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Country Reports

Mexico Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Despite the country's well-developed tourism infrastructure, individuals planning trips to Mexico (population 124.6 million) should consider and take precautions against the risks posed by the presence of armed groups, high crime rates, significant social unrest, and regular outbreaks of disease in many regions of the country.

CRIME

The level of security varies considerably from state to state and in several areas remains very poor, due in large part to the presence of a number of armed groups (drug traffickers, organized crime, vigilantes, gangs, etc.), limited government reach, and high corruption levels among local officials and police.

Mexico suffers from high rates of violent crime. According to official statistics, more than 25,000 murders were reported in 2017, shattering previous records (20.5 homicides for 100,000 residents); there is currently no reason to believe rates will fall in 2018. Other rates of violent crime also increased in 2017, including abductions and carjacking. The spike in violence has been attributed to fierce turf wars between competing and increasingly fragmented cartels, who have been adopting increasingly militarized tactics. The violence is increasing affecting areas traditionally popular with tourists, notably Acapulco (Guerrero state), the Cancún/Playa del Carmen region (Quintana Roo state), and Los Cabos (Baja California Sur state).

Violent crime can be particularly heinous (e.g. beheadings, torture, etc.) in areas where drug cartels are active (e.g. the northeast of the country, particularly along the US border). While victims tend to be locals - politicians, rival gang members, journalists, activists, business owners refusing to pay extortion fees - foreigners can become caught up in the violence. Vigilante groups have also sprung up in areas where gangs are present (and security forces are either absent or corrupt) and extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals as well as shootouts with gang members and local police are common. This violence is poised to continue as long as the structural causes of insecurity - such as institutional weakness, corrupt and deficient security forces, poor public services, and a political establishment susceptible to bribes - are not effectively addressed.

Criminals are often armed and as such it is highly advisable to give up personal items without hesitation and to never offer resistance if assaulted (e.g. make no sudden movements, avoid looking at attackers' faces, etc.). Be particularly cautious when withdrawing money; use ATMs located inside banks whenever possible.

The high number of often deadly "express kidnappings" should also be noted. Express kidnapping victims may be held for up to 48 hours by perpetrators; during this time the victim is transported to various ATMs and forced to withdraw as much cash as possible. "Traditional" for-ransom kidnappings also occur. According to one estimate, someone is kidnapped on average every four hours in the country. Among the states reporting the highest kidnapping rates in recent years are Estado de México, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Guerrero, Mexico City, Morelos, Tabasco, and Michoacán.

Druggings targeting both men and women - who are then often robbed, kidnapped, and/or sexually assaulted - are also a real risk. As such, never accept food, drink, or cigarettes from a stranger and do not let drinks out of your sight in bars and restaurants. It should be noted that crime rates tend to be particularly high in and around casinos and other gambling and adult entertainment locales.

Rates of "virtual" kidnappings and other phone extortion schemes are on the rise in Mexico. The modus operandi of virtual kidnapping incidents often consists of the perpetrator telephoning victims to falsely inform them that a friend or family member has been kidnapped and to demand a ransom for his/her release. Criminals frequently use information found on social media networks regarding the supposed victim to make the threat seem more credible. Some 20,000 such calls are believed to be made each year, often by gang members or individuals posing as gang or cartel members. It is therefore advisable to remain aware of this threat and to be cautious regarding the sharing of personal information on social networking sites and with strangers.

Extortion is the second-most common crime in Mexico, following theft. According to one estimate, there are 9850 cases of extortion per 100,000 inhabitants on a yearly basis and nearly 95 percent of extortion attempts are conducted via telephone. The states most heavily affected by the phenomenon are Guerrero, Estado de México, and Baja California.

Credit card fraud is also a concern, particularly "skimming," in which credit card numbers are copied down, either electronically or manually. To minimize this risk, never let cards out of sight when making purchases. It is also advisable to cover up the security code on the back of the card (usually a three-digit number) with a sticker.

SOCIAL UNREST

Mexico is regularly struck by waves of social unrest, which sometimes results in violence.

In January 2017 a spike in fuel prices - nicknamed gasolinazo - triggered mass protests and associated roadblocks, as well as widespread fuel shortages and looting. There are fears of similar unrest as of early 2018 following the deregulation of the fuel market, which has been accompanied by rising prices in many areas.

