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Medical / Dental Tourism in Mexico and Beyond

Safety in Numbers

Last year (2015), 1.2 million to 1.4 million American medical and dental tourists traveled to Mexico and elsewhere to get safe and affordable plastic surgery, anti-aging treatment, dental work, and other health care procedures.

Judging by data from ministries of health and hospitals around the world, the number of Americans benefitting from the highly competent dentists, doctors, and surgeons in Mexico and beyond has been increasing by an average of 23% per year for the last 10 years.

And these figures do not include Canadians, Europeans, and others visiting Mexico for everything from stem cell therapy and HGH therapy and anti-aging treatment to dentures and facelifts.

The patients who take a medical or dental vacation in Mexico and other nations together spend up to $55 billion annually and that figure, too, is growing at 15 to 25 percent a year.

This is medical/dental tourism in Mexico and other low-cost countries. That is, residents of America and Canada visit foreign doctors and clinics in Mexico and elsewhere in order to save hundreds or thousands of dollars on improving their health, while, if so inclined, also enjoying a vacation in an exotic culture and an ideal climate.

Of the nations that have become destinations for medical and dental tourists, Mexico is the most popular with Americans and Canadians for the obvious reason: proximity! Mexico is the closest, most familiar, and least expensive travel destination. Further, medical tourists can find whatever procedure they're looking for—quality dental work, safe plastic surgery, affordable anti-aging—and take a medical or dental vacation in a tropical setting. A win/win for both the body and the wallet.

According to the AARP, at the top of the list of procedures that medical and dental tourists to Mexico and abroad in general seek is dental work, accounting for about a third of all health-related trips. The second most popular procedure that Americans abroad seek, at 29 percent, is surgery, such as coronary-bypass and bariatric operations. About 13 percent of American medical travelers seek cosmetic surgery, and 7 percent get orthopedic procedures such as hip and knee replacements.

indoor marketAjijic Hosts the Largest Farmer's Market in Mexico
"Vacation used to be a luxury, but in today's world it has become a necessity."
author unknown

Savings by the Numbers

shopper in mercadoChapala's Famous Artisan Fair

Of course, the converse is true, too. Rich people in poor nations where standards fall short of those in rich countries travel to developed nations to receive the procedures that only the well-off can afford, whether they're visitors or residents. Thus, they take the places of those who can't afford to stay home for treatment.

For the majority of medical tourists the big draw, typically, are the huge savings made possible by the dramatically lower costs abroad. Compare what doctors charge for the same procedure in Mexico vs. in the US:

  • A neck lift in Mexico would cost about $2,000, compared with $5,000 in the US.

  • A nose reconstructive surgery in Mexico would cost about $2,800 compared with $6,200 in the US.

  • A 2011 report by the OECD found that a heart bypass surgery in Mexico would cost around $4,000, yet the same procedure in the US can cost over $100,000.

Paying so much less does not mean receiving treatment of less competence. Clinics and hospitals in Mexico that charge much less than their counterparts north of the border have the most modern equipment and are staffed by well-trained doctors, many educated in the US or Canada, often linked by accreditations and affiliations with prestigious US and Canadian hospitals. You can find small, well-kept clinics in Mexico outside of big cities where costs are less than half what they would be stateside. Some are run by expat doctors and cater exclusively to Americans. Indeed, you can visit dentists or doctors or surgeons in Mexico who exceed Western standards.

Having Insurance vs.
Having a Vacation

If you're an American with medical insurance, you may not realize the spectacular savings available to others. However, if you're not insured or have a high deductible—$10,000 in the bronze family plan under the new health law—even once you figure in airfare and lodging, you can still save a bundle. And with insurers expanding their loopholes every year—deductible, co-pay, "reasonable and customary", "in-network vs. out-of- network", or any of the other confusing terms—even the insured are now traveling to Mexico and abroad for a medical or dental vacation.

Most medical tourists to Guadalajara and other medical centers pay for their care out of pocket. But not all. Medical costs in the US have gotten so outrageous that some insurance companies and large employers now send their insurees and employees overseas for medical treatment. Doing so, those major corporations save millions. (Somehow, I sense irony in that fact.)

