The NHS guide to cosmetic procedures

Cosmetic surgery abroad

If you are considering cosmetic surgery abroad, it's important you do some research first. 

Cosmetic surgery abroad often costs less than in the UK, but make sure you weigh up any potential savings against the potential risks.

Standards may not be as strict or guidelines as tightly controlled when outside the UK.

Is it safer to have cosmetic surgery in the UK or abroad?

No surgery is risk-free, and complications can arise after surgery in the UK or abroad.

If complications arise after an operation carried out in the UK, it is the surgeon's responsibility to provide follow-up treatment.

When patients seek cosmetic treatment abroad, aftercare is not always straightforward.

Some overseas clinics may not provide follow-up treatment either at all or up to the same standard as in the UK.

Also, overseas clinics may not have a healthcare professional in the UK that you can turn to if problems arise.

Beware of the holiday sell

Before deciding to have cosmetic surgery, you should be sure that you have good reasons for wanting it and have a realistic expectation of the outcome. 

Beware of websites that sell cosmetic surgery abroad as a treatment plus a holiday. Also, avoid meet-and-greet evenings with sales people rather than the surgeon who will operate on you.

Never pay to go to a hospital you've never seen and a surgeon you've never met without any real understanding of what that surgeon can provide.

It is best to have two consultations with the surgeon who will treat you before any surgery. This allows for a cooling-off period, which is expected to be two weeks in the UK.

The surgeon has to make sure patients fully understand what procedures involve, the limitations of a procedure, what alternative procedures there are, and any potential complications. They should also be able to show before and after pictures of their work.

Selling cosmetic surgery as part of a holiday package is misleading. Cosmetic surgery is a major undertaking.

While it is possible to have a holiday before surgery, it is unrealistic to have one immediately after. It is not advisable to drink, lie in the sun or do anything energetic if you're recovering from surgery.

Cosmetic surgery aftercare

Follow-up care is an important part of treatment. You need to consider where check-ups will take place.

When you make enquiries about your treatment, ask how complications would be handled, what would happen if you needed revision surgery after the original procedure, and how much it might cost.

If there's a complication, consider how easily – and at what cost – you can travel back to the destination where the surgery was carried out.

How to minimise the risks

Much of the advice for patients considering cosmetic surgery is the same whether they choose to be treated in the UK or abroad.

Find out as much as you can about the cosmetic procedure

The first thing to think about is the treatment you're having. Research what it will involve in terms of consultations, the procedure itself, and aftercare.

It might be helpful to read Is cosmetic surgery right for me? to find out more.

Choose the right cosmetic surgeon

Choosing a surgeon abroad will be much harder because you have to find out how doctors and clinics are regulated in your chosen country, and how standards are enforced.

It may not be easy to find out if a surgeon overseas is fully trained in the procedure you want because of differences in standards and qualifications.

It is also important to find out whether your surgeon abroad speaks English or another language you understand well enough. This is so they can explain all the important issues related to your surgery or treatment, and they understand your concerns and questions.

Social media can be a useful resource in terms of gathering independent feedback on the services provided by a specific surgeon or clinic. 

For more advice on how to do your research if you're considering treatment overseas, see the risks of treatment abroad and questions to ask the surgeon or dentist.

Consider what would happen if things were to go wrong

Establish what would happen if you were to have any problems with the treatment. What insurance arrangements does the clinic or doctor have, and will these cover you?

What will your own travel insurance cover? Ordinary travel or holiday insurance will not cover you if something goes wrong during or after planned treatment abroad.

If you can't get satisfactory answers to all your questions, think carefully about whether to go ahead with it.

More information

Royal College of Surgeons: cosmetic surgery FAQs

Page last reviewed: 19/05/2016

Next review due: 19/05/2019

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