Mexico: The Cost of Getting Surgery South of the Border

Readers of the blog often write me to ask questions about the healthcare system in Mexico in terms of quality and affordability. I usually respond by saying something like:

The private health care in Mexico is exceptional and there are no delays in receiving treatment. The best part is that it is affordable for most expats, even without insurance. 

It’s important to note that Mexico has two healthcare systems, public and private. This article, as well as my statement above, deals with the latter. Don’t worry, I’ll be writing specifically about the public system in the future.

A Personal Account

One of my goals this year is to share some personal stories of expats who have received medical treatment in Mexico, including the cost of those treatments.

Today’s story is about Gary, a recent arrival from the United States who had foot surgery in Playa del Carmen without health insurance.

Gary had only been in Mexico for a couple of weeks when he heard a pop in his right foot and felt a sharp pain. After several days of pain, he went to Playa del Carmen to see an orthopedist.

By the way, it cost him $600 pesos ($31.57 USD*) to see the specialist.

Gary was diagnosed with a torn posterior tibial tendon, which required surgery to repair. He decided to get a second opinion from a doctor at another hospital and the diagnosis was the same. He scheduled surgery with the first orthopedist.

Surgery

The surgery was scheduled to take place in a small private hospital in Playa del Carmen. An orthopedic surgeon from Mérida who specializes in this type of surgery, came down to assist Gary’s orthopedist.

Gary said that the hospital was very clean and that he was extremely impressed by the entire staff. He said that they were extremely attentive and caring. He added that he was able to communicate with them in English without any difficulty.

The surgery took about 2.5 hours and all went well. They kept him overnight in a private room complete with a bathroom and shower. This same surgery is generally outpatient in the U.S.

Total Costs

As I mentioned before, Gary didn’t have any health insurance, so he had to pay for everything out-of-pocket.

Preoperative Costs: $9,900 pesos ($521 USD*)

Included: MRI of the foot, EKG, chest x-ray, and blood work

Operation: $73,000 pesos ($3,842 USD*)

Included: Two orthopedic surgeons, anesthesiologist and all ancillary staff. The price also included all follow-up visits related to the procedure.

Postoperative Costs: $23,200 pesos ($1,221 USD*)

Included: overnight stay in a private hospital room and all medications/supplies

Grand Total: $106,100 pesos ($5,584 USD*)

* Based on an exchange rate of 19:1

Let’s Wrap This Up

In case you were just skimming through this article and you missed it, Gary had an MRI of his foot prior to surgery. MRI’s are notoriously expensive in the United States — at least they were before I moved to Mexico.

To confirm that they still were, I checked the Mayo Clinic’s online “Cost Estimator” to determine the out-of-pocket price for an MRI of a foot at their hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.

I selected the cost based on “no insurance” and I received an estimated cost of $4,474 USD. Click HERE to see the estimate for yourself.

That amount seems high considering that Gary’s entire surgery only came to $5,584 USD. By the way, his MRI was done at a large hospital in Cancun and cost around $431 USD.


Note- The purpose of the article was to focus on the price and quality of healthcare in Mexico and not to recommend a particular hospital or doctor. For that reason, the names were omitted. 

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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. In 2016, they started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) sharing their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border. The blog has been viewed over two million times and the articles have been republished in numerous periodicals across Mexico.

27 Comments on "Mexico: The Cost of Getting Surgery South of the Border"

  1. Ethel aka Fran | January 1, 2018 at 8:42 am |

    Paul, I can relate to the MRI. Insurance refused one for my knee after a fall. The rheumatologist requested it because she thought I might have a torn meniscus, but insurance wouldn’t pay. I finally underwent x-rays and while there was no torn meniscus, I do have bone on bone and need knee replacement, but I’m holding off. Hopefully, an injection of a new lubricant will do the trick and insurance will pay for it.

  2. I, too, have had a foot problem the past few days from what I diagnosed as over enthusiastic snorkeling.
    It kept getting worse and I made an appointment with a family doctor in her Colonia. He could see me an hour after I called.
    He did an exam in his home office, gave a steroid shot, and wrote two perscriptions. The price was $500 pesos. The prescriptions were $101. He diagnosed stretched ligaments from the snorkeling.
    I feel much better today.
    He’s going to Cancun today and will pick up a bootie for me so that walking is easier.
    I live here 4 months of the year so I don’t have Mexican insurance. I do have out of country emergency coverage attached to my Medicare supplement.
    I’m very happy with the few times I’ve injured myself over the years and been treated here.

