-by Bea Lozano
-by Bea Lozano
Over the past week, we’ve seen a couple of videos about Playa Animal Rescue and its founder, Jan Northenscold. But when we hear about an animal shelter, or pretty much any other charity, we’re often left with a bunch of questions:
Jan has taken some time to answer these and similar questions for us:
Again, it’s wonderful to see the work that Jan, Playa Animal Rescue and so many volunteers do! 150 dogs rescued each year and put into nice homes!
On Friday I posted about the variety of health care options available to choose from on a day to day basis in Mexico. Today, I’m going to share the story of an expat who’s worked in the office here for the past few years and their experience with the public hospitals, specifically his wife and childbirth. While most expats we know won’t be going in to have a baby delivered any time soon, it reflects how good the service is even in Mexico’s “working-class” health care system.
Here it is in his own words:
“My wife and I have had 4 children; the last 2 were twins, so it was 3 childbirths for my wife – the first was in a semi-charitable hospital specialized in childbirth and maternal health in Mexico City, the second was the public-insurance hospital (IMSS) in Playa del Carmen, and the third was a hospital in Canada.
“As for cost, for the one in Canada my wife – who is Mexican – was not yet covered by public health insurance, so we had to pay it out of pocket. While they gave us easy, interest-free payment options, it was a HUGE bill, by far the most expensive.
“The cheapest? The IMSS hospital in Playa del Carmen. Our entire family was covered by my wife’s insurance; we had started a little family business, and I had “hired” her. The monthly fee was pretty low. In any case, I know you can also get full coverage on a person-by-person basis for about $350 a year. However you get this insurance, it’s simply cheap.
“Now, you’ll never guess which was the best treatment. The specialist hospital in Mexico City was very professional, and without a doubt knew what they were doing, but my wife said it was impersonal. Canada – well, it was Canada. Nice doctors, nice nurses. Did everything right, and were very friendly, but nothing above and beyond.
“The public-insurance hospital in Playa – she remembers going in; the nurse put on music, and made a real effort to make her comfortable. It was the longest birth of all them, but she never felt like they were rushed or anything, she was comfortable and well-attended the whole time.
“After the last birth in Canada, she said the level of service and comfort was a close call, but Playa del Carmen’s IMSS hospital still won out – and this is considering that it was all but free!
“Now we had our options in Playa. There were excellent private hospitals that would’ve charged anywhere up to about $1600 for childbirth – a far cry from the $8000 we paid in Canada! There were also private gynecologists who charged about the same or somewhat less.
“We were thinking about those options. But in the end we thought: we have this insurance already; there’s a brand-new, pretty-looking IMSS hospital in town. Previously they would’ve had to send us to Cancun, which we weren’t terribly interested in, but with the new hospital we could be a 5 minute drive from our house. We knew people who work at the hospital, and had been there for some of the pre-natal check-ups. Everything seemed professional and well run.
“We decided to go for it, and – considering it was the cheapest and BEST treatment my wife had – we’re glad we did.
The Down Sides
“Not everything is rosy and perfect. We had only one major complaint; I wasn’t allowed into the delivery room. This is standard practice in all public/low-cost hospitals in Mexico. The private options I mentioned would’ve allowed it. Since all the options looked really good, the question came to this – was it worth $1600 for me to be in the delivery room? Since we were still paying off the little townhouse we bought, we decided ‘no.’
“My wife would’ve liked. I would’ve liked it. But the excellent treatment they gave her helped to balance that somewhat.
“The other downside was the quick shipment out the door. They definitely took the time to make sure she and the baby were in good shape and that she had rested enough to go home. But the baby was born at 6 am; by 2 pm, she was at home. “Same day delivery” I guess …
“BUT Canada was no different! While I did get to be in the delivery room, she was also out the door before at the soonest possible moment.
“So, in the IMSS hospital, I stayed up all night in the waiting room, read an entire book of The Lord of the Rings, drank about 10 cups of coffee (there’s an all-night OXXO, like 7-11, across the road) and probably paced a hole into their brand-new floor.
“I remember when Tom came by to pick me up around noon so we could get my older son and mother-in-law to welcome our new baby as a family; we didn’t have a car, and I wouldn’t have been in the shape drive any way. I must have looked like a wreck, but I was the happiest man in the world. I had just talked to the doctor, who also looked like a wreck after being up all night delivering babies; but, as attested to by wife, he has spared no effort to make everything go well.
The Bottom Line
“The bottom line is that IMSS, one of Mexico’s “cheap” options, gives Canada’s first-world healthcare a run for its money, which cost about 100 times more (if we count all the usage we got out of it); even if Canada had been free, IMSS still won out on the comfort they provided for my wife.”
