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What are the risks of cosmetic surgery abroad?

If you’re considering having surgery abroad do your research first! Although the price may be appealing or the idea of a cosmetic surgery holiday sounds exciting, there are a few things you need to be aware about.

August 27th, 2021 |Ask an Expert

Why do people tend to travel abroad for procedures? 

Have you asked yourself “why is this treatment so cheap?” or “Why is this such a great deal?”

  • Cost- is one of the main reasons why people opt to travel, as sometimes it can be cheaper abroad. Some reasons why the cost of cosmetic surgery might be cheaper abroad:

  • Aftercare abroad – most clinics abroad will provide limited or no aftercare once you return to the UK, which allows for a reduced cost.

  • Regulation – cosmetic surgery in the UK is regulated by the CQC (Care Quality Commission), HIW (Healthcare Inspectorate Wales), HIS (Healthcare Improvement Scotland) and RQIA (Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority in Northern Ireland). Regulation is an important way to make sure healthcare professionals are safe to practice and is designed to protect by limiting potential risks.

  • Holiday - sometimes patients find the idea of combining a holiday with their procedure very appealing, which has grown in popularity over the years due to low-cost airlines. It’s important to remember that having any form of surgery should be taken seriously and should not be considered a holiday. It’s important to minimise any risk of complications following surgery, so you are advised against sunbathing, drinking alcohol, swimming (or submerging yourself in any water) and exercise.

  • Celebrity endorsement - recently, we’ve seen an increase in celebrities (particularly reality TV stars) travelling abroad for cosmetic surgery and sharing their experiences on social media with their followers. Often these procedures will be free of charge and the stars would contracted to promote the clinic on their social channels. Potential complications might not be conveyed to their audiences.

  • Range of Procedures - there are certain procedures either not performed in the UK or harder to access treatment. One of the most common is BBL (Brazilian Butt Lift). People travelling abroad for the procedure are not always fully informed of the significant potential for post-operative complications with BBL.

What are the risks of traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery

  • Patients should avoid flying after having surgery (for at least 4 weeks) – both surgery and air travel can increase the risk of developing DVT or a pulmonary embolism, so flying after surgery can increase these risks even further. DVT (Deep vein thrombosis) occurs when a blood clot forms in the veins to either fully or partially block blood flow, causing pain and can lead to serious complications like a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a blocked blood vessel in your lungs and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. MYA advise that you wait at least 4 weeks to fly short-haul and 6 weeks long-haul post-surgery to reduce risks like DVT and a pulmonary embolism.

  • Standards and guidelines are not as strict overseas – facilities and care in UK healthcare are highly regulated and inspected regularly. It is not a guarantee that other countries have high standards, so make sure you ask about the regulation of the clinic, inspection reports, infection rates and what processes are in place in case something were to go wrong on your operation day or during your stay. The website state "the standard of medical facilities and available treatments vary widely around the world. As such, British nationals considering undertaking medical treatment abroad should carry out their own research; it is unwise to rely upon private companies that have a financial interest in arranging your medical treatment abroad." To find out more, visit

  • It’s important to check a surgeon’s credentials - there are highly qualified surgeons outside of the UK but it can prove an issue when trying to check their qualifications. In the UK cosmetic and plastic surgeons will be accredited by the General Medical Council (GMC) and this can be checked on Other countries use different systems due to different standards and qualifications, so it is not as easy to check if an overseas surgeon is fully trained. Make sure you ask your surgeon about their qualifications and training. It is important to ask if the surgeon you see for consultation is the actual doctor performing your procedure. Some surgeons may use a surgical assistant during operations.

  • Consider complications & extra cost - cosmetic surgery like any surgery has risks involved whether that be in the UK or abroad. If you were to have complications, flying back out to see your surgeon could cost hundreds of pounds and involve unexpected time off work. Depending on the degree of the complications, you may be required to stay for an extended period of time to recover.

  • What would happen if you suffered complications after returning to the UK? If you were to suffer complications after having a cosmetic surgery procedure abroad and require emergency medical attention in the UK, you may think you are covered by the NHS. The NHS will always treat life-threatening complications, however, will refuse treatment for bad outcomes so these would have to be covered by you privately.

  • Not your average holiday - for those considering to combine their ‘holiday’ with a procedure, it’s important to note that this would not be your typical holiday - you will be unable to lay in the sun or enjoy the pool following surgery as you could run the risk of complications and infection.

  • Don’t rely on holiday insurance - policies may vary, but as a general rule of thumb you can’t rely on holiday insurance to cover you during surgery whilst abroad - therefore be mindful that if you were to face any major complications this could result in costly medical bills and potential financial strain.

  • Covid-19 - Travelling during a global pandemic can present lots of issues. Flights are limited and sometimes cancelled and travel bans are being imposed around the world and you might not be able to get back to the UK. There is also the issue of catching the virus whilst using public transport. 

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