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Mexico Makes Retirement Affordable for Americans, Canadians, with Healthcare & Discount Card

by Alvin Starkman of Casa Machaya
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The cost of living in Mexico for American and Canadian retirees, and for that matter expats from other Western World countries, is a fraction of what it costs to retire reasonably in one's former homeland. Although upon reaching the golden age of 60 the annual premium for participation in the Mexican national healthcare plan (IMSS - Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social) increases, medical coverage is still a bargain, both using private doctors and hospitals, and IMSS. Furthermore, becoming a senior citizen in Mexico provides Americans and Canadians with significant discounts in other areas as well as the occasional freebie.

The amount of money it takes to comfortably get by in Mexico, meaning to maintain one's pre - retirement lifestyle, can vary significantly from state to state, and in some cases from district to district. For example the cost of living in San Miguel de Allende is much higher than in the southern Mexico city of Oaxaca. It costs about half to live in Oaxaca and maintain the same middle class lifestyle as before. In other cities it may cost a fair bit more, but not nearly as much as in the US or Canada.

Whoever heard of healthcare for a senior couple in the US costing $600 USD a year, or property taxes on a principal residence dropping by 50% upon turning 60? As long as an expat resident in Mexico has reached the age of 60, and is either a permanent resident with an Inmigrado card or a temporary resident required to renew an FM visa on an annual basis, he or she is entitled to virtually all the perks and benefits of Mexican citizens of like age.

INAPAM: Discount Card for Americans and Canadians Living in Mexico

Upon presentation of the appropriate documentation to Mexican government authorities, one is entitled to receive, free of charge, the TARJETA INAPAM (Instituto Nacional de Las Personas Adultas Mayores - national institute of older adult persons).

First class bus tickets for INAPAM members are discounted by 50%, meaning that instead of paying 726 pesos for the ultra luxury Platino ADO bus service from Oaxaca to Mexico City, it costs only 363 pesos, or about $30 USD. Some domestic airlines also offer discounts to senior citizens. Aerotucan offers a 10% discount. While the amount appears modest, it does mean that for example, the high cost of flights between Oaxaca and the Pacific beach towns of Huatulco and Puerto Escondido becomes a little more palatable and perhaps weighs the decision to either fly to the coast or travel by van or bus.

Parking tickets in Oaxaca are discounted by 50% if paid within 15 days of the infraction, but with an INAPAM card the courtesy reduction is valid for 30 days. At the Cinépolis movie theatre chain seniors receive a considerable discount. However, there are weekday matinee specials which sometimes result in greater savings by not using one's INAPAM card. Entrance into archaeological sites and federal government run museums is free. The Soriana supermarket chain offers a modest discount on prescription medications.

And yes, realty taxes are reduced by 50% on one's principal residence. The effective saving is actually 35%, since payment of taxes in January of the subsequent taxation year already results in a 15% discount. Regretfully one cannot attend at the tax office in January and receive the 15% early payment discount, plus the 50% discount for having one toe in the grave.

There are other discounts, but the foregoing provides a sampling of the savings available to expats 60 years of age or older with the INAPAM card.

IMSS: The Mexican National Healthcare Program

In 2011 the total cost for comprehensive medical insurance, with no deductibles every payable, for a couple at least one of whom is 60, is 6,944 pesos, or about $600 USD. This entitles you to:

Admittedly the quality care and cleanliness at IMSS in general may not be up to the standards to which you have become accustomed, simply by virtue of the fact that many of the medical personnel in this system have been trained at universities with lesser reputations than those in the US and Canada, and Westerners are often unjustifiably anal about cleanliness, but there are two important points:

  1. Many US and Canadian trained private doctors perform surgeries in IMSS hospitals, and in fact IMSS hospitals often have state-of-the-art equipment not available in private hospitals.
  2. You always have the option of using private doctors and surgeons, and still having IMSS coverage as a safeguard in the event you require long - term hospitalization and complicated surgery. The private hospitals simply do not have the equipment that IMSS has, and as indicated above your chosen surgeon may perform your surgery at an IMSS hospital.

Private Doctors & Hospitals in Mexico

The cost of an appointment with an English speaking private doctor in Oaxaca is between about 200 and 500 pesos - the amount many Americans pay for their co-payment or deductible. Many Mexican doctors, especially in the private system, have had their medical training abroad, and / or regularly attend specialty seminars and courses in the US, Canada or overseas. Once you establish your network of doctors, you're reasonably assured of quality medical care at an extremely reasonable cost.

Mexican cities have private hospitals owned by one or a group of doctors. Staff physicians regularly perform simple surgeries such as for broken legs and suturing, and have ambulances and emergency trauma teams. The cost per night of staying in one of these hospitals is a fraction of the cost to spend a night in a US hospital. The larger Mexican cities also have specialty hospitals to treat children, as well as for catastrophic injuries such as cancer and stroke.

The Decision - Making Process for American and Canadian Seniors Considering Retirement in Mexico Based on Comparative Cost of Living

Healthcare costs and the diminishing value of retirement portfolios are perhaps the most important considerations for Americans approaching retirement age. For Canadians of course, the former does not figure into the equation. But for both Americans and Canadians Mexico should provide food for thought.

Explore prospective options for retirement locations in Mexico by visiting a few cities and speaking with others who have done it. Many do not participate in IMSS for a variety of reasons, some of which have been touched upon. But for those in the middle classes who perhaps cannot risk catastrophic illness without coverage, the Mexican national healthcare plan should figure into the broader decision - making process. And INAPAM might help to tip the scale just enough.


Alvin Starkman operates Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast, combining apartment amenities with hotel service. Alvin has written more than 200 articles about life and cultural traditions in Mexico, specializing in Oaxaca. He is a paid contributing writer for Mexico Today, a program for Marca País - Imagen de México.


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