Psoriasis Medical Tourism in Mexico: My Story

If you started following me, my Instagram and my blog recently you probably thought that I’m just like any other woman, carefreely traveling the world in pretty outfits. It’s hard to imagine that less than 2 years ago, however, I was sharing with you my photos and stories about my psoriasis. This is a story of my medical tourism in Mexico.

I was a contributor to a psoriasis column for two health publications, and while learning more self-confidence to ignore my flares by doing what I planned on doing and dressing how I planned on dressing or undressing, psoriasis has been a big part of my life. At some point, however, my psoriasis stopped being a problem and so I paused writing about it.

Did my psoriasis get cured? I’m sorry to disappoint, but psoriasis isn’t something that can be ‘cured’ forever as there’s no forever fix to an overactive immune system.

Did I learn to accept my condition? While I have realized that there’s no cure and I must live with it, I actually didn’t even think about it.

What changed then?

I stopped traveling full-time.

Since I left the Netherlands back in 2014 I’ve been bouncing between the US and London for a while, but without a proper base. By the time I moved to Playa del Carmen in Mexico my psoriasis was a complete mess, as you could see in some of my photos.

When you’re working remotely while traveling, this can sometimes lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. Working long hours or during awkward times without a routine or schedule can make one stressed or tired, especially if you have clients in different time zones.

In my case, I’ve left my skin without any treatment or care, and as a result, I was almost completely covered in psoriasis spots. I thought that my will to live just like any other human without a chronic disease was strong enough, and while mentally it was, physically my body didn’t really get the memo.

Over the years, various doctors in different countries have been testing multiple forms of treatment on me and every time I was moving they liked to start the entire psoriasis therapy from the beginning: topical creams, UV lights, steroid creams, charcoal products and other things that never really worked for me.

Knowing what I know about my illness and by researching a lot I decided to treat myself. One might say that we need doctors to tell us what to do and what medicines to take, and while it’s true you also know your body best.

plaque psoriasis
Before starting any type of treatment…

Becoming My Own Doctor in Mexico

By visiting different doctors in public and private sectors in Poland, United Kingdom, United States, Netherlands or Mexico I saw that dermatologists simply aren’t able to follow up with every single new drug for psoriasis that comes out.

They treat many different conditions and with many drugs being available in some countries but not all, so many times it came down to them telling me that I need to tell them what kind of prescription do I need from them and whether they can provide it or not.

If you’ve been dealing with psoriasis for some years now you might know exactly what I’m talking about. We, those who deal with this condition have to research everything, see what works for us and basically treat ourselves with doctor’s supervision.

Once I settled in Mexico I researched all my options. As a digital nomad with no health insurance (no travel insurance covers chronic conditions) my options were limited to self-funded drugs.

In Mexico, most drugs are available over the counter. Quite often tourists and locals go to Mexico just to buy medicines, as they’re available over the country and are much cheaper. Not surprisingly I was able to get Methotrexate, an oral medicine, over the counter for psoriasis that I was prescribed back in the Netherlands.

With one small difference. In the Netherlands, despite my health insurance and prescription I had to pay 55 Euros a month for these pills and required weekly visits at the hospital for a check-up. It was expensive and required me to work from home for a day.

In Mexico, I could simply go to a pharmacy and ask for the box of Methotrexate, no questions asked. It was the same exact drug in the same exact box I was receiving it in the Netherlands, but I had to pay 80 Pesos for a monthly supply, which is around 3.50 Euros.

medical tourism in Mexico


Methotrexate Treatment

As I’ve had experience with this drug before I knew what to expect, double-checked the right dosage and controlled my blood tests, which can also be cheaply done in Mexico. By saying that I knew what to expect I knew that I’d feel bad after it, as it’s a strong dangerous drug and it’s often used to treat cancer, in bigger doses naturally.

Being my only available option I was happy with the results. My skin partially cleared up and before Matt and I left Mexico we were able to stock up on more boxes.


