Healthcare in Mexico: A guide to the Mexican healthcare system

21.11.17
7 minute read
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While healthcare and insurance in Mexico can seem tough to grasp, in reality the country’s private and public health programs are highly accessible for citizens and residents alike. More importantly, the quality of healthcare is high, and likelihood of finding a doctor who can treat you in your native language is greatly increased thanks to the significant number of Mexican doctors who go to medical school in the US and Europe.

This guide will look at the different health care services, the various medical coverage options available, and how they’re provided for each patient.

Quick facts on the Mexican healthcare system

In Mexico, both public and private healthcare plans come with their own doctors, pharmacies, physicians and health care centers. All these operate independently, and people are generally only able to use health services within their network.

Public, private or universal healthcare in Mexico?

The private healthcare system is the best in Mexico, but it’s also the most expensive. If you’re a citizen traveling from the United States, you’re likely to incur more charges. Care in such a system is paid using health insurance services. Sufficiently covered individuals get the best services. The doctors often speak English and they’re also well-qualified. Additionally, they have top-notch health facilities with up-to-date services and equipment.

Average cost of an emergency room visit

In general, health care costs vary widely depending on the doctor, hospital or the magnitude of the situation. However, you can expect to pay a basic sum of between 350-500 pesos for a visit to the doctor. (That’s about US$18-25).

Average cost of a doctor’s visit

A trip to the doctor’s office will run you roughly the same amount as a trip to the emergency room -- about 400 pesos (US$20). It’s worth noting an added perk, however, which is that doctors making house calls is relatively common in some parts of the country.

Number of pharmacies

Pharmacies in Mexico are broken into 2 basic groups: segunda clase and primera clase. Segunda class stores are incredibly common, both in big cities and small towns, however this group isn’t allowed to sell regulated medicines. Medicines are labeled as regulated when they pose a high risk of abuse.

Primera clase pharmacies, on the other hand, can be a little harder to find; but you’ll be able to pick up any drug you have a prescription for.

Number of hospitals

The best hospitals in Mexico are in Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara. Hence, for any major medical treatment, it’s best to travel to any of these places. Your insurance company should provide a comprehensive list of all the hospitals that offer services to their customers. That being said, talking with colleagues and friends is still the best way of finding a doctor you like and trust.

Population percentage covered by health insurance

Mexico has several health Insurance companies offering monthly premiums and private medical coverage. In the awful situation that you or a family member falls ill or is critically injured, the medical company moves in to cover all or some portion of your expenses. While it’s not technically illegal to not carry insurance in Mexico, it’s frowned upon to not be insured.

Average cost of healthcare in Mexico

In general, the healthcare system in Mexico is quite affordable, especially for those covered by health insurance. That being said, all services do come with a cost, and depending on the quality of your health insurance plan any visit to a doctor could pose some out-of-pocket costs for you.

Is healthcare free in Mexico?

Medical service in Mexico Average cost
Doctor consultation services and house calls 500 pesos maximum or US$45
Lab test services A third of the United States CAT scan prices, normally 25% of what you’d pay in the US
In patient services (patients spending the night) Mostly less than US$100
Teeth cleaning at the dentist Around US$28
A visit to the Optician Free eye examinations

In the major Mexican cities, you’re likely to get some excellent medical care services, especially for serious medical conditions. Those services include major surgeries or dialysis at only a fraction of what most people pay in the United States and in some parts of Europe.

If you’re looking to spend some time in Mexico for health reasons, or even make the move there

Mexico medical system: Public, private, universal, national, state, single payer, which is it?

The health care in Mexico focuses on a 3-tier type of system.

A public, national medical healthcare service for those employed

A social health security system covers employees in the private and public sectors. If you work for a Mexican company, you directly qualify for medical coverage under the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS). Typically the cost of your coverage will come directly out of your paycheck.

An essential healthcare coverage for the unemployed Mexicans

In Mexico, the Ministry of Health takes key measures by creating a suitable system that ensures the unemployed citizens get adequate medical attention. If you’re unemployed but don’t qualify for government healthcare support, you may buy private health insurance.

