Country Specific Information
On this page »
June 30, 2009
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: 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, ranked by the World Bank as the thirteenth largest in the world. 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 location-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.
Please read the State Department’s Background Notes on Mexico for additional information.
REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living or traveling in Mexico are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website, in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc; telephone from the United States: 011-52-55-5080-2000; telephone within Mexico City: 5080-2000; telephone long distance within Mexico 01-55-5080-2000. You may contact the Embassy by e-mail or visit the Embassy website.
In addition to the Embassy, there are several United States consulates and consular agencies located throughout Mexico (listed below).
Ciudad Juarez: Paseo de la Victoria #3650, telephone (52) (656) 227-3000.
Guadalajara: Progreso 175, Col. Americana; telephone (52) (333) 268-2100.
Hermosillo: Calle Monterrey 141 Poniente, Col. Esqueda; telephone (52) (662) 289-3500.
Matamoros: Avenida Primera 2002 y Azaleas; telephone (52) (868) 812-4402.
Merida: Calle 60 No. 338 K x 29 y 31, Col. Alcala Martin; telephone (52) (999) 942-5700.
Monterrey: Avenida Constitucion 411 Poniente; telephone (52) (818) 047-3100.
Nogales: Calle San Jose, Fraccionamiento “Los Alamos”; telephone (52) (631) 311-8150.
Nuevo Laredo: Calle Allende 3330, Col. Jardin; telephone (52) (867) 714-0512.
Tijuana: Avenida Tapachula 96, Col. Hipodromo; telephone (52) (664) 622-7400.
Acapulco: Hotel Continental Emporio, Costera Miguel Aleman 121 - Local 14; telephone (52)(744) 484-0300 or (52)(744) 469-0556.
Cabo San Lucas: Blvd. Marina Local C-4, Plaza Nautica, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (624) 143-3566.
Cancun: Plaza Caracol Two, Second Level, No. 320-323, Boulevard Kukulkan, Km. 8.5, Zona Hotelera; telephone (52)(998) 883-0272.
Ciudad Acuna: Alfonso Gonzalez Ocampo # 305, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (877) 772-8179.
Cozumel: Plaza Villa Mar en El Centro, Plaza Principal, (Parque Juárez between Melgar and 5th Ave.) 2nd floor, Locales #8 and 9; telephone (52)(987) 872-4574.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo: Hotel Fontan, Blvd. Ixtapa; telephone (52)(755) 553-2100.
Mazatlan: Hotel Playa Mazatlán, Playa Gaviotas #202, Zona Dorada; telephone (52) (669) 916-5889.
Oaxaca: Macedonio Alcala No. 407, Interior 20; telephone (52) (951) 514-3054 (52) or (951) 516-2853.
Piedras Negras: Abasolo 211, Local #3, Col. Centro; telephone (52) (878) 782-5586 or (878) 782-8664.
Playa del Carmen: The Palapa, Calle 1 Sur, between Avenida 15 and Avenida 20; telephone (52)(984) 873-0303.
Puerto Vallarta: Paseo de Los Cocoteros #85 Sur, Paradise Plaza – Local L-7, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit C.P.; telephone (52)(322) 222-0069.
Reynosa: Calle Monterrey #390, Esq. Sinaloa, Col. Rodríguez; telephone: (52)(899) 923-9331
San Luis Potosi: Edificio "Las Terrazas", Avenida Venustiano Carranza 2076-41, Col. Polanco; telephone (52)(444) 811-7802 or (444) 811-7803.
San Miguel de Allende: Dr. Hernandez Macias #72; telephone (52) (415) 152-2357.
ENTRY / EXIT REQUIREMENTS: For the latest entry requirements, visit the Embassy of Mexico’s website or contact the Embassy of Mexico at 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20006, telephone (202) 736-1600, or any Mexican consulate in the United States for the most current information.
All Americans traveling by air outside of the United States are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to re-enter the United States. This requirement was extended to sea travel (except closed-loop cruises), including ferry service, on June 1, 2009. Starting June 1, 2009, all travelers entering the U.S. by land, sea or air were required to present a Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) compliant document such as a passport or a passport card. While passport cards and enhanced driver’s license are sufficient for re-entry into the United States, they may not be accepted by the particular country you plan to visit; please be sure to check with your cruise line and countries of destination for any foreign entry requirements. U.S. legal permanent residents in possession of their I-551 Permanent Resident card may board flights to the United States from Mexico.
Applications for the U.S. passport card are now being accepted and have been in full production since July 2008. The card may not be used to travel by air and is available only to U.S. citizens. Further information on the Passport Card and can be found on our web site. We strongly encourage all American citizen travelers to apply for a U.S. passport well in advance of anticipated travel. American citizens can visit Bureau of Consular Affairs website or call 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778) for information on how to apply for their passports.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Mexico.
