Mexico’s health care ranked 5th worldwide on global retirement index

Health care in Mexico is first rate. Private clinics and hospitals are staffed by expert physicians (many of whom trained in the U.S., Europe, or in Mexico’s own world-renowned teaching hospitals), and medical care and prescription drugs will cost you only a fraction of what you would pay in the U.S.

Every mid-size to large city in Mexico has at least one first-rate hospital. And a big plus is that the cost of health care in Mexico is generally one-half or less 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 50% less than the same drugs cost in the U.S. Of course, the costs of medical care will vary by physician, hospital, and your condition. On average, an office visit with a doctor—specialists included—will cost 250 to 300 pesos (about $20).

A house call (which doctors in Mexico still make) will cost about the same. Lab tests will cost about a third of what they cost in the U.S. A CAT scan often costs about 25% of U.S. prices. An overnight stay in a private hospital room costs about 350 pesos ($26). A visit to a dentist for teeth cleaning costs about 200 pesos ($15).

For medical care, private health insurance in Mexico is half or less than what it costs in the U.S. But for a couple it can still cost $200 or more a month. In addition, private plans usually exclude pre-existing conditions and won’t take new clients who are more than 64 years old.

In Mexico, fortunately, there’s IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, or Mexican Social Security Institute), Mexico’s national health insurance. Once they have their residence visas, a couple can get health insurance coverage—including prescription medicines—through IMSS for a cool $300 each per year.

IMSS: A national health plan that accepts expats

If you’re an expat with a valid residence visa for Mexico, you qualify to get health coverage through IMSS (Instituto Nacional de Seguridad Social), and there’s no age limit for signing up.

IMSS is Mexico’s national health care system. It’s available to all tax-paying Mexicans in the private sector (government employees have a separate medical plan), so it literally serves millions of people. As a result, there are IMSS-related hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies all over Mexico.

IIMSS is roughly modeled on the Canadian and British socialized medical systems. The cost for participating in IMSS is quite low—it runs from about $100 a year for children and adolescents, up to about $300 for those over 60—and it includes medications. IMSS cost is per person rather than a set family rate.

New participants can only sign up at certain times of year—basically January to February and July to August—with coverage starting a few months after sign-up. For expats not paying into IMSS via an employer—the category almost all expats fall into—the entire annual payment is due upfront when you enroll.

In addition, you don’t qualify for all benefits right away—there’s a three-year vesting period. During the first year of coverage, IMSS covers minor illnesses, like colds, flu, and emergency care. By the second year IMSS covers pregnancy and related treatment, and surgeries other than broken bones. Orthopedic care begins in year three. Pre-existing conditions are excluded from coverage, though some may eventually be covered after a waiting period.

The pros. IMSS’s low cost and its availability throughout Mexico make it a great health care “safety net.” One big plus is that it includes medications as well as medical care. Another is the fact that there’s no age limit for initial signup (unlike private plans, which have age limits).

The cons. As with any national health system, waiting times to see a doctor or nurse can be quite long, and in Mexico you don’t get to choose your IMSS doctor. Though medications are free, supply can be limited—which means you may end up having to buy them from private pharmacies. The quality of the medical facilities can vary, as well: Some IMSS hospitals are state-of-the-art, while others have old equipment. And doctors and support staff (nurses, technicians, and orderlies) in IMSS hospitals are less likely to speak English than those in private hospitals and clinics.

Overall, however, IMSS is an excellent option for any expat planning to live in Mexico on a strict budget. It is also a great option for those living part-time in Mexico whose home-country health care plan is not valid in Mexico. At this price point, you can’t go wrong.

What You’ll Pay for IMSS

According to Adriana Pérez Flores, an immigration attorney in the Ajijic/Lake Chapala area, the annual cost by age for IMSS coverage is the following (prices are in pesos):

Birth to age 19: 1,147 pesos

Age 20 to 39: 1,340 pesos

Age 40-59: 2,003 pesos

Age 60 and up: 3,014 pesos

Exchange rate: 13 pesos to the USD

Private health insurance in Mexico

Many expatriates—as well as many middle- and upper-class Mexicans—buy private health insurance. Excellent plans are available from numerous insurance companies.

If you’re living in Mexico, look at a company’s range of Mexico-based insurance plans. These plans provide coverage anywhere in Mexico—and most companies allow you to add a rider insuring you for emergency and catastrophic care outside Mexico. This combination lets you pay for your insurance at the low Mexican rate, while covering you during short visits to your home country, where medical care is more expensive.

(Note: These same companies often offer an “international plan” that provides coverage anywhere in the world. However, unless you’re a jet-setter who genuinely spends most of the time traveling worldwide, this plan probably offers more than you need—and it will cost more.)

Here are some of the largest health insurers in Mexico, with the health care plans they offer that may be most appropriate for expats. However, if you’re interested in a company be sure to check it out thoroughly—in some cases they offer additional plans, or graduated levels within a plan, that may suit your needs better.

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