is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office
at the U.S. Consulate in Nogales. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in the northern
portion of the State of Sonora. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Mexico country page
for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some
of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
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
and kidnapping. Reconsider travel to Sonora (Level 3) due to crime. Review
OSAC’s report, Understanding the
Consular Travel Advisory System.
Overall Crime and
was the most violent year on record in Mexico with 35,558 reported homicides.
Murder increased 2.7% nationwide since 2018, now the second-most violent year
U.S. Department of State has assessed Nogales as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting
official U.S. government interests.
overall level of crime in Sonora increased in 2019. Homicide, vehicle theft,
home invasions, and incidents of rape all increased in 2019. Reported incidents
of kidnapping and rape decreased. Violence related to Transnational Criminal
Organizations (TCO, drug cartels) continues to dominate as the motive behind
many of the homicides and violent crimes in the Nogales district. Most TCO-related
violence has occurred in other cities, such as Caborca, Magdalena, and Altar. In
2018, intense gun battles and assassinations took place in Magdalena and
Caborca. Gunmen opened fire on a
convoy carrying three women and six children near Bavispe, Sonora, in November
2019; it is likely that a TCO was behind the attack. In 2018, there were
147 reported homicides in the Nogales consular district. In 2019, that number
increased by two-thirds, to 248.
Non-drug cartel related street crime (e.g. armed robbery, assault,
burglary) continues to occur in the Nogales Consular District, with some
categories showing significant change. In 2019, petty theft and muggings not
associated with TCOs increased. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave
area of Nogales is immune from violent crime. However, consider the area
between El Periferico highway and Avenida Obregon safer than outlying suburban
areas. The violent crimes that do occur in this area generally happen after
dark. Travel through the city only during daylight hours. Avoid walking after
dark in Nogales. Most businesses close by 2200. Avoid bars and nightclubs,
which provide a dangerous mix of guns, drugs, and cartel personnel.
laws prohibit ownership of personal firearms. Most firearms present in the
consular district belong to Mexican law enforcement and military via legitimate
means and narco-trafficking criminal elements via illegitimate means. Most
narco-trafficking elements possess weapons of various size, including assault
rifles, grenades, and belt-fed machine guns. However, the most common weapons involved
in narco-related crimes are 9-mm pistols and 7.62-caliber assault rifles. During
the 2018-2019 period, most gun violence in the consular district took place in
more remote parts of town and/or in late-night hours.
burglaries in the Nogales consular district increased 200% from 2018 to 2019. These
crimes are most common during the day and on weekends or holidays, when houses
are vacant. Thieves often gain entry through unsecured entryways, by tricking
domestic employees or using force to access homes that appear to be vacant.
theft of vehicles, carjacking, and theft of parts from parked vehicles remain
the most prevalent crimes in the Nogales consular district. There were 510
reported vehicle thefts in 2019, a significant increase from 322 in 2018. TCOs
look to steal heavy-duty pick-up trucks and SUVs for their ability to carry
heavy loads at high speed across difficult terrain.
criminal gangs continue to cause significant levels of violence throughout
parts of the country. 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. 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 as well, particularly in Guerrero, Michoacán, and Estado de México.
groups have splintered into smaller gangs, which have branched out into
different illegal business activities, and associated violence is spreading
across Mexico. 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,
attacked some 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. Regarding cartel violence, wrong-place/wrong-time incidents present
the greatest threat to personal safety. The best ways to reduce the risk is to
practice good personal security habits, especially maintaining high situational
awareness and promptly departing from potentially dangerous situations.
Government of Mexico along with the Tamaulipas and Coahuila state governments
continue to engage in efforts to combat Transnational Criminal Organizations
(TCOs), especially along the border. To prevent and combat violence, the federal
government has deployed military troops, federal police, and the national guard
throughout the country. The location and timing of armed engagements are
unpredictable. The vast majority of those killed in such engagements have been
members of TCOs and Mexican security forces, but innocent bystanders have died
in shootouts between TCOs and Mexican officials.
