If you’ve thought about traveling through Mexico, then you have likely reached the question: Is Mexico Safe? If you’re considering traveling through this developing nation, then safety in Mexico tends to be on everyone’s minds. However, we can tell you that the sights, the food, the rich culture, and the welcoming people make traveling through Mexico absolutely worth it—you just have to keep your wits about you and you’ll be fine.
A lot of our staff live in Mexico. We know what daily life is for expats and travelers that come to this country to start a new life. We have a wealth of lived experience to share and this is also our take on Mexico. We encourage you to do the research, therefore we have put links (wherever you see an orange text, which often says “click here”) to connect you to valuable information. Click on them to learn more because knowledge and preparation is key to understanding how to travel through Mexico.
It is the opinion of Expat Insurance that Mexico is far safer than many people abroad have heard it to be. Yes, you can live and travel here safely, but you have to exercise more caution than in developed nations.
However, we also feel that many local expats do not properly portray what the crime rates are actually like—and many are in denial about the reality of crime in Mexico. Saying Mexico is just as safe as a country like the United States is simply a false statement based on published crime rates alone.
This article is mostly about crime, we are not talking about the many great aspects of Mexico, which there are many. We realize many of these topics and tips could be used for other more developed countries as well. If you would like to debate any of our points, you can do so on our Facebook post (click here or comment below.
1: We know this is kind of common sense, but avoid the drug trade as much as possible. Most of the crime is centered around characters that are involved with the black market. Even purchasing more harmless recreational drugs will put you in association with people that you do not want to be involved with.
2: When you are intoxicated, you are at a higher risk of being taken advantage of. Try to be more aware of your surroundings. If you are staying out late, take a taxi home when you can.
3: Avoid driving late at night, especially on routes out in the countryside. Many carjackings and other forms of robbery happen just outside of towns.
4: Stay active in your local community to understand when there are increases in crime, what the latest scams are, and how to avoid these specific areas and criminals.
5: Do not open your door for strangers, if you are not expecting guests sometimes people will rush in through the door once you open it.
6: Do not flaunt your wealth and avoid talking about it. It will paint a target on your back for kidnappings and gangs to rob you.
7: Avoid disreputable establishments, many of which are the only establishments that stay open until the early hours of the morning. These are hotspots for crime. It is far better to call it an early night than to continue to party while drawing attention to yourself.
8: Always remember that as an expat or tourist in Mexico, you have a target on your back. People bank on your naivety and complacency to make a quick score. Don’t fall for the trap for simple scams.
9: When you do travel between cities on road trips, try to use only toll roads, and avoid the free roads called “La Libre” as much as possible.
When you are traveling alone in Mexico, then you should recognize that you are more vulnerable to crime—especially if you don’t know the language. Nevertheless, solo travel through Mexico can be an amazing experience filled with fantastic new places to explore. You can meet some wonderful and welcoming people throughout Mexico. If you can’t find a travel buddy, this shouldn’t stop you from experiencing the lovely sights, incredible food, and wonderful people. Here are some tips if you’re trying to travel alone:
– Tips for Traveling Alone in Mexico
One of the best ways to stay safe in Mexico is to make friends with fellow travelers. You can meet fellow travelers easily by staying in hostels instead of hotels. Many hostels have private rooms if you prefer privacy instead of staying in dorms, and the culture in hostels is very conducive to meeting people abroad. However, hostels typically—though not always—draw a younger crowd.
If you are not into staying in backpacker hostels, then Meet Ups are another great way to meet people abroad. Simply log into meetup.com and meet people as a way of experiencing a night on the town with other people so that you aren’t doing it alone. Chat with them first to make sure that they are okay. These are popular with 20-or-30-something crowd. If you are not into meeting random people online, you can try and book a guided tour to experience the sights with other people safely. Many hotels can book trusted tours for you.
Learn some Spanish. Even a rudimentary understanding can help you stay safe, call for help, and avoid potentially dangerous situations. You might also find yourself having a better experience.
