Report   DETAILS


Mexico 2017 Crime & Safety Report: Matamoros

Western Hemisphere > Mexico; Western Hemisphere > Mexico > Matamoros

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

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

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MATAMOROS AS BEING A CRITICAL-THREAT LOCATION FOR CRIME DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Please review OSAC’s Mexico-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Matamoros is located along the U.S.-Mexico border, sharing multiple international bridges with Brownsville, Texas, and is situated 50 miles from the Reynosa-McAllen border area. There are frequent gunfights in Matamoros and other parts of the Consular District (Altamira, Mante, Ciudad Victoria, San Fernando, Valle Hermoso, Rio Bravo, Reynosa, Miguel Alemán). The random nature of violence, combined with one of the highest kidnapping rates Mexico, exposes everyone to a high risk of being subject to dangerous situations.

Crime Threats

There are no safe areas in Matamoros due to gunfights, grenade attacks, and kidnappings, all of which can take place anytime, anywhere. Crime and violence related to the activities of Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) are continuing concerns that directly affect the safety and security of U.S. government personnel. U.S. citizens entering or living in the Consular District remain under constant threat of abduction, robbery, or violent crime. The primary security threat stems from the TCOs and the ongoing turf war between rival factions of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. In 2016, firefights have taken place throughout the state, particularly in Cuidad Victoria. These gun battles have occurred in broad daylight, on public streets, and at other public venues. The situation in northeast Mexico remains volatile; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.

Drug-related violence remained high in 2016 in the Matamoros-Rio Bravo-Reynosa region. RSO statistics indicate an increase in the number of local nationals killed as a result of drug-related violence. The true number of drug-related deaths, however, is difficult to obtain due to underreporting. 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. Matamoros has been the scene of many violent, uncontrolled incidents during which innocent bystanders have been injured or killed. The government has increased the number of troops and federal police in this region in an effort to quell the violence. However, this support changes due to the security environment elsewhere in the country. 

Visitors traveling to the border areas have been victims of armed robberies, sexual assaults, auto thefts, murder, and kidnappings. Street crime and theft in urban areas are also common. All types of crime statistics are unreliable, due to both the lack of a functional governmental tracking mechanism and underreporting by the general public. Additionally, separating victims from perpetrators is often problematic.

While U.S. citizens may not be specifically targeted, they have been victims. Much of the crime is indiscriminate, with criminals generally selecting victims based on the appearance of vulnerability, prosperity, or inattentiveness. While U.S. citizens not involved in criminal activities may not be specifically targeted, innocent bystanders are at risk from the increased violence on the streets of border cities and nearby towns.

Violent crime (kidnappings, extortions, homicides, sexual assaults, robberies, residential break-ins) and non-violent crimes (financial scams, vehicle thefts, petty drug crimes) continue to be serious concerns for those living or transiting Tamaulipas.

Travelers should stick to well-known, well-populated routes and should avoid traveling at night. Be alert to your surroundings, even when in areas generally considered safe. Be aware of popular scams and robbery tactics used to distract your attention.

Theft of the vehicle car sound systems is a common crime. The installation of a car alarm is strongly recommended, as precaution to deter vehicle thefts and thefts of interior contents. Keep your vehicle interior free of anything that would entice a thief to break into the car. Avoid leaving your vehicle on the street. Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least within view of the location you are visiting. When parking at a shopping facility, be sure to park as close as possible to the store entrance but away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles.

Cybersecurity Issues

U.S. citizens should be cautious when using ATMs in Mexico. Cloning or counterfeiting debit/credit cards occurs routinely. Travelers are encouraged to plan their cash needs in advance, using only reputable ATMs in secure areas. Card “skimming” and double-charging are common types of electronic fraud. Use credit cards only when you are able to maintain physical control of the card; never let it be taken away by an employee. Travelers are advised to check their account activity online at least weekly to detect fraudulent charges early. It is recommended that visitors on day trips use ATMs or exchange currency in the U.S. prior to crossing into Mexico.

