Medical tourism in Mexico is booming. More and more Americans travel across the border for healthcare each year. This guide explains, step-by-step, how to visit a clinic, purchase prescriptions, and visit the dentist in Mexico. I also outline options for more serious medical work such as surgery and cancer treatment. This guide is mostly geared toward medical tourism in Tijuana but much of the information can be applied anywhere in Mexico.
How to Visit a Tijuana Clinic
The absolute cheapest way to get a minor medical problem checked out in Tijuana is to go to a pharmacy with a small clinic attached. These simple clinics generally have a receptionist and one doctor. You can just walk in. No appointment is necessary. Wait times are generally only a few minutes. Examples of conditions that these places can treat include:
- Minor cuts and wounds
- Sexual Transmitted Infection testing and treatment
- Prescriptions for conditions you already have
- Minor infections
- Prescriptions for antibiotics for various sicknesses
- Prescriptions for erectile dysfunction pills like Viagra or Cialis
- Checking out warts, moles, boils, etc.
If the clinic is not equipped to treat your condition, they will refer you to another doctor or a specialist. Tijuana has several full-service hospitals where you can get treatment for any condition.
Price for a Basic Consultation in a Tijuana Clinic
A consultation at one of these small clinics starts at only 60 pesos (about $3.20). If you need additional services or treatments, the price increases. Examples of additional services include:
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Blood testing
- Urine testing
Every time I have visited one of these clinics, they have been honest with pricing. I have never been overcharged and never been up-sold. I have only ever paid the 60 peso consultation charge which is an extremely fair price. With that being said, you will want to ask about pricing before accepting any treatment just to be safe.
The Process of Visiting a Clinic in Tijuana
Visiting the clinic is quick and efficient. After you walk in, the process goes as follows:
Step 1: Fill Out a Form With the Details of Your Condition
When you walk int, a receptionist will hand you a short form to fill out. To do this, you will need to know enough Spanish to describe the problem that you’re having. Google Translate should be enough to get your point across if your Spanish isn’t sufficient.
The receptionist will also collect your personal information such as phone number and address and register you in their computer system so they have your records if you need to return for a follow-up appointment. They can also call you with your test results if necessary.
Step 2: Talk to the Doctor
After a short wait, you will be called into a room to visit the doctor. You will sit down at his desk and explain your condition. He will ask you a series of questions to help make a diagnosis. Again, this is where a bit of Spanish will come in handy. He may physically inspect your body if or run some tests if necessary to make the diagnosis.
Step 3: The Doctor Will Treat You
After making a diagnosis, the doctor will write you a prescription, make a recommendation, or treat your condition right there and send you on your way. If you need to see a specialist, the doctor can refer you to another doctor or hospital in Tijuana. Many of these small clinics are equipped to clean and dress minor wounds and take blood and urine for testing. They also write prescriptions. That is their main business.
Step 4: Pay your Bill
As you leave, you stop at reception to pay your bill. The basic consultation costs 60 pesos. Additional charges will be added on at this time as well.
If you need a prescription filled, you can take it to any pharmacy in Mexico. I recommend getting it filled at the pharmacy connected to the clinic as they will generally give you a discount or include a freebie like a bottle of water.
How to Buy Prescription Medications in Mexico
If you purchase medications with a Mexican prescription, you are only allowed to bring a 50 dosage supply across the border when crossing back to the United States. When crossing the border with prescription medications:
- Carry your prescription with you.
- Declare them to the immigration official.
- Carry only the amount that you are permitted to have based on your prescription.
- Carry the medication in its original container.
Laws can change quickly and without notice. Before traveling across the border with your medications, make sure that you are acting within the law. Check with customs before returning to your country with prescription medications. Don’t let customs catch you crossing the border with prescription medications that you’re not supposed to have.
In the past, you could buy pretty much whatever medication you needed without a prescription in Mexico. About a decade ago the US cracked down on this and it is no longer the case. Now you need a prescription. Tijuana pharmacies accept Both US and Mexican prescriptions.
Warning: Never try to transport prescription medications to the US without a prescription.
If you are caught, the medications will most likely be confiscated at the border. Depending on the drug, you may be charged with a crime. For example, trying to bring back something addictive or commonly sold on the street such as Xanax or oxycontin would probably be treated more serious than trying to bring back something like common and non-addictive such as antibiotics.
For more information about traveling to the US with prescriptions, you can read this article form the Food and Drug Administration.
Prescription Prices in Tijuana
Many Americans travel to Tijuana to buy prescription medications because prices are so much lower. Generally, prescription medications can be purchased in Mexico for 40-60 percent less than they cost in the US.
The medications that you purchase in Tijuana will not be the name brand from the US. In most cases, they will be a generic that has been manufactured in Mexico or overseas. It is the same compound, just in a different packaging and produced in a different facility.
