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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Mexico 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Mexico City

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Mexico at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to crime. Do Not Travel to the States of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, or Sinaloa due to crime; or to the State of Tamaulipas due to crime and kidnapping.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

The Department of State divides its roles and responsibilities in Mexico among 10 consular districts. This Crime and Safety Report focuses on the Embassy’s district, which is composed of Mexico City, the southern tip of Tamaulipas State and the following 13 states: Chiapas, México, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. For information regarding the security environment elsewhere, please reference the Crime & Safety Reports for Tijuana, Nogales, Hermosillo, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Monterrey, Guadalajara, or Mérida.

Crime Threats

There is serious risk from crime in Mexico City. The general crime rate in Mexico City is above the U.S. national average, and crime varies widely. The low rate of criminal convictions contributes to the high rate of crime. Although there is no pattern of criminals specifically targeting foreign or U.S. businesses/personnel, criminals will target anyone perceived to be lucrative and vulnerable. Criminals select victims based on an appearance of prosperity, vulnerability, or a lack of awareness. Armed robbery, kidnapping, car theft, credit card fraud, and various forms of residential/street crime are daily concerns. Criminals can easily resell jewelry (including expensive watches) and cellular phones in vast illegal markets. Thefts of a vehicle’s operating computer and sound system are common crimes. Although Mexico employs strict gun-control laws, criminals often carry handguns or knives.

Organized criminal groups continue to cause significant levels of violence throughout parts of the country. The northern half of Mexico had been a higher threat area, primarily due to organized criminal conflicts and competition for drug trafficking routes to the U.S.; however, recent statistics show that violence is on the rise in central and southern states, particularly in Guerrero, Michoacán, and Estado de México. One common practice is for gangs to charge protection fees or add their own tax to products/services, with the threat of violence for those who fail to pay. Extortionists have targeted foreign and U.S. companies; some have been attacked for not responding to demands. Some criminal groups will mandate that individuals or even whole communities work for them as lookouts or couriers. Others will threaten municipal and state administrators into accepting corrupt practices. Beheadings, lynching, torture, and other gruesome displays of violence, as well as high numbers of forced disappearances, have become routine occurrences, including in the Mexico City metropolitan area. Criminals have killed numerous journalists and bloggers for reporting on these incidents.

Mexico is experiencing a combination of conditions that collectively degrade the security environment in certain areas. The government has captured some of its most wanted criminals. Consequently, organized criminal groups are becoming much less organized and disciplined. Various groups have splintered into smaller gangs, which have branched out into different illegal business activities, and associated violence is spreading across Mexico.

Cargo theft remains a key area of concern for U.S. and foreign companies. FreightWatch International ranks the level of cargo crime in Mexico as “severe,” its worst ranking, primarily because the supply chain continues to face threats from cargo criminals, corrupt law enforcement personnel, and, to a smaller extent, organized crime. Mexico’s Secretariat of Government estimates that more than half of the thefts (about 53%) occurred in the Central region, with 22% in the West, 13% in the Southeast, 10% in the Northeast and 2% in the Northwest. More than a third of cargo thefts occurred on the highway from Mexico City to Veracruz. SensiGuard has determined that cargo theft increased by roughly 127% compared with 2017 levels. Insurance policies have increased as a result; some no longer provide coverage for overnight cargo travel.

There are numerous reports in which criminals skimmed U.S. credit/debit card numbers, stealing the money in their debit accounts or fraudulently charging their credit cards. 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 or using a camera and skimmer installed in an ATM. In addition to skimming, the risk of physical theft of credit or debit cards also exists. Try to use ATMs in bank branches during business hours. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

According to the Federal District’s General Prosecutor and Public Secretary, the following city boroughs had the highest number of crimes reported in 2018: The Zocalo (historic city center), Doctores, Del Valle Centro, Roma Norte, Narvarte, and Buena Vista

The U.S. Embassy closely scrutinizes U.S. government employee travel due to violence associated with organized criminal groups. The Embassy prohibits U.S. government employee travel to several parts of the Embassy’s consular district, including Guerrero and Michoacán.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

U.S. citizens traveling on roads and highways may encounter government checkpoints, which often include a military staff. The government has deployed federal police and military personnel to combat organized criminal groups. However, criminal organizations erect their own unauthorized checkpoints and have killed/abducted motorists who fail to stop at them. Likewise, self-defense groups have established checkpoints in their communities and have shot and wounded travelers who fail to stop. When approaching a checkpoint, regardless of whether it is official or non-official, cooperate and avoid any actions those in charge may perceived to be suspicious or aggressive.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

