Is Mexico a safe place to visit?
Crime in Mexico continues to occur at a high rate and can often be violent. Street crime, ranging from pick-pocketing to armed robbery, is a serious problem in most major cities. Carjacking is also common (see the Travel Warning for Mexico on the U.S. Department of State website for more specific information). The homicide rates in parts of Mexico have risen sharply in recent years, driven largely by violence associated with transnational criminal organizations. The Mexican government makes a considerable effort to protect foreign visitors traveling to major tourist destinations. As a result, resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico generally do not see the levels of violence and crime reported in the northern border region and in areas along major trafficking routes. Nevertheless, crime and violence are still serious problems. While most victims of violence are individuals associated with criminal activity, the security situation poses serious risks for anyone, including U.S. citizens. U.S. citizen victims of crime in Mexico are encouraged to report incidents to the nearest police headquarters and to the nearest U.S. consular office.
The Mexican government has taken significant steps to strengthen its law enforcement capabilities at the federal level. However, state and local police forces continue to suffer from a lack of training and funding and are a weak deterrent to criminals, often armed with superior weapons. In some areas, municipal police are widely suspected of colluding with organized crime. In others, police officers are specifically targeted by criminal organizations. Because of the dangerous situation in which police officers operate, all travelers are advised to take a non-threatening posture when interacting with police and to cooperate with police instructions. We further advise travelers to avoid any areas where law enforcement operations are being carried out.
Pirated Merchandise: Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Mexico. Their sale is largely controlled by organized crime. Purchase for personal use is not criminalized in Mexico; however, bringing these goods back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Personal Property: Travelers should always leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place, or avoid bringing them at all. Visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes, avoid wearing expensive jewelry, clothing, or accessories, and carry only the cash or credit cards that will be needed on each outing. There have been significant numbers of incidents of pickpocketing, purse snatching, and hotel-room theft. Public transportation is a particularly popular place for pickpockets.
Do not leave valuables in rental vehicles, even when locked. Some travelers have had their passports stolen from their bags at airports. Remember to secure your passport within a zipper pocket or other safe enclosure so that it cannot be easily removed from your person or your luggage. Be vigilant of your passport even after passing through security and while waiting in a departure lounge to board your flight.
Business travelers should be aware that theft can occur even in apparently secure locations. Theft of items such as briefcases and laptops occurs frequently at Mexico City's Benito Juárez International Airport and at business-class hotels. Passengers arriving at Mexican airports who need to obtain pesos should use the exchange counters or ATMs in the arrival/departure gate area, where access is restricted, rather than changing money after passing through Customs, where they can be observed by criminals. A number of U.S. citizens have been arrested for passing on the counterfeit currency they had earlier received in change. If you receive what you believe to be a counterfeit banknote, bring it to the attention of Mexican law enforcement.
Personal Safety: Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally considered safe. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Some U.S Citizens have reported being sexually assaulted, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses or Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Individuals who have been targeted were often walking alone in isolated locations. Be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If you must use an ATM, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible ATMs on streets). Travelers to remote or isolated hunting or fishing venues should be aware that they may be some distance from appropriate medical services, banking facilities (such as ATMs), and law enforcement or consular assistance in an emergency.
Kidnapping: Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of U.S. citizens, continues to occur. So-called express kidnappings, i.e., attempts to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all of Mexico's large cities and appear to target not only the wealthy but also the middle class. Kidnappings are largely crimes of opportunity, increasingly carried out by younger, less "professional" criminals, and are more violent than in the past. The National Citizens' Observatory, a think tank, reported on June 27, 2013, that kidnappings in Mexico increased by 17 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the last quarter of 2012. The Mexican government had reported a decline in kidnappings until it stopped publishing statistics on this category of crime in April 2013. Review the sections above on personal property and personal safety for common sense actions you can take to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
A common scam throughout Mexico is ‘virtual' kidnapping, a confidence scam in which a telephone caller contacts a family member of an alleged victim, typically speaking in a distraught voice in a ploy to elicit information about a family member and then use this knowledge to demand ransom for the release of the alleged victim. Other types of ‘virtual' kidnappings include communicating via text message only from stolen or lost cell phones, or convincing individuals to isolate themselves in an effort to extort money from their families. Information that can be used against victims may also be obtained from social networking websites. Calls are often placed by prison inmates using smuggled cellular phones. In the event of such a call, it is important to stay calm, as the vast majority of these calls are hoaxes. Do not reveal any personal information and try to speak with the victim to corroborate his/her identity. Any kidnapping, real or virtual, should be reported to the police as well as to the Embassy or nearest consulate.
Credit/Debit Card "Skimming": Exercise caution when utilizing credit or debit cards. There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens in Mexico have had their card numbers "skimmed" and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged. ("Skimming" is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader, or using a camera and skimmer installed in an ATM machine.) In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists. To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings and that they only carry what they need. Most restaurants and other businesses will bring the credit card machine to your table so that you can keep the card in your possession at all times. If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure there are no unauthorized transactions.
