Staying healthy on the Rock

Making the move

Cozumel is Paradise, with the incredible shades of turquoise waters and white sand beaches, live bands playing music seaside while people sip drinks and enjoy the sunset, wild dolphins that follow boats, parrots calling out as they fly overhead… Paradise.

Of course, anyone that thinks it doesn’t ever have a downside is either trying to sell you something, or completely off their nut.

I don’t want to be a “Negative-Nelly” but paradise has it’s regular, real-life side and if you want to live here, you better set the rose-tinted glasses aside for a moment before you go making half-cocked moving arrangements.

Remember, underlined words or phrases are hyperlinks to more info

Health Care

If you’re young-ish, healthcare in Cozumel may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of moving. If you’re older, it may be one of the first things you think of. Either way – it’s something you should think about.

If you’re moving here with plans to be employed, you should be signed up for the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social program (also known as IMSS) by your employer (they pay into it for employees). If you are going to be employed by and working in your own business, you’ll have to be enrolled and paying into it yourself. You may be able to slide by without it for awhile but don’t be surprised if INM points out you must be enrolled. There seems to be some wiggle-room here for employers and as an employee, you should verify whether or not you will have IMSS coverage through your employer. I don’t know the legal in’s and out’s of it but it seems some employers here are benefitting from a loophole and having “contract” employees. This allows them to avoid paying into seguro social. So if you’re an employee for someone else, don’t assume you’re covered.

If you are a residente temporal or resident permanente and don’t have IMSS through work, you may have the option to buy into IMSS and by paying a small monthly fee, you’d have health coverage.

If you’re over 65 and looking for health insurance, you’ll find your options have been limited. Between “pre-existing conditions” and the age cut-off, finding insurers willing to provide coverage for 65 and older is quite limited. Do yourself a favour and look into this as soon as possible, so you do not find yourself in a position of not being able to find an insurance provider. The good news is, a broker should be able to find you an international insurer (depending on pre-existing exclusions) but it’ll probably cost ya.

Where to go for care

Health care in the private hospitals is cheap compared to a lot of places but at the same time, unless you have a chunk of cash to access, it can still add up quickly and become very expensive depending on what care you need. Be aware, you’ll be expected to pay for your care before being discharged.

IMSS
If you are covered by IMSS and wish to utilize this option, you’ll be going to the IMSS Hospital General de Subzona Medicina Familiar No. 2, on the corner of 30 ave and calle 11. You’ll need info from your employer to prove you’re covered (so obviously it would be prudent to have all this in your possession before needing any care or treatment) and they will give you a small booklet (“carnet”) with your information once they check you over – do not lose this! You will need to present this every time you seek care and once you are at the hospital and awaiting an appointment, they will add the booklet to the queue of patients (remember to get it back when you leave). FYI: if you are prescribed anything for your treatment by your IMSS doctor, it will be provided free-of-charge by the hospital pharmacy. So unless you want another brand version of the item, or for some reason they don’t have what you need, you won’t need to worry about purchasing it.

If you don’t speak fluent Spanish, do yourself a favour and find a Mexican friend willing to help you navigate the system. The IMSS hospital will look after you but they’ll also try your patience like nothing else…and their system is time-consuming and can be difficult for patients. I believe there are people to help in an emergency but for appointments, it would be better to bring someone to help you.

Private Hospitals

There are several private hospitals to choose from on the island. I don’t have extensive experience with any of them as my only hospital stint so far was in the IMSS hospital – but really, you’ll only find anecdotal info from most people anyway. Everyone has an opinion about which is better and of course, it’s just opinion and based on their limited experience – but if you want an anecdotal comparison of the overall quality, here’s an interesting piece comparing it to the U.S.

One thing I will say before listing the hospitals… I’ve seen people bash healthcare on the island based on a personal experience or that of a friend. However, overall, Mexico is recognised as having good to excellent healthcare for expats and the healthcare system overall has made improvements for citizens.

The main private hospitals in San Miguel:

Where else to go…

There are also some pharmacies in town that have a doctor available at certain times. Check with local friends and residents for recommendations. People usually have their favourites to recommend and may be able to tell you who speaks English (if you need it) and the hours they are available. Blood work can be done at labs around town, as well as at hospitals. X-rays can be done at the hospitals with a doctor’s requisition.