Minors: Mexican law requires that any non-Mexican citizen under the age of 18 departing Mexico must carry notarized written permission from any parent or guardian not traveling with the child to or from Mexico. This permission must include the name of the parent, the name of the child, the name of anyone traveling with the child, and the notarized signature(s) of the absent parent(s). The State Department recommends that the permission should include travel dates, destinations, airlines and a brief summary of the circumstances surrounding the travel. The child must be carrying the original letter – not a facsimile or scanned copy – as well as proof of the parent/child relationship (usually a birth certificate or court document) – and an original custody decree, if applicable. Travelers should contact the Mexican Embassy or the nearest Mexican consulate for current information.
Tourist Travel: U.S. citizens do not require a visa or a tourist card for tourist stays of 72 hours or less within "the border zone," defined as an area between 20 to 30 kilometers of the border with the U.S., depending on the location. U.S. citizens traveling as tourists beyond the border zone or entering Mexico by air must pay a fee to obtain a tourist card, also known as an FM-T, available from Mexican consulates, Mexican border crossing points, Mexican tourism offices, airports within the border zone and most airlines serving Mexico. The fee for the tourist card is generally included in the price of a plane ticket for travelers arriving by air. Please note that travelers not in possession of their FM-T card at the point of exit from Mexico may face a fine from Mexican Immigration (INM).
Business Travel: Upon arrival in Mexico, business travelers must complete and submit a form (Form FM-N) authorizing the conduct of business, but not employment, for a 30-day period. Travelers entering Mexico for purposes other than tourism or business or for stays of longer than 180 days require a visa and must carry a valid U.S. passport. U.S. citizens planning to work or live in Mexico should apply for the appropriate Mexican visa at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, DC, or at the nearest Mexican consulate in the United States.
Vehicle Permits: Tourists wishing to travel beyond the border zone with their vehicle must obtain a temporary import permit or risk having their vehicle confiscated by Mexican customs officials. At present the only exceptions to the requirement are for travel in the Baja Peninsula and in the state of Sonora, and only for vehicles entering through the Nogales port of entry. To acquire a permit, one must submit evidence of citizenship, title for the vehicle, a vehicle registration certificate, a driver's license, and a processing fee to either a Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) branch located at a Mexican Customs (Aduanas) office at the port of entry, or at one of the Mexican consulates located in the U.S. Mexican law also requires the posting of a bond at a Banjercito office to guarantee the export of the car from Mexico within a time period determined at the time of the application. For this purpose, American Express, Visa or MasterCard credit card holders will be asked to provide credit card information; others will need to make a cash deposit of between $200 and $400, depending on the make/model/year of the vehicle. In order to recover this bond or avoid credit card charges, travelers must go to any Mexican Customs office immediately prior to departing Mexico. Regardless of any official or unofficial advice to the contrary, vehicle permits cannot be obtained at checkpoints in the interior of Mexico.
Travelers should avoid individuals who wait outside vehicle permit offices and offer to obtain the permits without waiting in line, even if they appear to be government officials. There have been reports of fraudulent or counterfeit permits being issued adjacent to the vehicle import permit office in Nuevo Laredo and other border areas. If the proper permit is not obtained before entering Mexico and cannot be obtained at the Banjercito branch at the port of entry, do not proceed to the interior. Travelers without the proper permit may be incarcerated, fined and/or have their vehicle seized at immigration/customs checkpoints. For further information, contact Mexican Customs about appropriate vehicle permits.
DUAL NATIONALITY: Mexican law recognizes dual nationality for Mexicans by birth, meaning those born in Mexico or born abroad to Mexican parents. U.S. citizens who are also Mexican nationals are considered by local authorities to be Mexican. Dual-nationality status could hamper U.S. Government efforts to provide consular protection. Dual nationals are subject to compulsory military service in Mexico; in addition, dual national males must register for the U.S. Selective Service upon turning 18. For more information, visit the U.S. Selective Service website. Travelers possessing both U.S. and Mexican nationalities must carry with them proof of citizenship of both countries. Under Mexican law, dual nationals entering or departing Mexico must identify themselves as Mexican.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Violence by criminal elements affects many parts of the country, including urban and rural areas. Visitors to the U.S.-Mexico border region, including cities such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Nogales, and Matamoros should remain alert and be aware of their surroundings at all times. In its efforts to combat violence, the Government of Mexico has deployed military troops to various parts of the country. Military checkpoints increased in border areas in early 2008. U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways. Sporadic outbursts of politically motivated violence occur from time to time in certain areas of the country, particularly in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website. Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the current Worldwide Caution, can also be found at that site.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s information on A Safe Trip Abroad.
