India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and many other countries market themselves as major destinations for ‘medical tourism’. Health-related travel, once promoted by individual medical facilities such as Bumrungrad International Hospital and Bangkok International Hospital, is now driven by government agencies, public–private partnerships, private hospital associations, airlines, hotel chains, investors and private equity funds, and medical brokerages. ‘Medical tourists’ include patients trying to avoid treatment delays and obtain timely access to health care. Medical travellers also include uninsured Americans and other individuals unable to afford health care in their home settings. Destination nations regard medical tourism as a resource for economic development. However, attracting patients to countries such as India and Thailand could increase regional economic inequalities and undermine health equity. International medical travel might also have unintended, undesired outcomes for patients seeking affordable health care. With globalization, increasing numbers of patients are leaving their home communities in search of orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmologic care, dental surgery, cardiac surgery and other medical interventions. Reductions in health benefits offered by states and employers will likely increase the number of individuals looking for affordable medical care in a global market of privatized, commercial health care delivery.