Skip to main content

A Systematic Literature Review on the Use of Transnationalism in the Study of the Health Practices and Behaviors of Migrants

Laura Villa-Torres, Tonatiuh González-Vázquez, Paul J. Fleming, Edgar Leonel González-González, César Infante-Xibille, Rebecca Chavez, Clare Barrington
Social Science and Medicine 183: 70-79

About the Author(s)

Laura Villa Torres, PhD, MSPH, joined CHER in 2018. Her current research interests rely on the health disparities lived by immigrants from Mexico in the United States, particularly among those living with limited documentation status. Laura’s methodological strengths are qualitative research and community-based participatory methods. As part of her postdoctoral experience, Laura will expand both her population focus and her methodological expertise.


Transnationalism explores social, economic and political processes that occur beyond national borders and has been widely used in migration studies. We conducted a systematic review to explore if and how transnationalism has been used to study migrants' health and what a transnational perspective contributes to understanding health practices and behaviors of transnational migrants. We identified 26 empirical studies published in peer-reviewed journals that included a transnational perspective to study migrants' health practices and behaviors. The studies describe the ways in which migrants travel back and forth between countries of destination to countries of origin to receive health care, for reasons related to cost, language, and perceptions of service quality. In addition, the use of services in countries of origin is related to processes of social class transformation and reclaiming of social rights. For those migrants who cannot travel, active participation in transnational networks is a crucial way to remotely access services through phone or email, and to acquire medical supplies and other health-related goods (traditional medicine, home remedies). We conclude with recommendations for future research in this area.