Similarly, try to blend in. An “I <3 Cancun” shirt is only going to advertise that you are a tourist. Keep your camera in your bag, not around your neck. This only invites people who prey on tourists to scam you.
– Traveling Alone as a Female in Mexico
Sexual assaults and robbery do happen in Mexico. It is always best to stay cautious when you are traveling through Mexico as a solo female. Here are some tips to help you stay safe in Mexico as a solo female:
Try to band with other women. Go out with them as much as possible so that you are not out on the town alone. You can also meet other women on expat forums and Facebook groups and ask them for their advice about Mexico. Get advice from women in your area as to how they stay safe in the area where you will be living or traveling. In short, women should stick together.
If you go out to have drinks for a fun night on the town, also make sure that you don’t have so many drinks as to lose awareness of your surroundings. Buy your own drinks, and do not let them out of your sight. When you go home, call a ride application like Uber. Don’t try and walk home—especially when you’ve had some drinks.
Be aware of your surroundings. Make sure that you know how to get home in case of an emergency. Buy a SIM card if you have an unblocked phone that will enable you to make calls and look up information on the internet. Be prepared. If you do get lost, try and look confident until you can find somewhere safe.
Do not give anyone your personal information, such as where you are staying, your address, or where you plan to be. Just keep conversations light and friendly, and you will likely attract similar attention.
*For more tips on how to travel through Mexico as a solo female, click here.
There are many dangers in Mexico. It is our belief that, though the odds of encountering these dangerous scenarios are low, knowledge and awareness are important in preventing potentially disastrous scenarios so that you can best avoid them.
– Political Violence in Mexico
Nonviolent protests (known as manifestaciones in Spanish) can become violent and even turn into riots in Mexico. There have been recent increases in political violence in Mexico City and Guerrero. Just avoid all political marches to ensure your safety.
– Gang Wars in Mexico
Gang wars in Mexico usually break out over control of drug trafficking routes and control over resources like the illegal gasoline trade. It is dangerous to travel outside of cities. It is recommended that you avoid traveling between cities on highways in northern states and the Baja California peninsula—especially at night time
– Illegal Roadblocks in Mexico
Throughout Mexico, one common danger is illegal roadblocks set up by gangs. They will stop all the traffic and systematically rob all incoming traffic (robbery is the bare minimum though Mexican lore is littered with tales of far worse). The following states are known for illegal roadblocks however they have occurred elsewhere:
Typically toll highways are safer than the free highways (La Libre) so always take the patrolled toll highways. Don’t ever drive at night. Public transportation like buses are generally safer than private vehicles (though they can take far longer because of stops). If you feel that you must drive yourself, it is best to not drive expensive, luxury cars. Drive a basic rental car—preferably with Mexican plates. Typically, camper vans and RVs have been targeted for carjacking.
– Terrorist Bombings in Mexico
In Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, a gang war is currently underway after the shooting at the Blue Parrot in January of 2017 at Playa during the music festival BPM (the festival has since moved to Portugal). During this gang war, narco gangs detonated a terrorist bomb on the ferry between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel in February, 21st, 2018. 20 people were injured including tourists. Nine days later another device was found on the same route.
Since this time, this route is heavily patrolled and has become safe. However, the best way to stay safe is to stay vigilant, heed all warnings from local authorities, and your tour guide if you have one.
– Violent Crime in Mexico
Violent crime is prevalent throughout Mexico, though it is typically infighting between Mexicans. The best way to stay safe in the face of violent crime is to research your destination ahead of time. Stick to tourist areas as much as possible. Stay tuned to the local media and avoid any dangerous areas. Inform family members of your travel plans as well. If you are the victim of a violent crime, you must report it in person to the Mexican authorities at Agencia del Ministerio Publico for the Mexican authorities to investigate the crime.
– Public Transportation Crime in Mexico
You must be very alert if you are traveling on public transportation—especially if you are traveling alone. If you are riding buses, try and ride first-class direct buses which have lower incidents of crime. They also record every passenger on every bus—which inhibits crime. Our preferred bus companies are Primera Plus, ETN, ADO, Estrella de Oro, and Pullman de Morelos.
