Over the weekend, four Americans were kidnapped in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, after travelling by car to the Mexican border town for cosmetic surgery, according to relatives. Two have been confirmed dead, and two survived the ordeal. Border towns like Matamoros are among the most dangerous in Mexico. Drug cartels control large regions of the state of Tamaulipas, and often hold more power than local law enforcement.
But these towns are some of the top medical tourism destinations for tens of thousands of Americans who can’t afford healthcare in the US. Medical shoppers, especially those familiar with the region, have learned to take precautions, like registering their vehicle in Mexico, which allows them to change the licence plate to a Mexican one after entering the country by car so they will be less of a target, and avoiding wandering around these towns on foot.
Price and proximity make Mexico a top medical tourism destination for Americans. The quality of care usually matches what a patient can find in the US, he added, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned about infections from surgical procedures in Mexico. According to the Mexican Council for the Medical Tourism Industry, nearly one million Americans travel to Mexico for medical care each year. For many border cities, it’s among the fastest-growing industries.
The latest advisory from the US Department of State warns against travel to Tamaulipas due to crime and kidnapping, citing that passenger buses and private vehicles can often be a target. Other Mexico border states also have travel warnings. While some border towns have become especially hostile for immigrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the US, violence against Americans in these regions is still rare.