Tourism in Türkiye has been changing over the past few years. Whereas the country used to mainly attract sun seekers and culture enthousiasts, nowadays, a good portion of the people travelling to Istanbul and beyond are driven by a whole other force: their pursuit of cosmetic perfection. Hair transplants, teeth alterations, boob jobs, botox… the list of cosmetic treatments on offer in the country is about as long as anywhere else but with one major difference. Compared to other countries, surgeries in Türkiye come at a fairly low price, attracting cosmetic tourists from all over the world.
According to Tourism Economics, tourist numbers in Türkiye have already increased by 70% compared to before the pandemic. In 2022, of the 44.6 million people visiting the country, 1.2 million did so for medical reasons, triple the 408,000 medical tourists in 2020. For 2023, the number is estimated to have risen to 1.8 million, generating around 3 billion dollars (2.76 billion euros) in revenue.
The best-known cosmetic interventions in Türkiye are probably male hair transplants and ‘Turkey teeth’, each accounting for about 250,000 visitors per year, according to Euronews and the Turkish Dental Association. Many of those medical tourists come back satisfied and having paid a lot less than they would have elsewhere, according to Esquire magazine, because the Turkish government subsidises health tourism, meaning 40% of the costs of the operations are financed by them.
While the price is a good incentive, there are risks involved as well. Firstly, when looking into the matter, medical tourists should always thoroughly research the clinic they intend to go to in order to make sure it is legitimate. In order to qualify for the government aids, the clinics need to respond to a wide array of regulations. Those who are not qualified and offer cheap treatments nonetheless, should at the very least raise some concern.
Secondly, contrary to guidelines in, for example the UK by the Royal College of Surgeons, in many cases the mandatory waiting time between the consultation and operation isn’t respected. Many patients go in one day and are treated the next, meaning there is little time for consideration for the patient and for research by the doctor.
Thirdly, as for anywhere else, patients should make sure the treatment they are ‘booking’ is as safe as possible. In order to get a set of the so-called ‘Turkey teeth’, in many cases the teeth are filed down, resulting in a serious risk of nerve damage. Only trained professionals should therefore perform such operations and, as not all teeth are the same, a good amount of research beforehand should be carried out in order to prevent any catastrophes.