Thousands are crossing border for cheap medical treatments in Mexico


Mexican plastic surgeon Francisco Bucio examines a patient at the Bucio Surgicenter clinic in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. (Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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SAN DIEGO — When you think of a tourist, you probably think of someone traveling to a new place to sight-see and try the food. There is a different kind of tourism happening in Mexico called medical tourism.

Aaron Acosta of Albuquerque said he would rather drive 12 hours to Chihuahua, Mexico, to get his dental work done.

“I’d rather drive or pay the bus when I’m going over there. It’s still going to save me 70% of what they were going to charge me here,” said Acosta.

On average, one dental implant in America costs $3,000. In Mexico, it can be as low as $600 and you do not always need to use insurance.

“You get seen and you pay. You are not going to get any surprise bills,” said Acosta.

About 1 million people, mainly American, arrive every year in Mexico to get all kinds of medical treatment. According to Patients Beyond Borders, a medical travel guidebook, the three biggest drivers are dental work, weight loss and cosmetic surgery. In 2016, medical tourism brought in 4.6 billion dollars to the Mexican economy. But, cheaper does not always mean better.

“I think when you go to Mexico you really don’t know what you are getting so you have to be very careful,” said Dr. Barry Ramo.

Mexico has looser regulations on where and who can perform medical treatments. Just last year, an El Paso woman died after getting a nose job in Juarez, Mexico. Her family said the anesthetic used went straight to her brain causing irreparable damage. That is not to say there are not great medical professionals across the border.

Dr. Jessica Nitardy owns a dental practice in Mexico, but lives in El Paso, Texas.

“Our patients stay in El Paso in a hotel and we provide free transportation,” said Nitardy.

She sees patients from all over the country at her clinic.

“We see people from New York and Hawaii,” said Nitardy.

She said you need to do your research before crossing the border. Here is what you should look for:

  • Make sure the medical professional is board certified
  • Get a reference from someone who has gotten work done there
  • Make sue you know where the procedure is going to be done
  • Ask about follow-up care

“People say they are dentists, but they are not really dentists,” said Nitardy.

Medical tourism in Mexico is booming. Currently in Tijuana, there are two, 26-story towers being built right across from the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California. They will feature a spa, luxury accommodations and medical offices.


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