Demonstrations: The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners; such actions may result in detention and/or deportation. Travelers should avoid political demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the Mexican authorities. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests.
CRIME: Crime in Mexico continues to occur at a high rate, and it can often be violent, especially in Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Acapulco, and the states of Sinaloa and Durango. Other metropolitan areas have lower, but still serious, levels of crime. The low rates of apprehension and conviction of criminals also contribute to Mexico’s high crime rate. U.S. citizen victims of crime in Mexico are encouraged to report incidents to the nearest police headquarters and to the nearest U.S. consular office.
In many countries around the world, counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Transactions involving such products may be illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Personal Property: Travelers should always leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place, or avoid bringing them at all. 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 have been significant numbers of incidents of pickpocketing, purse snatching, and hotel-room theft. Public transportation is a particularly popular place for pickpockets. When renting a vehicle, ensure that advertisements or labels for the rental agency are not prominently displayed on the vehicle. Avoid leaving valuables such as identification, passport and irreplaceable property in rental vehicles, even when locked.
A number of Americans have been arrested for passing on counterfeit currency they had earlier received in change. If you receive what you believe to be a counterfeit bank note, bring it to the attention of Mexican law enforcement.
Personal Safety: Visitors should be aware of their surroundings at all times, even when in areas generally considered safe. Women traveling alone are especially vulnerable and should exercise caution, particularly at night. Victims, who have almost always been unaccompanied, have been raped, robbed of personal property, or abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses or Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Travelers should avoid any overt displays of wealth such as showing money, wearing flashy jewelry, driving expensive automobiles, etc. 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). U.S. and Mexican citizens are sometimes accosted on the street and forced to use their ATM cards to withdraw money from their accounts.
Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, continues to occur at alarming rates. So-called express kidnappings, i.e., attempts to get quick cash in exchange for the release of an individual, have occurred in almost all of Mexico’s large cities and appear to target not only the wealthy but also the middle class. Concerned U.S. citizens, as well as U.S. businesses with offices in Mexico, may contact the U.S. Embassy or any U.S. consulate to discuss precautions they should take.
Kidnapping in Mexico has become a lucrative business, whether the kidnappings are actual or ‘virtual’. A common scam throughout Mexico is ‘virtual’ kidnapping by telephone, in which the callers typically speak in a distraught voice in a ploy to elicit information about a potential victim and then use this knowledge to demand ransom for the release of the supposed victim. In the event of such a call, it is important to stay calm, as the vast majority of the calls are hoaxes. Do not reveal any personal information; try to speak with the victim to corroborate his/her identity; and contact the local police as well as the Embassy or nearest consulate.
Criminal assaults have occurred on highways throughout Mexico; 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. Always keep car doors locked and windows up while driving, whether on the highway or in town. While in heavy traffic or stopped in traffic, leave enough room between vehicles to maneuver and escape, if necessary. 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, or walk alone on infrequently visited beaches, ruins or trails.
Street Crime: 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, Acapulco, and Tijuana, can be havens for drug dealers and petty criminals. Some establishments may contaminate or drug drinks to gain control over the patron.
Whenever possible, visitors should travel by bus only during daylight hours and only by first-class conveyance. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads, buses on toll roads have experienced 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.
Harassment/Extortion: In some instances, Americans have become victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by Mexican law enforcement and other officials. Mexican authorities have cooperated in investigating such cases, but one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Please note this information if you ever have a problem 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. Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a ticket or other penalty is a crime in Mexico.
It is increasingly common for extortionists to call prospective victims on the telephone, often posing as law enforcement or other officials, to demand payments in return for the release of an arrested family member or to forestall a kidnapping. Such calls are often placed by prison inmates using smuggled cellular phones. Persons receiving such calls should be extremely skeptical since most such demands or threats are baseless, and should contact the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate, or the Department of State for assistance.
Crime in Mexico City: 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 uniform perpetrated the crimes, 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 while walking.
Business travelers should be aware that theft can occur even in apparently secure locations. Theft of items such as briefcases and laptops occur frequently at the Benito Juarez International Airport and at business-class hotels. Arriving travelers who need to obtain pesos at the airport should use the exchange counters or ATMs in the arrival/departure gate area, where access is restricted, rather than changing money after passing through Customs, where they can be observed by criminals.
Exercise caution when utilizing credit or debit cards in ATM machines or dubious locales. There have been reports of instances in which U.S. citizens in Mexico have had their card numbers “skimmed” and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged. (“Skimming” is the theft of credit card information by an employee of a legitimate merchant or bank, manually copying down numbers or using a magnetic stripe reader.) In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists. To prevent such theft, the Embassy recommends that travelers keep close track of their personal belongings when out and about and that they only carry what they need. If travelers choose to use credit cards, they should regularly check their account status to ensure its integrity.
