Overall Crime and Safety Situation
U.S. Embassy Mexico City does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MEXICO CITY 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.
The Department of State divides its roles and responsibilities in Mexico among 10 consular districts across Mexico. This Crime and Safety Report focuses on the Embassy’s district, which is composed of the Mexican Federal District that is Mexico City, the southern tip of Tamaulipas State and the following 13 states: Chiapas, Estado de Mexico, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Tabasco, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. For information regarding the security environment elsewhere, please reference the Crime and Safety Reports for Tijuana, Nogales, Hermosillo, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Monterrey, Guadalajara, or Merida.
The general crime rate in Mexico City is above the U.S. national average, and crime varies widely. Armed robberies, kidnappings, car thefts, credit card fraud, and various forms of residential/street crime are daily concerns. Thefts of the vehicle’s operating computer and sound systems are also common crimes. The low rate of criminal convictions contributes to the high rate of crime. Although Mexico employs strict gun-control laws, criminals are often armed with handguns (or knives).
Although there is no pattern of criminals specifically targeting foreign or American businesses/personnel, criminals will target anyone perceived as lucrative and vulnerable. Criminals select victims based on an appearance of prosperity, vulnerability, or a lack of awareness.
Jewelry (expensive watches) and cellular phones can be sold easily in vast illegal markets. Never leave shopping bags or merchandise unattended. When grocery shopping, always carry your purse with you. Never leave it in your cart, even for a few seconds.
Organized criminal groups continue to produce significant levels of violence throughout parts of the country. The northern half Mexico was considered a higher threat area, primarily due to organized criminal conflicts and competition for drug trafficking routes to the U.S. Recent statistics, however, show that violence is on the rise in central and southern states, particularly in Guerrero, Michoacán, and Mexico (state). 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. Foreign and American companies have been extorted, and some have been attacked for not responding to demands. Some criminal groups will mandate that individuals or even whole communities work for them as lookouts or couriers. Others will threaten municipal and state administrators into accepting corrupt practices. Beheadings, lynching, torture, and other gruesome displays of violence, as well as high numbers of forced disappearances, have become routine occurrences, including in the Mexico City metropolitan area. Numerous journalists and bloggers have been killed for reporting on these incidents.
Mexico is experiencing a combination of conditions that collectively degrade the security environment in certain areas. The government has had successes in capturing some of its most wanted criminals; consequently, organized criminal groups are becoming much less organized and disciplined. Various groups have splintered into smaller gangs, which have branched out into different illegal business activities, and the associated violence is spreading across Mexico.
Cargo theft remains a key area of concern for U.S. and foreign companies. FreightWatch International ranks the level of cargo crime in Mexico as “severe,” its worst ranking, primarily because the supply chain continues to face threats from cargo criminals, corrupt law enforcement personnel, and, to a smaller extent, organized crime. Annual cargo theft incidents have been estimated at almost 6,000 per year, according to Mexico’s Secretariat of Government, and FreightWatch has determined that cargo theft increased by roughly 31% between 2015 and 2016. The majority of stolen goods are resold in local markets, primarily in Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara. Some U.S. company representatives complained in early August 2014 about the burden of cargo theft on manufacturing companies exporting to the U.S., saying they do not receive assistance from the government or law enforcement. Instead, companies use the OSAC Country Council, the American Chamber of Commerce, and informal mechanisms to share information. This crime, while worrisome, is not preventing companies from operating in Mexico. Hijackings have declined in terms of the overall percentage of cargo theft incidents; however, railway attacks are becoming more commonplace. In addition, sources have seen an increase in the theft of plastic moved via train that is attributed to the availability of molds for toy figurines that sell quickly in local markets. Mitigating the cargo theft risk is possible by taking precautions, such as avoiding highways known to be dangerous for cargo, using high-tech locks, and avoiding driving at night, according to FreightWatch.
There are numerous reports in which U.S. citizens have had their credit/debit card numbers skimmed and the money in their debit accounts stolen or their credit cards fraudulently charged. 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. Exercise caution when utilizing credit/debit cards in ATMs or dubious locales. 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.
Other Areas of Concern
According to the Procuraduria General de Justicia del Distrito Federal and the Secretaria Publica del Distrito Federal, the following city boroughs had the highest number of crimes reported in 2016: Cuauhtémoc, Iztapalapa, Gustavo A. Madero, Benito Juárez, Coyoacan, and Miguel Hidalgo.
