Is Mexico Safe? a street vendor in Valladolid, Mexico

Is Mexico Safe For Travel?

As millions of Americans head south of the border for vacations in 2023, the question many people still have on their minds is – is Mexico safe?

Mexico is famous for its gorgeous beaches, interesting culture and amazing food. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty well known for violence and cartel activity. We can’t deny there’s an issue.

But is it an issue that tourists need to be concerned with? The recent kidnapping of four U.S. citizens at the Mexican border has people more concerned than ever. If you are planning a vacation should you be worried about safety in Mexico?

In this article, we’re going to look at some of the official data so you can make an informed decision. The point here is not to try and convince you one way or another but for you to look at the big picture and decide is Mexico safe.

But as someone who’s traveled to Mexico solo many times, I think I have a bit of perspective so I’ll include my thoughts about how safe I feel in Mexico and also some of the real safety issues.

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Is Mexico Safe?

So, is Mexico safe? Yes, Mexico is safe if you take precautions and avoid problematic areas. The majority of crime that happens in Mexico is not aimed at tourists.

However, to say that Mexico is completely safe would be a total disservice to the many women and men that have disappeared in Mexico and to those that lost their lives to violence.

By now you know I adore Mexico. I’ve been traveling there since I was 15 years old and over the last few years, I’ve traveled to Mexico alone several times, spending weeks at a time.

Most recently, I spent five weeks in the Mexico visiting Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco and Jalisco. By far the question I’m asked most about my travel to Mexico is do you feel safe there? First, let’s look at why people ask the question is Mexico safe.

police vehicle at a building in Merida has you wondering is Mexico safe?

Why People Ask is Mexico Safe?

For years now, the majority of drugs sold in the United States come from, or at least through, Mexico. This is done to satisfy drug use in this country! And it’s Mexico that has violently paid the price.

The drug trade has created a world of corruption and violence in Mexico where the majority of people earn a low wage and might be lured by the temptation of what they consider easy money. They get involved with the wrong people and it doesn’t turn out well.

In 2006, Mexico, with the assistance of billions of dollars from the United States, launched a war on drugs – meaning the cartels. And just like in any kind of war, casualties happened.

Thousands of Mexicans – politicians, students, and journalists – trying to do the right thing by exposing corrupt individuals and political parties have died in the conflict. Sadly, Mexico has seen more than 360,000 homicides since 2006.

Even though the overall numbers have gone down some in recent years, at times all the cartel in-fighting and protesting against Mexican drug policies has spilled over into popular tourist areas like Cancun and Tulum and most recently around Mazatlán in Sinaloa.

In the touristy areas, many times the violence tends to be fueled also by U.S. citizens buying drugs while on vacation in Mexico. As cartels compete for business, trouble ensues.

But even after all this, it’s important to remember that the majority of foreigners affected by cartel violence are minimal. In fact, as a visitor, you have about the same chance of being murdered in the United States as you do in Mexico.

What Does the U.S. Government Say About Mexico Safety?

What’s the official take on the is Mexico safe question? For United States citizens, the travel bible for guidance when planning a trip out of the country is the State Department.

Headed by the Secretary of State, this department’s mission is to protect U.S. citizens wherever they are. Using a 1-4 level rating system, they assign a number to countries where there are problems or risks. 1 is the safest and 4 is a do not travel.

Mexico overall is a Level 3. That means “reconsider travel”. Those numeric levels assigned to a country are based on several things. It could be violence – as in the case of Mexico – or war related or it could even be based on disease or a health crisis in the country.

The State Department’s official reason for reconsidering travel to Mexico: is “Violent crime – such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery – is widespread and common in Mexico”.

Even though Mexico, as a country, is a level 3, there are a few other states where cartel violence is prevalent and known for violence. Those 6 states have a do not travel status. Currently, the most severe warnings are for:

But, if you look at the data, just because a state has a warning, it doesn’t necessarily mean the entire state is full of violence. You can click on the links above (and others on the State Department’s Mexico page) and see that in almost every case, there are only a few specific places in that state that are affected.

More interesting to note, is that even while 6 states have a no travel status there are 17 states – or over half of the 32 Mexico states – that have the lower Exercise Increased Caution and 2 more that have Exercise Normal Precautions. And there are 7 that have reconsider travel.

That means that over half of Mexico’s states, have the same level of caution assigned to places like the UK, Spain and Italy. When was the last time you heard someone tell you not to go to Italy or Spain or read or hear about any crime that happened there?

Is Mexico Safe For Solo Female Travelers?

With all this take about Mexico safety, you have to ask: is Mexico safe for solo female travelers? Based on my experience – yes, I believe it is. As a frequent traveler to Mexico I’ve been shown nothing but respect from males and females in Mexico.