So, there you have it. I’m going to dig up some more health care stories from expats here in Mexico in the future. I can tell this already; while it’s not all perfect, you begin to see a pattern – lower cost, better service.
-by Thomas Lloyd
So, the word is out; world-class, high-quality, top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art hospitals are available in many Mexican cities, and they cost a fraction of what similar hospitals do in the U.S. The logical conclusion; all expats – including those who couldn’t afford such service back home – go to fancy space-age hospitals where they pamper you above and beyond what’s necessary.
The impression is true to a certain extent – at least to the extent that pretty much any expat who wanted to could go to this kind of hospital. And plenty do … when the feel they need it.
Reality is much more varied …
The reality is this: health care in Mexico offers a wide variety of options, many of which are suitable for expats at some point or another.
The “local” clinics
Think about this; would you feel it necessary to go to a world-class hospital with the best equipment to check out a cut for stitches or a cold that has been going on a little too long? Probably not. Even if the price is relatively low, it would just seem like overkill. And besides that, it might just be an unnecessary “trip.” Even if that hospital’s only 20 minutes away in taxi, there might be a good local clinic right around the corner from your home that can do the same for even less money.
Consider this story from Glynna Prentice, a seasoned expat at International Living:
“I once needed to see a doctor when I was staying in the colonial city of Guanajuato, where I have a small house.
“I got recommendations for fancy doctors in Leon, a major city of about 1.7 million people less than an hour from Guanajuato. But in the end, for convenience, I chose to go to a small clinic in Guanajuato’s historiccentro, a short walk from my house.
“The clinic treated walk-in patients, many of whom clearly were not wealthy. The waiting area had plastic chairs and out-of-date magazines. But the doctor, whom friends had recommended to me, was a well-traveled, middle-aged woman with a bright smile and a very professional manner. She sorted me out in no time. And her bill? Just $20.”
The Public Insurance Option
Besides the local doctor’s practices which can offer very good service, a growing number of expats are using Mexico’s public insurance (IMSS) for their regular needs. For a flat rate of about $350 per year, it covers everything, including vitamins, eye glasses and sometimes even basic dental work. While their hospitals lack the state-of-the-art equipment of the private hospitals, they are clean and cover more than just the basics; the state-of-the-art private hospitals are always there for anything very major, and for everything else the costs are kept to a bare minimum.
On Monday I’ll share the story of an expat who works in our office, and his experience with IMSS.
I’ve given two examples of different options here. But the point is that you can find basic doctor’s offices that can offer a prescription for a minor infection, or do minor stitches; some that are are small, but specialized in specific health issues; large public hospitals; large private state-of-the-art hospitals and a dozen other options, which you can choose from at any time according to your needs.
Of course, not all the clinics and hospitals are good. But the majority will deliver what they promise, and be honest when something is beyond their scope, usually quite willing to recommend the best place to seek the treatment you need. Asking around you can quickly find out which hospitals or doctors (of all budgets) are reputable.
Glynna Prentice finishes her article with this simple and important observation:
“In general, I continue to use Mexico’s high-tech hospitals and specialists for my check-ups and medical tests. But it’s comforting to know that in Mexico I have a range of options, depending on my needs. And all of it at wonderfully affordable prices.”
That’s the key – “I have a lot of options – at wonderfully affordable prices.”
-by Thomas Lloyd
Whether you’re looking for a less-known choice for retirement in Mexico or not, it’s always good to get a glimpse of some of the beautiful locations throughout Mexico; the travel options never run short here in Mexico, and if you’re looking for something new, you’ll always find it!
At a blog called gadventures.com, I found this great post about Oaxaca. Take a look at some of the pictures:
We’ve written about the Oaxaca culture fair in Playa del Carmen, but going there directly is, of course, always the best way to go!
The city of Oaxaca is yet another colonial gem, again with its own regional variation, distinct from what you’ll find in central Mexico, or on the Yucatan Peninsula, for instance. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
“Oaxaca’s historic city center is a photographer’s dream. Colorfully painted Spanish colonial buildings and churches line the narrow stone streets.
“Like Mexico City and Puebla, it’s compact enough to walk, yet it can take days to fully appreciate all the details and nuances. One need only pick a direction, and wander, eyes wide open, to find interesting angles.
“The center, along with the nearby archaeological site of Monte Albán, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
“Landmarks not to miss include the Former Monastery of Santo Domingo, with its gilded interior, the adjacent Cultural Museum of Oaxaca next door, which features a fabulous turquoise-covered human skull, and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, located in the Zocalo (main plaza).”
(Read the rest here.)
The state of Oaxaca is also the most famous area for production of mescal, a stronger-flavored sister to the world famous tequila.