If you are on the metro (subway), then keep an eye on your possessions at all times. Expat Insurance recommends avoiding subways if possible, instead using ride apps in their place (more on this below)—especially if you are a woman traveling alone. There have been incidents of robbery, sexual harassment, and even rape—especially at late night and early morning.
– Being Drugged in Mexico
Roofies in Mexico are an issue. Never leave your drink unattended in restaurants and bars. People have been drugged and then robbed or sexually assaulted. If you feel unwell, immediately call or find local authorities or seek medical attention.
– Being Kidnapped in Mexico
Most kidnappings in Mexico are short term kidnappings called “express kidnappings”, which occur especially in urban areas. More on this information in the next section. However, long-term kidnappings do occur. It is best to avoid inviting people to your home that you do not know well. Also, do not discuss your business and finances to anyone outside of a corporate setting—especially with people you do not know.
*For more information on crime in Mexico and how to prevent it, click here.
– Taxi Scams in Mexico
One of the most common scams in Mexico is taxi scams. You will get into a taxi and they will overcharge you, or they will drive with faulty meters that go up at phenomenal rates, or they will charge you outlandish prices for a short ride. . . etc. The worst is that they will even kidnap you and take you to an ATM where they demand that you take out all your money. This happened to my uncle. It does happen.
– Taking Safe Taxis in Mexico
Grabbing a taxi with a meter from the street can be one of the most economical ways of getting around, but don’t be tempted by the cheap prices. Growing up, my grandmother always told me, “Grab the taxis from inside the establishment”. If it’s a hotel, have them call you a cab. If it’s a bus station or airport, grab the expensive taxis at the taxi stands inside the facility before you exit security. These can often be hundreds of pesos more expensive, but they are safe, each taxi is registered by the state, and their number is recorded with each passenger.
– Using Ride Share Apps like Uber in Mexico
In several parts of Mexico, getting taxi advice is moot because of ride-sharing apps like Uber and the relative newcomer: Didi. (However in some parts of Mexico like the Riviera Maya, Uber is not available—so be sure to know how to find safe taxis). Uber is by far the top dog in the game, therefore it becomes the easiest to find a ride at 2 am using Uber. Click here for an article on other ride-sharing apps in Mexico.
Another newcomer is a different sort of ride sharing app. It’s more of a carpooling application known around the world called BlaBlaCar. It is quite safe in other countries, though we will have to see how it manifests itself in Mexico. This application is made for people to carpool between cities and go long distances while sharing expenses equally like food and gas.
– Credit Card Scams in Mexico
Though credit card theft and cloning is as old as the Automatic Teller Machine, the times have evolved to create new and more pernicious forms of credit card theft. The traditional scam has always been fake credit card machines. These ATM machines are unaffiliated with a bank—instead, they look like a small privatized machine, perhaps outside a random mom-and-pop store. These machines will be rigged to swallow your card and/or steal the credit or debit card information.
Always be sure to grab an ATM inside of the bank, grocery store, or mall—anywhere that would have official, big bank ATMs in populated locations. Be aware though that people can target you for robbery when you take out money if there are too many people immediately around you.
However, there are other forms of credit card theft. Some people install scanners at the safe ATM in banks and tourist areas. These lay over the bank scanner and you would never know that your number is being taken while you withdraw cash. We highly recommend that you click here to watch this short video on ATM scanners, and how to check for them.
A second way to get your credit card number is by having someone walk by you and scan your card with a portable scanner. Thieves can use portable scanners—or even legal apps on their phones that are made for contactless payment between friends—to get your credit card numbers. Known as RFID identity theft, this can be problematic because it only takes someone walking by you a few seconds to scan your card. The best way to combat these thieves is to buy an RFID-blocking wallet, RFID-blocking card holder, or best yet an RFID-blocking travel belt that can also help you prevent pickpocketing by strapping to your chest (but we’ll get to that in a bit).
