Healthcare in Mexico: Overview of Costs and Plans Available

By Don Murray

If you are like most, one of your primary concerns when considering a move outside the U.S, will be healthcare. Fortunately, you will find, in general, healthcare in Mexico is very good…and in many places it is excellent. Many doctors and dentists in Mexico received at least part of their training in the U.S. (And many U.S. doctors have trained in Mexico, notably in Guadalajara and Mexico City.) Many of them continue to go to the U.S. or Europe for ongoing training.

Every medium to large city in Mexico has at least one first-rate hospital. And a big plus is that the cost of healthcare in Mexico is generally half or less than what you might expect to pay in the U.S. The same goes for prescription drugs. Prescription drugs manufactured in Mexico cost, on average, about 30% to 60% less than the same drugs in the U.S.

Indeed, healthcare in Mexico is good news for expats and future expats. That said, the medical care system is entirely different from what one has experienced in the U.S. so be prepared to go through a learning curve to participate in and negotiate the system. The primary difference and one that is usually quite obvious, is that the care system is not profit driven. Decisions for your care and well-being are not filtered through or guided by any profit motive. Doctors take plenty of time with you and a large number still perform house visits for patients.

Mexico’s national healthcare system is made up of two primary paths. The IMSS system is part of the national Social Security process and was designed for employees across the country. Employees and employers are mandated to contribute to the IMSS plan every month and those funds are augmented by funds from the Federal Government.

Expats, those who hold either Temporary or Permanent residency status, are also permitted to apply for the IMSS program under the voluntary participation process. You may begin the application process online or by visiting a local IMSS office in your community. Be prepared to negotiate this unfamiliar process in Spanish, filling out multiple forms. Those not fluent in Spanish are advised to bring an interpreter to assist and don’t be surprised if it takes multiple visits to complete the registration process.

Participation costs depend on age. For those aged 50 to 59 it costs about $40 per month per person. For people 60 to 69 it is $56 per month, 70 to 79 it is $58 per month, and 80+ pays $60 per month. The rates change yearly (only slightly).

The bad news is that many pre-existing conditions will prohibit you from participating in the IMSS program. Such conditions include but are not limited to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and addictions. Other pre-existing conditions may permit enrollment after a waiting period. Nearly all treatment is provided at no cost once you’ve paid your fee, including medications in the IMSS program.

The second option for participating in Mexico’s national healthcare program is Instituto del Salud para el Bienestar. INSABI was established to provide for those who are not able to participate in the IMSS program for financial reasons and for those with pre-existing conditions, thereby ensuring medical coverage for all citizens legal residents. There is no cost.

INSABI is an entirely different system from IMSS and has its own set of rules and procedures as well as its own clinics and participating hospitals throughout Mexico. While the IMSS Program is mandated for employees and employers´ participation (as well as those who voluntarily participate), INSABI accepts all without concern for pre-existing conditions. This encompasses the unemployed and chronically ill. Again, expats who hold either permanent or temporary residency may seek treatment.

There is no need to register or apply. You simply go to an INSABI facility with your residence card and CURP (a unique number that the Mexican government gives to all citizens and residents).

To be sure, INSABI facilities are quite basic. IMSS clinics and hospitals are a step above. In both cases, expect lines and long wait times.

Finally, expats may choose to self-insure, paying out-of-pocket for all routine expenses while maintaining funds or a credit card balance sufficient to handle medical emergencies.

Mexico’s hospital system is a mix of government operated hospitals and clinics blended with private hospitals and virtually all will quote the cost of treatment in advance. No surprise huge bills at the end and costs must be paid before leaving the hospital. For elective procedures, payment is generally paid up front. Again, no surprises and surgeries and procedures generally cost about a third of the price north of the border.

Many doctors speak English as they have often experienced some significant training in the States. The quality of care is generally excellent. The one area of significant difference is in hospital nursing care. In government hospitals, friends and family are expected to provide general bedside care, including meal service. Professional nursing staff is light. Modern equipment is plentiful in bigger cities and such things as cardiac and brain surgery are commonplace with good results. Mexico now has a thriving medical tourism business as the cost for surgical procedures is usually around one third the cost of the same procedure in the States. Private hospitals usually provide a nursing experience more similar to what you would find in the States.

Mexican Healthcare Is Excellent and Affordable

At the time of this writing, Mexico’s president has declared that he intends to improve and remake the healthcare system to be more inclusive and cost fewer dollars. No changes as of yet, however.

Here are a few examples of typical fees charged for services and procedures in Mexico if paid out-of-pocket. Prices will vary according to location and your particular medical needs:

Treatment Type Price U.S. $
Routine Doctor Visit $40 to $50
Routine Dental Exam $40 to $50
Specialist Exam $50 to $75
Complete Blood Work $50 to $80
X-Ray $24 to $30
MRI $300 to $500
Dental Cleaning $30 to $35
Standard Filling $45 to $50
Dental Extraction $50 to $55
Single Implant $700 to $900
Crown $400 to $450
Dentures $350