The city is in the interior of the state, but the Pacific beaches are only a few hours away. They are fairly undiscovered and offer a quiet getaway off the beaten track – especially off the “international” beaten track.
-by Bea Lozano
When we write about communities in Playa del Carmen and other places, we obviously focus on the nicer communities that would appeal to expats. Yet, at the same time, we’ve been writing about charities recently in this blog.
You may be wondering how these two pictures fit together.
If you’ve been to Mexico, then you know that very nice communities and very poor communities exist side by side. In some places, the poorer communities can be dangerous for those who do not belong to that social class. This is not the case in Playa del Carmen; I have not found that the poorer communities are unsafe, even if they are not pretty.
Yet, it’s worth taking a brief look at what poverty looks like in this town.
Where do they come from?
Because of the booming tourism in Playa del Carmen, many poor farmers and village folk from throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, as well from other parts of the country – especially the states of Tabasco and Chiapas – have moved here to find work.
Many find reasonably good jobs (relative to their situation) in tourism. Many work in construction, which is a healthy industry these days. A few never make their way very well and live in fairly harsh poverty.
What does it look like?
In almost all cases – whether they do well or not – many of the newcomers live in shacks to begin with – usually concrete block walls with fiberglass roofs, sometimes huts made out of wooden polls.
Those who do well usually begin to build up a nicer home little by little, as they have the cash to invest in materials (the work they’ll do themselves.) The process of completing a home like this can take years upon years.
Thus, the most common sight in the poorer neighborhoods is partially built concrete homes. Some are abandoned and “regress” to the shack status. Others are completed to be modest but comfortable and decent homes for their owners. A few are even beautifully finished to become attractive, nicely designed homes by any standards.
Of course, there are some who, although starting out poor themselves, build substandard apartment buildings which they rent out to others for very low prices. (There are also some that are fairly decent.)
Who Needs the Help?
In all the cases mentioned above, when families first arrive to Playa, they usually have young children to think of – some of whom need to go to school. That’s why the KKIS program Bea wrote about yesterday is so important.
There are other forms of charity to help families as they try to establish themselves, helping with items such as clothing and healthcare. There are also programs for the homeless – often people who never manage to make things work.
There are plenty of ways to volunteer, donate and contribute; it’s always worth giving back to the community that you choose as your new home!
-by Thomas Lloyd
We have been pretty focused, these days, on what is going on in the community of Playa del Carmen; and have already touched upon a few ways to contribute while living or spending a considerable amount of time here. But today I want to talk about a specific organization that is making great strides to help out the kids here in Playa del Carmen.
Keeping Kids in School
A group of expats have set up and organization called the Keeping Kids in School Project (KKIS) and is geared towards helping the kids of Playa del Carmen to be prepared and stay in school. Among their many efforts throughout the year, the team of KKIS is now focused on packing backpacks full of school supplies for children who come from low income families. This effort started out with just a few neighborhoods and has spread throughout Playa del Carmen.
How does the KKIS Backpacks for Kids project operate?
The families are asked to fill out a form with basic information about the family, their income and about the children. In this case, the organization is working to help low income families who may not be able to afford all the necessary supplies which is why income is considered. The families are asked to list the supplies that are required for the upcoming school year for their children.
Based on age and grade level, the needed items may be different. Some examples of supplies that are being gathered are lined spiral notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, calculators, dictionaries, geometry sets, colored paper, colored pencils, scissors, pencil cases, and of course backpacks! The group works in an extremely organized fashion and this is thanks to a number of volunteers that show up in a local garage ever week, where the items are stored. They usually spend a couple of hours at a time and can accomplish a great deal within that time!
Giving a Hand
We are proud to have joined KKIS by volunteering our time to help pull all this together. With about six people we each have a station. There is one bag or each child or in some cases family. The bag with the correct name is pulled and ready to be stuffed. Janet pulls the applications one by one and reads off exactly what needs to go inside to the team. The person designated to that station pulls the supplies and puts them into the bag. This is truly a perfect example of a team effort!
Once the bag is stuffed it is put to the side in its appropriate spot and next to any others who are in the same family. The second step in the process is to then transfer the items in each bag to a designated backpack for each child. And finally the backpacks are delivered weekly to a different neighborhood.
This will continue to be an ongoing weekly effort from now until school starts with backpacks being delivered to different families every weekend! We are thrilled to see such a meaningful effort being handled by our fellow friends and expats here in Playa del Carmen.
The families of the children are deeply appreciative with the efforts of KKIS. I would like to share with you a short email that was sent to me by Janet Lowe who is helping to direct this operation. This will surely put a smile on your face!
“Yesterday was our first delivery. It went to the El Peten neighborhood, north and west of Playa del Carmen, a working class area. We met the families that had filed applications with us last January. Three cars of volunteers arrived at the park where some families were waiting for us. Marilou processed the paperwork, the rest of us found the correct backpack for each child, talked with the families and took photos. It was 3:00 pm and very hot. Soon a bicycle cart appeared at the curb and water ices were served to us all. When I went to thank the man he explained that this is the family business and thanked us for helping his three children. He asked if we would be in the park again today and when I said yes, he promised to be there also. I love Mexico!”
– Janet Lowe
How Can You Help?
If you would like to contribute to this organization either by volunteering your time or helping to donate school supplies please contact find the KKIS project on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-KKIS-Project/230592130368921 and send them a message. There you will also find many other projects and efforts that they are working on to help the kids in the community!
When I tell people that Mexico City is a great place to travel to, they usually give me a funny look – like they think it’s a joke, just waiting for me to start laughing.
“Isn’t that a big, ugly city, full of smog, litter, traffic, graffiti, poverty and crime?” is what runs through most people’s minds. “It’s not safe, is it?”
Mexicans as much as anyone else have a very negative image of the city (compare to how most Americans feel about New York, or Canadians about Toronto.) But contrary to what people think, it really is a good place to travel.
I love Mexico City. That’s where I’m from. But I think there’s more to it than that. At the same time, I want to be honest; some of the ugliest places I’ve seen in any city are in that city. Yet, blocks away there are some of the most beautiful and interesting places you’ll find anywhere – even compared to Europe. These are some of the reasons I recommend the city.
Colonial Charm – The old downtown of Mexico City (“Centro Historico”) with its splendid old churches and blocks upon blocks of beautiful Mexican architecture has been very well preserved and I would say it holds out well against any other colonial city, and even the charming European cities everyone goes on about.
Unique Culture – Walking around downtown Mexico City, you really feel something different. While the city is busy, it’s also relaxed and enjoys life. There are men playing guitar in the parks, and bands with young and old people dancing on the weekends. The huge city square has been home to some of the most massive outdoor concerts of all styles. And then there’s Garibaldi Square with its mariachis …
History, Museums, Art – If you love fine culture and learning about history, you will love Mexico City. It has an excellent Museum of Anthropology, and the Bellas Artes fine art museum, among many, many similar items. There are also many religious sites, like the famous Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Parks and Canals – Inside and just outside of the city there are parks of all sizes, ranging from fairly pure nature and authentic Mexican countryside to very elegantly landscaped urban “park-ettes” ideal for sitting down with an ice cream. One of the most famous parks (Chapultapec) has a castle in the middle of it. There are also the famous canals of Xolchimilco in the south of the city where long boats offer both quiet, relaxing rides, and “parties on the go.”
Food – In Mexico City, you can find food from any part of Mexico; but as all people from the city point out, it has its own unique style. There are also the city’s favorites, like tacos “al pastor” which offer meat similar to that found on doner kebabs.
Low Cost of Everything!! People who live in the city will tell you that part of its charm is that you can go out with only a dollar in your pocket (just enough for the subway and bus) and still fully enjoy an active day out in the city. Street music, art displays, shows and much more are open for the public. Museums and galleries are free on certain days. While you’ll want to enjoy the finer points of the city, you’ll find that your expenses in the city tend to be low – even compared to tourist locations in Mexico!
The Weather – I always tell people that weather in Mexico City is nearly perfect. Imagine something like late summer, but all year round. The days are sunny and warm (not hot!) and the nights cool off nicely. The rainy season can bring heavy downpours, but even these usually last for only an hour or so, and clear up quickly.
So, in conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend Mexico City as a place for expats to live (although it is in fact home to many who happily live there.) But I would most certainly recommend a visit. Plan your trip, investigate the main attractions (there are many – you’ll have to pick and choose!) and stick to the tourist areas. You’ll probably wonder why you never got to know this incredible city!
Have you ever wondered what Bono was singing about in that song?
Maybe I haven’t discovered any in depth meaning to life from U2’s music, but I sure have found a few places where the streets have no name.
Consider this working-class community right next to downtown Playa del Carmen:
Just two years ago or so, they put up street signs on the 3 main roads. The little side streets still have no road signs. Sure, the streets do have names, but you won’t find them marked in any way – and, for the most part, people don’t use the names or often even know what they are. Landmarks are the way to go.
Now take a look at this place in Chiapas:
Here, you might actually have trouble finding any name – official or otherwise – for this road!
So, living in Mexico, you will most certainly find places where the streets have no name. But, unlike Bono, I’m sure you actually will find what you’re looking for.
by Thomas Lloyd