The Embassy does not recommend using libre taxis, those that pick up fares on the street after customers hail them; they may be criminally linked. Sitio (radio-dispatched) taxis are far safer, more reliable, and are worth the added expense. Patrons cannot hail these types of taxis from the street; they must be order them by phone or meet at a designated taxi stand. Twenty-four hour radio taxi service is available at 5516-6020 and 3626-9800 to 30. Sitio taxis in Mexico City most often have meters and government registrations. In addition, the Embassy permits the use of car services you can request online via mobile applications, which allow consumers to verify the driver and vehicle number. For more information on ride sharing, review OSAC’s report, Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Visitors should travel by intercity bus only during daylight hours, and only by first-class conveyance whenever possible. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads, buses on toll roads have experienced a lower rate of incidents than second- and third-class buses that travel on less secure, libre highways.

There have been occasional reports of significant security incidents (apart from theft) on tourist buses in/around Mexico City and to nearby tourist destinations.

In Mexico City, municipal buses and the Metro (subway) are generally safe to use. City buses and the Metro may be crowded. Passengers should be on the alert for pickpockets and other thieves, especially on the most crowded, busiest routes during rush hour. Avoid non-municipal buses (micros).

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The Embassy advises that its employees fly, rather than drive, to many Mexican destinations.

Patrons pay in advance for regulated sitio taxis from Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) in the terminal (at the sitio stands).

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is minimal risk from terrorism in Mexico City. The U.S. Embassy focuses on Mexico as a potential transit country for foreign terrorist groups to conduct operations against the U.S. There are no known foreign terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, and there is no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexico. Mexico does not provide a safe haven to terrorists or terrorist groups.

The Mexican government remained vigilant against domestic and foreign terrorist threats in 2018, and passed amendments to its Federal Penal Code to strengthen the country’s legal framework to address acts of terrorism, including terrorist financing. Authorities cooperate well with relevant U.S. government agencies on persons of interest. Criminal organizations have used terror-like tactics (e.g. car bombs, grenades) to attack each other and security forces. They also commit gruesome acts of violence designed to terrorize; however, the effects of these acts seem directed largely at rival gangs.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Mexico City. Peaceful demonstrations of all sizes gather regularly at the Monument to Independence (the Angel), near the U.S. Embassy, to protest government policies, labor, social issues, and, occasionally, U.S. policies. These protests often affect traffic during peak commute hours on and near Paseo de La Reforma, the city's primary avenue. Most demonstrations are peaceful. However, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful may turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Demonstrators frequently block city streets or major highways, or take control of major highways, demanding unofficial tolls from travelers. Groups associated with teachers’ unions and those protesting alleged human rights violations in Guerrero have used checkpoints as a way of raising money for their causes. Avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution if near any protests.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Earthquakes within the Embassy’s consular district are routine, especially in the Pacific coast states. Mexico experienced an 8.2-magnitude earthquake on September 7, 2017, with an epicenter off the coast of Oaxaca, and a 7.1 quake on September 19, 2017, with an epicenter in Morelos. Although there have been substantial improvements in building regulations and response planning since the devastating 1985 earthquake, the earthquakes in 2017 killed at least 441 people. Rebuilding costs may exceed US$1.6 billion.

Active and dormant volcanoes are scattered throughout central Mexico. One of the country’s largest volcanoes, Popocatepetl, is located 43 miles southeast of Mexico City; it has had several low-level eruptions in the past several years. The government prevents access to the mountain, closing it to climbers and hikers. According to public safety officials, travelers to the area should have N-95 filter masks available in case ash falls on them. Clouds of ash associated with volcanic activity can limit air travel and make evacuation by air difficult.

  • On July 31, 2018, Popocatepetl spewed volcanic lava and ash 6500 feet into the air.
  • On December 16, 2018, a strong eruption with a shower of lava and an ash plume resulted in a volcanic ash advisory

 

From May to November, hurricanes may affect the Pacific and Gulf coasts of the Embassy’s consular district. The coastal states tend to suffer the brunt of these storms, but storms have caused flooding and disruption of utility services throughout the district. During 2018, four tropical storms and a hurricane hit Mexico’s coasts.

Critical Infrastructure

The new government is looking at the option to modernize Santa Lucia Air Force Base (NLU) and the Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX), with an estimated completion date of three years.