Another way of getting your credit card number is by paying your tab at a bar or restaurant. A common scam is that the establishment will take your card, and while they are charging you in the back of the establishment, they will also get your card numbers to clone your card later. Many restaurants now use wireless card readers so that they can run your card in front of you through a small, handheld apparatus. Ask if the establishment has one so that they can run the card in front of you at the table.
If the establishment cannot, then accompany the service person to watch them as they run your card. This might seem a bit odd, but it can be done nonchalantly. The best way to do this is to not pull out your card until you see the card reader. If it’s at the bar or counter, stand up and walk with the waiter or waitress to the bar or counter and then pull out your card.
– Pickpocketing in Mexico
Pickpocketing is a threat in crowded, urban areas—like in any major city across the world. The most common places to get pickpocketed are places like the metro, crowded markets, or busy streets in any major Mexican city. It is no longer just one person that comes up and distracts you. Now teams of people will work to pickpocket you, where one distracts you, another grabs your goods, and hands it off to a third person. Even more elaborate tricks are played, and these people are professionals.
One of the best ways to combat pickpocketing is with a travel belt. This way, you keep all your valuables like your passport and credit cards strapped to your chest underneath your shirt or dress. Oftentimes this is used in conjunction with a beater wallet that has nothing but a bit of cash and your Subway free sandwich card. This way, if you do get pickpocketed, they will grab your beater wallet as a misdirection and completely miss the travel belt.
If you do get robbed at knife or gunpoint, then throw your beater wallet or cash to the ground away from you and run. Studies have shown that the thief will go after the valuables on the ground, not after your person.
Sometimes people will ask to use your phone, and when they have your phone in their hand, they will take off running. It’s best to not lend anyone your phone. If you really feel you should, be sure you’re in a crowded establishment like a restaurant. Don’t let them walk outside to make their phone call.
– Virtual Kidnapping Scams in Mexico
One of the more popular scams in Mexico is the virtual kidnapping scam. People will get your personal information, including the names of loved ones, where they work, their addresses, their phone numbers. . . etc. Then they will call you and tell you that your loved one has been kidnapped. Be warned that these are convincing scams—even with Mexican nationals—because people do occasionally get kidnapped in Mexico. They will tell you to get funds immediately and deposit them into a random account at an OXXO or some other convenient stores. These scams bank on you to panic. Just hang up.
– Timeshare Scams in Mexico
Timeshare scams run rampant across Mexico’s lovely beaches. Many timeshare scams involve getting a free breakfast and then getting roped into a lengthy presentation. Sometimes they will even offer you money to attend these presentations. These people bank on the talent of their sales staff, and many of these salesmen and women are absolute sharks. Expat Insurance recommends never going to any presentation in Mexico, and if someone says that you won a free breakfast or something it is likely a timeshare scam. Do not collect any reward for a contest that you have not entered, and don’t give any random people your contact information.
I have known people who have worked for timeshare companies. The truth is that renting a timeshare is not the best deal, however, it might be right for some people. There are some reputable companies that offer timeshares, and in some cases, it could work for a family depending on their particular situation. This is something that should not be purchased on a whim, and it must be conducted with the supervision of a financial advisor and a lawyer after weeks—if not months—of research.
HOWEVER, DON’T ACTUALLY BUY A TIMESHARE BECAUSE THEY CAN ROB YOU OF YOUR ENTIRE LIFE SAVINGS. Scammers will dazzle you with outlandish figures of how much money you could be making by buying a timeshare and renting it out to other people. These are scams that will rob you out of your entire life savings. Your timeshare will never get rented out, and you will have practically no rights over the timeshare property that you purchased.
*There are other scams out there in Mexico, and many of these are simple, relatively-benign scams, such as buying overpriced souvenirs, getting counterfeit money in exchange, and purchasing watered down drinks at a bar. To read more about these scams, click here.
