Mexico travel information: Safety and security
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Advice current as at 4:00 am 25 Jan 2020.
Drug-related violence in Mexico has increased over recent years. The violence is concentrated in specific areas, and some regions are almost completely spared. Make sure you research your destination thoroughly.
Outbursts of politically-motivated violence can occur across the country, with a recent increase in the states of Guerrero and Mexico City.
North and west
Many fatalities are suspected gang members killed in turf wars between the different organisations that compete for control of trafficking routes into the US. Drug-related violence is a particular problem in the northern states of Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa and Durango. Armed clashes between security forces and drug groups can occur at any time without warning. You should take extreme care outside tourist areas in all of these states.
You should take precautions in the state of Baja California, including Tijuana. There has been a rise in drug-related crime in Baja California Sur, including Los Cabos. You should take extra care when travelling to these areas.
You should take care when travelling to Ciudad Juarez or other cities in Northern States. Travel during daylight hours when possible, inform relatives or friends of your travel plans and use reputable hotels only.
There have been reports of increased security incidents in the states of Tabasco and Veracruz. There has been a recent increase in violence in the State of Veracruz, including the city of Veracruz. Illegal roadblocks have also been reported more frequently. You should take extreme care.
West and south
Illegal roadblocks have been reported more frequently, particularly in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas. If you’re driving in these states, travel during daylight hours and use toll roads where possible, although you may still encounter disruptions.
Drug-related violence is also a problem in Michoacán, Guerrero, Jalisco and Nayarit. See the main tourist destinations section below for further details.
Main tourist destinations
The Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist destinations like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. These areas have mostly not seen the levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere in Mexico. However, since 2017 there have been a number of reported shooting incidents and other incidents of violence in these areas, including in locations popular with tourists. There is currently an increased police presence in the Cancun area, including in the hotel zone. While tourists have not been the target of such incidents, anyone in the vicinity of an incident could be affected.
On 21 February 2018, an explosive device detonated on a tourist ferry operating between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Quintana Roo. The explosion injured 20 people, including tourists. On 1 March, local authorities found an undetonated device on another ferry operating on the same route. The Mexican authorities are continuing to investigate the incident.
If you’re visiting any of these areas, you should monitor local advice, remain vigilant and follow the advice of the local authorities and your tour operator.
There have been several instances of armed crime both within and outside tourist areas in Acapulco. If possible, travel by air if you’re visiting a major tourist destination in Guerrero. Due to an increase in violent crime in recent months, you should be extra vigilant in Acapulco and surrounding areas.
Crime and violence are serious problems in Mexico and the security situation can pose a risk for foreigners. Many Mexican and foreign businesses choose to hire private security. You should research your destination thoroughly and only travel during daylight hours when possible. Monitor local media and inform trusted contacts of your travel plans.
If you’re the victim of a crime and wish to report the incident, you should do so immediately to the nearest branch of the state prosecutor’s office (Agencia del Ministerio Público). No criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to Mexican authorities. Complaints must be made in person before leaving Mexico.
When driving, avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible. Keep car doors locked and windows closed, especially at traffic lights. There have been a number of violent car-jackings and robberies along the Pacific Highway and you should be careful when travelling on this route. Those travelling in large camper vans or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) have been targeted in the past. If you suspect you’re being followed or watched, drive to a police station or other safe place.
Be particularly alert on public transport, at airports and in bus stations. Theft on buses is common so keep an eye on your belongings at all times. Buses have also been hijacked in conflict areas. Where possible, travel on first-class buses using toll roads, which have a lower rate of incidents than second and third class buses travelling on the less secure free (‘libre’) roads. Most first-class bus companies perform security checks when passengers board the bus.
Passengers have been robbed and assaulted by unlicensed taxi drivers including in Mexico City. In Mexico City, use the better regulated ‘sitio’ taxis from authorised cab ranks or ask your hotel concierge to order you a taxi. At airports, use only authorised pre-paid airport taxi services.
Women travelling on their own should be particularly alert when travelling on public transport. Several serious sexual offences have also occurred in tourist areas outside of Mexico City. Take care even in areas close to hotels, and especially after dark.
Don’t leave food and drinks unattended in bars and restaurants. Travellers have been robbed or assaulted after being drugged.There have also been reports of tainted alcohol causing illness or blackouts. If you have any concerns, seek advice from your tour operator or the local authorities.