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. Visitors on day trips should use U.S. ATMs prior to crossing
into Mexico; Mexican establishments accept U.S. dollars widely. Portable credit
card terminals are widely available in Mexico, and travelers should always
request the establishment bring a portable credit card terminal to them to charge
their credit card in their physical presence. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s
Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.
Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and
Outs and Considerations for
Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics,
Best Practices for
Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile
Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones:
Critical or Contraband?
Road Safety and Road Conditions
in Nogales requires vigilance, a defensive attitude, and Mexican insurance. Local
drivers are generally not very experienced and often have cars that are poorly
maintained or in disrepair. Be alert for vehicles moving slower than the rest
of the traffic, and for vehicles speeding through traffic signals at the last
minute. Poor lighting, unclear road makings, and lack of signage contribute to
hazardous driving conditions. Exercise caution around public buses, which are
not known for their safe driving practices. Pedestrians, to include small
children, jaywalk often with disregard for personal safety.
while intoxicated is against the law in Mexico. The Municipal Police Department
(Policia Municipal) enforces legitimate DUI checkpoints within the
Nogales city limits. These legitimate checkpoints have adequate markings, are located
on major roads, and almost exclusively operate in the evening hours. The
government has also deployed federal police and military personnel to combat
organized criminal groups. Police also set up various administrative
checkpoints in and around cities (speed control, sobriety checkpoints) and
along the highways (vehicle registration checkpoints). However, criminal
organizations sometimes erect their own unauthorized checkpoints and have
killed/abducted motorists who fail to stop and/or pay a “toll.” 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, cooperate and avoid any actions that may appear
suspicious or aggressive.
the rainy season (July-September), localized flash flooding may occur on many of
the main and side streets in Nogales. Flash floods leave many vehicles stalled
in the middle of streets and intersections. Cars swept into deeper water is one
of the most common dangers of the rainy season. During heavy rainstorms, avoid
driving and walking on flooded streets. Additionally, flooding of residential
areas and city streets can occur in all areas of the consular district. In
Nogales, Blvd. Tecnologico is notorious for flooding. It can experience rushing
water up to three feet deep in places, making the street inaccessible and
dangerous. Due to the rapid onset of flash flooding, city emergency workers
rarely place road closure signs. During each rainy season, large sinkholes have
occurred throughout the city; bridges have washed out, and flash floods have
trapped or injured individuals. Authorities are not always quick to repair resulting
road damage, leaving potholes that can damage your car, or cause drivers to
swerve into your lane or brake unexpectedly. Be wary when traveling roadways
during the rainy season, and pay attention to weather forecasts.
peak travel times like weekends and holidays, travelers should be prepared for
long wait times when crossing back into the United States. Toll lanes and ports
of entry alike can experience significant delays at times. Continued concerns
regarding road safety along the border have prompted the U.S. Consulate to
impose restrictions on U.S. government employees transiting the area.
in Mexico requires vigilance. Drivers are not uniformly experienced, and often
drive cars in disrepair. Be alert for vehicles moving slower than the rest of
the traffic flow, and for vehicles speeding through traffic signals at the last
minute. Give a wide berth to public buses and trucks.
steering mistakes that can normally be corrected on a road with wide and level
shoulders often cannot be easily corrected, causing drivers to lose control of
their vehicles. Many vehicles drive with defective or inoperable lights at
night. Signage and traffic lights are improving but are not always clear. Road
damage is not always quickly repaired, leaving potholes which can damage your
car or cause drivers to swerve or brake unexpectedly.
vehicle accidents are a leading cause of U.S. citizen deaths in Mexico. If you
have an emergency while driving, dial 911.
