This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional
Security Office at the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of
security conditions in Baja California. 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 password.
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. While the State Department
assesses some Mexican states at higher Travel Advisory levels, both of the states
in the Tijuana consular district remain at Level 2. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory
Overall Crime and
U.S. Department of State has assessed Tijuana as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official
U.S. government interests. Tijuana is a large city of more than 1.6 million
inhabitants with an ever-present, critical crime problem. Pickpockets mostly
target large crowds on public transportation and at tourist attractions. Pickpockets
normally operate in pairs or small groups, and generally carry a knife or
handgun. These criminals tend to target victims based on an appearance of
vulnerability, prosperity, or inattention. Criminal activity and violence,
including homicide, are a primary concern throughout Baja California. While
most homicides appear targeted, criminal organization assassinations and turf
battles have occurred in areas U.S. citizens frequent. Bystanders have received
injuries or died in shooting incidents.
is largely limited to Tijuana’s outlying areas and not concentrated in tourist
zones, although targeted killings involving Transnational Criminal
Organizations (TCOs) occurred in tourist areas in 2019. TCOs do not tend to
target U.S. citizens uninvolved in drug trafficking. Tijuana’s Tourism Police
tends to flood these zones in the aftermath of an incident, and have increased
their presence in locations vital to tourism in a push to maintain order.
are involved in narco-trafficking and human smuggling. Three rival cartels
battle for control of Baja California criminal operations: the Sinaloa Cartel,
the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), and remnants of the Arellano Félix
Organization (AFO). Infighting is common, and increases insecurity; drug-related
violence in Baja California and Baja California Sur typically affects those
involved with the drug trade.
is targeted and involves small criminal cells and independent operators. After
Sinaloa leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s arrest and extradition to the U.S., CJNG
infighting resulted. Street-level drug-trafficking crimes (narcomenudeo)
between rival factions have grown. However, Baja California registered 2,883
homicides for 2019, down from 3,159 homicides in 2018. Statistics show Tijuana as
the city with the highest per capita murder rate in the world. Tijuana
experienced 2,208 homicides in 2019, down from 2,519 in 2018. Tijuana also
leads the country in femicides.
government statistics reveal that the five Baja California municipalities –
Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada, Rosarito, and Tecate – all had a record number of
homicides in 2018. Mexicali and Rosarito recorded slight increases in homicide,
while Ensenada recorded a 29% increase and Tecate a 66% increase. All five
municipalities reported a slight increase in reported rape, except for Rosarito.
Robberies increased in Tijuana and Tecate. There was a decline in robberies for
Mexicali, Ensenada, and Rosarito.
U.S. interests in Baja California Sur (BCS) concentrate in Los Cabos and La Paz.
BCS reported a significant 55% decrease in
homicides in 2019, dropping from 185 homicides in 2018 to 86 in 2019, based on
data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System. The
BCS state murder rate is now below the national average.
reported more stability in 2019. Stronger law enforcement efforts and the
presence of Mexican Navy (SEMAR) resulted in several successful operations
against the drug cartels. BCS has a unified command structure that incorporates
SEMAR and federal, state, and local police to establish public order. Most homicides
in BCS occur in outlying areas and not in tourist zones. Illegal drugs are for
sale widely throughout tourist locations. Visitors should be vigilant against
crime and petty theft.
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 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 illegal markets.
Although Mexico has strict gun-control laws, criminals often carry handguns or
knives. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should
Organized crime elements are present in local bars, nightclubs, restaurants,
and casinos in Tijuana, especially in the Zona Norte “red light” district. Reduce
the chances of being the victim of a crime at tourist destinations by traveling
with a trusted individual and being cognizant of alcohol consumption. Do not
accept drinks from strangers, and always watch your drink. There have been
reports of individuals falling ill or blacking out after consuming unregulated
alcohol. The Mexican Federal Commission for the Protection against
Sanitary Risk (COFEPRIS) is responsible for inspecting hotels, restaurants, or
other establishments for health violations, including reports of unregulated
alcohol. Contact COFEPRIS
for more information, or to file a report. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and
Outs and Considerations for
Hotel Security. Additionally, if you feel you have been the victim of unregulated
alcohol or another serious health violation, notify the American Citizen
Services unit at the Consulate General in Mérida or one of the Consular
Agencies listed at the end of this report. Many vehicular accidents and
incidents of crime affecting U.S. citizens involve the excess consumption of
alcohol or individuals separated from their traveling companions. Review OSAC’s
report, Shaken: The Don’ts of
new criminal justice system implemented in 2016 has brought with it a steep
learning curve. The new accusatory system, designed to overhaul Mexico’s
justice system, focuses on procedure and transparency, which favors public
trials over written arguments. Mexico’s transition to an oral accusatorial
justice system has wide support.
