Ellen and Mario were going to Mexico and asked me if I wanted to come along. Normally I would have been very tentative about doing this without Lee, but since Mario is a native Honduran, and Ellen lived in Honduras for a few years and speaks Spanish fluently, I thought who better could I experience my first border crossing with? I went to Cozumel once from a cruise ship, but I have never been into Mexico on my own and was curious to see it and learn about all the things folks talk about. Lots of RVers cross into Mexico for prescription drugs, dental work, and eyeglasses, so there must be something to it. Plus, I was missing Lee and this seemed like the perfect day trip to distract me. As soon as my fellow dreamers found out I was going they loaded me up with cash and a list of prescriptions to look out for. Mario, Ellen and their RV park neighbors Roger and Brenda picked me up at 9am and off we went. It’s an hour and a half drive down, which seemed long although there was some nice desert scenery along the way. We went into Yuma, went west a little bit, arrived at the Los Algodones Border Crossing where we paid $6 (per car) to park on the US side and then walked over.
One thing I should mention here is no ID is required to enter Mexico, but you do need a passport to return to the US, so double and triple check that you have your passport before crossing that line. When you turn the corner immediately you are hit by lots of stores and crowds. There are numerous men waiting around to “help” direct you to dentists or eye doctors, but when they saw Mario they largely let us be. There is no real pattern to things so we just started walking down the main street. Another important note is do not stray off the main streets. I felt perfectly safe in those areas, but even Mario wasn’t interested in straying too far. There are numerous police officers and even some members of the military in plain view, but in this case it’s not wise to stray off the path. Plus you really don’t need to, every building and square inch of sidewalk has stuff everywhere. At first it was a feast for the eyes and pretty fun, but unfortunately the goods offered became very repetitive as the day wore on. My major piece of advice is to walk and look first and buy later. The farther back you get from the entrance the more you can negotiate and truly you see the same items over and over.
The street vendors are interspersed among tons of dentists, optometrists, and pharmacies. I expected a few of each but there were more than I could count. We stopped in a pharmacy first and I was impressed by it’s cleanliness and the variety of medications they had. You can take back anything except certain controlled substances (pain medicine, diet pills, etc) and they will tell you if you inadvertently try to buy something in that category that you cannot take it across the border. They will sell it to you and even in one case quietly recommended you put it in your pocket and sneak it across, but they are required to tell you. In our very first pharmacy a retired woman told us a story about how she tried that very thing and was detained for 4 hours and threatened with prison. So not that I was really thinking along those lines, but that story completely solidified my decision. Even taking those drugs out of the equation there was an astonishing amount available and no prescription required such as Prilosec, Synthroid, Prozac, Viagra etc. I picked up Z pak antibiotics for several people and they cost around $5 for the course of 6 pills. The prices do vary though from place to place and even depending upon which generic you get, although name brand drugs are also available for a reduced price if you are more comfortable. Some prescriptions were crazy cheap (Ellen got her medicine for $3 for $100) others not so much and getting them with a co-pay in the US was actually more cost effective. Red and Pam had one medicine that fell into this category and I went to four places looking for a better deal than their co-pay ($15 for a 90 day supply), but couldn’t find anything close. I did pick up a couple of other things for them at a significant discount and ended up getting 400 pills of my prescription along with 2 courses of antibiotics for $47. That may seem like a lot but my prescription runs $34 for 30 pills without my insurance and $3 for 30 pills with insurance, but since the milligrams of the pills I got are double my normal dose I can cut them in half and get 800 days worth. Ok, now let me be super clear here. I have no idea of the quality of this medicine, I have no idea if this is a good idea or not. I am not a medical person, but I do love a bargain and I know that our medicine is very highly priced because of the necessity for the drug companies to recoup their research investments (and earn high profits) so the lower price in a foreign country does not surprise me. It’s ultimately your call whether or not to try this, but it is something that many people do every day and Ellen who was a pharmaceutical drug rep prior to retirement didn’t bat an eye.
After the pharmacy we explored some of the little shops and street vendors and I have to say they are very good at separating you from what’s in your wallet. Almost everything is cash and whatever you bring you will spend so really think that through. It was fun shopping though with Mario and Ellen because they bargained in Spanish which brought the prices down. The best deal I got of the day though was when I simply walked away and the final price was half what I originally quoted. Just keep thinking “I don’t have to have this” and physically start to walk away and you will be surprised by the results. Mario got a silver ring from $50 down to $10 that way and even I speaking no Spanish found this effective.
Although the optical prices were not that impressive, the dental prices were very good. Roger needs four implants and crowns and was being quoted 10K in the states. He got a quote in Mexico and the price was $2400 for the same work and we have spoken to numerous people here in Quartzsite who have had work done and said it was fine. Cleanings were $30, although I am sure you could get that price down, and Mario said if you have dentist anxiety they will give you codeine for the cleaning. I might be able to get Lee to try it after all! After shopping a bit we stopped for lunch in a large central courtyard that was packed with people. The servers were pretty overwhelmed and the food was mediocre, but the company was great and I bought a really cool blanket poncho for $20 there.
My favorite part of the whole day though was when Ellen spontaneously decided to get a haircut and I joined her. The woman did a very nice job, knew all the hair related words in English (including cowlick) and the haircut only cost $6!! That was super fun and I love that Ellen and Mario were nice enough to take me along. Mario in particular was incredible, keeping an eye on me all day and even insisting on carrying my bags. He’s definitely a keeper!!
It’s also worth mentioning that we were able to use American dollars at every place we went to. It was a really fun day and the only downside was the 45 minute wait to get back through customs. It’s hit and miss on how long the line is and we unfortunately caught it on a busy day. The actual discussion with the customs agent was easy though. He said what are you declaring and I said two ponchos and some medicine….he immediately passed me through. Apparently I don’t look like a criminal. Now that I have done it, I feel confident about going back and I am certain we will go again when Kelly and Bill get here.
- Double and triple check to ensure you have your passport before crossing
- Do not buy anything initially, but gather prices to use for bargaining when you get farther in
- Prescription medicine can be much cheaper in Mexico, check multiple stores for the best price.
- Under no circumstances try to smuggle restricted drugs back into the country. You can face detainment and jail time.
- When negotiating the price actually start to walk away to get the lowest price. Be prepared to say no and you will be surprised by the deals you can get.
- If you need extensive dental work done, I would definitely check out the prices in Mexico first
- Stay on the main street and do not wander to far off the path
- You can get better Mexican food in the US ironically
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