Kidnapping in Mexico: why a million Americans travel to this country every year for medical tourism


Many Americans travel to Mexico for medical services, unaware that this seemingly low-cost activity can carry many risks.

Over the weekend, four US citizens were kidnapped in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, after traveling by car to the Mexican border city for cosmetic surgery.

Two of the victims have been found dead and the other two have been repatriated to their country, one of them injured.

Border cities, like Matamoros, are among the most dangerous in Mexico. Drug cartels control large parts of the state of Tamaulipas, and often have more power than local police.

But these cities are some of the top medical tourism destinations for tens of thousands of Americans. Some of them cannot afford medical care in the United States.

These people, especially those familiar with the region, have learned to take precautions, such as changing their vehicle registration to a Mexican one after entering. They also avoid going on foot.

Price and proximity make Mexico a top medical tourism destination for Americans.

“It’s economics,” said Nérstor Rodríguez, an immigration studies expert and sociology professor at the University of Austin, Texas.

“Medications and services are cheaper in Mexico, especially dental procedures. You can have your teeth cleaned or an implant placed for a fraction of the cost in the United States.”

The quality of care generally matches what a patient might find in the United States, he added, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned of some infections following surgical procedures in Mexico.

According to the Mexican Council for the Medical Tourism Industry, nearly one million Americans travel to Mexico each year for medical care. In many border cities, it is one of the fastest growing industries.

In Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, a few hours northwest of Matamoros, two main corridors extending south from the region’s main junction are lined with dozens of dental offices. Surrounding it are hotels, near ports of entry, but especially convenient for travelers seeking medical attention.

In Tijuana, Baja California, just a three-minute drive south of the border from San Diego, there is a 33-story medical center opened in November 2022.

Advertised as “the best medical tourism center in the world”, The Newcity Medical Plaza offers care in 30 specialties, including cosmetic surgery. It also has a hotel and shopping center.

“This is a reminder that the border is not safe”

Border regions are among the most prone to criminal activity and violence in Mexico.

The latest advisory from the US State Department warns against traveling to Tamaulipas due to crimes such as kidnapping. For other bordering Mexico states there are also travel advisories.

While some border cities are especially hostile to immigrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the United States, violence against Americans in these regions is rare.

“The kidnapping of four Americans and the subsequent murder of two is out of the ordinary,” Rodríguez said.

Security risks generally do not discourage Mexican-Americans and other patients familiar with these areas from crossing the border.

“If you cross the border, you know to go directly to your destination,” Rodríguez said. “I stopped going,” he added.

Source: BBC