While it’s rather anecdotal and comes from the privilege of a traveler and someone just passing through, the fact is, I can count on one hand the times I’ve had an issue with anything in all my travels in Mexico. And I’ve been to big cities, touristy cities, very small towns and even two of the highest crime cities in Mexico.

However, I don’t take my safety lightly. To stay as safe as I can, I abide by all the laws. I’m very cautious and I practice all the usual travel safety tips.

For example: my jewelry is minimal, I don’t drink too much, I never tell anyone I’m traveling alone, I don’t buy drugs and I always use Uber or a taxi late at night unless my walk is in a heavily patrolled, well lit touristy area.

But even with good safety practices, that doesn’t mean things can’t still happen. One of the most talked about things that could happen to a female in Mexico is being on the receiving end of a spiked drink.

Factually, this can happen anywhere. It’s pretty well known occurrence for women (and men) in many large touristy U.S. cities like Nashville, Dallas, Austin and New York City.

To protect yourself from this happening – be smart. Never leave your drink unattended, never accept drinks from strangers and if it gives you more piece of mind – just drink beer. Beer is usually a safer bet because the bartenders in Mexico will open the bottle of beer right in front of you.

How Safe is Mexico for Tourists?

Now that we’ve established that most tourists – and even solo females – won’t be affected by violent crime in Mexico, that doesn’t mean you are home free. Just like in many touristy places around the world, Mexico has it’s fair share of petty crime.

Many times tourists find themselves the target of robbery and scams. Thieves look at travelers as an easy mark because many times they are. Here’s just a few opportunities thieves will use to take advantage of travelers and how to protect yourself.

Theft

When traveling in Mexico, the biggest thing you need to be concerned with is purse snatching and pickpockets. And I’m not talking about someone grabbing your bag off your arm when you are walking down the crowded street.

Although, that could happen in bigger cities like Mexico City and Guadalajara, the most likely scenario is tactics way less obvious. Here’s just a couple of the most prevalent scams thieves will use to take advantage of you in Mexico.

One of the most common scams happens when you are seated in a restaurant. Someone comes over to show you something or try to sell you an item – which in itself is not unusual in Mexico.

The difference this time is that they will hand you whatever it is they want you to look at and in the time that you take to check it out, they lift your bag off the back of your chair or grab your phone that was sitting on the table. Just like that, it’s gone.

Another popular distraction method thieves use happens while you’re shopping or in a parking lot. This one is normally executed by team of two people, however, you may never see the second person.

As the first person approaches and distracts you, either by falsely claiming you have food – commonly mustard – or something else on your clothing, (at times, they will even go as far as actually putting something on your clothing) the second person swoops in and takes your bag or wallet while you are checking your clothing.

In both scenarios, distraction was key and shows the importance of being super vigilant and not letting your guard down anywhere.

ATM Scams

A hotly discussed subject on message boards and in travel groups is the use ATM’s in Mexico. Since traveling with large amounts of cash is not very safe, it only stands to reason that you’ll probably need to use an ATM occasionally.

Time and time again I’ve read of issues with ATM’s not functioning correctly, machines not dispensing the amount of money requested and even fake ATM’s.

To keep yourself and your money safe in Mexico, don’t use third party or sketchy looking ATM’s at convenience stores or other places. Use only bank ATM’s.

Also, if you happen to be at an ATM with other people around, never accept help. There is a bait and switch scam where thieves swap out your bank card for a a different bank card without you even realizing.

To be safe and extra careful, if you have any issues at all while using an ATM, it’s best to just cancel the transaction and try again or try another machine.

Protests in Mexico

Mexico is a country that likes to exercise its freedom – or lack thereof – by protesting and marching against, well, a lot of things. Just in the last few months there have been protests in Mexico City against the country’s electoral commission.

Protests erupted in Oaxaca over the installation of industrial parks and a bus of French tourists were taken over. More recently, more than 10,000 participants protesting violations of their rights as Indigenous peoples, blocked roads and closed Chichén Itzá archaeological site to visitors.

While most of these protests and marches are peaceful, it’s still not something you want to get mixed up in. Demonstrations can be unpredictable and can at times turn violent. Also, if the government decides to step in stop these activities then you could inadvertently be hurt or arrested.

The best way to deal with issues such as this is by staying informed and avoiding those hot zones all together. It’s a good idea to always have a backup plan. Mexico has 32 states and you can easily rearrange your travels to another state if there’s an ongoing problem.

The likelihood of having a protest or march affect your vacation is slim but it’s always best to be prepared. Googling your destination, checking the State Department’s website for alerts and even asking at your hotel about any potential issues in the area is the key to avoiding these situations.

a statue covered in graffiti after a protest in Merida
A statue in Merida covered in graffiti after a protest

Travel Safety Tips for Mexico

Implementing a few simple travel safety tips can go a long way in helping you stay safe when traveling in Mexico and anywhere in the world. Here are a few of the most helpful tips for safe travel in Mexico.

