My Experience Visiting the Public Health Center in Tulum, Mexico

Source: iStockphoto

Mexico has two healthcare systems, a public one and a private one. My wife and I prefer the private system for several reasons, here are just a few:

1) the quality of patient care is outstanding,
2) the medical facilities are generally much nicer than the public ones,
3) there is very little waiting, and
4) it’s very affordable — especially compared to the cost of healthcare in the United States

For the last three years, all of my healthcare needs have been met by the private system, but this week my luck ran out.

Long story short, I cut my toe on a rusty piece of iron last week. The injury didn’t require any stitches, but I thought it would be wise to get a tetanus shot since it had been more than 10 years since my last one.

I don’t belong to the public healthcare system in Mexico, so I headed to a private hospital in Tulum to get my shot.

When I told them what I wanted, the medical staff advised me that, by law, private medical facilities and pharmacies are prohibited from dispensing the tetanus vaccine. They said that the only place to get the vaccine is at a public medical facility designated by the Secretaría de Salud (Secretary of Health).

Fortunately for me, there was one location nearby in Tulum called the Centro de Salud (health center). Unfortunately, it was closed and wouldn’t open until 7 AM the following day.

Centro de Salud

Centro de Salud in Tulum, Mexico

I have visited several public facilities while doing research for blog articles and they have always been crowded. That’s why my plan was to arrive super early in order to be one of the first people in line.

When I arrived, I was pleased to see that there was only one woman with an infant waiting for the clinic to open. I stood behind her and waited patiently for another 25 minutes for the clinic to open. During that time, another 15 people had arrived with their infants to have them vaccinated.

As I stood there, I remember thinking that I may actually get this thing done quickly.

When the clinic opened, a nurse came outside and started collecting shot records from the parents. She asked me why I was there and I told her the hospital staff had sent me to get a tetanus shot. She said that they only do adult shots after all taking care of all the babies.

All of the babies?!!!!!

When I asked her how long that would probably take, she said, “Not long — maybe an hour or two.”

Maybe an hour or two?!!!!!

I decided to wait, but I was quickly getting discouraged by the steady stream of people arriving with more babies. After about an hour and a half, the waiting room was finally empty and it was my turn.

One of the medical staff asked what vaccine I wanted, wrote my name on a roster, and then gave me the injection. It was free and I didn’t have to fill out any paperwork.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Except for the long wait time, it wasn’t a bad experience; nevertheless, my advice for people moving to Mexico is to get all your shots before coming down. It’s just easier that way.

Speaking of shots, it’s time to head to my favorite beach bar and get a couple. Hasta Luego.

About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

34 Comments on "My Experience Visiting the Public Health Center in Tulum, Mexico"

  1. So far I have only used the private clinics and I totally agree with your analogy. Good to know the small, infantile details about the free clinics. A little pup intended . If you make it to Mahahual, let us know. We have a spare room and we won’t make you wait in line.

  2. Hi Paul,
    I comment a good deal about your wonderful posts. Thank you. My husband and I were supposed to come down for 3 months this winter but he is on oxygen 24/7 and we had to cancel our condo in Playa. I know the health care is excellent in Playa but our pulmonologist advised against going. Traveling, I feel would be hard on him. So, on that note will be living in Playa this winter through your blog and pictures from dear US and Mexican friends that live there. Thanks for all you do in promoting Mexico. I love It.
    Bye for now,
    Linda, in South Carolina this winter!!!!

    • I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s condition. Hopefully, you two will be able to visit Mexico again in the future.

  3. I would add that unlike the usual tourist venues, the clinics are meant for nationals so expect all transactions to be conducted solely in Spanish. Don’t get mad if nobody there speaks English. I can get by on my Spanish but obviously I need a LOT more practice.

    My only experience was in La Cruz, near Puerto Vallarta. Flu shots are free to all, no ID required.

    A posted sign stated you have to have a doctor’s order (una receta) for any injection. Not sure if this policy is national or local. The doc next to the pharmacy charged me 300 pesos for the receta.

