How to Access the Mexican Healthcare System (IMSS)

Mexico operates a public healthcare program that provides defined healthcare services to payroll employees as well others who voluntarily enroll in the system

IMSS Clinic in Mexico

Mexico operates a public healthcare program run by the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social (IMSS) that provides defined healthcare services to payroll employees as well others who voluntarily enroll in the system.

Service, qualification, and enrolment

The service is formally called Seguro de Salud Para La Familia but colloquially it’s always referred to as “el IMSS.

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 and employee payroll taxes—and individual contributions where the service is taken on an independent/voluntary basis.

There are two ways to become enrolled:

  • First, anyone (Mexican national or legal foreign resident) 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 might have.
  • The second way 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 the program formerly known as Seguro Popular now replaced by the INSABI program.

Annual fee for voluntary enrollment in IMSS

If you are not formally employed in Mexico you can opt to enroll in the IMSS healthcare program voluntarily and paying an annual fee.

  • The fee 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 $18,300 pesos per year. (Equivalent to this many US dollars.)
  • Therefore, a retired couple both in their 60s would pay about $37,000 Mexican pesos per year for IMSS insurance coverage in Mexico. (Equivalent to this many US dollars.)

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 as those for a passport
  • Bank payment receipt for the first-year’s premium (made on the day you visit the local IMSS office)

You can see the list of required documents on this page

*Some foreign-issued documents will require Apostille & Translation: If you have foreign-issued marriage and/or birth certificates these will need to be Apostilled (sometimes referred to as ‘notarized’) and translated into Spanish before you can submit your application.

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.

Options for Healthcare in Mexico

Most independent working professionals and foreign residents living or retired in Mexico avail themselves of private medical insurance if they can afford to do so, and attend private doctors, clinics, and hospitals in Mexico.

For those in formal employment, some employers provide private healthcare insurance as part of the remuneration package.

See also: Health and Medical Insurance Options for Mexico

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