In 2018, criminals stole radioactive materials from different places:

  • February 10: Criminals stole nuclear densimeters containing Americiym-241, Beryllium, and Cesium-137 out of the back of a truck in Guanajuato State.
  • July 9: Criminals stole Iridium-192 from a vehicle in Mexico City.

 

In 2017, Labor Ministry (Secretaria del Trabajo y Prevision Social, STPS) and Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, IMSS) reported 158,808 (closed) cases of industrial and transportation accidents, including work illnesses.

Economic Concerns

Mexico appears on the Watch List in the 2018 Special 301 Report, noting inadequate intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement and the wide availability of pirated/counterfeit goods, mostly via physical and virtual markets. Criminal organizations are significantly involved in the counterfeit and pirated goods trade. Enforcement efforts suffer from weak coordination among federal, state, and municipal officials; limited resources for prosecutions; lack of long-term sustained investigations to target high-level suppliers; and the need for deterrent level penalties. The U.S. continues to encourage Mexico to provide its customs officials with ex-officio authority, to allow the Attorney General Offices the authority to prosecute transshipments of alleged counterfeit and pirated goods, and to enact legislation to strengthen its copyright regime, including the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet Treaties. The U.S. also continues to work with Mexico to resolve IPR concerns through bilateral, regional, and other means of engagement.

The law covering misappropriation of trade secrets also covers economic espionage activity. The three sources of trade secrets law are the Industrial Property Law, Federal Criminal Code, and NAFTA, all of which provide fines and criminal penalties for misappropriation of trade secrets. There have been extremely limited prosecutions of trade secret misappropriation due to onerous legal requirements and evidentiary issues tied to proving theft of digital files.

The mid-year presidential elections and NAFTA renegotiations roused speculation about the political and economic future of the country. Market speculation is a key driver of decreasing investment, which could potentially jeopardize the funding for several infrastructure projects.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual relations are legal in Mexico. The law provides for protections against discrimination based on gender identity. Travelers will find more openness and acceptance in urban areas, and conservative stances in rural areas.

Kidnapping Threat

The number of kidnappings reported throughout Mexico is of particular concern. The number of kidnapping incidents is difficult to determine because most of the cases go unreported to authorities, as the popular belief is that the police may be involved or are unable to resolve the situation.

The majority of cases reported to the U.S. Embassy have been kidnapping for ransom (KFR) cases. In some KFR cases, the captors receive a ransom and set the victim free; in other cases, the captors kill the victims despite having received a ransom. Affluent residents in Mexico City often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their families.

Government statistics note 1,480 reported kidnapping cases in Mexico in 2018. While kidnappings can occur anywhere, states within the Mexico City consular district with the highest number of kidnappings in 2018 were Estado de México, Veracruz, Guerrero, and Tabasco. Investigations implicated police (or former law enforcement officials) in many of these incidents.

The FBI investigated 113 kidnapping events in Mexico in 2018. In 64 of them, the victim was a U.S. citizen, in ten, the victim was a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident, and in 39 cases, the extortion/ransom call targeted a number in the United States. Of the cases, 69 were kidnappings for ransom, 365 were virtual kidnappings, and in eight cases, there was no ransom demand. Vary routes/times and be alert to possible surveillance, noting any individual who appears out of place. When hiring domestic help, vet them by identifying references. Ensure that they receive training not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow access of workers without prior authorization.

The number of reported express kidnappings is low. Express kidnappings take advantage of the 24-hour industry-wide withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards. Express kidnappers hold victims for 24-48 hours to maximize withdrawal amounts. A common modus operandi for express kidnappings in Mexico City is to target passengers using libre taxis; two or three armed accomplices will enter the taxi a few minutes into the trip. The term ‘express kidnapping’ also applies to the kidnapping of random victims held for brief periods where kidnappers demand only small ransom amounts. A typical scenario may last for several hours and settle for the peso-equivalent of a few hundred or thousand dollars. Few official U.S. government employees have suffered this type of crime, but many Mexican-national employees of the Embassy either have been victims themselves or know a victim.