Metro (subway) robberies are frequent in Mexico City. If riding the metro or 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.
Robberies and assaults on passengers in taxis are frequent and violent in Mexico City, with passengers subjected to beating, shooting, 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, 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. Ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual to write down the license plate number of the cab that you entered. Avoid “libre” taxis and the Volkswagen beetle taxis altogether. Although “libre” taxis are more convenient and less expensive, these are not as well regulated, may be unregistered, and are potentially more dangerous.
Passengers arriving at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport should take only authorized airport taxis after pre-paying the fare at one of the special booths inside the airport. There are now several companies operating authorized “sitio” booths inside the airport.
Crime in Cancun, Acapulco, and Other Resort Areas: There have been a significant number of rapes reported in Cancun and other resort areas. 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. Hotel workers, taxi drivers, and security personnel have been implicated in other cases.
Drug-related violence, including shootings and kidnappings, has increased in Acapulco. Although this violence is not targeted at foreign residents or tourists, U.S. citizens in these areas should be vigilant in their personal safety.
See the below information regarding Spring Break in Mexico if you are considering visiting Mexican resort areas during February through April, when thousands of U.S. college students traditionally arrive in those areas. Additional information designed specifically for traveling students is also available on our Students Abroad website.
See the below information regarding Spring Break in Mexico if you are considering visiting Mexican resort areas during February through April, when thousands of U.S. college students traditionally arrive in those areas. Additional information designed specifically for traveling students is also available on our Students Abroad website.
Crime in Border Cities: Visitors to the U.S. – Mexico border region, including cities such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Nogales, Reynosa, and Matamoros, should remain alert and be aware of their surroundings at all times.
Some border cities have seen an increase in violence over the past year, some of which has been directed against U.S. citizens. Local police forces have been ineffective in maintaining security in some regions along the border. Drug-related violence has increased dramatically in recent months and shows no sign of abating. While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities are generally not targeted, innocent bystanders are at risk from the increase in violence in the streets of border cities.
In Ciudad Juarez, Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Nogales, Reynosa, and Tijuana, shootings have taken place at busy intersections and at popular restaurants during daylight hours. The wave of violence has been aimed primarily at members of drug-trafficking organizations, the military, criminal justice officials, and journalists. However, foreign visitors and residents, including U.S. citizens, have been among the victims of homicides and kidnappings in the border region. U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region and exercise common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas of border towns during daylight hours. U.S. citizens who frequently make routine visits to border cities should vary their routes and times and are urged to park in well-lighted, guarded and paid parking lots. Exercise caution when entering or exiting your vehicle and instruct all fellow travelers to enter and exit the vehicle safely and quickly.
Mexican authorities have failed to prosecute numerous crimes committed against U.S. citizens, including murders and kidnappings. Local police forces suffer from a lack of funds and training, and the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know there is little chance they will be caught and punished. In some cases, assailants were wearing full or partial police uniforms and have vehicles that resemble police vehicles, indicating that some elements of the police may have been involved.
Visitors to the local "red-light districts" may be very vulnerable, particularly if they are departing alone in the early hours of the morning. In Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, there have also been increases in automobile accidents in which municipal police extort money from U.S. citizen victims.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate. If you are a victim of a crime while overseas, you should report it immediately to the nearest U.S. consular office and make a report to Mexican authorities. Do not rely on hotel/restaurant/tour company management to make the report for you. The Embassy/consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds can be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime are solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. Under the best of circumstances, prosecution is very difficult (a fact some assailants appear to exploit knowingly), but no criminal investigation is possible without a formal complaint to Mexican authorities.
Victims of crime may also report the crime to the Mexican embassy or nearest Mexican consulate after returning to the United States. Before doing so, please contact the U.S. Embassy or consulate in Mexico for assistance in coordinating with Mexican consular officials to obtain an official appointment for the victim or witness with the Mexican Embassy or consulate. Travelers are encouraged to report crimes as soon as possible. Delays in reporting the crime may hinder or even prevent prosecution in some cases.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Mexico is “066”.
Please see our information on Victims of Crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’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. The trial process in Mexico is different from that in the United States, and procedures may vary from state to state. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Mexican laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Mexico are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
For more information, please see our information on Criminal Penalties.
Sexual Offenses: Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Soliciting the services of a minor for sexual purposes is illegal in Mexico, and is punishable by imprisonment. The Mexican government has announced an aggressive program to discourage sexual tourism. Police authorities in the state of Baja California recently began enforcement of anti-pedophile legislation.