Psoriasis Treatment in the USA

When we moved to the US and set up health insurance, I was able to see the dermatologist and after explaining what I’ve been taking, showing photos and the stages of my skin, I was able to receive the correct biological drugs without any issues.

I’ve been wanting to quit Methotrexate, as you cannot take it for 6 months before even thinking of getting pregnant. (I wrote more on psoriasis and pregnancy here)

No one has asked me to show proof of previous medical history (which would be difficult, as the Netherlands won’t send your medical history to the US for instance), told to try stupid not working topical treatments all over again. 

My doctor and I decided to try Stelara, one dose every three months that I had to inject myself with. Truth to be told it worked miracles. Within a month my psoriasis has cleared completely. While we paid a significant amount of money for US health insurance as self-employed, my insurance had no issues with anything and I was happy.

psoriasis

Left: before Stelara. Right: after 2 doses of Stelara.


Until We Moved to Europe…

As Stelara, Humira and other biological drugs for autoimmune diseases got finally approved in some places in Europe, they’re officially being subsidized by the national public health system. 

After we canceled our US insurance we were denied residency in Italy and as a result, couldn’t enter the Italian health system. Our only option was getting private insurance, which isn’t actually a bad option for more people – just not for those who require biological treatment.

The problem is that biological immunosuppressant drugs are insanely expensive due to patent issues, hence why affordable alternatives cannot enter the market until 2022. Hence why no insurance company wants to pay for them.

Due to my pre-existing conditions and Stelara treatment I had to disclose, basically all expat insurances and private insurance companies in Europe decided to reject me. I’m not talking about not covering my biological drugs but rejecting me from the insurance.

It actually caused a giant mess that forced me to fly very last-minute from Italy to Poland to give birth in a private hospital, as Italian hospital decided not to accept me without insurance that I couldn’t obtain.

When I finally give up on signing up for national health insurance in Italy and Poland, as we weren’t able to do either, I thought I’d just use my savings and pay for my medicine out of pocket until we’re able to get on the US health insurance again.

Truth to be told, I’m one of a few people who like the US insurance but despises US pharmacological companies’ greed. The system isn’t ideal, leaving many without health coverage due to high insurance prices, but as pharma companies keep increasing prices of drugs out of green, the insurance gets more expensive. However, if you actually need specific treatment or surgery, it works. At least it always worked for me.

Speaking from my experience with European public insurances (which nota bene aren’t “free” as Americans like to state, because your employer actually pays for it out of your payslip), I remember even my family members waiting 2 years for surgery or over 6 months for a specialist visit and yes, that also includes oncologists. This is why many people go privately and pay out of pocket if they need to get something done quickly and efficiently. Which proved to be true…


Trying to Get Biological Drugs in Europe

Everyone’s impression was that once you actually have the insane amount of money to pay for a medicine you need, you’ll be able to get it. This wasn’t exactly true.

I visited various doctors in Italy, Poland, UK and heard the same thing over and over again: we won’t prescribe it to you

Dermatologists I visited either had no clue about Stelara’s existence or told me they don’t support biological drugs and won’t prescribe them. One doctor said the only way I could get it would be to go through the entire therapy with topical creams, UV lights, and Methotrexate, confirm its failure again, then check myself to a hospital and ‘maybe’ I’d be able to receive it there.

This is when I turned to my good old Mexico for help again…


Getting Stelara in Mexico

Upon my research and help of my friends, I was able to get a confirmation that I could get a prescription for Stelara, assuming I’m paying for the drug itself out of pocket. 

I ended up calling up multiple pharmacies in Mexico and found out that I can pick up Stelara from a pharmacy in Mexico City. And more importantly, it costs only 68,500 MXN (approx. $3530). I specifically said ‘only’, because in the US since January 1st 2019 when pharmaceutical companies increased prices, the retail price of a supply of 0.5 milliliters of Stelara is around $10,770. I need 4 doses per year. 

