If you’re thinking about going to Mexico for a dentist, eyeglasses or prescriptions, here is current information gathered all in one place. For 40 years, the border town of Los Algodones, Mexico has been serving thousands of American & Canadian snowbirds with high quality, low-cost services. I decided to try it myself.
Los Algodones is the northernmost town in Mexico. It’s located near the borders of southwestern Arizona and southeastern California along the Colorado River. Yuma, AZ is right next door. Take the exit for 186 South off I-8 and go past the Quechan Casino a couple of miles until you see the entrance for the huge gated parking lot of your right, just before the port of entry.
A “medical touristry” adventure!
Except for the two Xscapers events that I attended over new years eve & mid-January, I had been parked in the same spot since mid-November (with a BLM Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) permit)—so I was really up for an adventure! Having heard about other RVers who get their dental work done in Mexico every winter, I was curious. It was time for a teeth-cleaning anyway. I also wanted to see about getting some eyeglasses for those long nights on the computer when the eyes are feeling strained. Eyes exams and glasses are very popular (and inexpensive) there, too. Los Algodones is one of several cities know for “medical tourism.” Cancun is another population destination, and they have beaches.
With the LTVA permit, I stayed in a campsite that was just a 15 minute drive to the border: Pilot Knob BLM-LTVA. It was very noisy spot, being right next to the freeway, but it was only for one night.
OK, before you think I’ve lost my mind, let’s get the obvious questions out of the way first.
Is it safe to be in Mexico?
Paid the $8 to park the rig in a gated parking lot just outside the border entry, and walked over the border all by myself! (Yes, I did.) I knew I felt safe to do this, after having visited Los Algodones last January with the Xscapers. As you can see from the photos below, I was not alone.
It’s estimated that over 3,000 people cross this border every day to visit this tiny town for the “medical touristry” industry that it has become so well-known for. The local population is only 6,000 residents, and there are over 900 dentists!
There are a few Mexican police stationed near the entrance as you come in, and some stationed along the exit path as well. All of the doctors offices, pharmacies, restaurants and shops are highly concentrated within 3 blocks of the port of entry. As long as you stay within this section of town, you’re really safe. Los Algodones has an established reputation as one of the safe border towns, which is supported & upheld by all of the medical professionals and businesses in the town. See this article on “Safety in Mexico.” If you do encounter any trouble, ‘066’ in Mexico is the same as ‘911’ in the US.
With talk of that wall, I wondered how different things might look at the border this year, compared to last year. Was that rolled up overhead barbed wire there last year? Other than that detail, l could not see anything noticeably different—except the length of the exit line back into the US in the afternoon. More on that later.
Are the businesses professional?
The many choices you are confronted with when you walk into town can be overwhelming. A few really stand out and look very urban & professional, while others are “south of the border” funky. There are actually many more professional offices off the main street just a block or two.
When you first step onto the main street, you immediately have multiple English-speaking street hawkers coming at you trying to persuade you to use this or that office. “You need a dentist? Eyeglasses? Prescriptions? I show you best deal!” From what I’ve read online, these hawkers work for themselves and are not endorsed by most doctors, just a very few who are willing to pay them a small commission. Tip: They easily take a polite “no thank you” for an answer and won’t keep bothering you.
I really wanted to have more certainty on who I was going to visit before I went, so I did some research online looking at other RVer’s blogs to see who they specifically used, and also searching for offices who had websites detailing their services and rates. Unfortunately, most of the blog entries I had time to dig up were 3-5 years old (or more) at this point, so I wasn’t really confident on who to choose.
As it turned out, I saw friend earlier that week who works at Discount Solar (where the new, quiet solar inverter was getting installed, yay!); and he gave me a business card for his dentist—complete with a map on the back. He and his family have been going to Escobedo Dental for over 10 years. That sounded like a good enough testimonial to me. Although walk-ins are fairly common in this town, he suggested calling and making an appointment to prevent waiting around the office. There was a US phone number right on the card, so I called and secured a spot for that Wednesday at 11.
Who are these dentists and what about their training and certifications?
Just like American dentists, dentists in Mexico spend five years studying dentistry, and have to pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE), as well as attend continuing education courses and conferences. Things to look for when choosing a dentist in Mexico:
- Certified in Mexico with continuing education in Mexico or US
- Any specialty training
- US memberships (American Dental Association, American Implant Association). Not required for good care, but nice to see.