On a cuota or any other major highway, contact the Green Angels,
a fleet of trucks with bilingual crews, by dialing 078 from any phone in Mexico.
variety of road conditions exist throughout the region. Toll (cuota)
highways are comparable to U.S. interstate highway standards with multiple
traffic lanes and broad paved shoulders. The cuotas generally have
better lighting, frequent police patrols, fewer access points (on/off-ramps),
and are generally a safer method of overland transit, but their isolation
leaves travelers vulnerable to crime, especially at night. Speed, nighttime
travel, weather (especially the summer rainy season), unfamiliarity with the
road, lack of lighting, and other elements are contributing factors to serious
traffic accidents and incidents on highways. Drivers can reduce the risk of
carjacking by limiting intercity travel to daylight hours.
(libre) highways are usually in poorer condition. They are usually
two-lane roads with no shoulder. There are more reported incidents of
carjacking and shootouts between rival criminal groups, particularly after
dark, on the libre highways.
routes ahead of travel, and notify family/friends of your itinerary. Keep a
charged cell phone with you and know how to reach friends and family in an
emergency. Ensure vehicles are roadworthy and maintain a full-size spare tire
in case of a flat.
conditions in urban areas can also vary considerably. In upscale or tourist
neighborhoods of major cities, the roads are in good condition, whereas roads
are often in poor condition in marginalized areas. There are large speed bumps
installed around major cities, including on some highways, that often lack
appropriate markings. Drivers should be alert for changing road conditions.
Drivers routinely disobey even the most fundamental traffic laws and commonly treat
red lights like stop signs, crossing as soon as they have checked for opposing
driver’s licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican law requires that only owners
drive their vehicles or that the owner be inside the vehicle. Failing to abide
by this law may lead to impoundment and a fine equal to the value of the
vehicle. Mexican citizens who are not also U.S. Legal Permanent Residents (LPR)
or U.S. citizens may not operate U.S.-registered vehicles in Mexico. Mexican
insurance is mandatory for all vehicles, including rental vehicles; insurance
associated with U.S. credit cards is insufficient. Maintain Mexican liability
insurance in the event of a vehicle accident. Driving under the influence of
alcohol, using a mobile device while driving, and driving through a yellow
light are all illegal in Mexico.
driving their own vehicle into Mexico beyond the immediate border area
(approximately 12 miles into the country) must apply for a temporary vehicle
import permit. The permit requires the presentation of a valid passport and a
monetary deposit that you will retrieve upon leaving Mexico before the
expiration of the permit. Failing to apply for a temporary vehicle import
permit may lead to impoundment and a fine equal to the value of the vehicle.
crossing into Mexico must have a valid license plate and registration sticker.
Mexican authorities will often refuse to admit vehicles with temporary or paper
license plates. Authorities may confiscate vehicles with expired registration
or unauthorized plates and charge the operator with a fine equal to the value
of the vehicle.
is common for strangers to approach vehicles asking for directions or change,
handing out flyers, washing windows, or selling goods. Be alert, lock doors,
and keep windows up far enough in case they are not well intentioned. When
stopped in traffic, leave adequate distance between vehicles to escape. Do not
stop to assist strangers whose vehicles appear broken down.
inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least
within view of the location of your visit. When parking in the lot of a
shopping facility, park as close as possible to the store entrance and away
from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles.
Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad,
Driving Overseas: Best Practices,
and Evasive Driving
Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving
and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
using public transportation services in the Nogales Consular District, based on
the lack of viable security vetting and the depth of narco-trafficking
influence over taxi services. Rideshare services are extremely limited in
Nogales. However, the same security and safety concerns exist with those
services as with the traditional taxis.
Embassy advises that its employees fly, rather than drive, between many Mexican
are generally secure and well policed. Sitio taxis are usually available from a
kiosk in the arrival terminal of the airport and require travelers to prepay
fares at the kiosk before exiting the airport and boarding a taxi.
