Healthcare in Mexico
If you're planning to make Mexico your new home, ¡felicidades! (congratulations!) Countless wonders are waiting for you south of the border, from tamales, telenovelas, and tequila to new friends and stunning weather.
The country also has a thriving community for American expats. A massive 1.5 million US citizens live in Mexico (State Department, 2021) – more than any other country.
But before you make the move to Mexico, it's crucial that you work out what kind of health insurance policy you're going to get.
If you want to join the 10.2 million people in Mexico who have private health coverage, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.
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An overview of Mexico’s healthcare system
There are three tiers of healthcare in Mexico, which on January 1 2020 joined most countries in the world – though of course, not the US – in implementing a universal healthcare system.
The tiers are, put simply: public and free, public and not free, and private.
Let’s have a look through them, in that order.
The Tamul waterfall at in San Luis Potosi is a stunning shade of blue
The public, free option
The first is Mexico’s public healthcare offering, the Instituto Nacional de Salud para el Bienestar (INSABI), which replaced the Seguro Popular scheme at the start of 2020.
In making this change, Mexico left the US as one of only three countries in the Americas – along with Haiti and Suriname – which don’t have universal healthcare.
Seguro Popular, which launched in 2004, charged its recipients fees, and often forced expats in particular to go through a lengthy sign-up process.
INSABI, on the other hand, provides all the medical services you’ll need, for free, without any need to sign up. It’s a safety net for those who can’t afford to access healthcare any other way.
You can use INSABI if you don’t receive social security from the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) or assistance from the Institute for Social Security and Services for State Workers (ISSSTE), which helps federal employees with disability, old age, and death.
This means that if you lose your job while you’re in Mexico – and with it, your automatic IMSS privileges – you should still be fully covered under INSABI, which is comforting.
All you’ll need to do is present either your birth certificate or your Unique Population Registry Code (CURP), which is an identity number given to every resident of Mexico.
The national insurance option
If INSABI is similar to Medicaid – in that it helps people who are down on their luck, for free – then this middle tier is more like Medicare.
It relies on two national insurance programs: IMSS and ISSSTE. If you have a job in Mexico, you’ll be able to rely on the IMSS – unless you have a federal role, in which case you can look to the ISSSTE.
Your employer will process the payments for you. As of 2020, IMSS payments for sickness and maternity insurance come to 0.625% of your monthly earnings, plus 0.4%.
For disability and life insurance, you’ll part with an additional 0.625%. These payments are capped at $1,058 per month.
If you’re self-employed, unemployed, or retired, you can still choose to get IMSS coverage, as long as you make the relevant payments.
INSABI, IMSS, and ISSSTE all provide access to the same public healthcare system and the same level of care.
The difference is that INSABI looks after the most unfortunate members of society, while the national insurance options take care of the working public.
Over half of all Mexican citizens are covered by the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) or Instituto Nacional de Salud para el Bienestar (INSABI).
The private option
Private healthcare is generally reserved for well-off Mexicans and expats, as you might expect.
Despite the fact that only 8% of the country has private health insurance, private establishments attract about half of all healthcare spending.
This may be because of Mexico’s 4,707 hospitals, 2,855 are private establishments, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Mexican government’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).
That means 61% of all hospitals in Mexico are private – compared to 21% of the 6,146 hospitals in the US, according to data from the American Hospital Association’s 2020 report.
But private expenditure would still be lower if more than 8% of people in Mexico had insurance that could provide them with a safety net, rather than having to pay out of pocket every time disaster hits.
Private hospitals also attract so many people because they provide a better level of care than establishments in the public system – so let’s dive deeper into that subject.
Does Mexico have a good healthcare system?
It’s an acceptable healthcare system – and improving – but it’s not yet comparable with the other OECD countries.
Mexico is below average when it comes to most of the OECD’s ways of measuring a health system, as of 2019.
Just 51% of Mexico’s healthcare expenditure is funded by the government, compared to a 71% average among OECD countries.
Mexico has the 15th-highest GDP in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund, at $1.27 trillion – and yet its government still spends less on healthcare, both in financial and percentage terms, than poorer nations like Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia.
In all, the country spends $1,154 per person on healthcare, which is the lowest in the OECD and just 5.5% of its GDP.
In contrast, the US spends $11,072 per person, which is 17% of its GDP. This is far and away the highest proportion in the world – though still without providing universal coverage.
Spending less than average is fine if your health standards are still high, but Mexico fails to meet the OECD average for practising doctors and nurses per 1,000 people, life expectancy, avoidable mortality, chronic disease morbidity, and effective secondary care.