Psoriasis is extremely expensive.

farmacia de paris zocalo

I’m not surprised that Utah insurance companies prefer to send people to Mexico to get their drugs and come back. While I’ve had experience with buying drugs in Mexico before, I had no clue how would it look like to get a special drug. But, it turned out to be easier than ever, but frankly, if I didn’t speak fluent Spanish I would have had to ask someone to do it for me. 

Upon my arrival in Mexico City I checked the pharmacy website in the morning to see if Stelara is available – It was. I then called them to ask which branch I should visit and found out that Zocalo pharmacy has one. 

Even though I’ve lived in Mexico City before and wandered around Zocalo (historic center) a bunch of times, I never noticed a whole street filled mostly with pharmacies. To the extent, there were 3 pharmacies at one intersection, one of which was the one I was looking for – Farmacia Especializada. 

Sidenote: I later found out that a pharmacy next door – Farmacia de Paris, is actually a historic spot from 1944 that continues to develop more than 100 remedies on site. It also has a pretty historic system of getting the medicine out of the cellar, which works like the carousel – you should see it for yourself. 

Farmacia Especializada sells a lot of expensive medicine, but it’s still a ‘Mexican-style’ pharmacy which means it’s a pretty open-air type of shop with counters almost on the street. Hence why it was surrounded by a few security guards. 

The whole process took about 10 minutes, no questions asked. I received Stelara packed perfectly in a big cooler. As I wanted to stock up I asked for another one, but as they needed to order it I was told to come back in 2 days. What, ironically, was faster than when I had to order it in California. 

Farmacia Especializada

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As you can see medical tourism in Mexico has saved me twice. When I shared my story on my Instagram post, many of my followers decided to share their medical tourism stories. Do you have any questions? Want to share your story or concern? Write it below in the comment section.

44 thoughts on “Psoriasis Medical Tourism in Mexico: My Story”

  1. Thanks for this informative post. I’m taking Humira and planning on moving to Italy and traveling in Europe. Keeping myself on the expensive medicine is my greatest concern. I have yet to find an equitable solution.

    Reply
  2. I have severe urticaria due to a medical injury that happened when I was 15, somewhat similar except I’m covered in welts and hives 24/7 – anyway, I take tapers of prednisone if it starts to get particularly bad on my face and throat just for breathing reasons. It clears it up about 70%, I was offered Methotrexate back in the day but didn’t take it because I was so young and my immune system had already been altered. Most of the time I live with my Urticaria. All the over the counter, even combined, do not help me, I’m anti-histamine resistant, there are other options my insurance doesn’t cover. The actual process of finding a good medication that works is a hard and stressful one, on top of worrying about costs. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Reply
    • FYI, recurrent urticaria isn’t from a “medical injury” ever. Prednisone is an immunosuppressant and puts you at risk of metabolic changes including diabetes. It is also linked to avascular necrosis of the foot and hip. With the hip it’s a ticket for joint replacement. You really should educate yourself so you will be taken seriously and more importantly be able to weigh the risk and benefits of treatment options more appropriately.

      Reply
      • Okay Dr. Libre, tell the US Government who paid out for my disability caused by a hypersensitivity type 3 reaction to a biologic I wasn’t supposed to have yet the doctor screwed up and gave it to me. It says “medical injury” on my chart, that’s what they call it.

        Yes, since I’m anti-histamine resistant but my mast cells pour out histamine to my own body I have to take prednisone to kill my immune system from attacking itself. It has terrible side effects, but do you know what else has terrible side effects? Hives in your throat closing up your airways. So I guess I’ll continue to go on a taper, and you can continue to not know what you’re talking about 🙂

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  3. Joe Cross, the creator and star of “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead”, suffered from the same skin/auto immune issue that you mention. He spent 60 days consuming only the juice of fresh fruits and vegetables and was was able to eliminate his symptoms. I believe you can watch the documentary for free on You Tube or Netflix. You should check it out ?