  3. I used a private hospital/clinic here in San Miguel de Allende. I got extremely ill and could barely drive to the hospital. They immediately admitted me and began administering IVs to rehydrate me. I was given antibiotics intravenously to knock out a severe bacterial infection. I was released at night feeling 100% better. Total cost was a little over $300usd. The private hospital was new and modern. Staff – including the doctors- was attentive, courteous, and friendly.

  4. We spend 3 months each winter in Playa del Carmen and have used a local Dr., I’m assuming public (I will do some research) and have never been disappointed with our care…we’ve done both an office and had house calls. A neighbor broke her leg, the same Dr. set her up to go to Cancun to, I’m assuming, a private hospital, he stayed in touch with her and us to follow up. She broke her other leg when she returned home to Canada…last I heard, she said, her Mexican leg is doing better than the Canadian leg.

  5. I had major emergency back surgery in Guadalajara last year— various MRI and CT’s, 12 hr surgery, 2 surgeons, 3 weeks in a private hospital, and then 10 days in a nursing home before I could fly back to the US. Incredibly, my Mexican attending physician was able to get everything paid for thru my US Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO Plan! And why not— BCBS was way happier to pay the Mexican prices for my surgery than had I been medevac’d back to the US. The only thing I paid for was a private, bilingual nursing assistant while at the hospital. In Mexico hospitals, you’re expected to have family do all the stuff that a nursing assistant would do in the US (help to the bathroom, with eating, etc), but I had no one, so my doctor arranged for a helper. The care I received was absolutely world class and every bit equal to (or better) than the US.

  6. Many Mexican physicians have received part or all of their medical training in the US, and many speak excellent English, a plus for those patients who may speak only a little Spanish. They are caring, professional and excellent. A colleague suffered a heart attack in Morelos; he was better cared for, at a fraction of the US cost, than he believed he would have been at home. This was in the private sector of hospitals in Mexico.

  7. Holly Chrisco | January 1, 2018 at 1:59 pm |

    Thank you once again, Paul, for the great information. It’s very helpful for planning and budgeting purposes for those of us moving to Mexico. I broke my foot in Cancun a few years ago and received excellent care, so can attest to the high quality of Mexican health care. Assuming, however, that the expat in your story, Gary, paid for his surgery in cash, what would you say would have been his approximate out-of-pocket cost had he had private Mexican medical insurance?

    • Holly, Had I already had Mexican coverage in place (I did have a W/W plan from a US company, but they ruled this was not an accident and wouldn’t cover it), the out-of-pocket would vary depending on the plan. For example, AXA, has plans with differing levels of deductibles, from MX$9,000 to MX$115,000, and then the co-insurance is 5% to 30%. Like in the US, I could have spent a fortune on premiums to receive the most coverage, or somewhere in between.

  8. Paul, I just started following you and am finding your information very helpful! Please keep up the very helpful post.
    My wife just had knee surgery here in the states and our out of pocket cost were $4000 approx. with insurance.

    Thanks again

    • Here with insurance, it would have been $1000. The problem is the insurance premiums are extremely high in the U.S. Just think what you could buy with all that extra money 🙂

  9. Great to know I am a senior from Canada planning to live out the winters in Mexico. Health issues have been worrying me to no end. This eases my anxiety about making Mexico my second home. Thanks

  10. Sandy Gerow | January 1, 2018 at 5:29 pm |

    Question. Dive companies charging in US dollars. Does this not break the profeco law?

  11. Michael Nunn | January 1, 2018 at 6:02 pm |

    Not all surgeries in Mexico are top-notch. I had a torn meniscus in my knee and needed a partial menisectomy. I chose San Javier Hospital in Puerto Vallarta with a Dr. Martinez Garza. Friends had recommended the surgeon and hospital. The doctor did not find my meniscal tear and did very little inside my knee. He was 3 hours late for the surgery and during the surgery the medical equipment was not working properly. Afterwards the doctor basically just wanted to get paid. The entire experience was a waste of $4000. I had to have another surgery later to fix the problem with Dr. Max Greig at CMQ Premiere in PV. If you decide to get surgery in Mexico, ask lots of questions and thoroughly investigate the hospital and doctor. Do your homework and trust your gut on how you feel about the doctor. If they seem lacking in any way, find someone else.