In the last few years, we have seen a spike in crime in our own subjective experience. This is also reflected in the data. Mexico is becoming more dangerous, and many Mexicans live in denial about this change—so cynically accustomed to the ever-pervasive crime have they become. Here are some facts:
– Murder Rates in Mexico
Murder rates are up 16% in 2018, the highest they have ever been. This broke the record for the highest murder rate in Mexico set in 2017. There were 33,341 murders reported in 2018, compared to the roughly 29,000 reported in 2017 (which also set the standing record at the time). There are however things that should be noted for these statistics. Mexico only began to record the murder rate in 1997.
Furthermore, the statistics are likely unreliable. According to the Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos or CNDH (the Mexican branch of the UN’s International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs), they estimate that only 1 in 10 crimes (not murders but overall crimes) are reported to the Mexican authorities. This is largely due to a general climate of distrust of the authorities. Also, it is estimated that only 1 in 100 crimes goes to sentencing. Therefore, this increase in murder rates could be a result of increased reporting of murders to the government.
– Why Are the Murder Rates So High in Mexico
The main reason for the increase in murder rates in 2018 is due to an increase in gang violence throughout parts of Mexico. As gangs are branching out into more lucrative markets like the illegal gasoline taps, competition has led to outright gang wars.
Murder rates are calculated internationally per 100,000 citizens of any particular nation or city. Therefore the best option to explore the rise in increased gang violence is to look at the actual murder rate per 100,000 in each individual area with high crime:
Riviera Maya: Accounting for almost half of all the tourist income in Mexico, Quintana Roo (home to tourist hotbeds like Cancun, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel) has seen murders increase by 132%, bringing it up to about 35 homicides per 100,000. This is largely over competition in securing drug smuggling routes.
Guerrero: A state which has almost lost all of its international tourism except to secluded beaches like Troncones and Pueblos Magicos like Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero’s notorious crime seems to have tapered off. The once-lucrative poppy fields—which are used in heroin production—fueled the crime in Guerrero. However, cheaper options like fentanyl have reduced the price and the competition to help reduce the crime rate. Still, cities like Acapulco (which is Mexico’s most dangerous city) are notorious for their violence and should be avoided.
San Miguel de Allende: Situated in the hub of the Mexican Independence from Spain, San Miguel de Allende has seen a sharp increase in crime in 2018 with a 122% increase in homicide rates. 2,609 murders occurred in Guanajuato in 2018, mostly due to the illegal theft of fuel. Gang wars erupting have risen the murder rate to 40 out of 100,000—shocking for a large town that was voted in 2018 as the best place to live in Latin America and Mexico’s #1 city of 2018 for the second year in a row at the Travel and Leisure Awards.
Colima: One of Mexico’s smallest states—with the lowest population in all of—has now become Mexico’s most dangerous state after an increase of 27% in their murder rate. This is surprising considering that it is a state with one of the highest standards of living and the lowest unemployment of any state in Mexico. Situated on the Pacific Coast, Colima has a murder rate of 80 out of 100,000. To put this in perspective, two of the most dangerous countries in the world, El Salvador and Honduras, have murder rates of about 60 out of 100,000.
Tijuana, Baja California: This border town in the state of Baja California has a murder rate which has risen by 44%, with over 2,000 murders in 2018. This spike in killings is because the Sinaloa and Jalisco drug cartels have been fighting over smuggling routes in Baja California. Baja California has become the second most dangerous state in Mexico with a murder rate of 71 out of 100,000.
Los Cabos and La Paz: Despite Baja California becoming more dangerous as a state overall, these two cities decreased their murder rate by 50% after military and federal police were sent in to secure these two resort cities following last year’s spike in the homicide rate. This demonstrates that Mexico does have the efficacy to reduce murder in troubled areas when they allocate the resources to do so.
Cuernavaca, Morelos: Another city with a troubled past (and home to the author of this piece)—which was at one point Mexico’s most dangerous city—has quietly fallen off the list of the most dangerous cities in Mexico. However, the US State Department did issue a travel warning after a nightclub named “Sophia” was shot up with 1 fatality and 12 wounded for failing to pay extortion money. This comes only two months after another nightclub named “Janis” was shot at over 20 times, and had Molotov cocktails thrown at it at 4pm, also for failing to pay their extortion money.