Street crime is a serious problem in major cities and tourist resort areas. Pick-pocketing is common on the Mexico City Metro. Dress down and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches. Limit the amount of cash or credit/debit cards you carry with you. Keep a close watch on briefcases and luggage, even in apparently secure places like the lobby of your hotel.
Take care when withdrawing money from ATMs or exchanging money at Bureau de Change. It’s generally safer to use ATMs during daylight hours and inside shops or malls.
Be wary of people presenting themselves as police officers trying to fine or arrest you for no apparent reason. If in doubt, ask for identification and if possible note the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number.
Foreign visitors and residents may be targeted by scam artists. Be wary of strangers approaching you or contacting you by phone asking for personal information or financial help. If you or your relatives or friends are asked to transfer money to Mexico make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam and that you have properly checked with the person receiving the money that they are requesting it.
Short-term opportunistic kidnapping - called ‘express kidnapping’ - can occur, particularly in urban areas. Victims are forced to withdraw funds from credit or debit cards at a cash point to secure their release. Where victims have friends or relatives living locally, a ransom may be demanded from them. You should comply with requests and not attempt to resist such attacks.
Longer-term kidnapping for financial gain also occurs, and there have been allegations of police officers being involved. Be discreet about discussing your financial or business affairs in places where you may be overheard by others.
You can drive in Mexico using a UK licence or an International Driving Permit. Driving standards are very different from the UK. Roads can be pot-holed. Be prepared to stop unexpectedly and beware of vehicles moving slowly, changing lane without indicating and going through red lights. Many local drivers don’t have any form of car insurance.
To reduce air pollution, Mexico City and some other parts of the country have introduced restrictions on driving. Cars may be forbidden from entering certain areas on particular days, based on their number plates. These regulations are strictly enforced and offenders face heavy fines and temporary confiscation of their vehicle. This only applies to older vehicles and not to newer models which are often used for car hire. Please double check with your car hire company directly.
There is an additional driving restriction in Mexico City, where vehicles without registration plates from the State of Mexico (Estado de Mexico) or Mexico City are not allowed to enter Mexico City from Monday to Friday between 5:00am and 11:00am, and Saturday between 5:00am and 10:00pm. If air pollution is high, generally between February and June, further driving restrictions may apply.
In remote areas, you may come across unofficial roadblocks, including on main roads, manned by local groups seeking money for an unofficial local toll.
If you take part in adventurous sports (including paragliding, skydiving, scuba diving and jet-skiing), make sure adequate safety precautions are in place. Equipment may not meet UK safety and insurance standards. Only use reputable operators, and satisfy yourself that the company is using the most up-to-date equipment and safety features, and that they are fully licensed and insured. Check that you’re covered by your travel insurance for all the activities you want to undertake. British nationals have been injured and in some cases killed participating in extreme sports.
Swimming and water sports
Shark attacks are relatively rare in Mexico, but you should take care particularly when surfing, research the local area and follow the advice of the local authorities.
Crocodiles are present in Mexico, most commonly in lagoons and coastal areas. Sightings have been reported near tourist areas, including Cancun and resorts on the Pacific coast. There are signs warning about crocodiles around many lagoons in these areas. Respect the warnings and don’t walk too close to the water. Tourists have been seriously injured in crocodile attacks in the past.
In some hotels, balcony balustrades may not be as high as you expect and there could be a risk of falling.
Foreign nationals have been caught up in property scams. Before making financial commitments and buying property in Mexico, you should seek independent qualified legal advice.
Mexico has an established multiparty democracy. Political demonstrations are common in Mexico City and can occur across the country. These can be tense and confrontational and could potentially turn violent. Onlookers can be quickly drawn in. You should monitor local media and avoid all demonstrations.
The Mexican constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners. Participation in demonstrations may result in detention and deportation.
The Mexico City Command and Control Centre (Centro de Atención a Emergencias y Proteción Ciudadana de la Ciudad de México) has information and advice on safety in Mexico City.
Quick Facts Tourist Information for:Mexico
Drive on the: right
Visitors/Tourists: 23,403,000 in 2011
Mexico City (also largest city)
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Population: 8,864,370 (in 2012)