- Download our Moving to Mexico Guide (PDF)
Safety in Mexico is a common concern for expats and travellers alike. The country has historically suffered from high crime rates, and statistics have become something of a deterrent for those considering the move. Expats should note that reports of crime and kidnappings in Mexico are highest in urban areas, particularly in Mexico City, and often between drug gangs.
Drug-related crime is the biggest concern in Mexico, but resort areas and popular tourist destinations such as Cancún, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta are largely protected from this. Expats in urban areas may want to employ private home security companies, whereas those in retirement communities and resort areas are considerably safer. As some areas can be isolated and safe from crime, expats must research their specific routes and destinations thoroughly.
Crime in Mexico
Street crime is an issue in Mexico’s cities, and resort areas are not exempt from this. Expats are advised to dress casually and keep expensive jewellery and watches out of sight. Expats should also keep a close eye on important documents, such as passports, as these are frequently stolen in Mexico.
Drug-related crime in Mexico
As much as the crime in Mexico can be a problem, the fear cultivated by the violence of drug cartels is not usually an expat concern. While murders and gunfights between rival gangs and law enforcement make sensational international news, they do not generally affect people who are not connected to the drug industry.
Although the government is often careful not to perturb foreigners, expats in Mexico are also often concerned about police and military checkpoints along highways. Despite this, foreigners should not become complacent and should remain aware of and up to date about current dangers regarding drug-related crime in Mexico.
Travel to Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana is not advised, as these areas are infamous for a high incidence of drug-related violence. The states of Chihuahua, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas are also known for high levels of drug violence, and expats travelling to these areas should do so with extreme caution. Clashes between cartel members and police can turn violent quickly and without warning.
Public transport safety in Mexico
Expats should be extra vigilant when travelling on public transport in Mexico. It is advisable to only travel on buses during the day, as theft and hijacking are common at night.
Expats should also ensure that the bus they are travelling on uses toll roads (cuotas) and not free roads (libre), as the incidence of crime on the libre roads is considerably higher. Expats should always travel on first-class buses as an added safety measure. Armed robberies and kidnappings of entire buses have been reported in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León.
Bus stations and airports have also been targets of robberies in the past. Expats should only use official, authorised and regulated taxis in Mexico. These cannot be hailed off the street and should be reserved by telephone or met at a taxi rank. It is best to avoid hailing taxis from the side of the road altogether. The metro in Mexico City is a prime spot for pickpockets.
Road safety in Mexico
Hijackings are a problem on Mexico’s roads. Expats driving in Mexico should exercise extreme caution when driving and avoid driving at night. The highways between Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa are particularly dangerous, as is the Pacific Highway.
Expats should only use toll roads and should be aware of their surroundings when stopping at traffic lights. Camper-vans and SUVs are particular targets for hijackings.
Scams in Mexico
Perhaps most alarming to foreigners are kidnappings, or kidnapping scams, which try to solicit ransom money from families. Expats in Mexico need to be careful of robbery, particularly when withdrawing money from ATMs or changing currency at a Bureau de Change. It's best to steer clear of ATMs when they are being refilled, as armed robberies during this process are common.
Express kidnappings are a risk in Mexico. Criminals will kidnap their victims for a short amount of time, take them to an ATM and demand money. Victims are then usually released. Expats should be aware of this when withdrawing money.
A common scam in Mexico involves criminals posing as police officers and demanding people pay a fine. Expats should always ask police officers for identification if in doubt.
Health hazards in Mexico
It's best to avoid drinking tap water in Mexico, and expats should not take ice in their drinks. To be certain, it is best to stick to bottled water and treat food or unbottled drinks sold by street vendors with caution.
Expats should visit a doctor six weeks before leaving for Mexico to ensure that they have received the correct vaccinations and take precautions against mosquitoes.
In case of medical emergencies, expats should have little apprehension utilising healthcare in Mexico, which is of a generally high standard.
Natural disasters in Mexico
Hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are all possible occurrences in Mexico.
Hurricane season in Mexico is from June to November. There are also two active volcanoes in the country: Popocatépetl and the Volcán de Colima. These areas are closed off to the public and the surrounding areas are designated 'danger zones'.
Oaxaca is the area most affected by earthquakes in Mexico, and expats should research what to do in the event of an earthquake.
Emergency number in Mexico
Mexico has a single, nation-wide emergency number: 911. Expats in Mexico City can also download the 911 CDMX app.
What do expats say about safety in Mexico?
"This is a good-sized city, so there is definitely petty crime and some drug use. Don’t walk around flashing your wealth or drunk super late at night, and watch your belongings – you’ll be fine. It’s no different in any big city. I’m far safer here than I am in Chicago. And since it’s such a touristy city, there is a large police presence." Learn more about living in Mexico in our interview with American expat Kirsten.
►For more information on settling into life in Mexico, read Culture Shock in Mexico
Photo credits: Driving in Mexico by Maxwell Ridgeway; Volcano in Mexico by Milton Villemar. Both sourced from Unsplash.
Are you an expat living in Mexico?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Mexico. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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