- Well-established (in-business for a long time)
- Modern equipment
- Good reviews
Are the procedures and services comparable? What are the actual costs? Do they accept credit cards or dental insurance?
Major procedures like crowns, root canals and implants are also very much cheaper than in the US, but mo significant dental work was needed at this time.
Here is another, more detailed list of procedures and pricing.
It’s refreshing how forthright the dentists are here about the prices. And from the online reviews, there are apparently no surprise charges, either.
The doctors appreciate being paid in cash, US dollars. Some will accept checks(!), and many will also accept credit cards, with a 5% surcharge.
They will not bill your dental insurance, but you could try to get reimbursed yourself, by producing the receipts.
Are the offices clean & hygienic?
Couldn’t resist snapping this photo before I sat down.
There was a fleeting thought about the water that would be used, then I remembered seeing a man carrying a 5-gallon bottle of water through the courtyard.
Found this article while researching for this post,: Mexico Dentistry: Is it safe to drink the water?
The room and equipment all looked (and smelled) clean.
The dentist wore gloves and a mask while working.
When the procedures were complete, I rinsed with mouthwash, not water.
So, how did it go?
A male dental assistant reviewed the paperwork I’d completed upon arrival, and asked the usual questions about allergies and sensitivities—and whether there were any urgent issues to be addressed.
One of the three dentists in this office performed the exam, and he was was very thorough. He looked at each tooth and discussed his observations as he moved around in there. He did a very quick x-ray of the side where I explained about the gums felt the most tender, and did not find any issue there. He did find one small cavity in a lower tooth on the left side.
The teeth-cleaning was too quick. The dentist performed it, not a dental hygienist. I think he spent 10 minutes in total on that. He used more pressure than I would prefer, even after telling him that my gums are (normally) tender & sensitive. Maybe that’s why he finished up so fast—after telling him for the second time that the procedure was hurting. (I do typically suffer through cleanings, but a hygienist will usually pause and allow for a couple of breathers during the longer procedures experienced elsewhere. It’s not easy being a sensitive person!! And yes, I use a Sonicaire toothbrush to keep those gums healthy!)
Then we discussed filling the cavity. I didn’t want a numbing injection unless it turned out to be necessary. (I know that sounds contradictory based on my sensitivity levels, but I loathe getting shots, and I’m even more sensitive to drug side effects.) The dentist explained that they don’t usually recommend shots anyway. Relief! ALL the dentists I’ve ever had (in the US) just numbed you up automatically, without even asking if you wanted it first.
I didn’t feel any pain during the drilling or the filling. He spent 45 minutes doing this procedure. Then he polished all of the teeth. I’m satisfied with the nice, white filling.
All this for just $90. Not too bad.
Will I go back to this dentist next year? No. Why not? The most important reason: I want a longer and gentler cleaning. Next trip, I’d like a more modern “panoramic” x-ray exam as well, as I’ve seen in some later research.
The eye exam
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need an appointment for the Optometrist I had chosen: Algodones Optical, as they had several offices in town, and a vision test is usually pretty quick. I don’t need to wear glasses normally, I just wanted to get some “computer” glasses to help with a little late-night eyestrain. (I just work too much. If I could just stop, that would probably cure it.) 😉
It’s definitely impressive when you step inside. Shiny! So many nice frames to chose from.
Here’s the happy optician, willing to pose for this iPhone snaphot. I liked him right away.
Sure enough, he didn’t find anything wrong with my vision, but I explained wanting some assistance with seeing the computer screen at the end of a long day. So he re-tested with a different distance setting and made a prescribed recommendation.
Then I went out front and chose the frames. Didn’t go for the sexiest frames, because nobody will ever be seeing me in them, so it was only just $40 for both the exam and the glasses! (To be up-front, many of the other frames were well over $100, but that includes the exam, too.) I’m perfectly happy with these, for the occasional use they’ll get.
The glasses would be ready in about 2 & 1/2 hours. That was plenty of time to go have some real Mexican food—with a real full-strength margarita, of course—while being entertained by all the vendors showing off all their interesting wares—from silver jewelry to wooden carvings, leather hats and more.