Other Areas of Concern

The Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico specifically urges U.S. citizens to defer unnecessary travel to the entire state of Tamaulipas. If travel cannot be deferred, travelers should exercise extreme caution. Visitors are urged to remain alert and exercise extreme caution during their stay. Travelers should carry a working cell phone and should know where to go in case of an emergency.

Travel between Matamoros and cities along the border is conducted through the U.S., re-entering Mexico at the nearest port of entry. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from traveling overland into the interior of Mexico from the Texas border, except those instances that have been deemed mission-critical. U.S. citizens are urged to be especially aware of safety and security concerns when visiting the border region. All adult entertainment clubs and casinos in the Consular District are off limits to U.S. government personnel.

Travelers should defer unnecessary travel on highways between Matamoros and Reynosa, Reynosa and Monterrey, and from Ciudad Victoria to the Texas border. Criminals have followed and harassed U.S. citizens traveling in these areas.

Official Americans living in Matamoros are under strict travel restrictions and a curfew from 2400-0600. These restrictions severely limit personal and work capabilities in a region plagued by endemic crime and violence levels similar to those experienced in conflict zones. Even with these restrictions, shootouts between TCOs and government security forces occur in areas where U.S. government employees are allowed to travel in Matamoros.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road safety is an area of particular concern, and roads and road conditions are below U.S. standards in general. The highways are generally well-maintained, but their isolation leaves travelers vulnerable to crime. All highway travelers should avoid travel at night, especially along highways connecting major cities. Use toll roads when possible, plan routes ahead of time, and notify family/friends of your itinerary. Travelers are advised to keep a cell phone on their person and to know how to reach friends and family in an emergency. Travelers should ensure they use road-worthy vehicles and maintain a full size spare tire in case of a flat.

Travelers on the highways between Tamaulipas and the U.S. have frequently been targeted for kidnapping and robbery. Travelers have also been caught in TCO roadblocks, and incidents of gunfire between criminals and Mexican law enforcement are normal. Several commercial companies have also reported being harassed or encountering checkpoints along rural highways along the border. There have been numerous carjackings and kidnappings along these major highways.

The Consulate advises U.S. citizens to give security convoys a wide berth, as the TCOs have been known to engage them without regard to civilian casualties. Travelers are advised to remain cautious and to identify potential “safe havens” if violence breaks out in their area. Maintaining communication with travelers to this area is critical in case of an emergency.

Continued concerns regarding road safety along the border have prompted the U.S. Embassy/Consulates to impose certain restrictions on U.S. government employees transiting the area. Since July 2010, Embassy/Consulate employees and their families have not been permitted to travel by vehicle to/from any Embassy/Consulate in Mexico.

Public Transportation Conditions

U.S. government personnel are prohibited from utilizing all forms of public transportation in the Matamoros Consular District.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Airports in Matamoros, Reynosa, and Cuidad Victoria operate domestic flights through Mexico City. Airports in Brownsville and McCallen operate U.S. carrier’s through Dallas and Houston. Be prepared for U.S.-styled security screening and unpredictable wait times.

Other Travel Conditions

Special precautions should be taken during hurricane season for any maritime activity.   

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MATAMOROS AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There are no significant regional terrorism threats. However, the presence of the TCOs and the movement of large sums of money through the area have had a decaying influence on civil institutions, and corruption of police and rule of law officials remains the most serious concern. There is no evidence of transnational terrorists residing or transiting the region. However, the nature of the border and the ready access to both human smugglers and counterfeit documents continue to make this area a potential transit point for international terrorists.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

Anti-American sentiment is seldom expressed toward U.S. citizens or interests (official or non-official) in Matamoros. Many Mexican citizens living in Tamaulipas have visas for entry into the U.S. and frequently travel to the U.S. for both business and pleasure. 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MATAMOROS AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

American interests in the Consular District are generally not targets of political violence. Corruption stemming from narco-trafficking remains and has affected service levels delivered by some state and local governments. Political violence against local Mexican politicians is common in the Consular District. Mexican politicians are frequently coerced into cooperating with TCOs, possibly affecting U.S. interests in the region.

