Canada, where she had settled, people who wanted to have X-rays had to go through many processes.

First, the doctor examines the patient and prescribes medicine. If symptoms persist for more than a month, only then will an X-ray be performed. And then the results will only be reported to the family doctor instead of directly to the patient. People like Linh then have to contact the doctor to receive further instructions.

"I'm a little worried and don't want to wait too long. If there is a problem, it might have gotten worse by the time it is discovered," she explained.

During her visit to Vietnam in mid-2019, Linh was taken by a friend to have an X-ray at a public hospital in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, where the results were available a few hours later. Linh's subsequent vacations in her hometown were combined with medical examinations and the use of cosmetic medical services.

Linh and Phuoc are only two of the increasing number of Vietnamese people residing abroad who return to their homeland to use medical services. About 300,000 overseas Vietnamese and foreigners visit Vietnam annually for medical examinations and treatment, according to the Department of Medical Service Administration under the Ministry of Health.

25% of customers of HCMC-based cosmetic dental center 126 were overseas Vietnamese from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany, and France. The most popular services they used were porcelain teeth and implants.

"Overseas costs for these services are 5-7 times higher than in Vietnam," the center's representative said. "They like it here because the service is suitable for Asian mouths."

A representative of the Department of Skin Cosmetics at the Ho Chi Minh City Dermatology Hospital said that the largest number of overseas Vietnamese visitors come one to two months before Tet.

As the Lunar New Year approaches, the department receives on average about 5 overseas Vietnamese guests every day. They usually come from Japan, America, Australia and America. Due to the short time in Vietnam and the combination of many other personal matters, these customers tend to combine many services on the same day such as laser surgery combined with Botox injections and facial rejuvenation.

Dr. Tran Nguyen Anh Tu, Head of the Department of Skin Cosmetics, said the number of overseas Vietnamese customers has increased steadily each year. "Overseas Vietnamese who return to Vietnam for medical treatment or cosmetic surgery often come back with friends and relatives," Tu said. "This is a very encouraging sign, demonstrating the development of dermatology."

Dr. Truong Hong Son, Deputy General Secretary of the Vietnam Medical Association and Director of the Institute of Applied Medicine, said one of the strengths of Vietnam’s healthcare is a lower cost when compared to other countries, without a degradation in quality.

Son said the services Vietnamese living abroad are most interested in include dentistry, maxillofacial surgery, and other operations related to issues such as colorectal problems, digestive problems, obstetrics issues, gynecology, infertility treatment, and egg freezing.

For Linh, most recently in March 2023, she had a nose job that cost VND60 million, and a tummy tuck and breast lift for about VND200 million. Linh said these prices were 50-60% cheaper than such procedures in Canada.

However, the woman from the southern province of Dong Nai admitted that it was not easy for her to find a reputable clinic.

"I 'lurked' in [online] beauty groups in Vietnam to read shares, and comments, and browse actual images for several months before picking a place," Linh said.

To complete her cosmetic surgery, she had to stay in Ho Chi Minh City for nearly a month to prevent possible risks such as post-operative complications or a misshaped nose.

Another limitation Linh feels is the fear of being "seduced" by more services at a more expensive price. "In Canada, the safety standard is higher, and I can sue the clinics in court if a problem occurs," she said. "However, I am still satisfied with the choices in Vietnam."

The last time she chose a high-quality dental facility, Hong Phuoc felt comfortable that she was invited into the waiting room with a beverage and given thorough advice. She said it was worth the time and money spent.

"No one understands Vietnamese people like fellow countrymen," Phuoc said.

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