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Safety Travel Safety: Americas: Mexico

Mexico: United Mexican States
Capital: Mexico (Distrito Federal)
Population: 103,400,165
Currency: Mexican peso (MXN)
Languages: Spanish, various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages
Religions: nominally Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 6%, other 5%
Borders: Belize 250 km, Guatemala 962 km, US 3,141 km

Mexico is a Spanish-speaking country about three times the size of Texas, consisting of 31 states and one federal district. The capital is Mexico City. Mexico has a rapidly developing economy and has sought economic prosperity through liberalization of its trade regime. The climate ranges from tropical to desert, and the terrain consists of coastal lowlands, central high plateaus, and mountains of up to 18,000 feet.

Many cities throughout Mexico are popular tourist destinations for U.S. citizens. Travelers should note that city-specific information contained below is not confined solely to those cities, but can reflect conditions throughout Mexico. Although the majority of visitors to Mexico thoroughly enjoy their stay, a small number experience difficulties and serious inconveniences.

Travelers should avoid demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the Mexican authorities. The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and such actions may result in detention and/or deportation.

Sporadic outbursts of politically motivated violence occur from time to time in certain parts of the country, particularly in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid traveling in areas of the state of Chiapas where disputes are known to be ongoing, in particular the rural areas east of Ocosingo and the southeastern jungle region east of Comitan. In these areas, there have been disturbing incidents involving violence and threats of violence against foreigners and establishments catering to foreign tourists. Armed rebels and armed civilian groups are present in some areas of the state, and there is often no effective law enforcement or police protection. Some segments of the local population resent the presence of foreigners and openly express their hostility. U.S. citizens traveling to Chiapas are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for further security information prior to traveling to the region.

Standards of security, safety and supervision may not reach those expected in the United States. This has contributed to deaths of U.S. citizens in automobile accidents, after falls from balconies, after falls into open ditches, by drowning in the ocean as well as in hotel pools, and in water-sports mishaps, among others.

Crime in Mexico continues at high levels, and it is often violent, especially in Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, and the state of Sinaloa. Other metropolitan areas have lower, but still serious, levels of crime. Low apprehension and conviction rates of criminals contribute to the high crime rate. Travelers should leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place, or not bring them. All visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes when available, avoid wearing obviously expensive jewelry or designer clothing, and carry only the cash or credit cards that will be needed on each outing. There are a significant number of pick-pocketing incidents, purse snatchings and hotel-room thefts. Public transportation is a particularly popular place for pickpockets. All U.S. citizen victims of crime in Mexico are encouraged to report the incident to the nearest police headquarters and to the nearest U.S. consular office.

Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally considered safe. Armed street crime is a serious problem in all of the major cities. Some bars and nightclubs, especially in resort cities such as Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Acapulco, can be havens for drug dealers and petty criminals. Some establishments may contaminate or drug drinks to gain control over the patron. Victims, who are almost always unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs).

U.S. citizens should be very cautious in general when using ATMs in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, 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). Recently, there have been cases in which U.S. and Mexican citizens have been accosted on the street and forced to withdraw money from their accounts using their ATM cards.

Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues at alarming rates. So-called "express" kidnappings, an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all the large cities in Mexico and appear to target not only the wealthy, but also middle class persons. U.S. businesses with offices in Mexico or concerned U.S. citizens may contact the U.S. Embassy or any U.S. consulate to discuss precautions they should take.

Criminal assaults occur on highways throughout Mexico, so travelers should exercise extreme caution at all times, avoid traveling at night, and may wish to use toll (�cuota�) roads rather than the less secure �free� (�libre�) roads whenever possible. In addition, U.S. citizens should not hitchhike or accept rides from, or offer rides to, strangers anywhere in Mexico. Tourists should not hike alone in backcountry areas, nor walk alone on lightly frequented beaches, ruins or trails.

All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class conveyances. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads, buses on toll roads have a markedly lower rate of incidents than buses (second and third class) that travel the less secure "free" highways. The Embassy advises caution when traveling by bus from Acapulco toward Ixtapa or Huatulco. Although the police have made some progress in bringing this problem under control, armed robberies of entire busloads of passengers still occur.