Tarjeta de Salud

If you’re coming to Cozumel as an employee or opening up a business yourself, depending on the nature of the business, you may be required to hold a special health card called a “Tarjeta de Salud” (card of health). This card requires blood work and a fee every 6 months and is to certify you have no blood-borne disease that could be a danger to others. To get your card, you’ll need to go to the General Hospital on calle 11.

Why should I think about Healthcare?

I wonder as I write this, will some people think I’m being alarmist by pointing out this stuff (that I’m about to)…? Maybe – maybe not. Do I really care? Nah. I’ve read/heard some comments about Cozumel that make me think it’s better to point this stuff out.

Dengue. Jellyfish. Sea Urchins. Assassin Bugs…or maybe just the multitude of scooters ripping around the city. You know the ones that think stop signs are just a suggestion? Or something as simple as a fall while walking (have you looked at some of the sidewalks here???) can prove serious if you land the right way. Kneecaps, wrists…heads – none of these fare well when dropped onto concrete. There’s potentially a lot of reasons to plan ahead and know what to do in case of emergency.

Cozumel is a tropical-climate, Mexican-Caribbean island – so you know…we have tropical diseases here. Surprisingly enough, some people don’t consider this. Canada and the U.S have both had west nile disease for well over a decade, so residents there should certainly be aware of mosquito-borne disease – and dengue is a tropical mosquito-borne disease, yet even back in 2015 it was already classified as “emerging” in the U.S. So yeah…tropical island → tropical disease. No surprises here.

Chagas Disease, Malaria, Dengue….we’ve got all the fun stuff!

Being endemic to Mexico, dengue isn’t going to go away anytime soon and your risks increase if you get it more than once – so while there’s no reason to freak out, be smart about it too. Fact is, the aedes mosquitoe lives on Cozumel and they are the vectors for dengue, chikungunya and zika – so if you’re a mosquito-magnet, then you’d be smart to take precautions to avoid being bitten in the first place.

There are some people who will promote vitamin B1, essential oil blends, etc – as mosquito deterrents, please, be smart. First, the only plant derived ingredient the CDC will recommend and that research backs up, is oil of lemon eucalyptus. You can find it in the repellent “Repel” – otherwise, it’s chemicals like DEET or Permethrin (treated clothing). Curious and want to read more about natural ingredients, check out this Malaria Journal study

Okay…so you might be freaking out right now but honestly, that’s really not necessary. Think of it this way; you’re probably moving from a country with endemic tuberculosis, west nile, lyme disease, hepatitis, HIV, measles out-breaks and more – all pretty serious, scary diseases…right? So don’t blow things outta perspective.

What if you have an accident? One of those delivery motos comes outta nowhere? Or you’re out for a day at the beach and you take a misstep – next thing you know you’ve got sea urchin spines or stingray spine embedded in your foot. Guess what? Hospital time.

Again, don’t be all freaking out now…but don’t leave your healthcare planning to the last minute either.

Staying Fit and Healthy

Cozumel is a place of contrasting health profiles. We have large numbers of obesity and diabetes while at the same time have competition-winning body builders, GFNY competitors and Ironman athletes and the island hosts multiple sports events and competitions. We have health food stores and restaurants, sports and health supplement stores, vegan restaurants, gluten-free products available and keto-paleo-low carb products available – and more coming all the time!

If you want to get fit or you want to stay fit after you move here – it’s definitely do-able. You can find sports fields, sports parks, Cross-fit, Zumba classes, Yoga, Salsa dancing classes, Karate, Surfing, swimming, snorkelling, diving, fitness gyms, sports stores and more on the island. If you wanna move, get to it! Cozumel also has trained, professional Massage Therapists, Accupuncturists, Chinese Medicine Practitioners, Physiotherapists, Chiropractors and more to help look after you.

Get on social media and search, do some Googling – and don’t forget to ask your local friends! There’s a wealth of info out there!

¡Salud!

Rainy day workout at Energym. There’s a few gyms in town, depending on your budget.
What’s your poison? You can buy supplements, BCAA’s, protein blends..all sorts of goodies! Sometimes you just have to ask around a little.
Mr. Cozumel 2018 body-building competition

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