    • Michael — good advice, not only in Mexico but anywhere. My wife had a botched surgery while we lived in the US that we had to have redone.

  12. I have been impressed by the doctors in Playa, Cancun and Merida. NOT the doctors in clinics attached to farmacias.

    I have a friend arriving soon who will require a consultation and assistance in cancer treatment and chemo medication. Can anyone recomment a doc in Playa or Cancun?

  13. Just to give a little comparison on MX health care.
    I was told in the US I had a very mild medical condition. They prescribed me some 5mg tablets which cost my US insurance about $75 for 30 days worth of medication. I was recently running low on my medication & went to the pharmacy in Cozumel with my prescription bottle .

    The pharmacist informed me they have the same medication , 30 pills per bottle, but unfortunately they only had it in 10mg. The tablets could be cut in half giving me the 5mg but for 60 days for only 85 pesos ? (Approx $5 US) was the cost .
    As I paid & was walking out the pharmacist called me back & said he’d made a mistake.
    Here we go I thought , how much is it going to cost me now?
    Only for the pharmacist to inform me “Sorry sir, it’s 85 pesos for 2 x bottles, “ , thereby giving me 4 months worth of medication for $5.

  14. Thank you Paul, Gary, and Gary Wendt, and all others who have contributed their experiences here. I am also interested in information about cancer specialists in Playa and Cancun if anyone feels comfortable sharing.

    Paul, a second thanks to you for all the info you provide here. We all appreciate it very much.

  15. Paul , whice hospital in playa did the surgery .

    • The Doctor works with both CostaMed and PlayaMed. Based on his recommendation we did the surgery at PlayaMed.

  16. I love reading your posts! We plan on moving to PDC by late 2018 and enjoy the valuable information. I have a question though. I shared this particular post on fb and was inundated with comments like: I have a neighbor, whose cousins best friend turned her ankle while in Mexico and it cost $10,000 USD (seems to be a magic number in most stories)! How do you debate such stories??
    Thanks,
    Joe and Lucinda

  17. Thanks for the article! I appreciate that you had the breakdown in costs as well. What was most surprising to me was how the split between the doctor costs and the other costs was completely inverted relative to what I’ve seen in the US.

    I had surgery in the US recently, and the cost of the doctor was only around 10-20% of the total cost of the operation – most of the cost was for the hospital and other ancillary costs. (Note that the “cost” I’m talking about here is the actual amount paid by either me or the insurance company, not the absurdly inflated “sticker price” that the hospitals / doctors here in the USA usually request.) But in the example you provided, the hospital cost was minor relative to the cost of the doctor. The doctor costs actually seemed closer to the US prices than the other hospital costs, which was far below anything we’d ever see in the US. It seems like this is where Mexican healthcare saves the most – not on the doctor him/herself, but on all the operating / labor costs for the hospital which are lower. Interesting stuff!

  18. Was in Nueva Vallarta last week when I fell on the pool deck and hit my head on the concrete. At the small hospital across the street, I saw a doctor, a neurologist and had a CAT scan. Total bill was $330USD.

  19. Walton Fisher | March 20, 2018 at 11:54 am |

    I recently cut the palm of my hand opening a package with a very sharp garden tool inside. The cut was more than an inch long and quite deep so my wife drove me to Centro Medico de las Americas here in Merida where we live. At the urgent care room the doctor filled out the admission form herself and took us to an examining room. Exam, anestesia, 3 stitches and bandage – 500 Pesos with my senior citizen discount. Plus a prescription for an antibiotic which she suggested that I not take unless it became infected – good advice regarding antibiotics since overuse can be detrimental. She was a delightful young lady who even spoke English!

  20. Walton Fisher | March 23, 2018 at 1:10 pm |

    I swear the accident was not tequila related, although several of my friends have made that accusation.

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