In some instances, Americans have become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by Mexican law enforcement and other officials. Mexican authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases. However, one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Please note this information if you are ever involved with police or other officials. In addition, tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification.

In Mexico City, the most frequently reported crimes involving tourists are taxi robbery (see below), armed robbery, pick-pocketing and purse-snatching. In several cases, tourists have reported that men in uniforms perpetrated the crime, stopping vehicles and seeking money, or assaulting and robbing tourists walking late at night. As in any large city, individuals should exercise caution and be aware of their surroundings, especially when walking anywhere in the city.

Business travelers should be aware that thefts occur even in what appear to be secure locations. The Embassy has recently noted an increase of thefts in Mexico City at the Benito Juarez International Airport, at the International Trade Center and at business-class hotels.

Metro (subway) robberies are frequent in Mexico City. If riding the Metro or on the city bus system, U.S. citizens should take extreme care with valuables and belongings. Avoid using Metro during busy commuting hours in the morning or afternoon. Tourists and residents alike should avoid driving alone at night anywhere in Mexico City.

Robbery and assaults on passengers in taxis are frequent and violent in Mexico City, with passengers subjected to beatings, shootings and sexual assault. U.S. citizens visiting Mexico City should avoid taking any taxi not summoned by telephone or contacted in advance. When in need of a taxi, please telephone a radio taxi or "sitio" (regulated taxi stand � pronounced "C-T-O"), and ask the dispatcher for the driver's name and the cab's license plate number. Please ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual calling on your behalf to write down the license plate number of the cab that you entered. Passengers arriving at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport should take only airport taxis (which are white with a yellow stripe and a black airplane symbol) after pre-paying the fare at one of the special booths inside the airport.

Persons bringing private vessels into Mexican waters should be aware of an increase in reported thefts of gear at Mexican marinas. Any mariner who is victimized by this type of crime should immediately file a report with local authorities. 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.

Visitors to border cities such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Nogales, and to a lesser extent Reynosa and Matamoros, should remain alert and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Visitors are very vulnerable when visiting the local "red light districts," particularly if they are departing alone in the early hours of the morning. In Ciudad Juarez, there has also been a rise in automobile accidents in which municipal police extort money from U.S. citizen victims. In Reynosa, police have stopped U.S. citizens for questionable reasons and then forced them to withdraw money from ATM machines to pay �fines.�

Innocent bystanders are at risk from the increase in drug-related violence in the streets of border cities. In Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana, shootings have taken place at busy intersections and at popular restaurants during daylight hours. Mexican authorities have failed to prosecute numerous crimes committed against American citizens, including murder and kidnapping.

In other instances in border cities, U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and scores imprisoned after getting involved in the sale or purchase of illegal drugs. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid any involvement with controlled substances or those who deal in them.

Over 3 million Americans travel to Cancun and other Mexican beach resorts each year, including as many as 120,000 during "spring break" season, which normally begins in mid-February and runs about two months. Excessive alcohol consumption, especially by Americans under the legal U.S. drinking age, is a significant problem. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 years of age, but it is not uniformly enforced. Alcohol is implicated in the majority of arrests, violent crimes, accidents and deaths suffered by American tourists.

There have been a significant number of rapes reported in Cancun. Many of these have occurred at night or in the early morning. Attacks have also occurred on deserted beaches and in hotel rooms. Acquaintance rape is a serious problem. In other cases, hotel workers, taxi drivers, and even security personnel have been implicated. Anyone who is a victim of a sexual assault or other crime should report it immediately to the nearest U.S. consular office and should endeavor to make a report to Mexican authorities. Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you. Under the best of circumstances, prosecution is very difficult (a fact some assailants appear to knowingly exploit), but no criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to Mexican authorities.

In recent years, moped rentals have become very widespread in Cancun, and the number of serious moped accidents has risen accordingly. Most operators carry no insurance, do not conduct safety checks, and often demand high fees for any damages to the moped.