To see a complete map of the murder rates in Mexico by each municipality, click here.
To see a map of the crime rates in Mexico per each month, click here.
The simple fact of the matter is that these murders do not reflect the experiences of most tourists and expats in Mexico. We hear horror stories of collateral damage—mostly from the American media—but the vast majority of murders occur between gang members. It is not in the best interests of the narcos or the government to murder tourists. Believe it or not, it is quite difficult to obtain a gun in Mexico legally. The influx of guns come to Mexico by way of illegal smuggling from the United States, where it is incredibly easy to purchase a firearm.
Tourist areas are rarely targeted for homicide. If you stick to tourist areas, you will likely be fine. One of the best ways to avoid being tangled up in the rising crime rates in Mexico is to avoid dangerous situations. Don’t engage in black market enterprises such as soliciting prostitution or consuming drugs. Stay in affluent areas known for their high quality of life. Always take safe transportation, and don’t walk around alone late at night. Stay in groups whenever possible. With a vigilant eye, you will have a wonderful experience as an expat or tourist to Mexico. We know this because many of our employees at Expat Insurance have made this same choice that you are embarking upon—and we don’t regret it for a second.
One of the best things that you can do to stay safe in Mexico (or any country) is to check out your country’s Travel Advisory for Mexico. If you have time, check out other country’s travel advisories as well. Also, be aware of what your embassy can and cannot do in an emergency, and have a plan in case of emergencies.
To see the travel advisory for Americans, click here.
To see the travel advisory for Canadians, click here.
To see the travel advisory for British citizens, click here.
In Mexico, there is little that many embassies can do in rural areas because travel to dangerous areas in Mexico is restricted with very limited access. Many government employees will not travel between cities after dark, thus it is recommended that you follow their restrictions. Therefore it is best to avoid these areas.
The American Embassy lists the following states as not recommended that you visit them unless absolutely necessary:
The American Embassy lists the following states are high-level alerts. It is not recommended that you visit these places. However if you must travel to these locations, you should exercise an extraordinarily high level of caution due to crime, poor cellphone reception, and danger of becoming collateral damage between warring gangs:
State of Baja California Sur*
1: (excluding San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, La Paz which are less dangerous)
2: (excluding Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, Tuxtla Gutierrez which are less dangerous)
The American Embassy lists following states are mid-level alerts. It is recommended that if you have planned trips to these areas, you should be very cautious and stick to touristic areas.
Estado de Mexico
San Luis Potosi
As you may have noticed, this is every state in Mexico. There is no state in Mexico that does not have a warning issued by the United States government.
For more information on the exact warnings for each location that is up to date, click here.
The Canadian Embassy recommends avoiding these Northern States unless travel is absolutely necessary:
1: (excluding Saltillo which is less dangerous)
2: (excluding Monterrey which is less dangerous)
3: (excluding Mazatlan which is relatively safe)
4: (excluding the cities of Hermosillo and Guaymas/San Carlos which are less dangerous)
The Canadian Embassy recommends avoiding these Western States unless travel is absolutely necessary:
1: (excluding Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Taxco de Alarcon which are less dangerous)
2: (excluding Manzanillo which is less dangerous)
*The cities excluded above are still recommended that one be highly vigilant when exploring these regions.
*For more information on the exact warnings for each location, click here.
The British Embassy recommends avoiding visiting the following Northern and Western States:
You should take extra precautions if traveling to the following states:
Baja California Sur
The British Embassy recommends taking precautions visiting the following Eastern States:
The British Embassy recommends taking precautions visiting the following Western and Southern States:
*For more information on the exact warnings for each location, click here.
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For several years, Rafael has been crafting articles to help expats and nomads in their journey abroad. He takes great pride in meticulously researching the ins-and-outs of bureaucratic processes in different countries around the world. A digital nomad for almost a decade, Rafael also enjoys exploring cultural phenomena in his articles to better help expats and nomads assimilate. If you have any questions or issues with the content of an article, he’s the one to contact for further information.