How to Access the Mexican Healthcare System (IMSS)

IMSS Clinic in Mexico

By Mexperiece

Mexico operates a public healthcare system known as Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social(IMSS) which provides universal healthcare to Mexican families and foreign residents enrolled in the system.

Service, qualification, and enrolment

The service is called Seguro de Salud Para La Familia.  Note that the information, application procedures, and all healthcare services are provided in Spanish only.  If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll need a friend to help you, or you’ll need to hire an interpreter when you apply, and when you go for any treatment.

The IMSS healthcare service is funded by a combination of the Federal government, employer payroll taxes, and employee payroll taxes (or individual contributions where the service is taken on an independent/voluntary basis).

There are two ways to become enrolled:

  • First, anyone (foreign resident or Mexican national) who is formally employed in Mexico must pay their employee IMSS contributions and become enrolled in the program, regardless of any other private health insurance they may have;
  • The second is by voluntary enrollment, which is open to those not in formal employment and those who wish to enroll on a voluntary basis—for example, foreign residents who are retired in Mexico.

Foreigners who wish to enroll voluntarily must have legal residency status (Residente Temporal or Residente Permanente, formerly FM3/FM2) to qualify; foreigners in Mexico with FMM visitor permits are not eligible.

Note: IMSS is not the same as Seguro Popular.

Price for voluntary enrollment

The price for annual enrollment varies depending on your age. You can get the current rates from the table on this page.  By way of example, a person in their 60s currently pays $10,350 pesos per year (equivalent to around US$45 per month).  Therefore, a retired couple would typically pay about US$90 per month (equivalent to US$1,080 per year) for IMSS insurance coverage in Mexico.

Preexisting conditions

Some preexisting conditions are not covered and these include malignant tumors, congenital diseases, chronic degenerative diseases, addictions, mental illness, and HIV—among others.  If you have any preexisting excluded conditions, you cannot enroll into the IMSS insurance program.

Other specific preexisting conditions are covered on ‘deferment’ and these don’t preclude you for joining the program, but are subject to specific waiting periods before you can seek healthcare services within the IMSS system related to them.

You can see the list of excluded and deferred preexisting conditions on this page

Application and payment

You can begin the application online or in person at your local IMSS office. You’ll need to attend your local IMSS office to present your paperwork (original and copies) duly completed, which includes:

  • Your current passport(s)
  • Your current residency permit(s)
  • Proof of address, e.g. your latest electricity bill
  • Marriage certificate* (if applicable)
  • Birth certificate(s)*
  • Application form and health questionnaire provided by IMSS
  • Two photographs, same format and rules as those for your residency permit
  • Bank payment receipt for the first-year’s premium (made on the day you visit the local IMSS office)

On enrollment

Upon enrollment, your coverage begins on the first calendar day of the following month of your application.

After you’re enrolled, you’ll be assigned to a local clinic, where you will go to see your doctor, go for regular check-ups, and obtain prescriptions for any medications you may need.  If you need the services of a specialist, referrals are made to IMSS medical specialists only via your assigned doctor.

Medications prescribed by your doctor can be obtained for no additional cost at the pharmacy associated with the local IMSS office.  However, not all medicines are available this way and if the medication you need is not available there, the doctor will give you a prescription to get the medicine at a private pharmacy and you will have to pay separately for this.

IMSS Exclusions

Your IMSS insurance does not cover eye care, dental, elective surgeries (e.g. plastic surgery, weight loss), infertility treatments, or treatments for self-inflicted injuries. IMSS coverage does not provide medical evacuation from Mexico, either.

Speed and quality of care

There are waiting periods for non-emergency procedures, and IMSS members who get their coverage as part of their formal employment are given priority over those who enrolled independently.

The reported quality of care varies, and the experience you have will likely depend on where you are in Mexico and what the wider local demand is on health services when you’re seeking treatment. Some foreign residents report good care from IMSS, others report disappointments and shortcomings.

Limit of resources under IMSS: It’s fair to say—as with all large, publicly-funded healthcare systems world-wide—that the demand for services usually exceeds the supply of resources available and compromises must therefore be made.

Hospital treatment under IMSS: If you are interned in a public hospital in Mexico, your family and friends will be expected to provide support and bring amenities to you while you are admitted. This is something that is quite different to private healthcare coverage, where everything covered is ‘laid-on’ (and billed to the account). Ask your assigned IMSS doctor about this if a treatment or operation you are undergoing will require your hospitalization.

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