…and then go take a walk to see more of the sights around town…
Did you read that T-shirt? I’ll just stick with just the dental care, thank you.
Funny how the pharmacies list all the drugs on sandwich boards out front, like a restaurant menu!
In front of one pharmacy, I think I was being propositioned! “Señorita goldilocks, free massage—c’mon back here!” Just kept on walking…
I’m not on any prescription meds, so I didn’t need to visit any pharmacies. If you need to do so, here is information on buying medications in Mexico. Notes: You can’t buy more than a 90 day supply, and you can only purchase for yourself, not for friends. No controlled substances, and even one particular antibiotic is restricted from going back into the US. Don’t even think about sneaking anything back, unless you’d like a tour of the inside of the jail.
Now comes the fun part: Getting back into the U.S.
After seeing all the sights, and then picking up the new computer-reading glasses, I was ready to leave. It was about 4:00 and was I in for a surprise!
Last year, when departing with about 35 of our group (much earlier in the day), we only had to stand in a line for about 30 minutes or so to get out the gate. You must show your passport and they ask you to declare your purchases.
This year, I couldn’t believe it when seeing the line of people stretching back about 4 blocks, several people deep. Is that 600+ people in that line?!! I stopped in my tracks and decided maybe to wait it out at a sidewalk cafe until it got shorter (was that even going to happen??), along with some others who apparently had the same idea. The people around me seemed to have had a few more margaritas than I did, and I was starting to think maybe I needed another one…
The street vendors descended upon us like sitting ducks. One vendor shouted “liquidation sale: you’re building a wall!” and we all laughed.
But it wasn’t looking good to get out of there anytime soon. I noticed the cars were getting through very quickly, however. Why not hitch a ride out with somebody?
I didn’t photograph them, but there were Mexican police standing on the sidewalk on the right side, watching every car as it headed toward the exit. If I was going to ask for a ride, it would probably be a good idea to not be obvious about it.
So I walked all the way to the end of the line, which was now starting to reach back up that hill. Chatted with a guy standing next to me in line, half-joking about hitching a ride—while watching for a mostly-empty American vehicle. I spotted an older couple with an empty back seat and walked over to the car, introduced myself, and asked the woman who was driving if I could ride out with them.
She looked at me and hesitated for a split second, then said “get in.” What a lively conversation we had on the way out! She’s a year-round resident of Yuma, he’s a full-time RVer who snowbirds here in the winter. He shared about places he likes to go seasonally; she shared how she doesn’t mind the hot summers in the desert!
Of course we had to show our passports and declare our goods, too, but we were through the gate in about 15 minutes, and they dropped me off at the entrance to the parking lot. Whew! (I can hear the cheers and the “boos” now from anyone reading this who did the 2-hour wait in that line. Sorry!)
NOTE: I am not recommending anyone use this “exit” method, I’m just sharing my spontaneous experience. Next year I will plan to be at that gate much, much earlier!
Tips for visiting Los Algodones
- Los Algodones observes Arizona time, not Pacific time. When you are in Yuma, do not allow your phone to “set time automatically.” Lock it on Arizona time so it doesn’t switch to Pacific time, which is an hour earlier. Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings time.
- Switch your phone off or into “airplane mode” before crossing the border (or even in the parking lot next to the border) to avoid potential costly international roaming fees for texts & calls that may come in.
- The Mexico border crossing opens at 6:00 AM and closes at 10:00 PM everyday.
- Dental clinics are typically open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Saturday. Many of them take lunch break from 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM.
- Bring your passport to get back into the US. If you don’t have one and need to get one in a hurry, see Passport Agencies.
- Bring cash (in US dollars), including some small bills for street vendor purchases.
- Bring a bottle of water.
- Shop around before you buying anything, from liquor to trinkets or prescriptions. Prices vary widely.
- With street vendors, never accept the first price, they WANT to haggle with you. You can even walk away if you don’t like the negotiated price. They expect that, and will come down further on the price. Have fun with it!
- Here is the US Customs page on Prohibited and Restricted Items and Customs, and Import Restrictions.
- Information on buying medications in Mexico.
- ‘066’ in Mexico is the same as ‘911’ in the US