Travel Surgery Patients Stranded Due to New Look

Plastic surgery tourism, the act of traveling to a foreign country to undergo lower-cost plastic surgery procedures, is on the incline. According to Patients Beyond Borders (PBB), the number of Americans traveling abroad to undergo plastic surgery procedures is increasing by about 15 to 20 percent a year. In fact, PBB estimates 1.4 million Americans will travel abroad for medical procedures, including plastic surgery, in 2017, despite warnings from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons about the increased risk of complications from doing so.

Complications from surgery tourism can include everything from increased risk of infection to unhappiness with surgical results. But a trio of women from China experienced another unanticipated complication to their trip: a travel detainment. When the women attempted to return to China following facial procedures in South Korea, they were stopped by airport security and forbidden from returning home – all because their faces no longer matched their passport photos.

Dr. Bruce Chau of Chau Plastic Surgery in Berkley, Michigan, say while this type of complication is rare, it can be a potential nightmare.

“In this day and age of heightened security, the pressure really is on airport security guards to make sure the person they’re letting on the plane matches the person in the passport photo,” he says. “If your face is too swollen to be recognizable, the guard is doing the right thing by preventing you from boarding.”

This of course can cause major problems for the patient who may not be able to afford to extend their accommodations until they are recognizable and may not be able to navigate their way to an embassy for assistance.

“My advice is for Americans to avoid traveling abroad for plastic surgery,” says Chau. “But if you do, at least avoid traveling for facial procedures. That, and if you’ve have a facial procedure done since you last updated your passport photo, consider getting your photo redone to avoid a similar problem, even if you’re just traveling for pleasure.”