These days, insurers and employers, both public and private, are not only picking up the cost for overseas care, some are even throwing in a cash bonus for the employee. Furthermore, some insurers offer and some businesses purchase plans that cover medical tourism, some of which cover the cost (both travel and lodging!) of your traveling companion. (Ask your boss.) It's almost like the boss paying for a second honeymoon!

pineapple salesDelivered Right to Your Towel
Pre-Columbian CostumesPre-Columbian Costumes

The Body Politic vs.
the Human Body

Wonder Woman store displayBody (Part) Politic

Bigger picture, North Americans traveling to Mexico for lower prices is a mirror image of Mexicans emigrating to America and Canada for higher wages. It's an imbalance that's hard to fix politically but is easily fixed economically.

Experience shows that competition brings down prices. (How much was your new computer?) So, logically, have governments stand up to the:

  • lobbyists for lawyers (who can legally sue even when there is no case, just to settle out of court), and to
  • lobbyists for doctors (remember when the AMA had chiropractors arrested? when they tried to make vitamins a prescription drug?), and to
  • lobbyists for insurers (who don't keep doctors affordable but help inflate costs), and to
  • lobbyists for drug companies (taxpayers fund their research yet pharmaceuticals set the price of prescriptions way above affordable).

Medical costs have been the fastest inflating part of the US economy now for years. Yet Americans don't get what they pay for. If expenses yielded progress in longevity, by now Americans would be living centuries, as long as the prophets in the Bible's Old Testament. Instead, fewer Americans receive care, and progress in lengthening life spans has leveled off. (It was mainly due to progress in public health, not private health, anyway.)

Mexico could accelerate its development. Experience also shows that societies prosper where most people get to own the land upon which they live, even the location where they work. This is not to find moral fault with landlords and lenders but to note that the economic value of whatever they contribute is minimal compared to the value of the real goods and services produced by others, economic historians frustratedly point out (as only very few pay them any attention). Whenever a nation reduces unearned privileges (e.g., insider dealing) and instead enforces universal rights (e.g., owner occupancy), they move to the head of the prosperity class.

OK. Lesson in basic economics over. Back to the present and medical tourism in Mexico and developing nations everywhere.

What You Can Only Get There

While savings is the biggest reason that Americans and Canadians go abroad for medical care, it's not the only reason. They also go to receive treatments that have been prohibited in their home countries. In the past, a law-abiding citizen could not get liposuction, a chiropractor's massage, or laetrile in their native lands. Some of that has changed, but the problem persists. The best doctor in the world, if he or she comes from France or anywhere but Canada, could not legally practice in the States. If you went to see her or him for a medical checkup, you’d both be breaking American law.

As my grandfather, who was a doctor, would point out, without being the least bit cynical, it’s not an issue of patient safety but of doctor profits. If safety were their paramount concern, doctors would never have resisted washing their hands before operating on a patient, and would not now resist running through a checklist at the end of operating on a patient. Imagine if pilots did not run through a checklist every time they flew. You might never step into an airplane. But how else would you get to Mexico?

Another reason, one less traumatic, is the waiting time. In the States, you could get fanny-weary sitting for hours in a doctor's waiting room. In Mexico, you might wait as long as fifteen minutes, at the longest. And sitting beside you, chatting merrily, could be a doctor from the States who also wants to save money!

Gloved Hands in LaboratoryMeeting American Demand

street sceneVisitors relax at Feria Del Maestros

Leaping and Looking

Now that you know so much about medical tourism, how do you get plastic surgery in Mexico? Where can you find affordable reconstructive surgery in Mexico? And take a medical vacation in Mexico?

Medical tourism to India and dental vacations to Costa Rica are likewise growing—as are the costs of getting and staying there. With DocTours, you will likely find everything from face to breast lifts much more affordable. And experience a bit of home away from home.

Feel like a medi-dent getaway? Before and between procedures, you can spend your free time visiting exotic locales and getting to know a foreign culture. Some of our favorites are the outdoor markets; another is the lakeside promenade, with pauses for energizing drinks and exquisite food. Your recovery room is in a friendly house in a walkable town.

Combining fun with treatment really does make sense. Since long flights raise health issues for any traveler, people embarking on medical tourism should fly days in advance of their surgery and stay a week or more afterwards. Besides, having fun is healthy, too!

Before signing on for safe and affordable medical care, affordable dental work, plastic surgery, or anti-aging protocol in Mexico, do ask questions. Ask about our doctors' experience and reputations. Ask about the strictness in following hygiene procedures. Ask all the questions a patient should put to a doctor practicing in Mexico, the States, Canada, or anywhere.

If you enjoy traveling with another, familiarize them with this site, too.