Due to the potential for violence, it is advisable to avoid all protests and to never attempt to cross roadblocks without authorization.

POLITICS

The next national elections (presidential and both houses of congress) will be held on July 1, 2018. Political violence (attacks, assassinations) is common in Mexico and a surge in violence is invariably observed in advance of elections, including local, statewide, and national votes. Much of this violence is attributed to organized crime groups, which are powerful and highly active in many areas of the country.

It is advisable to avoid all political rallies as well as polling stations and political party offices as a precaution.

TRANSPORTATION

Travelers should be aware that Mexico suffers from a high rate of traffic accidents; more than 4500 people were killed on Mexican roads in 2016.

For security reasons, individuals should not hail taxis on the street but should instead order them in advance from a reputable (licensed) company or use a taxi stand. Public transit should be avoided in some areas due to high rates of crime (e.g. pickpocketing and armed robberies) reported on municipal and intercity buses; in Mexico City, the metro and metrobus services are generally considered safe, especially during the day.

Security conditions on highways can vary considerably from place to place. Highway banditry is not uncommon in areas lacking a national police or army presence. In general, national highways - particularly highways with tolls (cuotas) - are the safest choice for travelers. If attacked, obey all orders and never attempt to drive around a roadblock, which are frequently manned by highway bandits (who will not hesitate to use force).

The following recommendations are applicable for all car travel in the country:

  • Before getting in or out of a vehicle, take note of your surroundings.
  • Always drive with doors locked, windows rolled up, and a sufficiently full gas tank.
  • Allow a space between your car and the car ahead (particularly in traffic) to avoid becoming inadvertently or intentionally trapped (and thus vulnerable to criminals).
  • Park in well-lit, secured areas whenever possible.
  • Avoid making your car particularly recognizable (e.g. bumper stickers, etc.).
  • Vary your hours, commute, etc., to avoid becoming a predictable target.
  • If you believe you are being followed or threatened in some way, drive to a busy and/or secured area (not home).

Government and police checkpoints are common. As such, you should always carry your passport, visa/residency card (if applicable), the original copy of your Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM) - issued to foreign visitors upon entry into Mexico - and car registration/insurance documentation. If you approach a checkpoint, remain calm and follow all instructions. If you are detained, immediately ask to contact your embassy.

Keep in mind that police corruption is a major issue in Mexico. Never attempt to bribe an officer but be prepared to be propositioned. It is therefore advisable to travel with 1000 pesos (50 euros) in cash separated from the rest of your money for this reason. Similarly, traffic cops (tránsitos) are notorious in some areas for demanding excessive "fines" (mordidas), a type of extortion, from foreign drivers. Generally speaking, corruption is a more significant issue within municipal and state police forces, and less so within the army or the federal police.

Protests are common in Mexico and roadblocks are a favored tactic of demonstrators. As violence is relatively common, never attempt to cross a roadblock or drive around one without permission. A "toll" may be demanded. (see SOCIAL UNREST section)

Due to high rates of air pollution, permanent driving restrictions are in place in the capital region. Cars that are nine to 15 years old are banned from the streets between 05:00 and 22:00 (local time) one day per week as well as two Saturdays per month. Cars older than 15 years are banned one day per week and all Saturdays. All cars with foreign license plates, no matter what their model year, are also banned from the roads between 05:00 and 11:00 one day per week and all Saturdays. There are no driving restrictions on Sundays and there are no restrictions whatsoever for driving hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as domestically registered cars that are eight years old or newer. The "Hoy No Circula" schedule regarding driving restrictions for older and foreign cars, based on license plate numbers, is available online. Additional driving restrictions are regularly implemented during periods of particularly high air pollution.

It should also be noted that Mexico City is notorious for road congestion. According to one study, Mexico City residents spend more time in traffic than denizens anywhere else in the world. Traffic conditions have gotten progressively worse over the past decade and traffic can prove dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists; take care when crossing streets.

NATURAL RISKS

Mexico's hurricane season on the Pacific (west) coast extends from May 15 to November 30 and on the Atlantic/Caribbean (east) coast from June 1 to November 30; the largest concentration of storms typically occurs between August and October. Hurricanes have the potential to cause major damage and loss of life, as well as travel disruptions, particularly in Mexico's coastal states. In August 2016, Tropical Storm Earl and its remnants resulted in flooding and landslides in central and southeastern Mexico, leaving more than 50 people dead. Several storms struck the country in 2017, although none resulted in catastrophic material damages or a significant number of casualties. Regularly updated information regarding all tropical storms is available at the website of the US-based National Hurricane Center. If a storm is forecast, follow all instructions issued by local authorities, in particular evacuation orders. Distance yourself from natural bodies of water and mountainous areas as much as possible as a precaution against floods and landslides.

