Over the past decade, off-shore cosmetic surgery has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry.
With increasingly competitive flight costs opening up more opportunities to travel, more individuals are combining aesthetic needs with the desire to explore exotic locations.
Turkey has become the latest in destinations, with the country's capital Istanbul considered the hot spot for men seeking hair transplants at a fraction of the cost they would pay back home.
Software developer Patrick* first noticed that he was losing his hair in his early twenties. Now in his 30s, Patrick says that he tried all of the standard preventative methods available in Australia before he considered surgery.
"For years I used Finestaride tablets and topical treatments like Minoxidil," he tells Executive Style.
"They worked at the start. My hair would begin to thicken out but after a while it would just plateau before it stopped working altogether and you would have to take a break to reboot the process. Also, it's such a ritual to do every day and I just didn't want to have to do that for the rest of my life."
According to Patrick, the idea to go overseas wasn't something that he initially toyed with until a friend who worked in hair restoration suggested it to him.
"A mate who works for one of the bigger clinics here in Australia suggested that I look overseas. They said that they had clients who had decided that the topical treatments and pills were no longer working for them and had really good results at these international hospitals."
Hair transplants have come a long way since the days of none-too-subtle plugs and hospitals in Turkey offer both FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) and FUT (Follicular Unit Transplant) procedures, both of which considered to be the most reliable way to combat hair loss.
According to Treatment Abroad – a UK-operated guide for people interested in cosmetic tourism – Turkey's appeal is not only are the costs lower but the quality of the clinics and equipment are state of the art, rivalling the best hospitals in the UK. Not to mention the added bonus of spending your spare time boating down the Bosphorous or experiencing the tranquility of Hagia Sophia.
All inclusive experience
Knowing that they're offering an experience of their city as much as they are a surgical procedure, clinics offer package deals for their patients.
Accommodation, transfers, tour guides and even post-care treatment are all included in the quotes with details tweaked according to budgets. Some third party companies, such as Health Travel International, will also take care of your flights.
"I didn't have to organise anything," explains Patrick.
"When I arrived, a clinic representative met me at the airport and took me to my accommodation – I chose to go with AirBnB instead of one of the hotels. They also took me to the hospital where I got to meet my doctor, organised my pick-up for the follow up meetings afterwards and even took me shopping to help me buy the correct post-treatment products."
How they compare
Aside from the prospect of travelling to another country, one of the primary motivations behind the majority of decisions to head off-shore for cosmetic surgery is the substantial difference in price.
According to Choice, the average cost for hair transplants in Australia sits within the range of $11,000-18,000 although this can often go higher depending on the amount of surgery required. Figures quoted during Patrick's own research were closer to $25,000 for the kind of results he was after.
In comparison, for the same procedure in Istanbul, Patrick was quoted just under $4000, less if he paid cash. This, including accommodation for an extended stay in Turkey followed by time in Dubai ended up costing Patrick roughly $10,000.
"I got the procedure when the Australian dollar was still quite strong against the Euro and the conversion definitely helped at the time," says Patrick.
"But in saying that I didn't skimp on anything either – I stayed in five star hotels while I was in Dubai and I really made the most of my experience both there and in Istanbul."
Proceed with caution
Travelling for cosmetic reasons has become so prevalent that even private health insurance companies like nib are offering information services, introducing 'nib Options' in 2014. While not a health insurance product it is a fee-for-service which, according to their website, provides "safe and reliable choices for consumers wishing to undertake cosmetic and major dental procedures in Australia or overseas".
There is also the possibility of being on the receiving end of below-standard procedures. While there are definitely good quality surgeons overseas, the difficult part is being able to identify them. Results of transplants done abroad vary from highly impressive to completely horrendous and it must be said that success rate of transplants done domestically is generally quote high.
The best way of making sure you receive treatment of the highest quality standard is to simply do the research – make contact with both clinic and agent (if you go the package route). Ask for quotes, success rates and details like location of hotel and hospital. This last one might sound obvious but checking to make sure that both hotel and clinic are not only in the same city but a city that you actually want to stay in is something worth being sure of.
Additionally, review sites such as What Clinic, Medical Travel Guide and the aforementioned Treatment Abroad offer invaluable help in finding the right clinic as well as comparing the experiences of former patients to help you make an informed decision.
*Name has been changed.