An expensive private system

Most health insurance is covered by employers and, as a result, the private insurance system can feel astronomically costly in comparison.

Although private plans can be expensive, you can cut down on the cost of paying for your insurance from abroad by using TransferWise. TransferWise gives you the real rate, the same one you’d find on Google, which means you won’t run into the hefty, hidden 4-5% markups that banks and transfer services often hide in spreads. Which means, in the end, that you should cut way down on international transfer fees.

Signing up for the healthcare system

Signing up healthcare in Mexico is pretty easy for those who qualify for IMSS. Here are the two steps you need to follow:

  • You have to be fully and formally employed in the country. Here, your employer makes the necessary deductions to your salary to ensure that the IMSS services are fully covered.
  • The second step is through voluntary enrollment. It’s usually open to those who aren’t enrolled in formal employment as well as those who just choose optional services. Some good examples include retired foreign residents living in Mexico.

In case of an emergency in Mexico

You don’t have to be registered with a general practitioner to receive emergency services in Mexico. The emergency services include Medical evacuations when a patient has a catastrophic illness. Some examples include vehicle accidents, cardiac arrests, and strokes.

Hospitals in Mexico

It’s important to know which hospitals support your insurance. Most of those details should be available online or even on your insurance card. It’s important to remember that private hospitals and clinics are costly; and going to an out-of-network healthcare facility could cost you an arm and a leg.

Doctors and specialists in Mexico

As a foreigner, language is a fundamental problem that many visitors and expats face when it comes to seeking medical services. Through the ministry of health, foreigners can now seek the services of expert translators if needed, though finding a doctor with a grasp of English may not prove too difficult.

Finding a GP/ Family doctor in Mexico

Getting an English-speaking doctor is quite easy; all you have to do is to call your home consulate office. Friends, neighbors and colleagues may also be able to help greatly in this process. In case you’re visiting for leisure, you may find your hotel concierge or airbnb host has a good recommendation for health services in the area.

Specialists in Mexico

There are many medical professionals in Mexico covering everything from emergency services to vision and dental. You can find specialists through personal recommendations, through hospitals or recommending doctors, or online. Because specialists are often in high demand, you may have to wait a week or more to get an appointment.

Health insurance cost and plans

Health insurance premiums have been on the gradual rise in Mexico over the past couple of years. Experts attribute this to the higher costs of medicine and hospital fees, as well as the improved cost of living. As such, employer-sponsored coverage through IMSS is a popular choice throughout the country. If you’re not able to get coverage through your job, it’s important to shop around and closely compare plans in order to choose one that suits you and your family’s needs.

Temporary health insurance for companies in Mexico

If you’re only planning to be in Mexico temporarily, you can check out some companies that offer short-term insurance, including:

More likely, however, you’ll just maintain your insurance in your home country and supplement it with travel insurance. Travel insurance will help you cover costs if there’s an emergency and even help you get home if something goes wrong, but it won’t cover routine doctor’s visits or non-emergency vision or dental.

Useful medical phrases in Mexico

Navigating healthcare in your native language can be a bear, let alone in one you’re not as familiar with. Though it’s fairly easy to work with a translator or find an English-speaking doctor, you may want to keep a few Spanish phrases in your belt in case of emergency. Some useful terms to know include:

Medical term Spanish translation
accident accidente
ambulance ambulancia
broken bone huesos rotos
dentist dentista
doctor doctor
emergency emergencia
heart attack infarto
hospital hospital
medical bill factura médica
medical insurance seguro médico
pharmacy farmacia
prescription prescripción
stroke derrame cerebral
dialysis diálisis

Useful links

Most healthcare and health insurance information can be found on the IMSS website. Unfortunately the site isn’t available in English. However, if you access it from Google Chrome you may be able to automatically translate it. Alternatively, you can work with a Spanish-speaking friend or translator to help you mine the site for information.

Enjoy your time in Mexico - and stay safe!

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