careful of cash transactions on the street. A hurried transaction for
merchandise often leaves the customer with shoddy or counterfeit goods, out-of-circulation
valueless currency, or incorrect change. Many shops and vendors readily accept
U.S. dollars at their own exchange rate.
card security remains a concern, especially in tourist areas. There have been
reports of criminal use of credit cards. 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; criminals may also acquire
card data manually when cards are handed to or momentarily left with employees
of businesses. Try to use ATMs in bank branches during business hours. 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.
Social engineering of data for scams, kidnapping, and extortion
schemes is a cybersecurity issue in the region. Police indicate that in most
kidnapping and extortion cases, the victims were targets because of the large
amount of personal information available on social media accounts. Mexican
citizens are usually the targets of this type of cybercrime, but tourists are not
immune to criminal exploitation based on their social media activities.
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?
is the largest city in Baja California and connects to greater San Diego,
California through the San Ysidro Port of Entry (POE), the Otay Mesa POE, and a
pedestrian bridge from the Tijuana International Airport known as the Cross
Border Xpress (CBX). Ports of entry in Baja California are San Ysidro, Otay
Mesa, Tecate, Calexico East, Calexico West, and Andrade.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
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
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. 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.
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.
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 or hotel 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.
with your U.S. auto insurance provider regarding international coverage. Driving
requires local liability insurance, which, in some cases, you must purchase
separately from a Mexican insurance provider or through a rental car company.
not hitchhike or give rides to strangers.
Public Transportation Conditions
commercial and municipal buses and taxis are readily available in most cities. Drivers
can be untrained and do not always follow the rules of the road. Vehicles may
be poorly maintained or in disrepair. Accidents are common. First-class
commercial bus service between major cities and tourist areas exists.
Consulate does not recommend using libre
taxis, those that pick up fares on the street after customers hail them; they
may have criminal links. Sitio
(radio-dispatched) taxis are far safer, more reliable, and worth the added
expense. Patrons cannot hail these types of taxis from the street; they must
order them by phone or meet at a designated taxi stand. In addition, the Consulate
recommends that government employees use ride-sharing apps that allow consumers
to verify the driver and vehicle number. Note that not all platforms operate in
Consulate advises that its employees fly, rather than drive, between many
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.
General Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport (TIJ), the largest in the
consular district, is relatively modern and located within a ten-minute drive
from the Otay Mesa Border Crossing. Visitors should use the airport’s
dispatched transportation services. CBX-ticketed passengers flying through TIJ may
use the CBX enclosed pedestrian bridge that connects the U.S. port of entry directly
to the terminal. CBX serves approximately 2.5 million passengers annually who
cross the border as part of their travels, helping them avoid delays at
congested San Ysidro and Otay Mesa land ports of entry. Bridge users can access
more than 30 destinations within Mexico and many other international
connections from TIJ.
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.
Maritime Security Concerns
mindful of entry requirements and permits when traveling into Mexico, to
include entry by water via private boat. The U.S. Consulate advises that all
individuals on board vessels used for sport fishing, including passengers on
commercial and charter boats, understand Mexican entry requirements and permits
needed before travel. In addition, be aware of weather conditions when
traveling aboard a vessel.
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
violence against Mexican politicians is common and stems from widespread
U.S. Department of State has assessed Tijuana as being a HIGH-threat location
for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
Violence in the consular district is mainly associated with TCOs. Because of
the risk of a peaceful protest turning violent, avoid protest activity and keep
informed of protest activity through news sources. Public protests and demonstrations
do occur for various economic and political reasons, but they are typically
peaceful. U.S. interests are generally not targets of political violence,
although migrants from Central America have protested U.S. immigration policies
outside the Consulate.
of Central American migrants moved in masse through Baja California to the U.S.
border in 2018; there were three temporary POE closures in 2018. Protests both in
support of and against the migrants continued into 2019 as new caravans headed
towards Baja California. Stay informed via Customs and Border Protection’s San
Diego Sector’s Twitter
feed and local media.
