Weather conditions in Mexico vary as they do in various parts of the United States. From June to November, the country may experience strong winds and rains as a result of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or along the Pacific Coast. Some areas may experience earthquakes. It is prudent to leave a detailed itinerary, including local contact information and expected time and date of return, with a friend or family member.
Water Sports: Visitors to Mexico should carefully assess the potential risk of recreational activities. Recreational facilities such as pools may not meet U.S. safety or sanitation standards. Swimming pool drain systems may not comply with U.S. safety standards and swimmers should exercise caution. Several U.S. citizens have died in hotel pools in recent years. Do not swim in pools or at beaches without lifeguards. Parents should watch minor children closely when they are in or around water. U.S. citizens have drowned or disappeared at both remote and popular beaches along the Mexican coasts.
Warning flags on beaches should be taken seriously. If black or red flags are up, do not enter the water. In Cancun, there is often a very strong undertow along the beach running from the Hyatt Regency all the way south to Club Med. Several drowning and near-drowning incidents have been reported on the east coast of Cozumel, particularly in the Playa San Martin-Chen Rio area. In Acapulco, avoid swimming outside the bay area. Several U.S. citizens have died while swimming in rough surf at the Revolcadero Beach near Acapulco. Despite the presence of U.S.-trained lifeguards, several U.S. citizens have drowned in the area of Zipolite Beach in Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, because of sudden waves and strong currents. Beaches on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula at Cabo San Lucas can be dangerous due to rip tides and rogue waves and not all hazardous beaches in this area are clearly marked. Swimmers, waders and even people simply walking along the beaches have been washed into the ocean by rogue waves. Several have drowned and others have disappeared. Encounters with sharks have occurred all along Mexico's coastline.. Surfers and other water sports enthusiasts should always inquire about local conditions before going into the water. Do not swim alone in isolated beach areas. Beaches may not be well-marked, and strong currents could lead to dangerous conditions for even the most experienced swimmers. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.
Rented sports and aquatic equipment may not meet U.S. safety standards or be covered by any accident insurance. Scuba diving equipment may be substandard or defective due to frequent use. Inexperienced scuba divers in particular should beware of dive shops that promise to "certify" you after only a few hours' instruction. There are several hospitals and medical centers with hyperbaric decompression chambers to treat the effects of nitrogen narcosis (commonly referred to as the "bends") in Mexico. These tend to be in large cities and near tourist destinations where scuba diving is common, such as the Yucatan Peninsula. Please note you will be expected to pay for service up front and likely in cash. A number of tourists have died in parasailing accidents after being dragged through palm trees or slammed into buildings. U.S. citizen tourists have also been killed in jet-ski accidents, especially in group outings when inexperienced guides allowed clients to follow each other too closely. Accidents involving breaking zip-lines have also occurred.
Boats used for excursions may not carry adequate life jackets, radios, or tools to make repairs and may not be covered by accident insurance. Mariners preparing to depart from a Mexican harbor should visit the harbormaster and leave a detailed trip plan, including intended destination and crew and passenger information.
Resort Areas and Spring Break: Over 3 million U.S. citizens travel to Cancun and other Mexican beach resorts each year, including as many as 120,000 during "spring break" season. Excessive alcohol consumption, especially by U.S. citizens under the legal U.S. drinking age, is a significant problem. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, but it is not uniformly enforced. Alcohol is implicated in the majority of arrests, violent crimes, accidents, and deaths involving U.S. citizen tourists. See also the section above entitled "Sexual Assault."
Mountain Climbing and Hiking: Travelers who wish to climb Pico de Orizaba in Veracruz should be aware that summer droughts in recent years have removed much of the snow coating and turned the Jamapa Glacier into a high-speed ice chute, increasing the risk of death or serious injury. At least 17 climbers have died on the mountain and 39 have been injured in recent years. Rescue teams operate without the benefit of sophisticated equipment. Any medical treatment provided in local hospitals or clinics must be paid in cash. While regulation of the ascent is minimal and guides are not required, the U.S. Embassy recommends hiring an experienced guide.