Arrests and Notifications: The Mexican government is required by international law to notify the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate promptly when a U.S. 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. U.S. citizens should promptly identify themselves as such to the arresting officers, and should request that the Embassy or nearest consulate be notified immediately.
Prison Facilities: 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. U.S. citizens who are incarcerated in Mexico are sometimes forced to pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars in “protection money” to fellow prisoners.
Prisoner Treatment/Interrogations: Mexico is party to several international anti-torture conventions, and the Mexican Constitution and Mexican law accordingly prohibit torture; however, Mexican police regularly obtain information through torture, and courts continue to admit as evidence confessions extracted under torture. Authorities rarely punish officials for torture, which continues to occur in large part because confessions are the primary evidence in many criminal convictions. U.S. citizens have been brutalized, beaten, and even raped while in police custody. Since the beginning of 2002, 23 U.S. citizens have died in Mexican prisons, including five apparent homicides.
Drug Penalties and Prescription Medications: Penalties for drug offenses are strict, and convicted offenders can expect large fines and jail sentences of up to 25 years. The purchase of controlled medications requires a prescription from a licensed Mexican physician; some Mexican doctors have been arrested for writing prescriptions without due cause. In those instances, U.S. citizens who purchased the medications have been held in jail for months waiting for the Mexican judicial system to decide their fate. The Mexican list of controlled medications differs from that of the United States, and Mexican public health laws concerning controlled medications are unclear and often enforced selectively. To determine whether a particular medication is controlled in Mexico or requires a prescription from a Mexican doctor for purchase, please consult the website of the Mexican Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios - COFEPRIS).
Buying Prescription Drugs: 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 Mexican authorities when their prescriptions were written by a licensed American physician and filled by a licensed Mexican pharmacist. There have been cases of U.S. citizens buying prescription drugs in border cities only to be arrested soon after or have money extorted by criminals impersonating police officers. Those arrested are often held for the full 48 hours allowed by Mexican law without charges being filed, then released. During this interval, the detainees are often asked for bribes or are solicited by attorneys who demand large fees to secure their release, which will normally occur without any intercession as there are insufficient grounds to bring criminal charges against the individuals. In addition, U.S. law enforcement officials believe that as many as 25 percent of the medications available in Mexico are counterfeit and substandard. Such counterfeit medications may be difficult to distinguish from the real medications and could pose serious health risks to consumers. 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 supply (i.e., enough for about one month) of a prescription medication.
Criminal Penalties for Possession: The U.S. Embassy cautions that possession of any amount of prescription medication 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 medication exceeds the amount required for several days' use. Individuals are advised to carry a copy of the prescription. If significant quantities of the medication are required, individuals should carry a doctor's letter explaining that the quantity of medication is appropriate for their personal medical use.
Importing Medicines into Mexico: Medications for personal use are not subject to duty when hand carried into Mexico. Individuals are advised to carry a copy of their prescriptions in the event they are asked to prove that the medicines are for personal use. To ship (import) prescription medication into Mexico for personal use, a foreigner must obtain a permit from the Mexican Health Department prior to importing the medicine into Mexico. For a fee, a customs broker can process the permit before the Mexican authorities on behalf of an individual. If using the services of a customs broker, it is advisable to agree upon the fees before telling the broker to proceed. Current listings of local customs brokers (agencias aduanales) are available in the Mexico City yellow pages.
Pirated Merchandise: Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Mexico. Their sale is largely controlled by organized crime. Purchase for personal use is not criminalized in Mexico; however, bringing these goods back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
FIREARMS PENALTIES: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against taking any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico without prior written authorization from the Mexican authorities. Entering Mexico with a firearm, certain types of knives, or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the weapon or ammunition is taken into Mexico unintentionally. The Mexican government strictly enforces laws restricting the entry of firearms and ammunition along all land borders and at airports and seaports. Violations by U.S. citizens have resulted in arrests, convictions, and long prison sentences.
Vessels entering Mexican waters with firearms or ammunition on board must have a permit previously issued by the Mexican Embassy or a Mexican consulate. Mariners do not avoid prosecution by declaring their weapons at the port of entry. Before traveling, mariners who have obtained a Mexican firearm permit should contact Mexican port officials to receive guidance on the specific procedures used to report and secure weapons and ammunition.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Please refer to our information on customs regulations. U.S. citizens bringing gifts to friends and relatives in Mexico should be prepared to demonstrate to Mexican customs officials the origin and value of the gifts. U.S. citizens entering Mexico by land borders can bring in gifts with a value of up to $75.00 duty-free, except for alcohol and tobacco products. U.S. citizens entering Mexico by air or sea can bring in gifts with a value of up to $300.00 duty-free.