U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of
Mexico’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil
Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of
Mexico’s air carrier operations.
prepared for U.S.-styled security screening and unpredictable wait times and
travel delays from all airports in the region.
The U.S. Department of State has assessed all posts in Mexico as
being a LOW-threat locations for
terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
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/residing in or transiting through Mexico,
and there is no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in
Mexico. Mexico does not provide safe haven to terrorists or terrorist groups. However,
the nature of the border and the ready access to human traffickers, lax
immigration controls, the abundance of fake Mexican travel documents and
Mexico's geographic location potentially make the country an attractive transit
point for transnational terrorists. These vulnerabilities make cross-border
transit of people and goods a key concern. Businesses conducting cross-border
trade should be aware of this vulnerability, as terrorist and criminal
organizations could use legitimate business transport to traffic people or
items across borders. To mitigate this risk, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
operates the C-TPAT
(Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism) program in
authorities cooperate 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. Though they commit gruesome
acts of violence designed to terrorize, the purpose of these acts is criminal
in nature, directed largely at rival gangs, and not for a larger political
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Political violence against Mexican
politicians is common and stems from widespread corruption.
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed all posts in Mexico as being HIGH-threat
locations for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S.
the past several years, there have been several peaceful demonstrations in the
Nogales area, taking place at or near the DeConcini Port of Entry or the fiscal
corridor heading to the Mariposa Port of Entry. These demonstrations are
generally orderly and comply with police orders.
January 2017, there were several large-scale demonstrations, in some case with
over 2,000 individuals, protesting the Government of Mexico’s policy on fuel
prices. On several occasions, the protestors interfered with the flow of
traffic into Mexico, prompting authorities in the U.S. and Mexico to close the
DeConcini Border crossing temporarily and redirect traffic to Mariposa. In one
case, protesters at the DeConcini border crossing turned violent and clashed
with police. Police regained control and restored order. There was no loss of
life or serious injuries.
November 2018, protests in Nogales followed the acquittal of a U.S. Border
Patrol Officer in the 2012 wrongful death case of sixteen-year-old Jose
Rodriguez. Protestors marched in disapproval of the verdict. There were no
reports of violence or injury.
Due to recent controversy surrounding migration issues along the
border of the United States and Mexico, the possibility of future protests and
demonstrations remain a constant possibility. With an extremely unpredictable
flashpoint, protests could potentially effect border operations and traveler
passage through ports of entry with little to no warning. Travelers are
reminded to make preparations and have a reaction plan developed before a
border closure occurs.
in Mexico may block traffic on roads, including major thoroughfares, or take
control of toll booths on highways. Those who encounter protesters demanding
unofficial tolls are generally allowed to pass upon payment. Non-Mexican
nationals should avoid participating in demonstrations and other activities
that authorities might deem political, as Mexican law prohibits political
activities by foreign citizens and such actions may result in detention and/or
deportation. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.
have been no reports of anti-U.S. sentiment towards U.S. citizens or interests
(official or non-official). U.S. interests are generally not targets of
political violence. Many Mexican citizens have visas for entry into the United
States, and frequently travel there for both business and pleasure. There are
strong family ties on both sides of the border.
the rainy season (July-September), flooding of residential areas and city
streets can occur in all areas of the consular district. High-clearance
vehicles are helpful in these situations. Heavy precipitation can close roads
and cause significant delays.
Many areas experience extreme temperatures. Temperatures can reach
over 115° Fahrenheit during summer months. Exercise extra precaution when
traveling to isolated locations and/or in between major travel destinations.
Review OSAC’s report, Dangers of
the large number of corporations and manufacturing plants in Nogales, mishandling
of hazardous materials is a viable possibility. Although there have been no
reported incidents between 2014-2019, it remains a potential that the local
government and the private sector monitor closely. In 2018, the cities of
Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora participated in a joint training exercise
that included hazardous material identification, unified operating procedure
development and a joint citywide hazardous material response drill. The drill
involved a railroad emergency scenario and demonstrated that the region has
adequate HAZMAT response capabilities.
Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft
The Sinaloa cartel has infiltrated
many levels of society in Nogales. Conducting periodic personnel background
checks on employees is a very good practice. However, given the size and
population of Nogales and the state of Sonora as a whole, it would be difficult
to hire a sizable workforce that is completely insulated from TCOs. Best
practice calls for the use of periodic employee interviews and initial/periodic
Mexico appears on the Watch List
in the 2019 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.
Exercise caution when considering
investments or purchasing real estate, and be aware of the aggressive tactics
some sales representatives use. Before initiating a real estate purchase or
time-share investment, consult with a Mexican attorney to learn about important
regulations and laws that govern real property.
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.
Insurance policies have increased as a result; some no longer provide coverage
for overnight cargo travel.
Even with the reported rise in
hacking and violations to cyber security globally, Nogales falls well below the
global average for privacy violations and cyber intrusions.
Personal Identity Concerns
issue of femicide, defined as killing a woman because of her gender (as opposed
to any killing of a woman) has been a major issue in Mexico, and is a federal
offense punishable by 40 to 60 years in prison. It is also a criminal offense
in all states. According to Interior Secretariat statistics, in the first six
months of 2019, prosecutors and attorneys general opened 387 investigations
into 402 cases of femicide throughout the country.
and sexual assault are serious problems in some resort areas. Many incidents
occur at night or during the early morning hours, in hotel rooms, on hotel
grounds, or on deserted beaches. Assailants have drugged the drinks of victims
before assaulting them. Pay attention to your surroundings and maintain
positive control of your drink. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of
City and the states of Chihuahua, Jalisco, Puebla, and Yucatan have
criminalized the distribution of “revenge pornography” and “sextortion.”
Individuals may be prosecuted for publishing or distributing intimate images,
audio, videos, or texts without the consent of the other party. Review the
State Department’s webpage on security for female
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. Discrimination
based on sexual orientation and gender identity was prevalent, despite a
gradual increase in public tolerance of LGBTI+ individuals, according to public
opinion surveys. There were reports the government did not always investigate
and punish those complicit in abuses, especially outside Mexico City. A poll
conducted during the year found six of every 10 members of the LGBTI+ community
reported experiencing discrimination in the past year, and more than half suffered
hate speech and physical aggression. Civil society groups claimed police
routinely subjected LGBTI+ persons to mistreatment while in custody. Due to
sporadic reports of violence targeting LGBTI+ individuals, travelers should
exercise discretion in identifying themselves publicly as LGBTI+. Review the
State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+
Jewish community experiences low levels of anti-Semitism, but there are reports
of some anti-Semitic expressions through social media. Jewish community
representatives report good cooperation with the government and other religious
and civil society organizations in addressing rare instances of such acts. The
Catholic Multimedia Center reported criminal groups targeted priests and other
religious leaders in some parts of the country and subjected them to extortion,
death threats, and intimidation. Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice,
and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based
with disabilities should consult individual hotels and facilities in advance of
travel to ensure they are accessible. Mexican law prohibits discrimination
against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities
in employment and education, as well as access to health care, transportation,
and other services, but the government does not enforce the law effectively. Public
buildings and facilities often do not comply with the law requiring access for
persons with disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security
is a major drug-producing and transit nation. Drug trafficking continues to be
a significant issue throughout the country, affecting the security climate and
influencing local politics. Drug-related violence in Mexico mostly involves
those involved in the drug trade or those fighting against it.
is the world's third-largest producer of opium, with poppy cultivation in 2015
yielding a potential production of 475 metric tons of raw opium. The government
conducts the largest independent illicit-crop eradication program in the world.
