Healthcare in Chennai for budget slow travelers in early retirement

Chennai is one of India’s largest cities and is commonly referred to as the ‘health capital’ because it has an abundance of hospitals, clinics and doctors – most with high quality, highly specialized care at low costs compared to Western prices. And it’s where we Earth Vagabonds are getting a number of health checks – from a bone density test to an MRI and X-rays, from blood work to a colonoscopy.

My experience so far confirms Chennai is indeed a place where budget slow travelers like us can get quality, affordable health care. How does $48 for a bone density test sound — with same day appointment? How about a $165 colonoscopy scheduled ahead in just four days? I had a gynecologist visit within 24 hours of making the appointment for only $30 — which included a lab fee.

These are a few examples of how easy and affordable health care can be for us early retirees trying to stretch our money to cover our own health care abroad. America is ridiculous.

Granted, there are usually big crowds at private hospitals and doctor offices in Indian mega-cities. The country’s new and growing middle class demands quality health care.

However, in Chennai, we seem to have found a gem: Apollo Spectra Hospitals, MRC Nagar location, on Quibble Island. The island is sort of ‘well-to-do’ and out of the way. This small hospital is tucked into a quiet, affluent neighborhood. Most common specialties are there: orthopedics, urology, gastroenterology, gynecology, ENT, etc. – even dental!

A great perk to a smaller private hospital like this: reception can make an appointment for you as you stand at the counter — almost always for the next day. The Apollo Hospital system also has an online booking option and receptionist chats, and virtual doctor visits, as well.

Be warned: most private hospitals in India can be really crowded with hours-long waits. Apollo Spectra is not normal in this regard. Public hospitals are so swamped, people camp out on the grounds. Not kidding.

Our guide on How to Slow Travel in India (2024 edition) has many more health care examples and much greater detail of how public and private hospitals work.

How do we find these places? And how do we navigate them? We lay it all out in our guide for health care abroad- without travel health insurance.

The Indian Apollo chain isn’t the only game in town. Expats are also welcome at the Gleneagles “Health City” – a massive complex about an hour drive south of Chennai’s city center. Gleneagles is a global hospital network I have experienced in Malaysia for medical tests and broken bones.

Related: itemized medical bill for broken bone reset in Kuala Lumpur

While I’ve had great experiences with the Gleneagles chain, Apollo Spectra MRC Nagar was simply so much closer to where we stayed. It had modern equipment, well-regarded doctors, and clean facilities.

Courtesy: Apollo Spectra Hospitals (MRC Nagar location pictured)

Fun fact: we’ve been in Chennai three weeks as I write this, and I had not seen any Caucasians —- until I saw a couple about our age in the waiting room at Apollo Spectra.

Fun facts about Chennai

Chennai is India’s fifth most populated city (or maybe fourth or sixth) with an estimated population of 11 or 12 million. (The last census was in 2011, when the count was only 4.6 million!)

The city’s original name was Madras, shortened from Madraspatnam by the British. It was renamed Chennai in 1996.

The city has many neighborhoods that are charming for visitors like us, such as Mandaveli (our neighborhood, a traditional Braham ‘hood) and Mylapore (historic city center with tons of temples).

One famous destination for Catholics is St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica, where a crypt has the remains of Thomas the Apostle.

Chennai is polluted – the air is choked with exhaust, some beaches and most rivers are filled with shit.

The concrete creep is real. “Every time I drive this way, there is something new,” said a local man of the ECR area south of the city center. There aren’t many parks in Chennai, with a land area of 426 square kilometers (164.5 square miles).

Chennai has the longest urban beach in India. It’s eight miles long. There’s a beach walkway that goes for 3.7 miles, which I’ve jogged many times at dawn before it gets too hot.

Life is Now – Travel Now

I hope to jog that beach walk more during our remaining weeks in Chennai, since medical tests reveal my knees are in pretty good shape for a middle-aged woman who still gets occasional arthritic pangs from Chikungunya (a mosquito virus I contracted in Mexico eight years ago).

It won’t be as physically easy for most people to retire and travel the world at 65 years old – or older. When we started, I was nearly 44. Now I’m 52.5. If middle age is 40 to 60, I’m over that hump already.

I thank God, my lucky stars, guardian angels, Universal Spirit — whatever name you want to give The Force — that I was able to retire early and travel the world with Tedly while I was so young. And I’m still young-ish!

We say travel now, because Life is Now!

taj mahal trip cost includes a minimum three-hour visit

Ellen’s sobriety date is April 13, 2010. She left the news business in 2015.

During budget slow travel in early retirement with husband Theo, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She had a double mastectomy without reconstruction in Croatia in 2018.

Today she travels the world as a ‘flattie’.

More posts about health care abroad:

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