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Mexico travel advice & personal safety tips

Mexico is a popular destination for travelers and expats alike. Every year, millions of US citizens travel safely to the country – even amidst the pandemic. Even though the local government prioritizes security in tourist areas, news headlines leave many wondering: is Mexico safe? While you won’t find drug cartels at every street corner if that’s what you’re imagining, crime and kidnapping are issues to be aware of. This Pacific Prime Latin America article offers travel advice and tips for personal safety in Mexico so you can have a safe and enjoyable trip.

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Safety in Mexico: What you should know before traveling

“Is Mexico dangerous for tourists?” is a commonly asked question that does not have a straightforward answer. Security and safety in Mexico vary depending on where you are in the country. Before making travel plans or embarking on your trip, it’s best to check travel advisories for Mexico. The US Department of State offers advice by region so you can get an idea of the place you’re traveling to in real-time.

Cartel violence in Mexico is one of the most common concerns and is only exacerbated by dramatic news headlines. However, drug-related violence isn’t prominent throughout the country. The reality is that cartel violence usually takes place in specific areas and doesn’t affect other regions. Drug-related flare-ups are more common in the northern states of:

  • Baja California
  • Chihuahua
  • Coahuila
  • Durango
  • Nuevo León
  • Sinaloa
  • Sonora
  • Tamaulipas
  • Tampico
  • Zacatecas

Keep in mind that cartel violence only occurs in a small fraction of Mexico’s 2,400-plus municipalities. Popular tourist areas in affected states tend to be safe to visit, and tourists and expats are generally unaffected.

Tips for personal safety in Mexico

It’s worth repeating that some places in Mexico are safer than others. Some areas have high levels of crime, from carjackings to kidnappings, while the main concerns in tourist hotspots usually surround petty theft. This means you should give careful consideration to where you want to travel to in Mexico, as well as exercise caution in general.

Aside from choosing your destination carefully, here are some more useful tips for personal safety in Mexico.

Keep your money and valuables safe

You should only exchange money and use ATMs during daylight hours, and in areas with other people around. ATMs inside shopping malls are typically a safer option. Never carry large amounts of cash either. If you see an item you want to buy, put down a small deposit to secure the item instead.

Store excess cash and cards safely at the hotel. Speaking of cards, always keep them in sight. Ask the waiter to bring the payment terminal to your table or go to the cashier with your card if that’s not an option. When paying for fuel, use your credit card instead of a debit card and keep a watchful eye as gas stations are notorious scamming spots.

Flaunting your jewelry and expensive items when walking around is asking for trouble, so keep your flashy accessories to a minimum.

Watch out for pickpockets

Thieves look for opportunity everywhere, and Mexico is no exception. Stay alert and keep your belongings close to you, especially in crowded areas. It’s common for pickpockets to operate in airports, bus stations, tourist attractions, and busy local markets. When touring, only carry your essentials and a small amount of cash. Don’t carry your passport unless you have to (such as to exchange money). Instead, keep them in your hotel safe deposit box.

When using the metro system in Mexico, keep your wallet, phone, and other valuables secure and hidden, particularly if you’re traveling during rush hour. Additionally, pickpockets and bag snatchers even operate on local buses. If you’re traveling over long distances by bus, opt for first and executive-class buses to minimize chances of petty crime.

Be careful with outdoor sports and activities

Outdoor activities, including extreme sports, are popular amongst travelers in Mexico. However, not all operators have the proper qualifications, equipment, or insurance. Take extra care when hiring local services for sports in Mexico, especially parasailing, jet skiing, and scuba diving. Check that the scuba diving operator you’re hiring has all the necessary qualifications and certifications, as well as a good reputation.

In addition, note that parasailing units that sell their services between beaches may not be safe. Hotels are even starting to warn their guests due to the number of accidents. Ask the locals for advice before engaging in any outdoor activities, especially extreme ones.

Be a smart business traveler

Media reports on cartel violence in Mexico don’t stop businesses from operating as normal, and foreign business travelers move in and out of the country safely all the time. If you’re traveling on business in Mexico, never leave your phone, laptop, camera, or other expensive business equipment unattended. Phones and computers are enticing to thieves since they are easy to move and resell.

Similarly, always keep your briefcase close as opportunists know that they may hold all your valuable equipment. To be less obvious, you might want to opt for a more discreet bag like a satchel or backpack instead. Backing up your data is a must wherever you go, but be sure to backup everything important before and during your trip.

Stick to official taxis

When using taxis in Mexico, it’s safest to use App cabs (e.g. Uber, Capify), taxi cab ranks, or hotel cabs. Make sure the license plate number matches when a vehicle is coming to pick you up. Never accept a ride from unofficial operators, no matter where you are.

Thinking about renting a car in Mexico? You might want to reconsider. From police bribes to difficulties with car insurance, driving in Mexico comes with risks. What’s more, you could end up in jail if you get in an accident (while they determine whose fault it is). Driving at night isn’t smart either, as chances of robbery, carjackings, and kidnappings go up when the sun goes down.

On a final note

The aforementioned tips can help minimize your risk of encountering a problem while in Mexico. Keep in mind that tourists travel to Mexico all the time to rest and enjoy what the country has to offer. Similarly, business travelers do business and make deals while expats live, work, and retire in comfort. Activities like these don’t make headlines but are how people visit and live in Mexico on a daily basis.

Plan for your Mexico trip with Pacific Prime Latin America

Your best bet to travel with peace of mind is to secure Mexico travel insurance and, in some cases, kidnap & ransom insurance in Mexico as well. Since it’s the type of insurance people often don’t think about until it’s too late, you might want to read our article: Kidnap and ransom insurance: What is it and why might you need it?

Whether you’re looking for individual health insurance in Mexico or globally, Pacific Prime Latin America is here to help. As a leading insurance broker with over 20 years of industry experience, we have the knowledge and expertise to help you find the ideal plan for your needs and budget. Contact us for unbiased advice and a free quote today!

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Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime Latin America
Jantra Jacobs is a Senior Copywriter at Pacific Prime with over 10 years of writing and editing experience. She writes and edits a diverse variety of online and offline copy, including sales and marketing materials ranging from articles and advertising copy to reports, guides, RFPs, and more.

Jantra curates and reports on the results of Pacific Prime’s monthly newsletters, as well as manages Pacific Prime’s Deputy Global CEO’s LinkedIn posts. Complemented by her background in business writing, Jantra’s passion for health, insurance, and employee benefits helps her create engaging content - no matter how complex the subject is.

Growing up as a third-culture kid has given her a multicultural perspective that helps her relate to expats and their families while 8 years of working remotely have given her unique insight into hybrid work arrangements and enthusiasm for employee benefits.
Jantra Jacobs