International patients are not all medical tourists


The number of international migrants globally reached 272 million in 2019, an increase of 51 million since 2010.  International migrants comprise 3.5% of the global population, compared to 2.8% in 2000, according to 2019 figures from the United Nations.

The International Migrant Stock 2019 provides the latest numbers of international migrants by age, sex and origin for all countries and areas of the world. The estimates are based on official national statistics on the foreign-born or the foreign population obtained from population censuses, population registers or nationally representative surveys.

In 2019, regionally, Europe hosts the largest number of international migrants (82 million), followed by Northern America (59 million) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (49 million).

At the country level, about half of all international migrants reside in just 10 countries, with the USA hosting the largest number of international migrants (51 million). Germany and Saudi Arabia host the second and third largest numbers of migrants (13 million each), followed by the Russian Federation (12 million), the UK (10 million), the UAE (9 million), France, Canada and Australia (8 million each) and Italy (6 million).

Concerning their place of birth, one-third of all international migrants originate from only ten countries, with India as the lead country of origin, accounting for 18 million persons living abroad. Migrants from Mexico constituted the second largest “diaspora” (12 million), followed by China (11 million), the Russian Federation (10 million) and the Syrian Arab Republic (8 million).

The share of international migrants in total population varies considerably across geographic regions, with the highest proportions recorded in Oceania (including Australia and New Zealand - 21.2%) and Northern America (16.0%) and the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean (1.8%), Central and Southern Asia (1.0%) and Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (0.8%).

Most international migrants move between countries located within the same region.  A majority of international migrants in sub-Saharan Africa (89%), Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (83%), Latin America and the Caribbean (73%), and Central and Southern Asia (63 %) originated from the region in which they reside. By contrast, most of the international migrants who lived in Northern America (98%), Oceania (88%) and Northern Africa and Western Asia (59%) were born outside their region of residence.

Between 2010 and 2017, the global number of refugees and asylum seekers increased by 13 million, accounting for close to a quarter of the increase in the number of all international migrants.  Northern Africa and Western Asia hosted 46% of the global number of refugees and asylum seekers, followed by sub-Saharan Africa (21%).

Three out of every four international migrants are of working age (20-64 years). In 2019, 202 million international migrants, equivalent to 74% of the global migrant population, were between the ages of 20 and 64. More than three quarters of international migrants were of working age in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, Europe and Northern America.

The high level 2019 figures, according to UN DESA, are:

  • The total number of international migrants: 272 million
  • International migrant stock as a percentage of the total population: 3.5% 
  • Proportion of female migrants of the international immigrant stock: 47.9% 
  • Total number of emigrants: 251.6 million
  • Percentage of international migrants 19 years and younger: 13.9% 
  • Percentage of international migrants 65 years and older: 11.8%

A further 5 million international students and 70 million working expatriates should also be added to this total, all of whom could be considered “international patients”.  

IMTJ’s Medical Travel and Tourism Global Market Report provides a realistic assessment of the global number of medical travellers per year: it certainly does not equal the numbers of foreign patients being treated outside their home country.



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