Buses and Public Transportation: Whenever possible, visitors should travel by bus only during daylight hours and only by first-class conveyance. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads, buses on toll roads have experienced a markedly lower rate of incidents than (second and third-class) buses that travel the less secure "free" highways. Although the police have made progress in bringing this type of crime under control, armed robberies of entire busloads of passengers still occur, including recent armed robberies of local commuter buses traveling within Mexico City. There was one recent incident involving the placement of contraband under a bus seat of an unwitting U.S. citizen passenger. Be sure to check around and under your seat and immediately report any items that do not belong to you. Metro (subway) robberies are frequent in Mexico City, especially during peak travel times. If riding the metro or the city bus system, U.S. citizens should take extreme care with valuables and belongings.
Taxis: Robberies and assaults on passengers in "libre" taxis (that is, taxis not affiliated with a taxi stand) are frequent and violent in Mexico, with passengers subjected to beating, shooting, and sexual assault. U.S. citizens visiting Mexico should avoid taking any taxi not summoned by telephone or contacted in advance. When in need of a taxi, telephone a radio taxi or "sitio" (regulated taxi stand – pronounced "C-T-O"), and ask the dispatcher for the driver's name and the taxi's license plate number. Ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual to write down the license plate number of the cab you are taking. Avoid "libre" taxis and the Volkswagen beetle taxis altogether. Although "libre" taxis are more convenient and less expensive, these are not as well regulated, may be unregistered, and are potentially more dangerous. U.S. Embassy employees in Mexico City are prohibited from using "libre" taxis, or any taxis hailed on the street, and are authorized to use only "sitio" taxis.
Passengers arriving at any airport in Mexico should take only authorized airport taxis after pre-paying the fare at one of the special booths located and well-publicized inside the airport.
Harassment/Extortion: In some instances, U.S. citizens have become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by alleged Mexican law enforcement, immigration, and other officials. Mexican authorities have cooperated in investigating such cases, but one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Please note this information if you have a problem with the police or other officials. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or immigration, or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification. Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a ticket or other penalty is a crime in Mexico.
One extortion technique, known as the " grandparent scam ", involves calls placed by persons alleging to be attorneys or U.S. Government employees claiming that a person's relative – nearly always a purported grandchild - has been in a car accident in Mexico and has been arrested/detained. The caller asks for a large sum of money to ensure the subject's release. When the recipient of the call checks on their family member, they discover that the entire story is false. If the alleged detainee cannot be located in the U.S. and the family has reason to believe that the person did, in fact, travel to Mexico, contact the U.S. Embassy or nearest U.S. Consulate for assistance in determining if they have been detained by authorities. Further information on international financial scams is available on our website.
Beware of possible scams involving inflated prices for tourist-related goods and services and avoid patronizing restaurants and other service providers that do not have clearly listed prices. You should check with your hotel for the names of reputable establishments and service providers in the area. When using credit cards for payment you should try to maintain direct visibility of the person swiping the card in the machine to protect against credit card skimming.
Sexual Assault: Rape and sexual assault continue to be serious problems in resorts and other areas. Many of these incidents occur at night or during the early morning hours, in hotel rooms, or on deserted beaches. Acquaintance rape is a serious problem. Hotel workers, taxi drivers, and security personnel have been implicated in many cases. Women should avoid being alone, particularly in isolated areas and at night. It is imperative that victims file a police report, which should include a rape "kit" exam, against the perpetrator(s) as soon as possible at the nearest police station. There have been several cases where the victim traveled back to the U.S. without filing a police report or undergoing a rape exam; their attempts to document their case, later on, did not carry weight with local Mexican authorities.
Some bars and nightclubs, especially in resort cities such as Cancún, Acapulco, Mazatlán, Cabo San Lucas, and Tijuana, can be havens for drug dealers and petty criminals. Interaction with such individuals may put a traveler at risk. There have been instances of contamination or drugging of drinks to gain control over the patron.
See the information under "Special Circumstances" below regarding Spring Break in Mexico if you are considering visiting Mexican resort areas between February and April when thousands of U.S. college students traditionally arrive in those areas. Additional information designed specifically for traveling students is also available on the U.S. goverment's Students Abroad website.
Transnational Crime in Mexico: Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) are engaged in a violent struggle to control trafficking routes and other criminal activity. Recent attacks and persistent security concerns have prompted the U.S. Embassy to urge U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to certain areas in Mexico, and to advise U.S. citizens residing or traveling in those areas to exercise extreme caution. For updated and more detailed information on these areas and the threats involved, please refer to the Travel Warning for Mexico on the U.S. State Department's website.
TCOs have increasingly targeted unsuspecting individuals, who cross the border on a regular and predictable basis traveling between known destinations, as a way to transport drugs to the U.S. They affix drugs to the undercarriage of the traveler's car while it is parked in Mexico. Once in the U.S., members of the organization remove the packages while the vehicle is unattended. If you are a frequent border crosser, you should vary your routes and travel times as well as closely monitor your vehicle to avoid being targeted.