Personal Effects: Tourists are allowed to bring in their personal effects duty-free. According to customs regulations, in addition to clothing, personal effects may include one camera, one video cassette player, one personal computer, one CD player, 5 DVDs, 20 music CDs or audiocassettes, 12 rolls of unused film, and one cellular phone. Any tourist carrying such items, even if duty-free, should enter the "Merchandise to Declare" lane at the first customs checkpoint and should be prepared to pay any assessed duty. Failure to declare personal effects routinely results in the seizure of the goods as contraband, plus the seizure of the vehicle in which the goods are traveling for attempted smuggling. Recovery of the seized vehicle may involve payment of substantial fines and attorney's fees.
Temporary Imports/Exports: Mexican customs authorities enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Mexico of items such as trucks and autos, trailers, antiquities, medications, medical equipment, business equipment, etc. Prior to traveling, contact the Mexican Embassy or one of the Mexican consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Property Donations: U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico with goods intended for donation within Mexico, or traveling through Mexico with goods intended for donation in another country, should be aware of Mexican Customs regulations prohibiting importation of used clothing, textiles, and other used goods into Mexico, even as charitable donations. The importation of all medicines and medical equipment for donation to charity must be approved by Mexican Customs in advance; failure to obtain the proper import permits will result in the confiscation of the medical supplies. Out-of-date medications may not be imported for donation under any circumstances. Individuals or groups wishing to make charitable donations should check with Mexican Customs for the list of prohibited items, and should hire an experienced customs broker in the U.S. to ensure compliance with Mexican law. The charitable individual or group, not the customs broker, will be held responsible for large fines or confiscation of goods if the documentation is incorrect. For further information, visit the website for Mexican Customs (Aduanas) (Spanish only) at Acerca de Aduana Mexico (“About Mexican Customs”). Mexican authorities require that all international transit through Mexico of persons and merchandise destined for Central or South America be handled only at the Los Indios Bridge located south of Harlingen, Texas on Route 509. The U.S. consulate in Matamoros is the nearest consulate to Los Indios Bridge and may be contacted for up-to-date information by calling 011-52-868-812-4402, ext. 273 or 280, or by checking their website, which lists in English the most common items prohibited from entry into Mexico. Additional customs information can be found on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: Weather conditions in Mexico may vary as they do in various parts of the United States. From June to November, the country may experience strong winds and rains as a result of hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or along the Pacific Coast. Some areas may experience earth tremors. It is prudent to leave a detailed itinerary, including local contact information and expected time and date of return, with a friend or family member.
Water Sports: Visitors to Mexico, including to local resort areas, should carefully assess the potential risk of recreational activities. Recreational facilities such as pools may not meet U.S. safety or sanitation standards. Swimming pool drain systems may not comply with U.S. safety standards and swimmers should exercise caution. Several U.S. citizens have died in hotel pools in recent years. Do not swim in pools or at beaches without lifeguards. Parents should watch minor children closely when they are in or around water. U.S. citizens have drowned or disappeared at both remote and popular beaches along the southwest coast of Mexico.
Warning flags on beaches 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 Club Med. Several drowning and near-drowning incidents 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 U.S. citizens have died while swimming in rough surf at the Revolcadero Beach near Acapulco. Despite the presence of U.S.-trained lifeguards, several U.S. citizens have drowned in the area of Zipolite Beach in Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, because of sudden waves and strong currents. Beaches on the Pacific side of the Baja California peninsula at Cabo San Lucas can be dangerous due to rip tides and rogue waves; hazardous beaches in this area are clearly marked in English and Spanish. Do not swim alone in isolated beach areas. Beaches may not be well-marked, and strong currents could lead to dangerous conditions for even the most experienced swimmers. Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.
Rented sports and aquatic equipment may not meet U.S. safety standards or 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 only a few hours' instruction. Parasailing has killed U.S. citizen tourists who were dragged through palm trees or were slammed into hotel walls. U.S. citizen tourists have also been killed in jet-ski accidents, especially in group outings when inexperienced guides allowed clients to follow each other too closely.
Cancun and Other Resort Areas: Over 3 million U.S. citizens 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 U.S. citizens under the legal U.S. drinking age, is a significant problem. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18, but it is not uniformly enforced. Alcohol is implicated in the majority of arrests, violent crimes, accidents and deaths suffered by U.S. citizen tourists.
In recent years, moped rentals have become very widespread in Cancun and Cozumel, and the number of serious moped accidents has risen accordingly. Most operators carry no insurance and do not conduct safety checks. The U.S. Embassy recommends avoiding operators who do not provide a helmet with the rental. Some operators have been known to demand fees many times in excess of damages caused to the vehicles, even if renters have purchased insurance in advance. Vacationers at other beach resorts have encountered similar problems after accidents involving rented jet-skis. There have been cases of mobs gathering to prevent tourists from departing the scene and to intimidate them into paying exorbitant damage claims.