There appears to be an uptick in virtual kidnapping. These extortion telephone calls vary in style, but the methodology is often the same. In these cases, the victim receives a telephone call; there is no actual kidnapped individual. Callers say that they have kidnapped a loved one and often include a crying/pleading voice immediately after answering the call but before the kidnapper gets on the phone. Callers intend to confuse the victim and trick them into giving away important information. The voice will usually be crying and/or hysterical, making it difficult to identify and increasing the likelihood that the victim will believe it is their loved one. Criminals use fear and timing against victims. They plan their calls to coincide with times when it is difficult to contact the victim (when children are on their way to/from school). Alternatively, the callers will obtain two cell phones of two family members. They will call both victims at the same time and claim to have kidnapped the other. They use fear and the threat of violence to keep both victims on the line while they urge them to pay a ransom. Once the kidnappers are satisfied they have obtained as much money as they can, they end the call. They may demand that the victims deliver the ransom in person, which can turn into a real kidnapping, or that they send the money electronically. Variations use callers claiming to be lawyers or police looking to get a family member out a bad situation. They pressure the target to pay them to waive charges or to bribe alleged corrupt officials to free their loved one and avoid a long, expensive judicial process.

Virtual kidnappers call Mexican and international numbers alike, and often use information obtained from social networking websites. A variation affecting travelers at hotels is an extortion-by-deception scheme, wherein extortionists call a victim and convince them to isolate themselves from family/friends until they receive a ransom. The criminals coerce the victim (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family/loved ones. The criminals contact the victim's family and extract a ransom. Often, the callers make statements to suggest surveillance.

To reduce the likelihood of receiving a virtual kidnapping call, answer the phone with only a “hello” and make the other person ask for you by name and know the details of your family’s itinerary and contact information (e.g. landline and cell phone numbers). Never provide personal information to someone who calls or approaches you, and do not post personal information on social networking sites.

For more information, review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The Government of Mexico has deployed security forces to various parts of the country, and has created a new military unit known as the National Gendarmerie to augment security in certain areas.

Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a ticket or other penalty is a crime. Cooperate with the police if they stop or question you.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

In some instances, U.S. citizens have become victims of harassment, mistreatment, or extortion by law enforcement and other officials. Authorities have cooperated in investigating some cases, but one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Note this information if you have a problem with police or other officials.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizens may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City for assistance in dealing with the police. If involved in a traffic accident or crime, the investigating officer may require you to accompany them to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. A police report for an insurance claim will require a nominal fee.

Police Emergency, Fire Department, or Ambulance: 911

The Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Justice (Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Publica y Procuracion de Justicia) takes complaints from those in Mexico City afraid to go to the police. Call 5533-5533.

Police/Security Agencies

The General Procurement Office (Procuraduria General de la Republica, PGR) of the Mexican Attorney General is responsible for investigating and prosecuting federal crimes. The General Procurement Office (Procuraduria General de Justicia, PGJ) of each state/city is in charge of investigating and prosecuting state and local crimes.

  • The Interior Secretariat (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB) oversees federal police forces. The federal police are approximately 38,000 strong and are present in all states. They oversee the Mexican Immigration Service (INAMI), whose officers have the right to detain suspected undocumented aliens and may deport them without formal deportation proceedings.
  • The Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público) has customs officers (Aduana) deployed at borders and international airports to interdict contraband.
  • The Bank of Mexico (Banco de México) operates its own security division charged with enforcing banking and monetary laws, including cases of counterfeiting, fraud, and money laundering.
  • Each of the country's 31 states and the Federal District maintain both preventive and judicial police. State police are under the direction of the state's governor.
  • Each state contains numerous municipalities, many of which maintain a municipal police force.
  • The army and navy have been heavily involved in anti-crime initiatives, as they combat organized criminal groups.

 

Medical Emergencies

Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is available on the Consular Affairs webpage on Your Health Abroad.

Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics

For medical assistance, refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Advanced Air Ambulance 800-633-3590 or 305-232-7700

  • Air Ambulance Professionals 800-752-4195 or 954-730-9300

 

Recommended Insurance Posture

Health insurance is an important consideration. Travelers are responsible for ensuring that they have adequate health coverage while in Mexico. Please see the Consular Affairs webpage on Insurance Providers for Overseas Coverage.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Food and potable water standards are different from those of the United States. Take precautions with regard to drinking water, eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. For more information, refer to OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mexico.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Mexico City is active, meeting monthly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions. 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

U.S. Embassy Mexico City

Paseo de la Reforma, 305

Col. Cuauhtémoc

Mexico, D.F. 06500

Business Hours: Monday-Friday, 0830-1730

Telephone - 5080-2000 (24/7 switchboard operator)

Website: http://mexico.usembassy.gov/

Nearby Posts: Consulate Guadalajara, Consulate Hermosillo, Consulate Matamoros, Consulate MéridaConsulate Monterrey, Consulate Nogales, Consulate Nuevo Laredo, Consulate Tijuana

 

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known.

Mexico Country Information Sheet

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