If the prescription price seems high, you may want to shop around. Prices vary quite a bit from pharmacy to pharmacy, I have found. While shopping for the malaria prophylaxis doxycycline before my trip to Africa last year, pharmacists quoted me prices as high as $20 for 10 pills. I could buy it cheaper in the US.
I knew this was high and needed 60 pills so I decided to spend an afternoon shopping around. After visiting maybe 10 pharmacies, I finally found one that was selling it for about a quarter of that price. It pays to shop around.
How to Find Lower Priced Pharmacies in Tijuana
To find lower-priced pharmacies, I recommend you venture outside of the tourist district where you will find pharmacies that are catering to locals rather than tourists. Prices will be slightly lower and you will find the same exact medicine.
A short walk outside of downtown can save you a decent chunk of money. Particularly if you need an expensive prescription. For more information on getting around in Tijuana, check out my article: Walking Across the Border to Tijuana.
How to Visit the Dentist in Tijuana
Dental care is probably the most common type of medical tourism in Tijuana. Americans have been traveling across the border for dental work for decades. My dad is one of them. At least once per year, he drives down for a cheap teeth cleaning and check-up.
Dental offices can be found on almost every street corner. Especially near the border. Prices for dental work in Tijuana are generally 50-70% cheaper than the same service in the US.
Before getting any dental work done in Tijuana, you will want to do your research. Quality of care varies widely. Good, quality dental work can last decades without any problems while cheap work may break in only a few years.
There are some excellent dentists in Tijuana who can do work of the same quality that you can get in the US or Canada. These dentists have the same education and certifications as your dentist back home. In some cases, they were educated and trained in the US.
With that being said, there are also some bad dentists who will do cheap, low quality work. You want to do your research to avoid these guys. Follow the steps below to find the best dentist for your condition.
Before picking a dentist in Tijuana, you should:
- Read reviews- There are dozens of dental offices in Tijuana. Most are good. Some are bad. You can find hundreds of reviews from Americans who have traveled to Tijuana for dental work. Search on Google, Yelp, and TripAdvisor for “Tijuana dentist reviews”. With this information, create a list of a few well-reviewed dentists that you can further research.
- Visit or call a few dental offices before deciding on a dentist if you need some major work done– By doing this you can verify that the staff professional and know what they are doing. Because so many Americans travel to Tijuana for dental care, pretty much every office will have at least one English speaking staff member to answer all of your questions and walk you through everything that they are going to do.
- Study up a bit on dentistry- You will want to make sure that your dentist is using the most modern technologies and materials to treat your condition. Before getting any work done, you’ll want to know that the work will look good and last. You don’t want your dentist to use low-quality materials or outdated techniques.
- Compare pricing- You shouldn’t just go to the first dentist you see when you walk across the border. By getting several quotes, you will know that you aren’t being ripped off or taken advantage of. Many dentists have all of their prices listed on their website. If they won’t give you a quote, then that is a red flag and you may want to eliminate that dentist from your list.
An Example of How Much Cheaper it can be to go to the Dentist in Tijuana
For a simple check-up with a teeth cleaning an x-rays, Tijuana is a great alternative to an expensive dentist in the US. Because dental care costs so much less in Mexico and the fact that most Americans don’t have dental insurance, it can even turn out to be cheaper to fly to Tijuana just to visit the dentist. Even for a simple check-up.
For example, my friend who lives in Seattle, just visited his dentist after losing his dental insurance. After a standard checkup, his dentist surprised him with a $450 bill. This is a complete rip-off. I explained to him that he could have flown to Tijuana, visited the dentist, had a nice weekend vacation, and returned to Seattle all for less than $450. In the future, he may do just that.
How to Find a Doctor for Major Medical Care in Tijuana: Surgeries, Cancer Treatment, etc.
I will start off by saying that I have never had any major medical care in Tijuana. I do know that there are several modern, full-service hospitals that can treat any medical problem that you may have. The biggest, most respected hospital serving the city is called Hospital Angeles Tijuana.
Quality-wise, this hospital will be of equal or better quality than the average American or Canadian hospital. They may not offer the most cutting edge, state of the art techniques that the Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins could offer but they are a full-service facility equipped to treat any condition that you may have.
When selecting a doctor for surgery or a major medical problem in Mexico, you will want to take the same precautions that you would back home. Look into their credentials including their education and history. Whatever is available. If they didn’t attend a major, well-known university, you may want to steer clear.
You can also find reviews online for many Tijuana doctors. Americans have been traveling to Tijuana for years for medical treatment so there is a wealth of information available.
Finding a Doctor for Cosmetic work and Plastic Surgery in Tijuana
Because most insurance won’t cover cosmetic work, many Americans choose to travel to Tijuana to save money on these procedures. You can get the same quality of work for a fraction of what it would cost back home.