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.
were no major earthquakes in Baja California or Baja California Sur in 2018. Due
to Tijuana’s proximity to the San Andreas Fault, the possibility of a large
earthquake remains high. Although Tijuana and other cities in the consular
district are relatively modern, many buildings do not meet U.S. seismic
the Pacific hurricane season (June 1-November 30), weather emergencies may affect
the peninsula, especially in Baja California Sur. Minor tropical storms can
develop into hurricanes very quickly, limiting the time available for a safe
evacuation. Significant destruction last resulted in 2014. Travelers in
affected regions have had to delay their departure due to infrastructure damage
to airports and limited flight availability. Travelers should apprise family
and friends of their whereabouts and keep in close contact with their tour
operator, hotel staff, business contacts, and/or local officials for evacuation
instructions in the event of a weather emergency. Monitor local radio, the National Weather Service and Mexican weather authorities
driving during and after rainstorms; inadequate drainage creates street
flooding and large, submerged potholes. Heavy rains may leave sections of roads
washed out completely.
of the peninsula are very rural and lack significant infrastructure and
adequate medical facilities. Weather events can severely affect critical
infrastructure in both states. Depending on the severity of the weather event,
access to electricity, potable water, and operable roads may face negative
Economic Concerns/Intellectual Property Theft
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
State of Yucatán has 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 cocaine movements toward the U.S.
stopping in Mexico. 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.
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 Tijuana often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their
families to protect against kidnapping.
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.
The number of reported express
kidnappings are occurring with more frequency, but are still uncommon, and even
less common among tourists or visitors. 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 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.
Mexico continues to experience a
high number of telephonic extortions and frauds (virtual kidnappings). 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.
U.S. consular officers have
received reports from U.S. expatriates and tourists experiencing virtual kidnapping
or similar phone calls in the Tijuana Consular District. 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
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.
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.
The ability of local police
varies, but there have been strides made in recent years, especially in Tijuana.
The Tijuana police continue to demonstrate a desire to gain the citizens’ trust
and pursue recruiting and outreach activities. Increased reliance on technology
and anonymous reporting may serve to improve reliance on law enforcement. It
may also decrease the general perception that the majority of crime victims do
not report crimes due to fear of police reprisal, the belief that police are
corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports.
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. 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.
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
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.
The 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.
The 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.
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 oversees investigating and
prosecuting state and local crimes.
The 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
The Secretariat of Finance and Public
Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito
Público) deploys customs officers (Aduana) to 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
State-level police (Policía
Estatal Investigadora, PEI; Baja California State Preventive Police (PEP)
in this region) 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
Municipal 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. The Tijuana
Municipal Police Department is the largest police force in the state of Baja
California. It serves a preventive police role, patrolling and handling
immediate response to criminal incidents within its jurisdiction.
Transit 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 major cities. Ambulance services are widely available, but
training and availability of emergency responders may be below U.S. standards.
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 Information
Baja Country Council was the Americas Regional Council Winner for the 2018 OSAC
Country Council Achievement Award. It currently meets quarterly in Tijuana and
holds conferences in Baja California Sur. Interested private-sector security
managers should contact OSAC’s Latin
America team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Consulate Contact Information
Paseo de las Culturas s/n Mesa de Otay Tijuana, BC 22425
Hours of Operation: 0730 - 1615
619-692-2154 (US), +664-628-1762 (Mex)
The Consular Agency in Los Cabos offers
limited services for U.S. citizens.
Las Tiendas de Palmilla L-B221,
Km. 27.5 Carretera Transpeninsular, San José del Cabo, BCS 23406
From the United States:
Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Mexico
Embassy Mexico City, Consulate Guadalajara, Consulate Hermosillo, Consulate Matamoros, Consulate Mérida, Consulate Monterrey, Consulate Nogales, Consulate Nuevo Laredo
you travel, consider the following resources: