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 state of Tamaulipas due to crime.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the individuals 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 proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.
There is serious risk from crime in Nuevo Laredo. The Mexican government continues to engage in an extensive effort to combat Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), especially along the border. Mexican TCOs, meanwhile, have been engaged in a vicious struggle with each other for control of lucrative drug trafficking routes. In order to prevent and combat violence, the Government of Mexico (GOM) has deployed military troops and federal police throughout the country. The location and timing of armed engagements are unpredictable. The vast majority of those killed have been members of TCOs, and to a lesser extent, federal officers that are fighting them; however, innocent bystanders have died in shootouts between TCOs and Mexican law enforcement, or between rival TCOs.
In January 2018, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) amended its travel advisory and urged increased caution in Mexico due to crime. Specifically, DOS has informed U.S. citizens not to travel to the state of Tamaulipas due to crime. Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common. Gang activity, including gun battles, is widespread. In 2018, firefights took place throughout the consular district, including in Nuevo Laredo and Piedras Negras. Gun battles generally occur after dark, but there have been some in broad daylight, on public streets, and close to public venues.
Armed criminal groups target public and private passenger buses traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom payments. Local law enforcement has limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state.
Violence in Tamaulipas continued to rise in 2018; homicides increased by 4.9% compared to 2017. The overall security environment did not substantially improve. The absence of municipal police forces; the inability to form a reliable, vetted state police force capable of maintaining law and order; and an inconsistent presence of federal forces remain glaring signs that Nuevo Laredo, and Tamaulipas in general, remains a volatile security environment.
Non-violent crime (e.g. financial scams, vehicle thefts, petty drug crimes) continues to be a serious concern in Tamaulipas.
The situation in northeast Mexico remains fluid. Defer travel, and if impossible, exercise extreme caution. Carry a working cell phone with coverage in Mexico, and know where to go in case of emergency. Make use of hotel safes when available. Avoid wearing jewelry and carry a clutch purse or a neck purse instead of a shoulder bag. Carry a wallet in the front trouser pocket or front jacket pocket. Do not advertise if you are from the United States. Criminals do not target due to nationality, but to perceived wealth or possession of valuables worth taking.
Stick to well known, well-populated routes, avoid traveling at night, and travel in groups when possible. Avoid known high crime areas (e.g. Zona de Tolerancia red light districts) and bars/clubs narco-traffickers may favored. Prepare to depart an establishment when you feel at risk. Vary routes and times to avoid any predictability and to minimize being a target of crime.
Vet potential domestic employees to the greatest extent possible. Train them not to volunteer information to strangers and not to allow access of workers without prior authorization.
Be cautious when using ATMs. Cloning/counterfeiting of ATM cards and credit cards occurs. Check account activity to detect fraudulent charges early. Avoid using ATMs in dark/isolated areas. Visitors on day trips should use ATMs in Texas prior to crossing into Mexico; U.S. dollars are widely accepted. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.
Theft of vehicle sound systems is a common crime. Install and use a car alarm.
Other Areas of Concern
U.S. government employees living in or traveling to Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, and Ciudad Acuña are under travel restrictions and a curfew from 2400-0600. All adult entertainment centers (“Boys Town”) and casinos are off-limits to U.S. government personnel.
For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road safety is an area of particular concern. Avoid unnecessary travel on Mexican Highway 2 between Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, and from the Columbia International Bridge crossing west toward Piedras Negras, due to reported violence. Avoid travel outside of Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuña due to the lack of law enforcement presence. Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in their vehicles in these areas.
Continued concerns regarding road safety along the border have prompted the U.S. Embassy and Consulates to impose restrictions on U.S. government employees transiting the area. Embassy and Consulate employees and their families may not travel by vehicle between posts in Mexico. Embassy and Consulate employees and their families may not travel on interior Mexican highways by vehicle between posts in Mexico, and must cross the border and use U.S. highways. U.S. government personnel may not travel overland into the interior of Mexico from the Texas border, except for instances deemed mission-essential.
Use toll roads when possible, plan routes ahead, 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 road-worthy, and maintain a full-size spare tire in case of a flat. The highways (cuotas and libres) are generally in good condition between major cities and towns, but their isolation leaves travelers vulnerable to crime. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.
Park 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 a lot of a shopping facility, park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles.
Public Transportation Conditions
Within Nuevo Laredo, U.S. government personnel may not use taxis or public transportation. Avoid city buses due to their crowded nature, lack of safety equipment, and vulnerability to robbery.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
There is minimal risk from terrorism in Nuevo Laredo. There is no current evidence of any transnational terrorists residing or transiting through this region; however, the nature of the border and the ready access to both human smugglers and fake documents continue to make this area a potential transit point for international terrorists. In 2017 and 2018, Nuevo Laredo continued to receive Special Interest Aliens (SIAs) from Yemen, the Congo, Bangladesh, and other areas of the world, transiting through the region. There was no information that any of the SIAs had ties to terrorism.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Nuevo Laredo. Large-scale civil unrest is uncommon. The few protests that have occurred have been small and peaceful. Most protests are local in nature and do not pose a threat to U.S. citizens. Even when protesting U.S. policies, demonstrators appear to be a careful in distinguishing between U.S. policies and the U.S. citizens at large.
Heavy rains can lead to localized flooding and widespread power outages, but these normally abate within hours. In August 2017, due to Hurricane Harvey, various parts of Nuevo Laredo suffered flooding. Officials sometimes remove manhole covers to speed the evacuation of standing water. This often is not marked adequately, and can lead to road hazards. The city has made great efforts to improve its drainage system.
The city of Laredo, Texas has sent medical supplies, heavy equipment, and other surplus materials during emergencies. While supplies can be available, due to security challenges, it would be difficult for Laredo emergency response personnel to come to Nuevo Laredo.
Industrial accidents are rare, owing to the isolation of the manufacturing areas from the city and the routing of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) to more distant bridge crossings. The city maintains civil emergency personnel, but their training and equipment are sub-standard in comparison to most major U.S. cities. The local fire department HAZMAT equipment and trained staff are far too small to address the amount of HAZMAT crossing through this area on the bridges; the nearest support teams are in Monterrey and Reynosa, three hours away.
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.
The security threat posed by TCO-related violence remains the most significant concern in the area. Firefights between Mexican federal forces and TCOs have occurred over the past several months. Gun battles may occur at any time, as rival TCO gunmen engage in hit-and-run attacks and as military and federal police encounter TCO gunmen while on patrol. Since the escalation in TCO violence began, the government of Mexico has significantly increased the number of troops and federal police in this region. Soldiers and federal police frequently patrol throughout the city; give these convoys a wide berth, as TCOs have engaged them without regard to civilian casualties. Remain cautious and identify potential safe havens if violence breaks out. Maintaining communication with travelers is critical in case of an emergency.
Corruption stemming from narco-trafficking remains high, and has affected service delivery levels from some state and local governments.
Tamaulipas had 899 kidnappings of various types in 2018, one of the highest rates per capita in Mexico. In many of instances, after release, the victim reported to the Consulate being beaten, tortured, and threatened while held. The overwhelming majority of kidnappings and abductions relate directly or indirectly to cartel activity.
Kidnappings have included traditional, express, and virtual kidnappings; they remain a serious, growing problem.
- Victims of traditional kidnappings are physically abducted and held captive until a ransom is paid.
- Express kidnappings are those in which a victim is abducted for only a short time and forced to withdraw money, usually from an ATM, then released.
- A virtual kidnapping is extortion by deception, wherein a victim is contacted by phone and convinced to isolate themselves until a ransom is paid. The victim is coerced (by threat of violence) to remain isolated and to provide phone numbers for the victim's family or loved ones. The victim's family is contacted, and a ransom demanded. Some travelers staying at hotels as guests have been targets of virtual kidnapping schemes.
For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Kidnapping: The Basics.
Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity, which are widely reported, continue to be a problem in Mexico. Mexican citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to the sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes against them due to fear of police reprisal, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports. Local and state police are underpaid and poorly trained in comparison to U.S. counterparts. Reporting crime can be an archaic, exhausting process and is widely perceived as a waste of time, except for the most serious of crimes or when insurance purposes require a police report (denuncia). Police charge a nominal fee for a denuncia.
Nuevo Laredo continues to have no Municipal Police force; state and federal police forces have assumed the duties of the local police, supported by both the Mexican Army (SEDENA) and Marines (SEMAR) within the city. All of these groups conduct regular patrols throughout Nuevo Laredo, although SEMAR patrols in the city have stopped due to human rights allegations.
Cooperate with the police and military if they stop or question you. If involved in a traffic accident or a crime, the investigating officer may require you to accompany them to the local police station or state prosecutor’s office to file a complaint or respond to questions.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
U.S. citizens experiencing police or government detainment or harassment may seek assistance at the Consulate. A Consulate Duty officer is available 24-hours a day by phone. It is particularly important to identify which agency was involved; a description of the vehicles and uniforms would be helpful. Be able to describe accurately what occurred, including the time, date, location, and which agency was involved; this will greatly enhance the Consulate’s ability to reach a satisfactory result from the complaint.
Crime Victim Assistance
U.S. citizens in need of assistance due to crime or medical emergencies may call the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo and speak to ACS. Contact ACS for assistance in dealing with local authorities, but note that Mexican authorities have jurisdiction over any incidents that occur in Mexican territory. The police emergency telephone number is 911.
The local, state, and federal governments operate similarly to their U.S. counterparts, but law enforcement capabilities within these jurisdictions vary greatly.
The emergency line is 911. Medical facilities in Nuevo Laredo offer adequate care in an emergency or if immediate travel to the U.S. is not possible.
Contact Information for Available Medical Services
For medical assistance, refer to the Consulate’s List of Medical Doctors.
- Hospital Mexico Americano