Close to 1 million people in California alone cross the border for health care. They also get prescriptions filled according to estimates by the U.S. government. Health care is listed as a reason that between 150,000 and 320,000 Americans traveling abroad every year. So Why are foreigners buying medication in Mérida Mexico? Cost savings is the most commonly cited reason.
Rising costs of insurance and medications cause many people to cross the border in search of affordable prescription drugs. As medical tourism becomes more popular, it makes economic sense to buy medications for a fraction of the price.
Mérida Mexico is quickly becoming a major medical tourism destination. I’ve purchased medications in Mexico for many, many years. I’ve had great luck every single time except once (scroll down to see what happened) when I opted for a generic.
- 1 Why go to Mexico to buy prescription drugs?
- 2 Understanding how pharmacies work in Mexico
- 3 When purchasing medicine in Mexico should the buyer beware?
- 4 Prescription drugs bought in Mexico help manage medical costs
- 5 Name-brand vs. generic medications in Mexico
- 6 The ease of buying medication in Mérida Mexico
- 7 Popular drugs that can be brought back to the U.S.
- 8 U.S. Customs regulations for traveling with medications
- 9 How to declare controlled substances or addictive medications
- 10 The legal aspect of buying medication in Mérida Mexico
- 11 Utah sends employees to Mexico for lower prescription prices
- 12 Final Thoughts on buying medication in Mérida Mexico
Why go to Mexico to buy prescription drugs?
There are three main reasons why people go to Mexico to buy prescription drugs:
- Many drugs are cheaper in Mexico than the U.S. resulting in cost savings.
- Some drugs may be difficult to get locally.
- There are drugs that require a prescription in the U.S. Some of these are sold over the counter in Mexico.
According to Kyle Varner, MD, a physician who gets medication and healthcare services in Mexico, “Pharmaceutical companies sell the same products in Mexico for lower prices, Then, have the nerve to tell Americans that these products are not safe.
But get this, it doesn’t make sense.
Mexico does big business in pharmaceuticals. They have a financial incentive in offering high-quality, authentic medications. The pharmacies have medication in the original packaging from the manufacturer. Therefore, there’s not a lot of room for error on the part of the pharmacist.”
Dr. Varner’s best advice: “as long as you know exactly what medication you’re looking for and exactly where to find a legitimate pharmacy, buying prescription drugs in Mexico could save you money.”
Understanding how pharmacies work in Mexico
If you’ve ever been to Mexico or know someone who has, no doubt you know first or second hand about pharmacies in Mexico. I remember my first trip to a Mexican pharmacy was in college back in the ’80s. It was exactly like I had seen in crazy college movies: a little dirty and slightly dark. With a sense of intrigue and a rush of adrenaline, I purchased birth control pills and snuck away.
For the most part, today’s pharmacies in Mexico have come along way. With the increase in medical tourism, you’ll find a variety of pharmacies all over Mérida.
In any given area, you can find three or four pharmacies within a short distance of each other. Some pharmacies are open 24 hours and, notably, some are better than others.
What came as a complete surprise to me is how pharmacies actually work.
- Sometimes, a prescription is not required.
- Show the name of the medication you want to the pharmacist.
- The pharmacist will tell you if you need a prescription or not.
- If a prescription is not required, they will give you the medication on the spot, if they have it in stock.
- A doctor, who can do a quick exam and write a prescription is usually in the store or nearby.
- Just because one pharmacy carries the medication you need does not mean another pharmacy will carry it.
- For example, you may find your medication at the Farmacias Ahorra at the Plaza Grande location but the same pharmacy in the Garcia Gineres neighborhood does not carry it.
- Always ask to look at the box of the medication. Is the name the same with similar packaging? Is the packaging damaged? Don’t be afraid to ask for another box if the one you are given is damaged.
When purchasing medicine in Mexico should the buyer beware?
Of course, this saying has been around forever.
Just like anything else you purchase outside of your home country, be cautious and careful. Buying medicine in Mexico can be extremely beneficial.
- lower costs
- ease of purchase
Notably, ot all medicines or generics are the same.
Thousands upon thousands of people cross the border annually to purchase medications at lower costs. As you might expect, easy access to medications leads to self-diagnosis, prescribing, and, at times, unpredictable results. While pharmaceuticals can be a huge bargain, ensure you know what you are getting.