The Popocatepetl Volcano, located 40 miles southeast of Mexico City, and the Colima Volcano, located approximately 20 miles north-northeast of Colima city in the state of Colima on the southwestern coast, are two of the most active volcanoes in Mexico. The area surrounding Popocatepetl has been declared off-limits by the Mexican government for several years. When visiting volcanoes, Stayin designated tourist areas and observe all safety recommendations from the Mexican Proteccion Civil that monitors the conditions. Ash emitted from these volcanoes can cause respiratory problems and can occasionally disrupt air travel.
When departing on an outing to backcountry areas to hike or climb, it is prudent to leave a detailed itinerary, including route information and expected time and date of return, with your hotel clerk or a friend or family member.
Marriage and Divorce Requirements in Mexico: In general, to marry a Mexican national in Mexico, a U.S. citizen must be physically present in Mexico and present any documents required in the local jurisdiction where the marriage will take place. U.S. citizens who marry U.S. citizens or other non-Mexicans are not subject to a residence requirement, but are required to present their tourist cards. For additional information on marriages in Mexico, contact the Mexican Embassy or nearest Mexican consulate in the United States. Divorce requirements vary according to jurisdiction. The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens consult an attorney and/or the Mexican Embassy or nearest Mexican consulate for information on divorces in Mexico.
Real Estate and Time Shares: You should be aware of the risks inherent in purchasing real estate in Mexico and should exercise extreme caution before entering into any form of commitment to invest in property there. Mexican law and practice regarding real estate differ substantially from the United States. Foreigners who purchase property in Mexico may find that property disputes with Mexican citizens may not be treated evenhandedly by Mexican law enforcement authorities and in the courts. Consumers should consult a Mexican attorney before undertaking a real estate transaction.
U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Buyers should be fully informed and take sufficient time to consider their decisions before signing time-share contracts, ideally after consulting an independent attorney. Mexican law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for unconditional and full reimbursement. U.S. citizens should never sign a contract that includes clauses penalizing a buyer who cancels within five days. Note that time-share companies cannot be sued in U.S. courts unless they have an office or other business presence in the U.S. The Department of State and the U.S. Embassy frequently receive complaints from U.S. citizens about extremely aggressive sales tactics, exaggerated claims of return on investment, lack of customer service, and questionable business practices by time-share companies, resulting in substantial financial losses for time-share investors.
A formal complaint against any merchant should be filed with PROFECO, Mexico's federal consumer protection agency. PROFECO has the power to mediate disputes, investigate consumer complaints, order hearings, levy fines and sanctions for not appearing at hearings, and do price-check inspections of merchants. All complaints by U.S. citizens are handled by PROFECO's English-speaking office in Mexico City at 011-52-55-5211-1723 (phone), 011-52-55-5211-2052 (fax), or via email at the link above. For more information, please see the PROFECO website.
Ownership Restrictions: Under current Mexican real estate law, Investment restrictions prohibit foreigners from acquiring title to residential real estate in so-called "restricted zones" within 50 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) of the nation's coast and 100 kilometers (approximately 60 miles) of the borders. In all, the restricted zones total about 40% of Mexico's territory. Nevertheless, foreigners may acquire the effective use of residential property in the restricted zones through the establishment of a 50-year extendable trust (called a fideicomiso) arranged through a Mexican financial institution that acts as trustee.
Under a fideicomiso, the foreign investor obtains all rights of use of the property, including the right to develop, sell and transfer the property. Real estate investors should, however, be careful in performing due diligence to ensure that there are no other claimants to the property being purchased. Fideicomiso arrangements have led to legal challenges in some cases. U.S. issued title insurance is available in Mexico and a few major U.S. title insurers have begun operations here. Additionally, U.S. lending institutions have begun issuing mortgages to U.S. citizens purchasing real estate in Mexico.
Labor Laws: U.S. citizen property owners should consult legal counsel or local authorities before hiring employees to serve in their homes or on their vessels moored in Mexico. Several U.S. citizen property owners have faced lengthy lawsuits for failure to comply with Mexican labor laws regarding severance pay and Mexican social security benefits.
Human Smuggling and Trafficking: Mexican authorities may prosecute anyone arrested for trafficking or smuggling of people into or out of Mexico in addition to any charges they may face in the other country involved, including the United States.