Motor Accidents: Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of U.S. citizens in Mexico. Motorists should exercise special caution on the heavily-traveled expressway south of Cancun, particularly between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, where the road narrows from 4 divided lanes to two-way traffic on a narrow and poorly-maintained road. For more information, please refer to our information on Road Safety Overseas.
Mountain Climbing and Hiking: 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 17 climbers have died on the mountain and 39 have been injured in recent years, including U.S. citizens. Rescue teams operate without the benefit of sophisticated equipment. 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.
The Colima Volcano, located approximately 20 miles north-northeast of Colima city in the state of Colima on the southwestern coast, is active and erupted several times in 2005. Travelers should not enter the prohibited area within a 4.5-mile radius of the volcano.
When departing on an outing to backcountry areas to hike or climb, it is prudent to leave a detailed itinerary, including route information and expected time and date of return, with your hotel clerk or a friend or family member. Similarly, 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.
MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS IN MEXICO: In general, to marry a Mexican national in Mexico, a U.S. citizen must be physically present in Mexico and present documents required by the jurisdiction where the marriage will take place. U.S. citizens who marry U.S. citizens or other non-Mexicans are not subject to a residence requirement, but are required to present their tourist cards. For additional information on marriages in Mexico, contact the U.S. Embassy or the nearest U.S. consulate.
Divorce requirements may vary according to jurisdiction. The U.S. Embassy recommends U.S. citizens consult an attorney and/or the Mexican Embassy or nearest Mexican consulate for information on divorces in Mexico.
REAL ESTATE AND TIME-SHARES: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks inherent in purchasing real estate in Mexico, and should exercise extreme caution before entering into any form of commitment to invest in property there. Investors should hire competent Mexican legal counsel when contemplating any real estate investment. Mexican laws and practices regarding real estate differ substantially from those in the United States. Foreigners who purchase property in Mexico may find that property disputes with Mexican citizens may not be treated evenhandedly by Mexican criminal justice authorities and in the courts. Time-share companies cannot be sued in U.S. courts unless they have an office or other business presence in the U.S. Consumers should contact a Mexican attorney, the Mexican consumer protection agency PROFECO, or other consumer information agency for information on companies that operate outside of the U.S.
Ownership Restrictions: The Mexican Constitution prohibits direct ownership by foreigners of real estate within 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) of any border, and within 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) of any coastline. In order to permit foreign investment in these areas, the Mexican government has created a trust mechanism in which a bank has title to the property but a trust beneficiary enjoys the benefits of ownership. However, U.S. citizens are vulnerable to title challenges that may result in years of litigation and possible eviction. Although title insurance is available in the Baja Peninsula and in other parts of Mexico, it is virtually unknown and remains untested in most of the country. In addition, Mexican law recognizes squatters' rights, and homeowners can spend thousands of dollars in legal fees and years of frustration in trying to remove squatters who occupy their property.
Labor Laws: U.S. citizen property owners should consult legal counsel or local authorities before hiring employees to serve in their homes or on their vessels moored in Mexico. Several U.S. citizen property owners have faced lengthy lawsuits for failure to comply with Mexican labor laws regarding severance pay and Mexican social security benefits.
Time-share Investments: U.S. citizens should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Buyers should be fully informed and take sufficient time to consider their decisions before signing time-share contracts, ideally after consulting an independent attorney. Mexican law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for unconditional and full reimbursement. U.S. citizens should never sign a contract that includes clauses penalizing a buyer who cancels within five days. The Department of State and the U.S. Mission in Mexico frequently receive complaints from U.S. citizens about extremely aggressive sales tactics, exaggerated claims of return on investment, lack of customer service, and questionable business practices by time-share companies, resulting in substantial financial losses for time-share investors.
A formal complaint against any merchant should be filed with PROFECO, Mexico's federal consumer protection agency. PROFECO has the power to mediate disputes, investigate consumer complaints, order hearings, levy fines and sanctions for not appearing at hearings, and do price-check inspections of merchants. All complaints by U.S. citizens are handled by PROFECO's English-speaking office in Mexico City at 011-52-55-5211-1723 (phone), 011-52-55-5211-2052 (fax), or via email at the link above. For more information, please see the PROFECO "Attention to Foreigners” website.