While the FDA oversees the U.S. drug industry, prescription drugs in Mexico are not as heavily regulated. Buyers should be cautious and ask questions before purchasing.
- How is the medication stored and handled?
- If it is refrigerated medication, has it been kept at the correct temperature?
- Does the medication have an expiration date?
Don’t purchase your medication from anyone other than a legitimate pharmacy. Remember, be sure to thoroughly inspect the packaging. Don’t accept it if you have second thoughts.
Prescription drugs bought in Mexico help manage medical costs
Unfortunately, drug and pharmaceutical prices in the United States can be outrageously expensive. For people who take insulin, are on medicare, or need specialty drugs, medication costs can be a financial burden. Many seniors travel to Mexico for just this reason.
Frequently, this is the only way they can afford the drugs they need to stay healthy. Why?
- not being able to afford the retail price
- the medication is not covered under their insurance
- Medicare doesn’t cover it
There’s no doubt about it . . . millions of people cross the border to purchase drugs.
While researching prescription drugs, you may also want to check out medical tourism. Medical tourism is becoming popular in Mexico, especially with U.S. and Canadian citizens.
Suprisingly (or not), state of the art facilities, hospitals and world-class physicians can be found all over Mexico. Most notably, in Mérida. Mexico has been intent on improving medical facilities and training doctors are top schools in the U.S. and worldwide.
When you need a medical procedure that is unaffordable or doesn’t meet insurance requirements, expand your search to include Mexico.
Name-brand vs. generic medications in Mexico
Bear with me, let me tell you about my experience. Then, decide for yourself if buying medication in Mérida Mexico is for you.
I have a HRT (hormone replacement therapy) medication I take. In the U.S., my insurance did not cover it. I paid $375 monthly to have this prescription filled and it was the only one I could take that helped me.
During my research process of moving to Mérida, I wanted to know:
a) if this medication was available
b) if I needed a prescription
c) the cost
After visiting several pharmacies that didn’t carry it, I finally found one that did.
Not only did I not need a prescription, but the savings were also unbelievable. It was $880 MXN pesos or about $40.
The day I went in, the pharmacist gave me a 20% off discount from the manufacturer.
Final cost? $32 and I was in and out of there in 10 minutes. No waiting, no hassle, nothing but easy peasy. This was the exact same medication, same box, same everything that I had in the U.S.
Now, let me tell you about the generic equivalent. I decided I wanted to save even more money. So I took my medication box to Farmacias Similares, the huge discount pharmacy chain here. At Farmacias Similares, they were running a “special” for any feminine products sold.
With my prescription, they had a give away of feminine body wash. Ok, a nice touch but I don’t really use that stuff.
Anyway, I bought the generic equivalent to my medication. When I got it home, I examined it thoroughly. Not the same product at all. In comparison, my product is a dense cream. On the contrary, this product was a light gel. Even though I saved another $6 off the discounted price, I didn’t use it because I was leery of the product’s effectiveness.
Good to know, but in this case I will stick with the name brand. All in all, I’m happy with my $335+ savings a month!
The ease of buying medication in Mérida Mexico
With the exception of narcotics and antibiotics, many medications are available without a prescription. Believe it or not, there are times when you don’t even need the actual physical prescription written by the doctor.
First, show the pharmacist a photo of the prescription on your phone. Next, your prescription is filled. Then, you keep the prescription in the event you need to have it filled again across town.
Check this out . . .
If you are too ill to pick up your own medication, no problem. Send a friend, Uber, a taxi driver or Rappi (local delivery/pick up service) to pick it up for you!
I’ve sent my boyfriend a couple of times to the pharmacy for me. Because he’s a local, he will call the pharmacy first to make sure the item is in stock. This is a great tip!
Keep in mind, some pharmacy employees may not have any medical training. Additionally, check to make sure you are dealing with a licensed pharmacy.
Even though you might not be able to determine where the drugs were manufactured or how they were handled, use your best judgment and common sense. Check the active ingredients on the label and the percentages.
If you have your original packaging or label information, compare it to the drug you want to purchase. While not all drugs have instructions for use, if they do have them they’ll probably be in Spanish.
Popular drugs that can be brought back to the U.S.