Travel for U.S. government employees is closely scrutinized due to the ebb and flow of violence associated with organized criminal groups. For a state-by-state assessment, peruse the latest U.S. Department of State Travel Warning for Mexico. The Embassy strictly controls U.S. government employees’ travel to several parts of the Embassy’s district, including the states of Guerrero and Michoacán.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
The government has deployed federal police and military personnel in to combat organized criminal groups. U.S. citizens traveling on roads and highways may encounter government checkpoints, which are often staffed by military personnel. You are advised to cooperate with personnel. Criminal organizations have been known to erect their own unauthorized checkpoints and have killed/abducted motorists who fail to stop at them. Likewise, self-defense groups have established checkpoints in their communities and have shot and wounded travelers who fail to stop. When approaching a checkpoint, regardless of whether it is official or non-official, cooperate and avoid any actions that may be perceived to be suspicious or aggressive.
Public Transportation Conditions
The Embassy does not recommend using libre taxis, as they are poorly regulated and are often criminally-linked enterprises that pick up fares on the street after being hailed by customers. Sitio (radio dispatched) taxis are far safer, more reliable, and are worth the added expense. These types of taxis cannot be hailed off the street and must be ordered by phone or met at a designated taxi stand. Twenty-four hour radio taxi service is available at 5516-6020 and 3626-9800 to 30. Sitio taxis in Mexico City are most often metered and registered by the government. Sitio taxis from Benito Juarez International Airport are paid in advance in the terminal (at the sitio stands) and are well regulated. In addition, the Embassy permits car services that can be requested online via phone/tablet applications, which allow consumers to verify the driver and vehicle number.
Visitors should travel by intercity bus only during daylight hours and only by first-class conveyance whenever possible. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads, buses on toll roads have experienced a lower rate of incidents than second- and third-class buses that travel on less secure, libre highways.
- Bus travel through Tamaulipas is especially hazardous. Public and private passenger buses traveling through Tamaulipas are sometimes targeted by organized criminal groups that take all passengers hostage and demand ransom payments.
In Mexico City, municipal buses and the Metro (subway) are generally safe to use. City buses and the Metro may be crowded, and passengers should be on the alert for pickpockets and other thieves, especially on the most crowded, busiest routes during rush hour. Non-municipal buses (micros) are not well regulated and are not recommended. There have been occasional reports of significant security incidents (apart from theft) on tourist buses in/around Mexico City and to nearby tourist destinations. Buses from Mexico City to the pyramids of Teotihuacan have been stopped and all passengers robbed.
The Embassy advises that its employees fly, rather than drive, to many Mexican destinations.
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MEXICO CITY 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
The government remained vigilant against domestic and foreign terrorist threats in 2016. The U.S. Embassy/Consulates are focused on Mexico as a potential transit country for foreign terrorist groups to conduct operations against the U.S. There are no known foreign terrorist organizations operating in Mexico, and there is no evidence that any terrorist group has targeted U.S. citizens in Mexico. Mexico does not provide a safe haven to terrorists or terrorist groups. The government passed amendments to its Federal Penal Code that strengthened the country’s legal framework to address acts of terrorism, including terrorist financing. Authorities cooperate well with relevant U.S. government agencies on persons of interest. Criminal organizations have used terror-like tactics (car bombs and grenades) to attack each other and security forces. They also commit gruesome acts of violence designed to terrorize; however, the effects of these acts seem directed largely at rival gangs.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED MEXICO CITY AS BEING A HIGH-THREAT LOCATION FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.
Peaceful demonstrations of all sizes gather regularly at the Monument to Independency (the Angel), which is near the U.S. Embassy, to protest government policies, labor, and social issues, and, occasionally, U.S. policies. These protests often affect traffic during peak commute hours on and near Paseo de La Reforma, the city's primary avenue.
Most demonstrations are peaceful; however, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful may turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Demonstrators frequently block city streets, major highways, or take control of government toll roads on major highways and may demand unofficial tolls from travelers. Recently, groups associated with teachers’ unions and those protesting recent alleged human rights violations in Guerrero have used checkpoints as a way of raising money for their causes. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests.
The Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners; such actions may result in detention/deportation.
The government expects that a significant earthquake could occur at any time. Although there have been substantial improvements in building regulations and response planning since 1985, there is no guarantee that there would not be significant damage, injuries, and loss of life again.
- On May 8, 2014, a 6.4 earthquake was registered in Guerrero (171 miles southwest of Mexico City).
- On April 18, 2014, central Mexico was rocked by a 7.5 earthquake.
Earthquakes within the Embassy’s consular districts are routine, especially in the Pacific coast states.
Active and dormant volcanoes are scattered throughout central Mexico. One of the country’s largest volcanoes, Popocatepetl, is only 43 miles southeast of Mexico City and has had several low-level eruptions in the past several of years. Travelers should be aware that the government prevents access to the mountain and has closed it to climbers and hikers. According to public safety officials, travelers to the area should have N-95 filter masks available in case ash falls on them. Clouds of ash associated with volcanic activity can limit air travel and make evacuation by air difficult.
