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Medical Tourism and Free Healthcare Zones In Turkey

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Tourism mentality has been in a change in the world in recent years. The term "medical tourism" as a part of "alternative tourism" has been taking part also in Turkey. Especially the diversity of natural resources such as thermal waters and investments in the medical sector have been the main factors on development of the medical tourism in Turkey. According to the statistics, the number of foreign tourists which have traveled to Turkey for medical purposes has been increasing year for year. It is expected to develop the healthcare tourism in Turkey until 2017.

Legal reforms and incentives in healthcare tourism investments

As is known, the investment amount in medical sector has been increasing in Turkey and healthcare system has been modernized in accordance with the international standards. These developments were not only in healthcare mechanism, but there have also been legal reforms regarding the healthcare tourism. The medical tourism investments are supported within the frame of related legislation. Accordingly, the healthcare organizations and medical tourism companies are supported with the financial incentives concerning market penetration, patient transfer, promotion abroad and other advertising activities. Moreover, due to a legal reform in Corporate Tax Law, the healthcare tourism companies are subject to corporate tax reduction under certain conditions.

Free healthcare zones: A medical tourism project in Turkey and its practice in the world

In order to make Turkey an attractive area also regarding the medical tourism sector and to increase the foreign investments in medical sector in Turkey, the establishment of free healthcare zones has come to the fore since 2011. Free healthcare zones are based on the Free Trade Zones Law and on the Decree Law No. 663 which regulates that the principles and conditions of these zones may be determined by the Council of Ministers. Within the frame of their establishment, the Ministry of Health has been working on the legislation on Free Healthcare Zones. Pursuant to the Report on Free Healthcare Zones, these zones may be divided regarding their subjects such as Medical Tourism and Thermal Tourism. It is expected to provide incentives to the investors in these zones and to provide services especially to foreign visitors.

How may free zones be defined according to the Free Zones Law?

Free zones may be defined as zones that are located in country borders and regarded as outside of customs areas and that are not or partly subject to commercial and financial laws of the related country. As is known, free zones provide numerous advantages to the investors such as tax reductions, tax exemptions, social security prime exemptions, infrastructure facilities, minimized bureaucracy and these zones are accessible to the foreign investors. According to the Foreign Direct Investments Law, foreign and domestic investors are treated equally.

An example for the established free healthcare zones in the world is The Free Healthcare Zones in Dubai. Dubai Healthcare City is the first healthcare zone in the world which has been established in 2002 and has been put into operation in 2006. The main purposes of establishment of these zones have been to develop the real estate sector, to increase the medical investments in these zones.

Future perspectives

It is planned to establish thermal tourism facilities, healthcare towns, healthcare technocities within the frame of these zones. Accordingly, the establishment of such zones will contribute to the development of other sectors at the same time. Moreover, these zones will be established close by the big cities in order to provide easy access for the visitors to these zones. It is planned to enact a related regulation on free healthcare zones and these zones are planned to be established in 2014. If the development potential of Turkey and above-mentioned incentives are regarded, realization of such investment projects will make Turkey an attractive area for foreign and domestic investors also in healthcare tourism sector.

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