Mexico continues to be the primary transshipment country for U.S.-bound cocaine
from South America, with an estimated 95% of annual cocaine movements toward
the U.S. stopping in Mexico. Major drug syndicates (TCOs) control most of the
drug trafficking throughout the country. Mexico is a producer and distributor
of ecstasy, a major supplier of heroin, and the largest foreign supplier of
marijuana and methamphetamine to the U.S. market.
2007, military personnel began counter-drug cartel operations along the
smuggling routes of both Mexican coasts. Accordingly, the routes out of Mexico
and into the U.S. market have shifted to the land routes including the two
ports of entry in Nogales. As a result, drug cartel-related violence in Nogales
increased exponentially in 2009, as the Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the
Beltran Leyva cartel fought for drug routes. While nearly all the violence has
been between warring cartels, there have been innocent people caught in the
The number of kidnappings reported
throughout Mexico, while difficult to determine, is concerning. Most cases go
unreported to authorities, as the popular belief is that the police may be
involved or are unable to resolve the situation. Victims of traditional
kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid. Most
cases reported to U.S. Mission Mexico have been kidnapping for ransom (KFR). In
some KFR cases, the captors receive a ransom and set the victim free; in
others, the captors kill the victim despite having received a ransom. Affluent
residents in Mexico City often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their
investigated 219 kidnapping events in Mexico in 2019 (106 events in 2018). In
95 of them, the victim was a U.S. citizen, and in 22, the victim was a U.S.
Legal Permanent Resident. Of the cases, 135 were KFRs, 73 were virtual
kidnappings, and in 11 there was no ransom demand. Over the past few years,
cartel-related kidnappings have occurred in Nogales and throughout the state of
Sonora. Victims of these kidnappings include U.S. and Mexican citizens involved
in the drug trade. Overall, the number of reported kidnapping in Nogales and
northern Sonora in 2019 decreased (from 72 to 20), but it remains an issue.
The number of reported express
kidnappings is low. Express kidnappings take advantage of the 24-hour
industry-wide withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards, holding 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 Mission
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, there is no actual kidnapped
individual. The victim is actually a person who receives a telephone call.
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 (e.g. when children are on their way
to/from school). Alternatively, the callers will obtain the 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
have obtained as much money as they feel 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. Some originate from Mexican prisons. 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.
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 to workers without prior authorization.
Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
laws in Mexico vary by state, but it is generally illegal for travelers to
carry weapons of any kind including firearms, knives, daggers, brass knuckles,
as well as ammunition (even used shells). Illegal firearms trafficking from the
United States to Mexico is a major concern, and the Department of State warns
all U.S. citizens against taking any firearm or ammunition into Mexico. If authorities
catch you entering Mexico with firearms or ammunitions, you will likely face
severe penalties, including prison time. Read the State Department’s webpage on
and import restrictions for information on what you
cannot take into or out of other countries.
The emergency line in Mexico is 911. Generally,
Mexican police must concentrate their limited resources on urban areas. State
Police dedicate some resources to rural areas where there may be little or no
municipal rule of law, but response times are usually high, and police
prioritize cases of active threats or violent crime. Levels of professionalism
vary greatly among police agencies. In major metropolitan areas, foreigners can
expect support from police. Mexican security and police forces generally have
been ineffective in maintaining security in border areas and other parts of
Mexico. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority.
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. 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.
response to emergencies in Nogales is generally timely; however, in other
cities in the consular district, the response time may not be as quick. A
degree of narco-trafficking influence and complicity to criminal activity does
affect police forces throughout Mexico. With the exclusion of several special
units, Mexican law enforcement, especially at the local levels, is still
developing professionally in comparison with U.S. standards. Many police are
eager to serve, but do not have the training and equipment to perform their
duties effectively. In addition, given that many local police grew up and live
in the area with their families, they commonly acquiesce to threats of
narco-trafficking violence. With low morale, poor pay, and narco-trafficking
threats, local police typically have been more susceptible to corruption.