Plastic surgery is very popular in Mexico, I have noticed, so these guys get plenty of practice. Again, you want to be sure to do your research and read plenty of reviews before getting any work done. Some doctors are better than others. You don’t want to end up with a botch job and have to go visit an expensive specialist for a correction. You want to get it done right the first time.
All of the common cosmetic procedures are available in Tijuana. English will be spoken in all of these offices because they cater to many American patients. The language barrier won’t be a problem with this type of work.
Common cosmetic procedures available in Tijuana include:
- Hair transplants
- Breast Augmentation
- Breast Lift
- Butt implants
- Butt Lift
- Lazor hair removal
- Tummy tuck
- Calf implants
- Plus many more
To yelp you get started in your search, check out Yelp’s list of the best cosmetic surgeons in Tijuana.Or check out Google’s list of the best plastic surgeons in Tijuana
Scams and Fake Medical Treatments in Mexico
When seeking medical treatment in Mexico you do need to exercise caution. There are some scams and fake treatments out there. During my research for this guide, I have come across a couple of articles explaining treatments being sold in Mexico that are simply not effective. Here is an example from the NBC News website.
The most common victims of this are late-stage cancer patients. For example, the cancer treatment outlined in the above article is knowingly being performed by scammy doctors just to make a quick buck on people who are willing to try anything to save their lives.
This kind of thing doesn’t just happen in Mexico. It happens in the US as well but is much less common. The reason is that regulations for medical treatments are more lax and require much less research before they are approved in Mexico. In some cases, non-medical professionals perform treatments in secret. You must take this into consideration when seeking medical treatment in Tijuana. Always research the treatment and make sure the doctor is legitimate.
With all of this being said, there are a handful of legitimate treatments that you can get in Mexico that aren’t yet available in the US because testing has not been completed and they haven’t been approved by the FDA. Because testing has not been completed, we don’t yet know if the treatment is effective. Examples of these include several specific cancer treatments and stem cell therapy.
For more general information on scams in Tijuana, check out my article: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.
Do you need to speak Spanish to travel to Mexico for Medical Treatment?
No, you don’t but it will certainly make things easier in some situations. For example, at the small clinics that I have visited, no one spoke English. My Spanish is at an intermediate level so I was able to get by just fine. If you don’t know any Spanish, I believe Google Translate would be sufficient to get by.
For dental and cosmetic work, no Spanish is required. There are dozens of offices that cater to Americans and Canadians traveling to Mexico to receive treatment. These places will have staff that is fluent in English.
You are probably paying a slight premium for this but it’s probably worth the stress it saves. Most dentists and doctors’ offices have websites that are also in English so you can get an idea of pricing and the services that they offer without even talking to anyone.
Travel Insurance for Mexico
Your US health insurance won’t help you in Mexico. If you will be living in Mexico or traveling there long term, you will probably want to have travel insurance so you are covered, at least in the event of a major accident.
For travel insurance, I like World Nomads. I have used them for every one of my past international trips and have had good experiences with them. They even sell insurance for expats and digital nomads. For more information and for a free quote, you can check out my travel insurance page.
How to Travel to Tijuana for Medical Care
As I mentioned earlier, it can turn out to be cheaper to travel all the way to Tijuana even for something as simple as a check-up and teeth cleaning at the dentist. Luckily, Tijuana is pretty easy to access from anywhere in the US and Canada as it is located near three major international airports including:
- Tijuana Airport (TIJ)-This is the most convenient option. From there, you can simply take a taxi or Uber to the medical office of your choosing.
- San Diego airport (SAN)- This is probably the cheapest way to access Tijuana. This is a busy airport with connections all over the country. To get to Tijuana from San Diego airport, you take bus 992 to Broadway and Park Boulevard then transfer to the blue line trolley to San Ysidro. Next, you will walk across the border and arrive in Tijuana. From there you can take a taxi to your destination. This trip takes about an hour.
- Los Angeles Airport (LAX)- This is much less convenient but may be cheaper depending on your origin. You will have to take a bus or rent a car to drive from Los Angeles to Tijuana. This also adds to the cost.
If you’d prefer not to fly, you can easily reach Tijuana by bus. For more info, check out my step-by-step guide: How to Travel to Tijuana by Greyhound Bus.
For more information on traveling from San Diego to Tijuana and crossing the border, check out my guide: Walking Across the Border to Tijuana.
For more info on the visa, check out my Mexico Visa Guide.
Where to Stay While Receiving Medical Treatment
If you are traveling to Tijuana from outside of Southern California or if your treatment requires that you stay overnight, Tijuana has plenty of comfortable hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs. Most doctors’ offices are located in Zona Rio which is the business district of the city. Downtown is also a nice location to stay in. Some of the most popular hotels are:
- Hotel Ticuan– This is a historic mid-range hotel located right in the middle of the city on Avenida Revolucion.