A wide range of popular drugs can be purchased in Mexico without problems. Keep in mind, federal law prohibits the importation of any drugs that have not been FDA approved. This includes foreign-made versions of popular U.S. pharmaceuticals.
Additionally, drugs considered controlled substances by the DEA cannot be brought back to the U.S. Drugs such as Rohypnol, GHB, and Fen-Phen have a high potential for abuse.
So, it’s no surprise that these may not be brought into the U.S. when buying medication in Mérida Mexico. Not surprisingly, there are severe penalties for trying to do so
Here are some of the most common popular drugs purchased in Mexico:
- Various antibiotics
- Birth control
- Hormones (HRT)
U.S. Customs regulations for traveling with medications
Clearly, be sure to check with the U.S. Customs website as information does change. At this time a prescription from a U.S. physician is required to bring more than 50 dosage units across the border. U.S. Customs agents may prohibit a supply that is for more than 60 to 90 days.
Keep these rules in mind:
- Declare all medications upon arrival.
- Medications must be in their original containers.
- Drugs not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not be acceptable for such importation.
- Not properly declaring imported medications with U.S. Customs is against the law.
FDA guidelines do allow federal agents to refrain from enforcement “when the quantity and purpose are clearly for personal use, and the product does not present an unreasonable risk to the user.” In this case, personal use generally means no more than a 90-day supply.
How to declare controlled substances or addictive medications
While customs does permit bringing back reasonable amounts of medications for personal use, it does not allow stockpiling. Neither will you be able to bring back a large number of drugs as it may be assumed it is for commercial or resale purposes.
Again, in this case, a reasonable amount of a controlled substance or addictive medication means up to 50 combined total doses.
When bringing back these types of medications:
- Declare all drugs to the appropriate customs official.
- Transport all medications in their original containers.
- Carry only the quantity needed for personal use.
- Ensure you have a prescription or a written statement from a physician regarding these medications.
Furthermore, controlled substances including tranquilizers and painkillers are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
If you still have questions about anything information contained in this article, contact the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and/or U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The legal aspect of buying medication in Mérida Mexico
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “in most circumstances, it is illegal for individuals to import drugs into the United States for personal use.” However, their website provides information and guidance about when it is allowed.
Nathan Cortez, a law professor at Southern Methodist University says, “The general understanding is you can bring up to a 90-day supply of a prescription from overseas, even though it’s a technical violation. My sense is the FDA does not want to worry about individuals going overseas and bringing back small amounts of prescriptions that last a few months. That doesn’t mean the FDA couldn’t change its mind at any point and start cracking down.”
Breaking U.S. laws regarding the importation of drugs from Mexico may lead to your arrest in the U.S.
Do not, under any circumstances, lie to U.S. Customs.
Utah sends employees to Mexico for lower prescription prices
Supported by Norm Thurston, a health care economist and Utah state representative, the Right to Shop bill passed in 2018. Thus, creating the Pharmacy Tourism Program for the state of Utah’s public employees.
This volunteer health program offers it to people who use a drug on an approved list of about a dozen medications.
The benefits? The state gets significant savings. The employee can afford the medications they desperately need.
In addition, Utah reports “the cost difference is so large that the state’s insurance program for public employees pays for each patient’s flight, give them a $500-per-trip bonus and still save tens of thousands of dollars.”
Pretty impressive, don’t you think?
This program in Utah is possibly the first of its kind. Many other companies and states are searching for ways to alleviate the high cost of prescription drugs.
Final Thoughts on buying medication in Mérida Mexico
While this article may provide some great insight into buying medication in Mérida Mexico, keep in mind breaking Mexican laws regarding the purchase of drugs may lead to your arrest in Mexico.
Penalties for drug offenses are strict. Convicted offenders can expect large fines and jail sentences.
It also goes without saying, don’t buy medicine without your doctor’s approval. Always, and it’s worth repeating, ALWAYS listen to your doctor’s recommendations for prescription medication. Even though other medications are available for sale without a prescription, they could harm your health.
Undoubtedly, healthcare does not have to be difficult and expensive. All it takes is an open mind and some careful research to discover what works best for you. You may find that a trip across the border, like many Arizonans, Californians, New Mexicans, and Texans, to be extremely beneficial and cost-effective.
To find out more about what other people do, ask them in the Life in Merida: Visitor & Resident Hangout