Civil Unrest 

Some small, peaceful demonstrations took place in/around Matamoros in 2016, including areas near the ports of entry (Veterans Bridge, Gateway Bridge) and the main plaza (Plaza Principal). Any protest may turn violent.

Non-sectarian, agrarian interests have disputes and legal cases involving land, water, and other issues, but few have sparked violent episodes or the formation of groups responding with violence.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Matamoros is located approximately 30 miles from the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes are common during June-November. Heavy rains can lead to localized flooding. Heavy rains also frequently lead to widespread power outages, but these are normally remedied within hours. Officials sometimes remove manhole covers to speed the evacuation of standing water. These areas are often not adequately marked and can lead to road hazards. Travelers moving during these storms are advised to watch for poles with plastic garbage bags tied to them, as these are often the only warnings to motorists of a missing manhole cover.

Critical Infrastructure

Utility service (electric, water) can be unreliable in areas of Tamaulipas.

Privacy Concerns

TCOs maintain a system of lookouts (halcones). Visitors can expect to be watched or even challenged about their business in the Consular District. Be unpredictable in your movements; vary your routes and departure/arrival times. Be alert to possible surveillance. Note any individual who appears out of place along your routes. Avoid sitting outside at restaurants. Instead, try to find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.

If hiring domestic help, ensure that they are trained not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow access of workers without prior authorization. A vetting process should include background info and public documents (ID, license, etc.).

Drug-related Crimes

Mexico is well-known for its illegal drug trade and the violence/corruption fostered by the industry. Mexico is the primary route for illegal drugs into the U.S. Matamoros, and the surrounding areas, have been the scene of many violent, uncontrolled incidents in which innocent bystanders have been injured/killed. Security forces and police have not been effective in eliminating the threat in the cities along the U.S.-Mexican border.

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. In an effort to prevent the military from responding to criminal activity, TCOs have set up roadblocks or “narco-blockades” in various parts of Matamoros, Reynosa, and Cuidad Victoria. At these blockades, armed gunmen have carjacked unsuspecting drivers (usually buses and commercial trucks) and used their vehicles to block-off roads or have spiked the road with tire-puncturing projectiles. Since the escalation in TCO violence began, the government has significantly increased the number of troops and federal police in this region in an effort to quell the violence. These numbers constantly change due to the security environment elsewhere in Mexico. Military and federal police frequently conduct patrols throughout the city.

Kidnapping Threat

Express kidnappings are a common form of abduction and are based on the withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industry-wide. The victim is generally held for 24-48 hours and is forced to withdraw funds from a series of ATMs. Official Americans have not been victimized by this type of crime recently, but some Mexican employees of the Consulate either have been victimized themselves or know a victim.

Although no reliable statistics exist, individuals associated with the maquiladora (factory) industry in Matamoros and Reynosa continue to experience both express kidnappings and kidnappings for ransom at an alarming rate.

The term "express kidnapping" is also applied to the kidnapping of random victims held for brief periods, where small ransoms are demanded. A typical express kidnapping may last for several hours and is settled for the equivalent of a few thousand dollars.

Additionally, telephonic or “virtual” kidnapping is an increasing threat. Calls follow a similar methodology: the call includes a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered but before the "kidnapper" gets on the phone. In this manner, criminals hope to confuse the victim and coerce him/her into giving away important information. For example, if the crying voice sounds like a child, and the victim calls out that child's name, the caller then knows the name of a potential kidnap victim and will use this to his benefit. Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against victims. Calls are planned for timeframes when it is otherwise difficult to contact the purported kidnap victim (when a child is en route to/from school). All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement. Callers often give statements to suggest surveillance. While vague, these statements imply the caller has been watching a family. The caller uses fear to inforce the threat of kidnapping. Know the details of your family's travel and location and how to reach them.

Government statistics for 2016 for kidnappings show Tamaulipas ranked first among states in Mexico for disappearances. Amnesty International reports that over 6,000 people have been reported missing since 2010 in Tamaulipas, and many of them are victims of kidnappings or narco-related violence. These figures lead every state in Mexico. In the rare event that a victim is released after being kidnapped, s/he has reported to the Consulate being beaten, tortured, and threatened while held.