has been a noticeable change in municipal police leadership and priorities
throughout northern Sonora in since the MORENA party has taken office. Police
leadership and its command have been eager to engage with their U.S. law
enforcement counterparts and to obtain training and support to manage border
security more effectively and contain and eliminate corruption.
general perception is that most victims do not report crimes due to fear of
reprisals by TCOs or the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the
feeling that nothing would come from such reports. The net result is that most
crimes go unreported or uninvestigated. Reporting crime can be a bureaucratic,
time-consuming process, and is widely perceived to have limited effectiveness. Federal
and state security forces have limited capability to respond to violence in
many parts of the state.
crimes can be a long, frustrating experience. Victims must make a complaint (denuncia)
to police or the local branch of the State Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio
Publico). When making a denuncia, the burden of proof is on the
individual to substantiate that a crime occurred. Even after filing a denuncia
properly, the complainant must ratify it several days later. Satisfying this
requirement is not practical for many visitors on short stays.
rarely investigate non-violent or minor property crimes. Crimes against
foreigners are likely to get more attention from the authorities than crimes
against Mexican citizens. Despite the substantial obstacles to reporting a
crime, the U.S. Mission encourages all U.S. victims of crime to report the
crime to the Ministerio Publico and the American Citizen Services office
of the Embassy or nearest Consulate.
all uniformed police perform investigative functions or can take denuncias.
In some cases, their roles are to patrol and prevent crimes. The Tourism Police
specifically polices tourist areas and is commonly the only unit that speaks
English. Its main purpose is to enhance the safety of tourist areas by
deterring crime and responding to accidents. Tourist police cannot take denuncias,
but can assist travelers in contacting authorities who can. Download the
State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.
organization of state and federal police agencies is similar to that in the U.S.,
but law enforcement capabilities are not comparable to U.S. standards. Police
corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common. Generally,
police receive low wages, are vulnerable to corruption, and receive less
training than their U.S. counterparts.
Government of Mexico has recently dissolved the Federal Police (Policía
Federal, PF) and stood up the National Guard (Guardia Nacional)
whose mission, make-up, and mandate differ across Mexico’s northern border
states, where immigration enforcement is often the Guard’s priority mission.
The Guard is not self-sufficient and relies on the army (SEDENA) and navy
(SEMAR) to conduct policing and security functions, and to combat organized
criminal groups. The National Guard (Guardia Nacional) is composed of personnel
from SEDENA, SEMAR, and Federal Police.
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
oversees investigating and prosecuting state and local crimes.
Interior Secretariat (Secretaría de
Gobernación, SEGOB) oversees the Mexican Immigration Service (INAMI), whose
officers have the right to detain suspected undocumented aliens and may deport
them without formal deportation proceedings.
Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría
de Hacienda y Crédito Público) deploys customs officers (Aduana) to
borders and international airports to interdict contraband.
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.
police (Policía Estatal Investigadora, PEI) in each of the country's 31
states and the Federal District maintain preventive and judicial police, and serve
as the primary criminal investigative agency in a state. State police in border
states have specialized groups that work with the FBI on kidnapping and other
sensitive investigations. State police are under the direction of the state's
governor. Each state contains numerous municipalities, many of which maintain a
municipal police force.
Police (Policía Municipal) mainly patrol and conduct crime prevention. They
are the primary responders when summoned through 911, to include traditional
police calls like traffic violations and incidents in residential communities.
Police (Policía de Tránsito) are responsible for overseeing and enforcing
traffic safety compliance on roads and highways. Response to even minor car
accidents can take long periods of time.
The emergency line in Mexico is 911. Excellent health facilities are
available in Mexico City and other major cities. Ambulance services are widely
available, but training and availability of emergency responders may be below
There are public and private
medical systems in Mexico. Most visitors and relatively wealthy Mexicans choose
to use private health care services. All major cities have private hospitals
and private ambulance services, most of which offer adequate care in an
emergency or if immediate travel to the U.S. is not possible. Mexican citizens
receive free emergency and non-emergency medical care through the public
system. In rural areas, public health facilities are often the only option, and
the level of care can be substantially lower than that in major cities. The
health care system does not operate in a manner comparable to U.S. health care
standards. Travelers should look to establish a medical response plan. Find
contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance
services on the U.S. Embassy website.