Healthcare standards can also vary around the country, which is demonstrated by the massive five-year range of life expectancies across different states.
If they were countries, Chihuahua’s 73.11 life expectancy would come 100th in the world in this category, while Sinaloa’s 78.27 would come 45th.
However, bear in mind that the US has higher inequality across its states, with 7.5 years separating West Virginia’s 74.79 (which is lower than Mexico) from Hawaii’s 82.29.
41.28% of Mexico’s healthcare expenditure comes from out-of-pocket spending by residents, according to the World Bank, which also goes to show how flawed the public healthcare system is.
As the OECD noted in its 2016 report on Mexico’s healthcare, “high out-of-pocket spending on health care signals a failure of the health system to provide effective insurance, high-quality services, or both.”
Also, it’s definitely worth learning some Spanish – most doctors speak English, but the application procedure and most administrative documents are written in Mexico’s main language.
El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, is more than 1,500 years old
Does Mexico have universal healthcare?
Yes, as of January 1 2020. The implementation of the INSABI program ensured that anyone who needs healthcare is technically able to access treatment.
This finally fulfilled the promise contained in article four of Mexico’s 1917 constitution – that “every person has the right to health protection.”
The move has enabled a much higher proportion of Mexico’s population to receive the care they need. Coverage isn’t 100% yet, but at 89.3%, it’s on the same level as the US – and increasing.
Mexico’s healthcare system ranking
A 2018 study published in The Lancet and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation ranked Mexico’s healthcare 91st in the world.
This was three places below Syria, and 62 spots lower than the US.
Mexico also comes below most OECD countries for many key healthcare statistics – including the amount it spends on healthcare per person, which may explain this deficit in quality.
Health insurance in Mexico for expats
As an expat fresh off the plane, you can receive healthcare coverage from either INSABI – if you’re unemployed – or from the public insurance option, IMSS.
You’ll have to make payments to benefit from IMSS coverage, just like anyone else in Mexico.
If you’re an employee, your company will take care of it for you, but if you’re retired, self-employed, or unemployed, you’ll have to arrange everything yourself – in Spanish.
Due to the difficulties this poses, and because private care is generally better than its public counterpart, many expats sign up for private health insurance.
If you want to join everyone in Mexico who’s bought themselves peace of mind, you can sort out cover before you go. To get a better idea of how much it'll cost you, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.
Healthcare in Mexico for US citizens
In general, healthcare in Mexico is the same for US citizens as it is for any other expats – or for Mexicans, for that matter.
The good news for you is that treatments and coverage in Mexico is usually considerably cheaper than it is in the US.
To give just one example, giving birth with a ‘normal delivery’ in the US costs $11,170, on average, according to the International Federation of Health Plans’ 2019 report.
The same birth will cost you around $600 in Mexico.
Just make sure you cancel your American health policy, as it almost certainly won’t cover you if you move to Mexico.
Health insurance coverage in Mexico
89.3% of people in Mexico are covered by the current health system – but just 8% of people have private health insurance.
This reflects the perception in the country that private insurance is for expats and wealthy residents.
Benefits of private medical cover
- You’ll enjoy more privacy
- You’ll receive the best care around, at the quickest speed possible
- Peace of mind
- Your doctors will generally be less stressed and have a lower number of patients, meaning they can give you more time and attention
- It’ll usually be much cheaper than any coverage in the US
How much does health insurance cost in Mexico?
Naturally, one of the biggest concerns when you’re getting health insurance in a new country is the cost.
After all, you don’t want to stumble into an expensive, recurring payment. Let’s see what the pricing situation is in Mexico.
For an individual
If you’re thinking of entering the public insurance program, IMSS, you can expect to pay around $400 per year, depending on how much you earn, according to TransferWise.
Private health insurance varies in price, as it does everywhere, but generally comes to around $1,700 per year.
If you’ve already decided that getting private health insurance is sensible before you move to Mexico, make sure to check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.
For a family
A family of two adults and two children will cost around $450 per month to insure privately, with a $1,500 deductible.
Or, to put it another way, you’ll be paying $3.75 per day, per family member.
Healthcare in Mexico has come a long way, and took another huge leap forward in 2020 when the government implemented universal health coverage.
But the country still has a way to go before its public healthcare system is up to the levels you’d expect from the 15th-richest nation in the world.
If you want to join everyone in Mexico who’s achieved peace of mind by acquiring private insurance, you can sort out cover before you go.
To make sure you're getting the best deal, check out our list of recommended healthcare providers. From there, you can request free quotes from whichever company suits your needs.