Visitors to Mexican resorts should carefully assess the potential risk of recreational activities. Sports and aquatic equipment that you rent may not meet U.S. safety standards nor 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 a few hours' instruction. Parasailing has killed American tourists who were dragged through palm trees or were slammed into hotel walls. Jet-ski accidents have killed American tourists, especially in group outings when inexperienced guides allowed their clients to follow each other too closely.

Warning flags on the beach should be taken seriously. If black flags are up, do not enter the water. In Cancun, there is often a very strong undertow along the beach from the Hyatt Regency all the way south to the Sol y Mar. Several drownings and near-drownings 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 American citizens have died while swimming in rough surf at the Revolcadero Beach near Acapulco. Beaches on the pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula at Cabo San Lucas are dangerous due to rip tides and rogue waves; hazardous beaches in this area are clearly marked in English and Spanish. Recreational facilities such as pools may not meet U.S. safety or sanitation standards. Do not swim in pools or at beaches without lifeguards. If you do, exercise extreme caution. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.

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 seventeen climbers have died on the mountain and 39 have been injured in recent years, including Americans. Rescue teams operate without the benefit of sophisticated equipment, and 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.

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.

While traveling in Mexico, U.S. citizens are subject to Mexico's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Americans who commit illegal acts have no special privileges and are subject to full prosecution under the Mexican judicial system. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Mexico's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.

Prison conditions in Mexico can be extremely poor. In many facilities food is insufficient in both quantity and quality, and prisoners must pay for adequate nutrition from their own funds. Most Mexican prisons provide poor medical care, and even prisoners with urgent medical conditions receive only a minimum of attention. Anecdotal evidence suggests American citizens who are incarcerated in Mexico are sometimes forced to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars in �protection money� to fellow prisoners.

Mexican police regularly obtain information through torture, prosecutors use this evidence in courts, and the courts continue to admit as evidence confessions extracted under torture. The authorities rarely punish officials for torture, which continues to occur in large part because confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions. In recent cases U.S. citizens have been brutalized, beaten, and even raped while in police custody. Since the beginning of 2002, 15 American citizens have died in Mexican prisons: eight of natural causes and two of drug overdoses, while two were suicides and three apparent homicides.

The Mexican government has announced an aggressive program to discourage sexual tourism and to punish severely those who engage in sexual activity with minors. Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Mexico, and is punishable by imprisonment.

Under the PROTECT Act of April 2003, it is a crime, prosecutable in the United States, for a U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien, to engage in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18, whether or not the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident alien intended to engage in such illicit sexual conduct prior to going abroad. For purposes of the PROTECT Act, illicit sexual conduct includes any commercial sex act in a foreign country with a person under the age of 18. The law defines a commercial sex act as any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by a person under the age of 18.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998, it is a crime to use the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transmit information about a minor under the age of 16 for criminal sexual purposes that include, among other things, the production of child pornography. This same law makes it a crime to use any facility of interstate or foreign commerce, including the Internet, to transport obscene materials to minors under the age of 16.

The Mexican government is required by international law to notify the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate promptly when an American citizen is arrested, if the arrestee so requests. In practice, however, this notification can be delayed by months or may never occur at all, limiting the assistance the U.S. Government can provide. Americans should promptly identify themselves as such to the arresting officers, and should request that the Embassy or nearest consulate be notified immediately.

Penalties for drug offenses are strict, and convicted offenders can expect large fines and jail sentences up to 25 years. The purchase of controlled medication requires a prescription from a licensed Mexican physician. A few Mexican doctors have been arrested for writing prescriptions without due cause. In those instances, American citizens who bought the medications have been held in jail for months waiting for the Mexican judicial system to decide their fate. The Mexican list of controlled medication differs from that of the United States, and Mexican public health laws concerning controlled medication are unclear and often enforced selectively. To determine whether a particular medication is controlled in Mexico, and therefore requires a prescription from a Mexican doctor for purchase, please consult the website of the Mexican Federal Commission for Protection Against Health Risks at

The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens not travel to Mexico for the sole purpose of buying prescription drugs. U.S. citizens have been arrested and their medicines confiscated by the Mexican authorities, even though their prescriptions were written by a licensed American physician and filled by a licensed Mexican pharmacist. There have been cases of Americans buying prescription drugs in border cities only to be arrested soon after or have money extorted by criminals impersonating police officers. In addition, U.S. law enforcement officials believe that the amount of counterfeit and substandard medications in Mexico could be as high as 25 percent. The importation of prescription drugs into the United States can be illegal in certain circumstances. U.S. law generally permits persons to enter the United States with only an immediate (about one-month's) supply of a prescription medication.

