If you’ve ever considered a move across the southern border, you may wonder what healthcare in Mexico is like for expats. While in many ways, the Mexican system is much friendlier than the U.S. healthcare system — so much so that Americans cross the border to get healthcare — there are still a lot of things you need to know.
What kind of healthcare system does Mexico have? Can you get insurance there as a resident, or while doing business in Mexico? What is the IMSS, or Seguro Popular, and how do those apply to you as a non-citizen? When it comes to medical care, south of the border, understanding your options is essential.
Mexico Healthcare System Facts
When many Americans think of Mexico, they think of a poverty-stricken country that people are trying to escape. While that might be true in some cases, primarily because of corruption, Mexico is a cosmopolitan 21st-century country and its healthcare system reflects that.
There are thousands of healthcare facilities throughout the country, about one-third of which belong to the taxpayers. Most healthcare providers in Mexico received at least part of their education in the United States, Canada or Europe. Finding an English speaking doctor should not be a problem.
Does Mexico have free healthcare?
Mexico has universal healthcare coverage, but not necessarily free coverage. Mexico has two public healthcare systems. The largest is the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), which is similar to our Social Security. Everyone who works full time receives coverage by the IMSS (more on that in a bit).
The second is Seguro Popular. Think of it like Medicaid or Medicare; only it’s available to all people who aren’t covered under IMSS and can’t afford private insurance. If you are an expat and you work, the IMSS will cover you. If you are a retired expat, or you are self-employed, you will be covered under Seguro Popular, but only after registering as a resident of Mexico.
Mexican healthcare costs for expats
If your Mexico visit is less than 180 days, and you don’t have a job, you will not need to apply for a resident visa. On the flip side, you won’t qualify for public insurance, so your best option is international health insurance.
If you move to Mexico for a job, you will receive coverage through IMSS. During the first year, however, you will have to forgo any surgeries or other procedures. IMSS only covers doctor visits during that time. Medications, operations, medical supplies, and hospital visits are all paid out of pocket. After day 365, though, everything is covered.
The cost of IMSS is only about $400 per year, with a deductible of about $800 per diagnosis. For an accident, the deductible is only about $250 per incident. In other words, if you have diabetes, IMSS covers all your related doctor visits and medications under the roughly $800 deductible. If you break a leg, IMSS covers the x-rays and all follow-ups under the $250 deductible.
Those expats who aren’t working and who have limited income may qualify for Seguro Popular once they have a resident visa. Seguro Popular is charged on a sliding scale, based on income.
Expats can also choose private insurance for healthcare in Mexico, but it’s relatively expensive. On average, you can expect to pay $1,700 annually with a $5,000 deductible for private insurance.
Even if you choose to pay for healthcare out of pocket, it’s about half the cost of healthcare in the United States.
Healthcare in Mexico for tourists
Healthcare providers in Mexico do not accept U.S. insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. If you plan a trip to Mexico, you should purchase international insurance. The rates vary, depending on how long you plan on staying, your chosen deductibles, whether you’re a student, the amount of coverage, etc. Plans start as low as about $50 per month, but that’s with very high deductibles and very low coverage.
If you are relatively young and healthy and feel you can do without for a bit, remember that healthcare in Mexico is about half the cost as here in the United States, in fact, it’s often less. As a matter of fact, Mexico is a tourist destination for people seeking less expensive medical care.
Medical tourism in Mexico
For those who are poor, or even middle class in the United States, healthcare can be a luxury. That’s why there’s a booming tourism industry in Mexico for Americans looking for affordable healthcare.
American tourists use the private healthcare system, not the public, so they don’t overburden the system. Some who live close to the border, seek healthcare in Mexico for checkups, where they can save more than half. Others go for more complicated procedures. Weight loss surgeries, for example, can cost one-fourth of what they charge in the United States.
What is the IMSS?
Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) is similar to our Social Security Administration. It is one of two pillars of the public health system. IMSS benefits are available to all people who work full-time in the private sector. The government covers employees under the Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers.
The plans are quite affordable, at least by American standards, with premiums of about $400 per year. IMSS beneficiaries can visit any of about 800 public hospitals across the country.
One problem with IMSS is that it does not cover many preexisting conditions for up to a year.
What is Seguro Popular?
Seguro Popular is the second pillar of public healthcare in Mexico. About 55 million people, mostly the poor, are covered. Similar to the Medicaid expansion in the Affordable Care Act in the United States, the federal government implements the program and collects the premiums, but the premiums are transferred to the states. The states then provide the healthcare services. Seguro Popular charges based on a sliding scale, depending on income.
Private Health Care in Mexico
If you don’t qualify for public insurance coverage in Mexico, or if you find public coverage lacking for your needs, another option is private insurance. The cost and benefits of private health insurance vary from plan to plan. Here are three of the major providers:
Beware that not all hospitals accept all plans, so check with your local hospital before choosing a plan.
Can You Trust Medical Care in Mexico?
Is healthcare in Mexico as good or better than healthcare in the United States? It depends upon your perspective, and more specifically, your finances. For those who can afford it, the United States has some of the best facilities and best doctors in the world. The problem is that few can afford the best and many Americans can’t afford healthcare at all.
Training between Mexican and American doctors is somewhat similar, but many doctors in Mexico are quite young because medical training starts right out of high school. As mentioned earlier, most conduct some of their studies in the United States, Canada, or Europe. The problems start after a doctor has been practicing for a while, though. In the United States, doctors are required to attend continuing education. In Mexico, they are not. Overall outcomes are somewhat better in the United States, but probably not good enough to overcome the cost discrepancies. Because of accessibility, Mexico’s healthcare system is ranked above ours.
You can check qualifications, though, through sites like Registro Nacional de Profesionistas, where you can check a doctor’s credentials. You can look for current board certifications, and recertifications, through Consejo Mexicano de Cardiología. Up to date certifications are required in all government certified hospitals, both public and private.
Best Medical Facilities in Mexico
Hospitals throughout Mexico are cashing in on America’s healthcare crisis. Many are going above and beyond to attract American expats and medical tourists. They have top-of-the-line facilities and plenty of English speaking doctors and staff members. Some are affiliated with renowned American hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic.
Hospital Angeles in Tijuana, for example, takes advantage of its proximity to San Diego (about 25 minutes). About half their patients are American and all of their procedures are a package. In other words, the hospital will never nickel and dime you to death.
For a complete list of the best Mexican hospitals, click here.
Some Last Thoughts
Whether you’re planning a move to Mexico or a trip just for healthcare, it’s worth checking out what Mexico has to offer. No, the healthcare is not free for Americans, or for Mexicans, but it is far cheaper than the offerings in the United States. Just be sure to do your homework. Find a certified physician in a reputable facility. Odds are, you won’t have to break the bank to get the healthcare you need.