ALIEN SMUGGLING: Mexican authorities may prosecute anyone arrested for smuggling aliens into or out of Mexico in addition to any charges they may face in the other country involved, including the United States.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Adequate medical care can be found in major cities. Excellent health facilities are available in Mexico City, but training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards. 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 recent years, some U.S. citizens have complained that certain health-care facilities in beach resorts have taken advantage of them by overcharging or providing unnecessary medical care. Additionally, U.S. citizens should be aware that many Mexican facilities require payment ‘up front’ prior to performing a procedure. Elective medical procedures may be less expensive than in the United States. However, visitors are cautioned that facilities may lack access to sufficient emergency support. The U.S. Embassy encourages visitors to obtain as much information about the facility and the medical personnel as possible when considering surgical or other procedures. In addition to other publicly available information, U.S. citizens may consult the U.S. Embassy's website for a list of doctors and a list of hospitals in Mexico City or contact the U.S. Embassy, U.S. consulate, or consular agency prior to seeking non-emergency medical attention. The U.S. Embassy, U.S. consulates, and consular agencies maintain lists of reputable doctors and medical facilities that are available to assist U.S. citizens in need of medical care.
Water Quality: In many areas in Mexico, tap water is unsafe and should be avoided. Bottled water and beverages are safe although visitors should be aware that many restaurants and hotels serve tap water unless bottled water is specifically requested. Ice may also come from tap water and should be used with caution. Visitors should exercise caution when buying food or beverages from street vendors.
The quality of water along some beaches in or near Acapulco or other large coastal communities may be unsafe for swimming because of contamination. Swimming in contaminated water may cause diarrhea and/or other illnesses. Mexican government agencies monitor water quality in public beach areas but their standards and sampling techniques may differ from those in the United States.
Altitude: In high-altitude areas such as Mexico City (elevation 7,600 feet or about 1/2 mile higher than Denver, Colorado), most people need a short adjustment period. Symptoms of reaction to high altitude include a lack of energy, shortness of breath, occasional dizziness, headache, and insomnia. Those with heart problems should consult their doctor before traveling. Air pollution in Mexico City and Guadalajara is severe, especially from December to May, and combined with high altitude could affect travelers with underlying respiratory problems.
Other Health Issues: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) website. Further health information for travelers is available from the WHO.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
The Social Security Medicare Program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs outside the United States. Please see additional information on medical insurance abroad.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: 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. Public transportation vehicles, specifically taxis and city buses, often do not comply with traffic regulations, including observing speed limits and stopping at red lights.
Driving and Vehicle Regulations: U.S. driver's licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican law requires that only owners drive their vehicles, 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. The Government of Mexico strictly regulates the entry of vehicles into Mexico.
Insurance: 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.
Road Emergencies and Automobile Accidents: If you have an emergency while driving, the equivalent of “911” in Mexico is “066”, 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 (Angeles Verdes), 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 to the side of the road and lift the hood of your car; chances are that they will find you.
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.
Road Safety: Avoid driving on Mexican highways at night. Even multi-lane expressways in Mexico often have narrow lanes and steep shoulders. Single-vehicle rollover accidents involving U.S. citizens are common, often resulting in death or serious injury to vehicle occupants. Use extreme caution when approaching towns, driving on curves, and passing large trucks. All vehicle occupants should use seatbelts at all times. Please refer to our Road Safety Overseas for more information. 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. For additional information, refer to the Hoy No Circula website (Spanish only) maintained by the Mexico City government.
For additional information in English concerning Mexican driver’s permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, mandatory insurance, etc., please telephone the Mexican Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR) at 1-800-44-MEXICO (639-426). Travelers can also consult MexOnline for further information regarding vehicle inspection and importation procedures. For detailed information in Spanish only, visit Mexican Customs’ website Importación Temporal de Vehículos (“Temporary Importation of Vehicles”). 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 information for the Baja California peninsula, you can also consult independent websites Travel to Baja or Discover Baja California.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Mexico’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Mexico’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s website.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: Mexico is the destination country of the greatest number of children abducted from the United States by a parent. A party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction since 1991, Mexico is not in full compliance with the Convention. For information, see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.
BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION FACILITIES: A number of facilities have opened in Mexico that offer behavior modification therapy for teenagers and others suffering from drug addiction and other behavioral or psychological problems. Standards applied by the Government of Mexico and local governments, where they exist, may not meet standards for similar facilities in the United States. Parents planning to enroll their children in these facilities should investigate the facility first. Since 2004, Mexican officials have closed six adolescent behavior modification facilities in Baja California and another in the state of Jalisco due to health code and other violations. This was done on very short notice and caused serious inconvenience for the U.S. citizen students and their families. Another behavior modification facility in Sonora suddenly declared bankruptcy and closed its doors in March 2005, with a similarly disruptive impact on students. For further information, please refer to the State Department's Fact Sheet on Behavior Modification Facilities.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information dated August 13, 2008 to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime, Customs Regulations, Medical and Health, and Consular Agencies.