More generally, flooding and landslides are common following heavy rains, including within Mexico City. Be aware that the risk of contracting water- and mosquito-borne diseases tends to rise after periods of heavy rains (see HEALTH section).

Additionally, the south and west of Mexico is located in an active seismic zone. Two powerful earthquakes struck the country in September 2017. An 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck off the southwestern coast in September 2017, causing deaths and major destruction in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. This was followed less than two weeks later by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico City and nearby states (epicenter in Puebla). In total, the earthquakes destroyed some 60,000 buildings, damaged more than 100,000 others, and left nearly 500 dead. These were the most devastating to hit the country since 1985 when an 8.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the capital region, leaving some 10,000 people dead and billions of dollars in damages.

Tsunamis are possible along the Pacific coast in the event of an offshore earthquake.

Mexico is also home to 16 active volcanoes, notably Colima/Volcán de Fuego (485 km [300 mi] west of Mexico City) and Popocatépetl (60 km [40 mi] southeast of Mexico City). Volcanic activity at Popocatépetl sometimes disrupts flights at nearby Puebla International Airport (PBC) and ash can reach as far as Mexico City.

HEALTH

Health services are usually of acceptable quality in large cities but are more limited in rural areas. All travelers are advised to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance prior to departure.

To avoid contracting traveler's diarrhea - a common ailment among visitors to the country - and other food- and water-borne diseases (hepatitis A, typhoid, etc.), wash hands regularly, drink only bottled or purified water, and avoid eating raw or undercooked foods and any foods that cannot be thoroughly disinfected (e.g. berries, ice cream, etc.).

Visitors may experience altitude sickness in some high-elevation areas, such as Mexico City. To avoid developing altitude sickness, or to mitigate its effects, avoid strenuous activities for several days after arrival and keep well hydrated and well rested.

It is also important to note that the sometimes very high levels of air pollution, particularly in Mexico City, could affect those with cardiac or respiratory conditions. Contaminants in the air can also provoke skin and eye irritations. Some 10,000 Mexicans are believed to die every year due to the effects of air pollution. During periods of especially poor air quality, the government advises the general population to limit outdoor activity, particularly between 13:00 and 19:00 when pollution levels tend to peak.

Various mosquito-borne diseases are present in the country. Travelers will note that the mosquito responsible for transmitting dengue fever, chikungunya, and the Zika virus (Aedes aegypti) is not found in high-elevation areas such as Mexico City.

  • Dengue fever is endemic to the country. In the first ten months of 2017, nearly 60,000 cases were reported; the most severely affected areas include the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Chiapas, Michoacán, Morelos, and Tamaulipas.
  • There is a moderate risk of contracting the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease, in Mexico. While the virus is usually relatively benign, links between the Zika virus and severe birth defects, as well as the potentially fatal neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), have been established.
  • Cases of malaria are periodically reported, notably in rural areas of Chiapas state. There is also a very low risk in Chihuahua, Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa, and Quintana Roo states.
  • Chikungunya may be present but the associated risk of contraction is low to travelers; only a few dozen cases were officially reported in all of 2017.

Finally, epizootic rabies is present in the country. Avoid contact with street dogs and other potential carriers (mammals). If scratched or bitten, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

LEGAL

The police have the authority to verify anyone's legal status in the country at any time. It is therefore advisable to always carry hard copies or photocopies of passports and visas/residence cards (if applicable) as well as original copies of Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FFM) forms.

Climate

The coastal and low-lying regions of Chiapas and Yucatan states have a hot and humid climate with a rainy season from June until September. The climate is more temperate along the Central Mexican Plateau. The north is dry, even arid (very hot summers, cold winters, little rain). It is cool all year long at high elevations (2,000 meters).

Useful Numbers

Country Code : +52 Police: 911 Fire Dept.: 911 Ambulance: 911

Electricity

Voltage: 127 V ~ 60 Hz

Outlets:

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