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  4. Thanks so much for this article. I take methotrexate and live in Mexico, but had no clue you can get Methotrexate here without a prescription. I’ve been flying back to the US every 6 months for refills and new doctor visits etc. Do you know what pharmacies in Mexico City carry methotrexate? Does Farmacias Edpecializades carry methotrexate too??? Thank you so much ❤️

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  5. Hello! I also have moderate to severe psorasis and have struggled with it for a couple years now. At first it was only on my scalp but after joining the Peace Corps last year and being stationed in Paraguay, my condition became significantly worse and I began to experience flareups all over my body. Thankfully, the health insurance I recevied as a member of the Peace Corps completely covered my medical costs and I was eventually prescribed up to 7 creams/lotions and shampoos. Only one worked and it was amazing (Dermexane Clobetasol Unguento Dermico). While it helped the inflammation/flakiness/itching, it did not clear it up on my scalp at all. I was sent to the doctor again and prescribed a biological drug but we were evacuated due to COVID before I ever received it. I can receive an injection type after the government approves my claim but that will take more than a few months. I was told by friends there might be some options in Mexico and then I found this article! I was wondering if there is any update on available medications now or if I should have a friend visiting purchase the Methotrexate you mentioned above? Thank you as well for posting about this, I never would have known and it gives me a little hope that there is a solution that is more efficient and cost effective out there 🙂

    Reply
    • Biological drugs take a while to approve (keep bugging them though!), but they’re so worth it! Methotrexate is still available in Mexico, it’s cheap and your friend can go and purchase it 🙂 But, have you taken it before like ever? Consider whether it’s worth it because it’s NOT a biological drug. It’s basically the same drug they use in chemotherapy, very strong and bad drug so it might screw some things up pretty easily. Dosing it and doing regular blood tests as well, so definitely ask the doctor to monitor and dose it for you. I knew exactly how much I needed to take because I was on it before with a doctor and had no biologic drug insight for a while, but otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken it to be completely honest. Hence why when I had the money I just bought the biologics in Mexico. If you start Methotrexate now it will take about 6 weeks to start working. They’ll also need to do blood tests before administering your first biological drug and if you have an infection that could or could not be caused by other drugs they won’t give it to you.

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  6. I’m wondering if you know the status of Taltz in Mexico? I’ve been in it for 4 years now (was part of Eli Lilly drug study) and it’s amazing. We are thinking on moving to Mexico so I will have to pay out Of pocket

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  7. I’ve been taking methotrexate for 10 years for skin sarcoidosis without any serious issues. I do feel tired the day after I take it but nothing else and blood work always ok.

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  8. How much does stelara cost in Australia?
    Stelara was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) this month, and will be subsidised around $380 million over the next four years in Australia. Stelara treatment would normally cost patients over $68,000 per year but will now cost around $230.

    What a difference in price between countries!

    Reply
    • Stelara costs $4228.69 in Australia, so more than in Mexico. I don’t know the exact details of how subsidized medicines work in Australia, BUT… it often means nothing apart from stupid headlines. Technically in Europe it’s also subsidized and it’s actually free, but it doesn’t mean that YOU will get it. In reality, no doctor is allowed to prescribe it without some monkey dance and years of other useless treatments taking time and hospitalization, so the actual official info that it’s available and free means nothing – I’ve never managed for instance.
      In the US it really depends on insurance – in California I paid $230 exactly, but that wasn’t included in my deductible at all, it was out of pocket. In Utah it’s included in my deductible, so depending on your deductible and insurance that’s how much you pay (that’s IF you signed up for the insurance that has it and if they approve it for YOU – which is not guaranteed, similar to the rest of the world), but let’s say if I had a surgery that ate my entire deductible I’d pay nothing.

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  9. Otezla is another drug that treats psoriasis well. I have hooked up with a pharmacist in India. Otezla is Apremilast. India now has a generic Apremilast at 42.00 USD per month. I order a 4 month supply and shipping is 30.00. Being Otezla sells for 3500.00 in the USA the India variant works well and what a bargain.