Mexico Safety Tip – #1 Have the Proper Paperwork

One more very important way to stay safe in Mexico is by respecting the laws of the country and having all the required paperwork. This means whether you are flying into the country or crossing the border by car.

Mexico requires a valid passport and even though there’s no visa requirement for United States or Canadian citizens to enter Mexico for stays under 180 days, you will be issued a Formulario Migratoria Múltiple, or FMM, This document is a tourist card required for all travelers into Mexico.

When flying into Mexico, the fee for the FMM is included in the price your plane ticket. The flight attendant generally passes out the form before landing. You then give the form to the immigration officer upon arrival to Mexico. Then officer stamps the paper and gives you a portion to hold onto until you exit the country.

Although it’s not super common, you could be asked to show your travel documents at any time when traveling in Mexico. Having the correct paperwork can keep you out of some serious trouble as Mexico has started cracking down on undocumented travelers.

Southerner Says: as of 2023, Mexico has moved to a paperless FMM upon entry in most large airports. A passport stamp with the number of days allowed in the country replaces the paper form. Which is good because there is nothing to lose or misplace now.

Mexico Safety Tip #2 – Be Situationally Aware

I’ve touched on this already but I cannot say it enough that the most important thing you can do to stay safe when traveling to Mexico, or anywhere, is always be situationally aware. That means paying close attention to what’s happening around you.

It doesn’t mean you have to walk around all paranoid. It just means not getting distracted enough that you miss a cue or an indication that something unsafe is going down. One way to stay alert is by not drinking too much and not doing drugs.

Learn to listen to your gut. If you have a feeling that something isn’t quite right and your inner voice it telling you that, then it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Mexico Safety Tip #3 – Purchase Travel Insurance

Having proper travel insurance might not keep you safe but it can help in the case of emergency or if you need medical assistance. Which in later years has kind of become a scam of its own in some places – mainly touristy areas – in Mexico.

There are more and more reports of travelers, with health emergencies, being held until a huge medical bill is either paid upfront, or an exorbitant deposit given, before treatment will be rendered.

Now, I’m not opposed to anyone making a living and charging people for services rendered. But when those life saving services come with conditions, that’s bordering on a scam in my opinion. One way to avoid that happening is having travel insurance.

Travel insurance companies come with way more benefits than just paying the hospital or ER bills. The travel insurance companies are there to help and many times, they already have hospitals and doctors they work with.

Plus, they have trained insurance professional that will help locate the appropriate facilities and providers for you. Additionally, they may even negotiate on your behalf so they you can avoid the aforementioned scenarios with upfront payments and deposits.

Before you travel, you should also check your current insurance coverage to see if they offer international coverage. Some policies, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, have worldwide networks and offer plans that pay even when you are out of the country.

For actual travel insurance, companies like Allianz and World Nomads are good choices and cater to long-term travelers and digital nomads. Alternatively, visit TravelInsurance.com to research a variety of travel insurance plans with coverage aimed to casual travelers.

Mexico Safety Tip #4 – Visit the Safest City in Mexico

If you still have concerns about traveling to Mexico but have a strong desire to explore south of the border, there are ways to alleviate your anxiety. One approach is to carefully choose your destination by planning a trip to the most secure area in Mexico.

What is the safest place in Mexico? Mérida, the capital of Yucatan State, is widely regarded as the safest place in Mexico. In fact, Yucatan is one of two states on the U.S. Department of State’s list designated as Exercise Normal Precautions When Traveling states. Campeche is the other state at that same level.

CEO World Magazine recently rated Mérida as the 21st safest city in the world, beating out every U.S. city. Madison, Wisconsin came in at 61 and was the first U.S. city to appear on the list. For context, my hometown of Atlanta was 289 out of a list of 334. To say that I feel safer in Mexico is absolutely true.

Mérida was one of the cities I visited last year and I felt extremely safe and comfortable there. Even though it’s a big city, I found the people to be very friendly and welcoming. Something you don’t see every day in bigger capital cities.

Final Thoughts About is Mexico Safe?

In conclusion, while safety remains a concern for travelers and residents in Mexico and there are plenty of places that remain safe for tourists. It’s very important to stay informed about the current situation, use common sense, and take necessary precautions to avoid becoming a victim of any kind of crime. Even petty crime.

By being vigilant and staying aware of potential risks, travelers can still enjoy everything Mexico has to offer while staying safe.

Ultimately, everyone has to decide for themselves what they feel safe doing. I hope this article has been useful in helping you decide is Mexico safe. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

See you on the road!

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