In major cities, ambulance
response time is typically 10-15 minutes, depending on the location. Injured or
seriously ill travelers may prefer to take a taxi to a health provider. Foreigners
residing or working in Mexico on a permanent basis should consider coverage
with a private ambulance company for faster service.
Most private hospitals and emergency services require payment or
adequate guarantee of payment before providing services. Very few hospitals in
Mexico accept U.S. medical insurance. Instead, travelers will need to pay the
hospital and then seek reimbursement from their insurance provider. Hospitals
have refused to discharge patients until receiving payment. The U.S. Department
of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before
traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.
U.S. citizens have lodged numerous complaints against some private
hospitals in resort areas to include exorbitant prices and inflexible
collection measures. Obtain complete information on billing, pricing, and
proposed medical procedures before agreeing to any medical care in these
locations. Be aware that some resorts have exclusive agreements with medical
providers and ambulance services, which may limit your choices in seeking
emergency medical attention. Some hospitals in tourist centers use sliding
scales, deciding on rates for services based on negotiation and on the
patient’s perceived ability to pay. In some instances, providers have been
known to determine the limits of a patient’s credit card or insurance, quickly
reach that amount in services rendered, and subsequently discharge the patient
or transfer them to a public hospital.
Exercise caution when purchasing
medication overseas. Pharmaceuticals, both over the counter and requiring
prescription in the U.S., are often readily available for purchase with little
controls. Counterfeit medication is common in certain parts of Mexico and may
prove ineffective, mislabeled, or dangerous. Purchase medication in consultation
with a medical professional and from reputable establishments. For a list of
controlled substances in Mexico, visit the COFEPRIS website and the Mexican Drug Schedule. U.S. citizens should carry a
copy of their prescription or doctor’s letter, but it is still possible that
they may be subject to arrest for arriving in Mexico with substances on these
lists. Note that a medicine considered over the counter in the U.S. may be illegal
in Mexico. For example, pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in Sudafed, is a
controlled substance in Mexico. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.
The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Mexico.
In many areas in Mexico, tap water
is not potable. Bottled water and beverages are safe, although many restaurants
and hotels serve tap water unless patrons specifically request bottled water. Ice
for drinks might use tap water. Take precautions when drinking water or eating
fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads. Review OSAC’s report, I’m Drinking What in My Water?
Air pollution is a significant
problem in several major cities in Mexico. Consider the impact seasonal smog
and heavy particulate pollution may have on your health. Many cities in Mexico,
such as Mexico City, are at high altitude, which can lead to altitude illness.
Review OSAC’s report, Traveling in
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Health 101: How to Prepare for
Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.
following diseases are prevalent: Hepatitis; Typhoid Fever; Travelers’ Diarrhea;
Dengue; Chikungunya; Zika; Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; Parasitic Infections;
and Chronic Respiratory Disease. The CDC offers information on vaccines and
country-specific health guidance for Mexico.
OSAC Country Council
Nogales Country Council is active and meets quarterly. Interested
private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Latin America Team with any questions or to join.
Calle San Jose s/n, Fraccionamiento
Los Alamos, Nogales, Sonora
Business Hours: 0800 to 1700,
Monday thru Friday
Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Mexico
Embassy Mexico City,
Ciudad Juárez, Consulate Guadalajara, Consulate Hermosillo, Consulate Matamoros, Consulate Mérida, Consulate Monterrey, Consulate Nuevo Laredo, Consulate Tijuana
Before you travel, consider the
OSAC Risk Matrix
Department Traveler’s Checklist
Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Country Information Sheet