    Reply
  10. We will be flying to Mexico in a month and hoping to purchase Methotrexate while in Cancun. I’ve called a few pharmacies and so far I’m being told they don’t have it. My Spanish is not very good but I think I have been told that it is “discontinued” Even Costco said they did not carry it. I also read that there is a war going on with the Mexican government and the drug manufacturers over price gouging. They even talk about the cancer drug “methotrexate” being purchased from France because of the shortage. I’m hoping we find some while we are there. We buy it from drugmartdirect in Canada for about half what we can get it from here in the states. But it’s a pain because of the lag from the time we get the prescription and the time it takes to ship it. We always have to get a few from a US pharmacy. I’ll let you know how are drug hunting goes in Mexico.

    Reply
      • Thanks. You have no idea how much I appreciate your help.

        We leave for Cancun next Monday and if all goes well we should be able to buy Lantus for around 56.00 US dollars from Farmacia Paris. It’s the mid $300’s at home.

        Do you have my idea what happens if you try to bring more than 3 months across the border?

        We were able to do so a year ago from a small Canada border crossing north of Spokane WA. I wonder since a lot more people bring drugs across the larger Mexico borders, this results in greater enforcement of the FDA 3 month rule.

        I asked Farmacia París about metotrexato and or Ledertrexate and the WhatsApp response was “El otro producto metotrexato no tenemos
        [12:10 PM, 4/12/2021] Rocsana Paris: No hay en existencia.

        We are expecting 100 pills from the UK (Drugmart direct) this week. If it does not show up by the time we leave she will run out while we are in Mexico. I will try to call Farmacias Similares and see what they say.

        Reply
        • Are you going to Mexico City too? Because Farmacia Paris is in Mexico City, not Cancun. I think they never had methotrexate. There are issues with the drug now, but Similares should still have something.

          I never had issues flying with any drugs and I did fly with way too many packages of methotrexate once or two Stelaras so 6 months worth of supply. As long as it’s for you, it’s fine.

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          • Thank you again. SOOOO helpful. I’ve googled this 3-month question so many times. All I get is the company line of limit yourself to 3 months. I did see a few older news articles about people buying a year’s worth but the info was not very current. SW air does not fly to MC anymore and I have a million and a half miles on SW and a companion pass. Makes it hard to fly anywhere SW does not fly (all my AA an U points are saved for Europe. Our next trip will be to Puerto Vallarta. Our trip to Cancun was around 9000 points for both of us. That explains why I have so many points. I joke with my kids that when I die do not let SW know that I’m dead just log into my account. My points are in my will LOL.

          • There is also a couple of “Paris” drug stores in Cancun as well. I also contacted Farmacia Similares from their website and this is the response I received. Hopefully, I can find it even if we have to buy the branded version while in Cancun.

            “Hola Reggie, buenas tardes:

            Te agradecemos haberte puesto en contacto con nosotros por el momento este medicamento se encuentra en desabasto, no contamos con una fecha para poder indicarte cuando estaría disponible en nuestras farmacias.

            Saludos. “

  11. Thank you for sharing about your journey and especially the Stelara part. I was on Humira, then Entyvio and out of remission on both. Tried an experimental medication, but that did not work either. So, I am now going to see if I can get Stelara. However, my insurance in the USA runs out by the end of this year and will have to look at going to another country to get Stelara since I cannot afford the $40,000 annually. That said, I checked out your information and links above and a couple of points: 1) Humira and other bio-logics will probably not have generic versions anytime soon. Maybe big pharma is in bed with the USA FDA? 2) the costs of Stelara in Mexico is no longer cheap. According to your pharmacy link, it is $3500 USD a syringe. About the same as the USA. How did you get it so cheap?

    I personally do not know what to do and where to go in the world to get treatment and help with Crohn’s. If anyone reading this can help, that would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Stelara was always $3500ish in Mexico because that’s the manufacturer’s price, there was never cheaper anywhere even if you somehow would be able to get it directly from the factory. In the US the current price of Stelara is about $11,000+ – I was actually accidentally charged for it recently so can tell you that it can even reach $12,000 in some states.
      Have you tried Otezla? It’s not biological, but it’s effective in some cases. You can get it cheap from India (read through some of the other comments).

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      • Yes. I know the price in the USA. I am struggling to find another way to get it cheaper. I just re-read your article. I thought you were saying it was $3500 a YEAR. Not per dose (every 8 weeks). My apologies. On another website someone said it would be $2000-$4000 a year in Mexico. I may be out of luck worldwide because even at $3500 a dose every 8 weeks, it is cost prohibitive. I have not looked at Otezla. But, as you probably know, in the States you have to go through multiple cheap drugs to see if they work for Crohn’s before they allow for a bio-logic. So maybe I have tried it in the past and forgot.

        Anyway – thanks again for sharing. Not sure if I am going to be able to move to any country and get it for cheap.

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        • Sadly $3550 per dose is the cheapest possible anywhere, because of the manufacturer – whoever told you it’s $4000 per year wasn’t right because it’s simply impossible. Although it’s every 12 weeks, so comes down to 4 per year.

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  12. Anna
    I wanted to share our experience buying drugs.
    For large quantities of certain drugs, it does appear that the pharmacies will negotiate the price. No surprise, I’m sure you already know that. Farmacia Paris was a pleasure to work with and had a WhatsApp account for the store. It made communicating with them much easier. We negotiated a price of $57 us dollars (each) for 28 vials. Others wanted somewhere around $78 to $95 in smaller quantities.

    Crossing into the US was a breeze. Customs was more concerned about the cost than the quantity. They never asked what we had. They just wanted to know if we were bringing in more than $800 worth of goods ( we declared $1600). Once they found out it was insulin they asked to see the prescription and that was it.

    My final and perhaps most important advice for anyone wanting to bring prescription drugs across the border is to purchase a Global Entry Pass. I do believe this pre-screening that they do when you apply makes the whole experience much easier.

    Reply
  13. Hi Anna!
    So if I was recently prescribed the Choice of Cosentyx, Otezla or any other newest biological which one should I just go to Mexico to get? Living in South Texas I have many Dr friends that are actually licensed and practice in both countries. I want to get started with the best and most effective e one ASAP?
    Like you-I’m tired of the trial and error ladder every dermatologist in US prxn me!
    Thanks so much!

    Reply
  14. Thanks for sharing this information, it really helps someone like me who is trying to learn how do adapt future plans to the need for absurdly expensive medications. I’ve never had to do anything outside the US insurance / medical system so it’s a learning curve. Several years ago my immune system decided to revolt in a big way. I was hospitalized for a while while my inflammatory markers went insane and my joints blew up like balloon animals. I was eventually diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis and went through the whole process of treatments, including methotrexate, without success. Eventually going through the biologic drugs with some better results, but it’s been difficult to travel since my employer provided insurance will only allow one dose at a time, and only from their specialty pharmacy, and will not ship overseas. I recently switched to Stelara specifically to have 12 weeks between doses, and so far it seems to be working.

    It’s bad enough sometimes for me to mentally accept this condition isn’t going to get better, fine, I’ll adapt and deal with it, but I started to become depressed thinking about my dream to retire in Europe eventually, or to even retire at all needing insurance or a winning lottery ticket for these medications. I realize there are others who have already faced these issues and figured it out, I just haven’t been able to find any of those people until now. Thank you for sharing your story, it has given me some hope and at least somewhere to start figuring out my own long term plan.

    Reply
    • It sucks about insurance not issuing more than one dosage (although I recently asked to issue one dose a month later and it wasn’t a problem actually – I was surprised).

      Healthcare is so bad all around the world and so is the cost of medication 🙁

      Reply
    • You aren’t alone. I’ve always dreamed and planned to travel extensively. Just got diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and started on Humira. Now retiring early isn’t an option on a drug that costs $6k per month and I’ve already had bronchitis after 1 dose of immunosuppression. This blog is giving me hopes that it still can work, just takes planning.

      Reply

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