Can US citizens get healthcare in Mexico?
The answer is a definite yes.
But there are a few things you should know about how it all works. This article will go over the ins and outs of Mexico’s medical system so you can make the best decisions when it comes to your healthcare in Mexico.
Let’s get cracking…
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Medical Tourism in Mexico
According to Patients Beyond Borders, as many as 1 million Americans travel to Mexico every year for medical and dental care. And that’s just an estimate since a lot of medical travel is private.
The reason so many people travel to Mexico for medical treatment is not just because it’s more affordable, but because the quality of care is also 5 stars. Yes, the savings can be up to 70%, but if the care is terrible or unsafe, none of that matters. Therefore, it’s essential to do your research because the quality of healthcare varies by location and hospital, just as it does in the US.
But the bottom line is that nearly 1 million Americans can’t be wrong. So, Mexico’s medical care must be pretty damn good.
Let’s dive deeper into healthcare in Mexico for US citizens.
Mexico Health Care Facts
- There are public and private healthcare sectors available in Mexico. Each sector has its own doctors and hospitals. However, unless you have private health insurance, you can’t go to the private hospitals unless you pay out of pocket.
- There is universal healthcare so everyone in Mexico can receive medical treatment.
- Pharmacies are divided into two classes. One is allowed to dispense prescribed narcotics, and the other is not.
- The best hospitals in the country are in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Merida and Monterrey. All four cities have internationally acclaimed hospitals. If you are in a rural area, you may have to get to one of these cities for the best care.
- Many Mexican dentists and doctors are US or European-trained, which means many speak English.
An Overview of Mexico’s Healthcare System
There are 3 tiers of healthcare in Mexico: public and free, public but not free, and private.
Let me explain…
Public and Free
INSABI (Instituto de Salud para el Bienestar/Institute of Health for Wellbeing) is similar to Medicaid in the US. It provides medical treatment for anyone who needs it and can’t afford it any other way. It’s a safety net for people who are down on their luck.
Public but Not Free
The next level, IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social/Mexican Institute of Social Security), is similar to Medicare.
If you are a US citizen and are employed in Mexico, your employer will process it for you and contribute to it monthly.
If you are self-employed or retired in Mexico, you can still get IMSS coverage, but you’ll have to apply and pay into the system yourself. And all the forms are in Spanish, so you’d better have a local friend, hire a translator, or be fluent.
If you are on INSABI or IMSS, you’ll receive the same level of treatment from the same doctors. The only difference is that INSABI is for the less fortunate who need a helping hand, and IMSS is for the working public.
Public Hospitals and Medical Facilities in Mexico
Public hospitals in Mexico are good, but not as fabulous as private hospitals.
To get an appointment in the public sector, you must get in line in the early morning and wait for an appointment, which could be anytime that day. According to the INSP (National Institute of Public Health), the average wait time for a non-emergency surgery is about 14 weeks.
In rural areas, the hospitals aren’t as good and lack some essential equipment. Therefore, people are often sent to large cities for care. As a result, those hospitals can be overcrowded and have waitlists to see specialists.
This is the category frequented by most expats and middle to upper-class Mexicans. According to the Mexican government’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 61% of all hospitals in Mexico are private. That’s 40% more than in the US.
You can only receive medical treatment at a private healthcare facility if you have private health insurance or plan to pay out of pocket.
For more in-depth info on these 3 tiers, read Health Insurance for Expats in Mexico.
Private Health Insurance
You can choose from two options for private health insurance: local or international insurance.
International insurance covers you around the world. And local Mexican insurance covers you only in Mexico. There is a significant difference in prices, and as you can imagine, international insurance costs much more. But if you are a traveler, it might be the way to go.
If you have private insurance through any source, you can access the country’s best hospitals, doctors, and dentists.
You’ll also have little to no wait times compared to the public sector. And even though it’s the best care in Mexico, it’ll still be far more affordable than the same medical care in the US.
Private hospitals in Mexico have the best of the best. The best staff, the best equipment, and the latest technology.
If you are admitted, you’ll have access to a private room if you want one.
Private hospitals are rarely overcrowded or understaffed. As a result, the doctors have fewer patients and generally give you more time and attention than those working in the public sector.
Credit Cards Accepted
Unless it’s an emergency, you will have to prove your ability to pay. So, if you are admitted to a hospital, you’ll have to show proof of insurance and or a credit card to cover the costs.
Hospitals can refuse you if you can’t guarantee payment. They may ask you to sign a credit card voucher until your proof of insurance is in place. Even if you have health insurance, they may still want a copy of your credit card until your coverage details are confirmed.
And before you are discharged, all the bills must be settled either by you or your health insurance company.
Pharmacies and Medicines in Mexico
Pharmacies, or farmacias, are everywhere in Mexico. Literally. There might be 4 on one city block. And each one of them could have the same medicine at different costs, but they’ll all be cheaper than in the US.
Some have clinics attached to them with doctors available for medical consultations and care—think CVS Minute Clinics. You wouldn’t go there for emergency care or something serious. Still, it’s a no-brainer for things like a sinus infection or diarrhea.
Theoretically, some meds are only available by prescription, just as in the US. However, that is not always adhered to. Some pharmacies will sell you antibiotics without an RX. Others won’t. The same goes for stronger meds like Ambien or Valium.
Some pharmacies only sell generics. They are called Farmacias Similares. However, there has been some controversy surrounding them because the source of their medications is sometimes unclear. Therefore, if it’s a prescription medicine, try to get the real deal from a regular pharmacy or one of the bigger, most established pharmacy chains like Farmacia Guadalajara or Farmacia Benavides and skip the Farmacias Similares.
How Much Does Health Care Cost in Mexico?
It really depends on where you are, but generally, the prices are 25-70% less than in the US. Here are a few examples with a private doctor:
|$40 to $50
|$50 to $75
|$30 to $50
Keep in mind that these are with a private doctor, so they are more expensive than if you went to a public doctor.
said written, if you just walk into a clinic attached to a pharmacy, it’ll cost much less. It could be just a few dollars to see a doctor.
The Final Bandage
Moving to another country is already daunting enough. And navigating a new health care system can be equally as stressful. However, now you have all the needed tools to negotiate the Mexican healthcare system easily and smoothly.
There are more than 1.5 million American expats in Mexico, more than any other country. Those numbers wouldn’t be that high if the healthcare in Mexico for Americans wasn’t affordable and excellent. Hopefully, you won’t need to use the medical system a lot, but if you do, you can feel confident you’ll be getting the best of the best.
Want to read more about retirement in Mexico? Check out all our resources here.