Those of us who live in the United States, especially if we live in border-states like Texas and California, are accustomed to thinking of Mexico as a vacation destination, it’s close enough to fly to inexpensively, and it offers everything from horseback riding to lazing on the beach, either in tourist-filled resorts or more natural settings. More and more Americans, however, are coming to think of Mexico as a destination for something other than a fun-filled vacation: they go south of the border to have cosmetic surgery done for (on average) half the cost of similar procedures here in the States.

Put any mental images of grimy chop-shops in gritty border towns out of your head. While those exist in Mexico (just as they exist here), the vast majority of facilities are perfectly clean, with state of the art equipment and staff who go beyond the perfunctory care offered by overworked American nurses. Indeed, the “in” place for cosmetic surgery is Guadalajara, which is Mexico’s second largest city.

It’s Easy

Medical Tourism, as the trend of flying to exotic locales to “have a little work done” has come to be known, has become as easy – or easier – than booking a package tour with flights and buses, with travel agents that help patients plan their trips as if they were planning a stay in a resort. Door-to-door service is provided by companies like Air Lift, Inc., a North Carolina-based organization that arranges for women traveling to Guadalajara for cosmetic surgery to be set up with a bilingual driver, room and board in a private home, and a surgeon to do the work in question.

In a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, the public relations manager of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), Tony Staffieri, said that the number of people traveling outside the United States for plastic surgery “…has grown dramatically,” and that, “Mexico is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.”

For Guadalajara specifically, it is its close proximity to popular tourist destinations like Lake Chapala and Puerto Vallarta, which has increased its appeal as a medical tourism destination for Americans. ISAPS could not confirm the ratio, but locals say that their city has more certified plastic surgeons per capita than any other place in Latin America, except Rio de Janeiro. They also mention that Guadalajara has a public hospital where poor people can have cosmetic procedures done at deeply discounted rates.

So what’s the biggest factor in choosing to go abroad for plastic surgery, even as far away as Thailand or India? It all boils down to price. Jose Guerrerosantos, a plastic surgeon in Guadalajara, told the Christian Science Monitor that a tummy tuck – a procedure that costs upwards of $15,000 in the United States, is done for around $4,000 in Mexico. That’s a big difference, especially when you consider that cosmetic surgery isn’t covered by insurance, and must be paid for out of pocket.

But is it Safe?

While the practice of medical tourism isn’t new, the increased number of people doing it have the ISAPS working to define guidelines and offer risk warnings. Two points of concern are that some tour operators connect patients with doctors who are unqualified, and that there is no system in place to ensure access to follow-up care if it becomes necessary.

Despite this, and despite Tony Staffieri’s advice to look for savings on things like laundry soap and not a new face, the trend of going on “holiday” to have a cosmetic surgery procedure is not likely to go away any time soon.

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