- Tijuana Marriott Hotel- Probably the most upscale hotel in Tijuana. The Marriot is located in Zona Rio.
- Hotel Lucerna Tijuana- This is another more upscale option. Hotel Lucerna is located in Zona Rio.
If you are on a tighter budget, I recommend the following two hotels:
- Hotel Suiza- This place is clean, centrally located, and has friendly staff. Basic rooms start at about $15. Air-conditioned rooms are available. They are located at Calle Niños Heroes 924, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana.
- Hotel Colonial- This place is slightly nicer than the above. Rooms start at about $20. They are located at Calle Sexta, 1812, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana.
Another good option for accommodation in Tijuana is AirBnB. This is a great choice if you need to stay in the city long term for treatment. You can rent a whole apartment by the week or month for a very reasonable price.
My Experience visiting a Tijuana Clinic
While living in Tijuana, I have had a few minor health problems pop up that I needed to get checked out. Each visit to the clinic was quick, efficient, and best of all, cheap.
When I first moved to Tijuana, I noticed some irritation in my eye. It may have been pink eye. My vision was blurry and the area around my eye was a bit sore.
I walked into the clinic and explained my condition to the doctor. After asking me a few questions, he wrote me a prescription for some antibiotic eye drops and a week’s worth of antibiotic pills to take.
I paid 60 pesos for the consultation and about $7 for the eye drops and pills at the pharmacy next door. Within a few days, the infection cleared up and my eye returned to normal. This process would have cost at least $100 if I was paying out of pocket in the US as I, unfortunately, didn’t have health insurance at the time.
During the winter I got sick. At first, I thought it was just a cold, but after nearly a week in bed with one of the worst sore throats I have ever had, I decided to go to the clinic to get checked out.
The doctor said I had strep throat. This diagnosis only cost me 60 pesos. He wrote me a prescription for some antibiotics and I went to the pharmacy just a few steps away and got my pills. A few days later, my symptoms eased up and I returned to my life.
If I had been in the US, I probably would have gone without antibiotics and suffered through another week of sickness. A consultation alone would have cost over $100 had I paid out of pocket.
The third time I needed medical help in Mexico was when I got food poisoning from eating some bad tacos. Generally, I have a pretty strong stomach but this wasn’t going to go away on its own. This time I didn’t go to the clinic. I simply asked a pharmacist what he would recommend for food poisoning and he sold me a couple of pills which cleared me up quickly.
I hate taking antibiotics but sometimes it is a necessity. Without access to cheap healthcare and prescriptions in Mexico, I would have either spent a lot more money or, more likely, just gone without and hoped my condition wouldn’t get worse. Sometimes treatment is easy and painless but without cheap and efficient healthcare you must go without.
Quality of Medical Care in Mexico
Mexico’s medical infrastructure is highly developed. Quality of care is, in general, very high. Doctors will have the same level of education and qualification as they do in the US or Canada. Americans have been traveling across the border for cheaper medical care for decades.
Having said that, good doctors and bad doctors exist everywhere. Tijuana is a ‘you get what you pay for’ kind of place. For common problems and minor treatments, any clinic should be able to fix you up without any problems.
For treatment of more major medical problems or surgeries, you will need to do your research. Tijuana has some excellent hospitals that have been treating medical tourists from around the world for decades. There are also some less great facilities and some that are downright scammy. For any serious treatment, you must do your homework.
Final Thoughts on Receiving Healthcare in Mexico as an American
Healthcare prices have gotten absolutely insane in the United States. If you don’t have health insurance, or if your insurance isn’t very good, you may be forced to pay out of pocket. Clinics can charge hundreds of dollars to simply check out a minor injury or run a simple blood test. Prescription prices are getting out of hand as well.
Every year, many Americans file bankruptcy just because of medical bills. This is something that just doesn’t happen in many other countries. If you can’t afford healthcare, you may simply have to go without. A minor problem can quickly turn into a life or death situation if left untreated.
Luckily, visiting a Tijuana clinic is a cheap and easy experience. Prescription medications are also available for a fraction of the cost of the US. Dental work is affordable as well. If you require more significant treatment, it is available at a much more reasonable cost than the US.
Have you had medical or dental treatment in Tijuana? Comment below with your experience! I’m interested to hear about it.
If you do decide to make a trip to Tijuana for medical purposes, check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana. It also includes step-by-step information getting to and around the city, the visa, places to stay, and bar and restaurant recommendation, and much more.
Have you traveled to Mexico for healthcare? Share your experience in the comments below!
More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks
- Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime
- Moving to Tijuana as an American
- Walking Across the Border to Tijuana
- How to Park for Free at the Tijuana Border
- Inside a Tijuana Bar During an Armed Robbery
- 29 Incredible Things to do in Tijuana
- Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams