Is It Really Safe To Travel To Mexico For Cancer Treatment?

Many patients ask if it is really safe to go to Mexico for treatment.  

Everyone has seen the sensational media stories about the drug wars and kidnappings in Mexico.  I’m sure if you are a drug dealer, you have something to worry about.  But in twenty years of working with cancer patients, the only time we have ever heard of a patient having trouble was from a couple who drove far into mainland Mexico, and had their money and passports stolen when they let them in plain sight in their car.

When patients travel to clinics in Baja, the skinny peninsula just south of California, they are met by clinic drivers at the San Diego airport.  These drivers take the patients and their luggage directly to the hospital or clinic where they will receive treatment.  Most drivers have a ‘fast pass’ so patients are not required to spend hours waiting in line at the border.  In most cases, the ride from the airport to the facility takes about 15 minutes. 

Baja is considered by many to be Southern Southern California.  Most everyone there speaks English, you can shop with US dollars and you are only minutes from the border.  The San Ysidro border crossing is one of the busiest in the world.  Annually, 40 million people and 14 million vehicles cross the border between San Diego and Tijuana, Rosarito Beach and Ensenada, without incident.

You are not required to show passports when you enter Mexico, but you do need them to re-enter the United States.  Since 9-11, security is much tighter coming into the states, and border agents may check your luggage as well as your passport.  It is no problem to bring back medicine for your continuing care as prescribed by your doctor at the clinic.  There are thousands of patients traveling to Mexico for treatment every year, and the border agents usually know the clinic drivers as they go back and forth every day so chances are they will just look at your passport and wave you through.

We do not recommend driving to the clinics yourself.  If you do, you need special insurance.  There are only 2 rental car companies that allow you to drive their vehicles into Mexico.  If you plan to drive, be sure to inquire about safe parking at the clinic where you are going.

When you first cross the border, you will be struck by the areas of extreme poverty.  Small children stand on street corners selling gum and candy.  Houses are made out of cardboard boxes or old doors (thus the term Garage Door Tijuana).  As you drive further into Mexico, you’ll find many beautiful homes and posh resorts.

While your clinic will serve organic healthy food, you may be tempted to venture out and taste the local cuisine.  If you do, be sure to ask your clinic staff for suggestions on restaurants that are safe, and that filter the water for cooking.  Drink only bottled water and never use ice.  Rely on your clinic to tell you what restaurants are safe.

Shopping can be a real treat in Baja, with the fun of bargaining and unique finds.  Thick, soft St. Thomas blankets are found only in Baja, as well as handmade crafts and pottery, puppets, quality leather goods, and hand carved crosses.  Be careful about buying jewelry as you may find the fancy Tiffany type jewelry store sells sparkling items that will turn black by the time you get home.  Merchants are friendly and happy to bargain.  Get at least 25% off the asking price – it’s expected.  Those who have perfected their bargaining skills may get a 50% price reduction.  It’s all part of the game.

Visiting a grocery store is a treat – imagine seeing a loaf of bread may be marked 30.41 and a can of soup 12.08.  Check the US Dollar/Mexican Peso currency conversion before you go – right now $100. US dolalrs equals 1,219.08 Pesos.

Rosarito Beach offers championship golf courses and beautiful resorts.  During the winter you can go whale watching.  In Ensenada, Fox Studios has an exhibit – it’s where they filmed Titanic and old World War II movies.  Taxis are plentiful, and some clinics make their drivers available to patients.  Seeing the mountains rise out of the ocean and dipping your toes in the cold Pacific is a treat for patients from the Midwest and the South.

Again, be sure you talk to the clinic staff before venturing out.  We do not recommend going out at night alone, just as you would take precautions in any big strange city when you are not familiar with the area.  But day trips can be fun if your doctor approves a little exploring.  Just use common sense, keep your money and your passport in a safe place and you will be fine.

We know you are coming to Mexico for healing, not a vacation, but we do hope you get to taste the culture, music, friendly people and beautiful scenery.

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