Police Response

The local, state, and federal governments are organized similar to their U.S. counterparts, but law enforcement capabilities vary greatly. Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is common. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to the sense of lawlessness. The general perception is that the majority of victims do not report crimes due to fear of reprisals by 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. Generally, police receive low wages, are vulnerable to corruption, and receive less training than their U.S. counterparts. Police enjoy little respect from the general population. Reporting crime can be a bureaucratic, time-consuming process, and is widely perceived to have limited effectiveness, except for the most serious of crimes or where a police report is required for insurance purposes. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned. Travelers should not be expected to pay an officer directly for any traffic violations but should be prepared to report to the nearest Mexican Traffic Police office to pay a fine.

U.S. citizens who are detained or harassed by government forces may seek assistance at the Consulate. A duty officer is available 24-hours per day. It is particularly important to identify which agency was involved. A description of the vehicles and uniforms is helpful. Being able to accurately describe what occurred, the time, date, location, and which agency was involved will greatly enhance the Consulate’s ability to reach a satisfactory result from the complaint.

Crime Victim Assistance

If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions.

The police emergency telephone number is 911 throughout Mexico, though response time varies.

Police/Security Agencies

The municipal police force in Matamoros was disbanded due to deep-rooted corruption, lack of professionalism, and capacity.

A state police force (Fuerza Tamaulipas) began deploying to Matamoros in late 2014 but has faced serious recruitment and retention deficits. The force is estimated at one-third the size needed to police the state.

The Mexican Army (SEDENA) and the Mexican Marines (SEMAR) are used to combat organized crime across Mexico. The military operates checkpoints at the ports of entry and patrols throughout the city providing basic security functions. 

Medical Emergencies

The health system is not directly comparable to U.S. health care standards.

Travelers can contact private ambulance services who charge a fee. Life Ambulance Service: 011-52-868-812-3049.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

CMI Hospital

Calle Sexta y Avenida Longoria #9

Matamoros, Mexico

Telephone - 811-0000

CEMQ Hospital

Calle Primera y Gonzalez y Morelos 1105

Matamoros, Mexico

Telephone - 813-4303/813-4653/813-4191

The Red Cross (Cruz Roja) can be reached at 065.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance services include: AEA International, (800) 752-4195.

Insurance Guidance

Health insurance is an important consideration. Travelers should ensure that they have adequate health coverage while in Mexico.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Food and potable water standards are different than those of the U.S. One should take precautions with regard to drinking water, eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads.

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

OSAC Country Council Information

There is currently no active Country Council in Matamoros. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team if you are interested in private-sector engagement in Matamoros or have questions about OSAC’s Country Council programs.

U.S. Consulate General Matamoros Location and Contact Information:

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

Consulate General Matamoros

Calle Primera 2002

Matamoros, Mexico

Consulate Contact Numbers

Country code: 52

Matamoros area code: 868

Telephone - 812-4402

RSO Duty Officer at U.S Embassy available through Switchboard Operator:

In Mexico- (01-55) 5080-2000 or International- 011-52-55-5080-2000

Regional Security Office Hours: 0800-1700 M-F

Website: http://matamoros.usconsulate.gov/

Nearby Posts

Embassy Mexico City: http://mexico.usembassy.gov/

Consulate Ciudad Juárez: http://ciudadjuarez.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Guadalajara: http://guadalajara.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Hermosillo: http://hermosillo.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Mérida: http://merida.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Monterrey: http://monterrey.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Nogales: http://nogales.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Nuevo Laredo: http://nuevolaredo.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Puerto Vallarta: http://guadalajara.usconsulate.gov/puerto_vallarta.html

Consulate Tijuana: http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/

Consulate Guidance

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known. While Consular Officers will do their utmost to assist Americans in a crisis, travelers should always be aware that local authorities bear primary responsibility for the welfare of people living or traveling in their jurisdictions.

Additional Resources

Mexico Country Information Sheet