    Like Paul, I went early and waited for opening. Sat in the waiting room with all the other patients for over an hour only to figure out that we were all waiting to see the doctor which I didn’t need to do. An assistant administers the shots. So I could have walked in and gone straight back. Que será.

    No ID required. From my research i believe it’s the same vaccine used in North America. I wanted to leave a donation but they didn’t know how to handle that so I left it for another worthy cause instead.

  4. In 2017 I had to visit the public clinic in San Pancho Nayarit, there was no waiting and I was attended to immediately. I had some virus of some kind, I was kept for a couple of hours and I was able to leave.
    Talk about good service. I wish that they were as efficient in Canada.

  5. I do use Seguro Social……….for one reason private doctors are a long way away. A couple of years ago I stubbed my little toe, the nail was sticking straight up and it hurt terribly. So went to the local clinic where the dear doctora there put in anesthesia and removed the nail. It immediately felt so much better. I grabbed her, hugged her and invited her and her family to my home for Pizza. We are now friends. I love living in a small town.

  6. Thanks for posting this; I’ve wondered what the public system is like when you need care.

    Interesting that teatnus vaccines are controlled that way since so much other healthcare and minor emergency care can be accomplished with a quick visit to the local farmacía.

    Thankfully, my DTP is current (I have a farm that’s literally made of rusty stuff to hurt yourself on!) so, I wasn’t too worried about it when a dog bit me in SMA this summer. Confirmed that the dog’s shots were current and headed to the neighborhood pharmacy for some antibiotics. Dropped my shorts right there behind the counter and the pharmacist administered an IM in the right cheek (he had to be the best ‘sticker’ I’ve ever encountered too!). I barely felt it. Came back two more times for follow-up injections. No lines, no waiting. No problem. Total bill for injections, topical antibiotic treatments and bandages: ~$35 USD. Lesson here is the farmacía is another resource available for minor emergencies.

    I appreciate your blog too. We are in the process of selling our US place, moving to SMA and your blog is answering quite a few of our questions. Thanks for your hard work.

    BTW, it’s a good practice to keep those DTP vaccinations current.

    • The pharmacies are a great place to go for minor issues. Many have a doctor’s office attached.

      Good luck on your upcoming move to SMA. We visited that area last year and we really liked it.

  7. Two years ago my wife used the public system for a rattle snake bite. Fast and efficient service. Once back in states did a follow up with her doctor and he was very happy with how they handled it. Total expense Mexico clinic 450 pesos US doctor 350 dollars

  8. Hi Paul, Your posts are very informative. Do you buy health insurance or just pay as you need in Mexico?

  9. Thanks for this post! I didn’t know the law behind the distribution of tetanus vaccine. We had the exact same experience in La Paz, BCS. After visiting several clinics and a private hospital, we were finally directed to the IMSS Hospital on Calle 5 de Febrero. No ID, no medical record, no payment. However, the nurse recommended another tetanus booster one month out because it had been more than ten years. So, we went back a month later for the booster. No problemo. 🙂

  10. We are on IMSS and have no complaints about the service we receive. Both of us are over 60 so a few things we were able to get by with instead of having to wait a year. We both go see our Doctor every 5 weeks to get checked out. We both have been to the ER twice and yes you wait unless it is something serious. I would advise people over 60 to look into IMSS. Our cost for both of us is 17,400 pesos.

  11. Hi, just wanted to add a couple of things. If going for something like Paul’s tetanus injection, go a little later. The clinics run for IMMS and Seguro popular have an appointment system. The nurse arrives at 8 or 8.30, gives you a time to return for the doctors appointment. People start queuing as early as 6.30 so they can get an early appointment. Once all the appointments are given out, everyone disappears until their time. So when I needed a vaccine, I happened to turn up around 10.30 and was seen straight away.
    The second thing, if you want to join the Mexican health system, IMMS will not take you if you have pre existing conditions…like diabetes etc. No problem with Seguro Popular. And they are much cheaper too. If you own a house, you pay a small fee. We pay 1034 pesos per year each. If you rent, it’s free.
    Hope this info if of help

  12. Great info, as always, Paul!
    I suppose I will have to pay more attention to this stuff as my time to move to MX draws closer. Does Medicare cover any expenses outside of the US? Another thing I’ll have to learn about as I get older. My guess is not.

