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'I went to Thailand and all I got was a mojito and this lousy boob job.'

cosmetic-tourism
Every year, 15,000 people are travelling overseas for cosmetic surgery.

By LUCY ORMONDE

Twelve thousand dollars.

That’s about how much it would cost me to get a boob job in Australia. Or at least, that’s how much I was quoted after a quick Google search for “breast implant surgery Melbourne”.* That price includes an initial consultation, the surgery itself, an anesthetic and post-op care.

The price does not include champagne on arrival, or a daily buffet breakfast – which is what I’d get if I opted for the cheaper alternative of travelling to Thailand for my hypothetical surgery.

And for an increasing number of Australian women, it’s not hypothetical.

In recent years, there has been a significant rise in the number of Australians of all ages who are travelling overseas for cosmetic surgeries. The movement is called Cosmetic Tourism and there are around 20 companies out there who specialise in creating packages for people from Australia (and other western countries) to travel to places like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia for procedures like tummy tucks, facelifts, dental work, breast implants, botox and fillers.

Let’s call them cosmetic travel agents, shall we?

Packages generally include flights, airport transfers, accommodation at a five-star hotel (presumably with a pool and those little umbrellas in your drinks, yeah?), the actual surgery, post op care and the aforementioned daily buffet breakfast. And the packages are generally a hell of a lot cheaper than the surgery only option provided in Australia. (One company charges only $4450 for a breast enhancement and 10 nights in Bangkok).

Package operators post pictures like this on Facebook with captions like:
Package operators post pictures like this on Facebook with captions like: Who wants to wake up with a view like this?
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That’s right. For the price of a designer handbag you get really big fake boobs AND A BONUS HOLIDAY. WIN!

According to researcher Meredith Jones from the University of Technology Sydney, it’s a booming industry.

In fact, Jones estimates that around 15,000 Australian ‘tourists’ are travelling overseas for cosmetic surgeries every year.

Meet ‘Michelle’. She’s 53 years old travelled to Bali recently with her family and (presumably) while they were playing in the hotel pool, she went to visit a cosmetic surgeon who performed upper eye lid surgery, fillers and laser for the age spots on her hand.

Michelle wanted to have a recovery away from the people she knew and estimated she saved herself around $4500 from taking her business overseas.

“The bottom line is that I’m over 50, my eyes started to get very hooded, I couldn’t wear makeup, I looked tired and I wanted it done. It was a simple procedure. I was aware that there were risks. I was aware that in a developing country there are more risks. But I think that was up to me to manage,” Michelle said in this interview with ABC’s Natasha Mitchell.

But it’s not just individuals who are part of this movement. Many of the people who travel overseas for surgeries are women in their 20s who – wait for it – travel in groups. Think girls weekend with a side of bloodied gauze and a lot of Nurofen plus.

Meredith Jones is conducting research into the number of people travelling overseas for cosmetic surgeries.
Meredith Jones is conducting research into the number of people travelling overseas for cosmetic surgeries.

“Lots wouldn’t have the surgery if it wasn’t packaged with a holiday…. It’s part of the whole package,” Jones said in a recent interview on the ABC.

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“It’s packaged affordably in terms of a holiday, in terms of having a whole lot of fun, in terms of being with a group of your girlfriends, or being with a group of unknown young women who will become your friends, and being with a very experienced kind of guide or agent…. And if you look at these agents websites you’ll see that absolutely their biggest target market is these young women going to Thailand or Malaysia in groups.”

Group discount? Probably.

But Jones, who is currently completing a research project into cosmetic tourism, says the price and promise of a holiday aren’t the only factors influencing thousands of people to pay thousands of dollars to let someone in a foreign country cut their tummies/breasts/faces.

She says that while there are some scammers out there, most providers are highly ethical. Jones said that many overseas surgeons are as well qualified as the surgeons in Australia and that many have actually trained in the West.

cosmetic-tourism
Would you take the risk?

“It is an industry that I think is in the process of maturing, and I hope in the process of becoming more ethical.”

“People nowadays have done their research, they know exactly what they want and they really see the surgeons as highly skilled technicians who will do what I say.”

But the question of what happens if something goes wrong remains.

Presumably, if it’s in the first 10 or so days while you’re still in the country the surgery was performed in, you’d be fine. But what about if something happens weeks or months later?

Well, that’s exactly why the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons says Australians shouldn’t go there. This is from Fairfax:

The president of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, Associate Professor Rodney Cooter, says there are risks involved with travelling overseas for surgery.

“Complications can occur even with the best surgery,” says Dr Cooter. “Recuperation can take a long time. We monitor some patients for 18 months after surgery.”

Dr Cooter acknowledges complications can arise from surgery conducted anywhere but says having it done in Australia is the safest option.

Understandably, Australian surgeons aren’t happy with cosmetic surgery tourism, says Dr Jones.

“They like to contribute to scare campaigns about cosmetic surgery abroad … What they fail to mention, however, is they are also constantly fixing up botched jobs done by each other,” she says.

For the record, I’m not in the market for a boob job.

My Googling was all for the purposes of research. But I will take the 10 nights in Bangkok.

So. Would you ever think about doing it? Maybe not for a boob job, but what about dental work?

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