The U.S. Embassy cautions that possession of any amount of prescription medicine brought from the United States, including medications to treat HIV and psychotropic drugs such as Valium, can result in arrest if Mexican authorities suspect abuse or if the quantity of the prescription medicine exceeds the amount required for several days' use. Individuals should consider carrying a copy of the prescription and a Mexican doctor's letter explaining that the quantity of medication is appropriate for their personal medical use.

Adequate medical care can be found in all major cities. Excellent health facilities are available in Mexico City. Care in more remote areas is limited. Standards of medical training, patient care and business practices vary greatly among medical facilities in beach resorts throughout Mexico. In addition to other publicly available information, Americans may consult the U.S. Embassy's web site or the U.S. Embassy, a consulate or consular agency prior to seeking medical attention.

Two volcanoes in Mexico have been active in recent years: Popocatepetl, or El Popo, situated 38 miles southeast of Mexico City, and the Volcan de Colima, located on the Jalisco-Colima border. Updated information on these volcanoes may be found at and

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mexico is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:

Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair

Public transportation vehicles, specifically taxis and city buses, often do not comply with traffic regulations, including observing speed limits and stopping at red lights.

U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Mexico. The Government of Mexico strictly regulates the entry of vehicles into Mexico. Mexican law requires that vehicles be driven only by their owners, or that the owner be inside the vehicle. If not, the vehicle may be seized by Mexican customs and will not be returned under any circumstances.

Mexican insurance is required for all vehicles, including rental vehicles. Mexican auto insurance is sold in most cities and towns on both sides of the border. U.S. automobile liability insurance is not valid in Mexico, nor is most collision and comprehensive coverage issued by U.S. companies. Motor vehicle insurance is considered invalid in Mexico if the driver is found to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If you are involved in an automobile accident, you will be taken into police custody until it can be determined who is liable and whether you have the ability to pay any penalty. If you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you may be prevented from departing the country even if you require life-saving medical care, and you are almost certain to spend some time in jail until all parties are satisfied that responsibility has been assigned and adequate financial satisfaction received. Drivers may face criminal charges if injuries or damages are serious.

Avoid driving on Mexican highways at night. If you have an emergency while driving, the equivalent of "911" in Mexico is "060", but this number is not always answered. If you are driving on a toll highway (or "cuota") or any other major highway, you may contact the "Green Angels," a fleet of trucks with bilingual crews. The "Green Angels" may be reached directly at (01) 55 5250-8221. If you are unable to call them, pull off the road and lift the hood of your car; chances are they will find you.

Vehicular traffic in Mexico City is restricted in order to reduce air pollution. The restriction is based on the last digit of the vehicle license plate. This applies equally to permanent, temporary, and foreign (U.S.) plates:

Monday: No driving if license plate ends with 5 or 6.
Tuesday: No driving if license plate ends with 7 or 8.
Wednesday: No driving if license plate ends with 3 or 4.
Thursday: No driving if license plate ends with 1 or 2.
Friday: No driving if license plate ends with 9 or 0.
Saturday and Sunday: All vehicles may be driven.

Cars with license plates that end in letters rather than numbers may not drive on Fridays.

For additional information concerning Mexican driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, mandatory insurance, etc., please contact the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR) at telephone 1-800-44-MEXICO (639-426), or its web site at Travelers are advised to consult with the Mexican Embassy or the nearest Mexican consulate in the United States for additional, detailed information prior to entering Mexico. For travel in the Baja California peninsula, travelers can also consult

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Mexico's Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mexico's air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet website at

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone (618) 229-4801.

Please also refer to the separate Worldwide Caution Public Announcement.

July 23, 2004

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