  13. I only have Seguro Popular and was treated for breast cancer at the Instituto Nacional de Cancerlogia in Mexico City. Also had a broken wrist and went to Xoco Hospital in Mexico City. The care in both places (plus my local clinic) was/is excellent but bureaucracy and waits were/are horrible. In Xoco I waited over 7 hours. But the price is right: free or very low cost!

  14. Sheila Sullivan | October 14, 2018 at 1:24 pm | Reply

    Hi Paul. I love your posts! In the 7 years that I have lived in MX, I have always used the clinics and found the Drs to be very kind and professional. Twice I have needed hospital attention and the first time I went to the Marine hospital in Guaymas for four days and nights, & received the very best of care. Total cost was under $500 Cdn. The second time, I went to the Catholic Hospital in Mazatlan for stitches and total cost was under $500 pesos, which included two return check up visits. I truly find the care to be excellent. Don’t think I will be able to make it down to MX this year, as I need a transplant and have to stay in Canada….so, looks like I will have to live vicariously through you and Ms. Linda.
    PS again :. Thanks so much for all of your informative posts. I also have been a LEO for + 40 yrs.

  15. Hello Paul!
    I really find your are the best at answering all of our questions, good job!
    I was wondering if you have ever shared the average costs of an average insurance on your blog. If so, can you give us an idea?
    Also, I understand that you never claimed any healthcare expenses so far because you use the private system(?). But do they reimburse you when you go public?
    Thx for the info!

  16. As asked by Caroline, could you share the cost of your WEA? We moved to PV about 6 weeks ago, got our Temporary Residency cards, and are about to move into our one-year lease on November 1. With all of the other stuff out of the way, we are focusing now on health-care. I have received quotes from VUMI and WEA. I am 68 and my wife is 55. I have heard from other expat’s conflicting reports about WEA vs. VUMI. I have also received “advise” from a friend that has a bunch of cash in the bank but is “naked” on insurance, because after he pays for the premium (all in US Dollars) (about $220/mo) and the deductible ($5,000) and with a total lifetime insurance expense cap of $1,500,000, and with Mexican medical costs so cheap, he’d be out be out US$7,640 a year before he saw even a peso of Mexican insurance coverage. So he see’s his doctor regularly and pays the $25-$35 per visit, and other tests, and figures he comes out way ahead money-wise. What is your opinion of this? And do you have any idea of WEA vs VUMI insurance?

    Thanks for your help.

  17. Hola, Paul! We’ve been living in the Tulum area for 4 years. During this time we cared for my 80-something year old mother with Alzheimer’s. When she fell and cut her head we took her to the Tulum hospital ER (south end of town). I don’t know if it’s private or public, but they delivered excellent, compassionate care and administered a tetanus shot without any question. Total cost: $1500mxn.

  18. Monica Elizondo | October 14, 2018 at 11:04 pm | Reply

    Hola! Solo para tu conocimiento México cuenta con uno de los esquemas de vacunación más completo en Latinoamérica y en el mundo.
    Aún en consultorios particulares los médicos te envían al centro de salud por qué ahí puedes encontrar vacuna más “frescas” y de manera gratuita.
    Te dejo este artículo para ampliar tu información,y quizá sea buena idea hagas anotaciones extra a tu artículo. Saludos
    https://sumedico.com/esquema-de-vacunacion-mexico/

  19. we took a friend for tetanus shot and when I looked at the vial I noticed it is just plan tetanus, in the states they are now giving tdap, which is tetanus with pertuss included..

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