- On December 17, 2014, there were three explosions from Popocatepetl that resulted in the volcano alert system being raised to “Yellow Phase 2.” This did not require evacuations, but the Puebla International Airport closed that morning as a precautionary measure.
- A similar yellow alert was raised when the Colima volcano in Jalisco had some eruptions on January 5, 2015. Ash reached seven municipalities in Jalisco, but there were no evacuations.
From June to November, hurricanes may affect the Pacific and Gulf coasts of the Embassy’s consular district. The coastal states tend to receive the brunt of these storms; however, hurricanes and tropical storms have caused flooding and disruption of utility services throughout the district. Travelers are advised to keep abreast of developing weather conditions during the hurricane season and to avoid the paths of storms when possible.
On August 6, 2014, 10 million gallons of mining process waste escaped from a containment basin of the Buenavista del Cobre mine operated by Grupo Mexico in northwest Mexico. The unintentional release of the mine waste (tailings) contaminated two Sonoran rivers and left 20,000 residents without drinking water. After the spill, the company took actions to neutralize the acidity of the water, but the long-term impacts to the sediment and the ground water from the heavy metals and other contaminants remain unclear.
A week later, an unrelated gold mine in Durango reported an accidental release of cyanide into a stream; this smaller release caused an environmental emergency but seemed to be under control.
On December 20, 2016, a fireworks explosion at the San Pablito Market in Tultepec, north of Mexico City resulted in a least 39 people killed and dozens injured. The cause of the explosion is unknown, but sources claimed that gunpowder from the fireworks ignited the explosion.
For 2016, the Ministry of Labor (Secretaria del Trabajo y Prevision Social, STPS) and Institute of Social Security (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, IMSS) reported 495,759 (closed) cases of industrial and transportation accidents, including work illnesses. The sectors with the highest reported rate of incidents were transportation and construction.
Mexico was listed on the Watch List in the 2016 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. Criminal enforcement efforts of IPR suffers from weak coordination among federal, state, and municipal officials; limited resources for prosecutions; lack of long-term sustained investigations to target high-level suppliers of counterfeit and pirated goods; and the need for deterrent level penalties. The U.S. continues to encourage Mexico to provide its customs officials with ex-officio authority, 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 by implementing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Internet Treaties by providing stronger protection against the unauthorized recording of motion pictures in theaters. The U.S. continues to work with Mexico to resolve IPR concerns through bilateral, regional, and other means of engagement.
Economic espionage activity is covered under misappropriation of trade secrets law in Mexico. 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 by authorities of trade secret misappropriation due to onerous legal requirements and evidentiary issues tied to proving theft of digital files.
The number of kidnappings reported throughout Mexico is of particular concern. The overall numbers of kidnapping incidents are difficult to determine because most of the cases are not reported to authorities. The general practice on the part of the victim’s family or friends is not to notify authorities, as the popular belief is that the police may be involved in the crime or are unable to resolve the situation.
The majority of cases reported to the U.S. Embassy have been kidnapping for ransom (KFR) cases. In some KFR cases, a ransom is paid, and the victim set free, but in other cases the victims are killed despite having paid a ransom. Affluent residents in Mexico City often have bodyguards and armored vehicles for their families to prevent them from being kidnapped.
While kidnappings can occur anywhere, according to government statistics, in 2016, 771 kidnapping cases were reported within Embassy Mexico City’s Consular District. States with the highest number of kidnappings in 2016 were Estado de México, Veracruz, Guerrero, and Tabasco. Police (or former law enforcement officials) have been implicated in many of these incidents. There were 38 reported kidnapping events with a U.S. nexus in Embassy Mexico City’s Consular District and over 150 incidents for all of Mexico. These figures include U.S. citizens, Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), and cases in which an extortion call was made to U.S. citizen family members in the U.S.
Travelers are advised to vary routes and times. Be alert to possible surveillance, and note any individual who appears out of place along routes to regularly scheduled activities. When hiring domestic help, vet them by identifying references. Ensure that they are trained not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow access of workers without prior authorization.
The number of reported express kidnappings is low. Express kidnappings are based on the 24-hour withdrawal limit placed on ATM cards industry-wide. Express kidnapping victims are held for 24-48 hours to maximize withdrawal amounts. A common modus operandi for express kidnappings in Mexico City is passengers using libre taxis who are often robbed by two or three armed individuals who enter the taxi a few minutes into the trip, having been called or signaled by the driver. The term express kidnapping is also applied to the kidnapping of random victims held for brief periods where only small ransom amounts are demanded. A typical scenario may last for several hours and may be settled 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 employees of the Embassy either have been victimized themselves or personally know a victim. In either form of express kidnapping, the victim is held for hours and released after a small ransom is paid or is shuttled to ATMs and forced to withdraw funds.
There appears to be an up-tick in virtual kidnappings. These extortion telephone calls vary in style; however, the methodology is often the same: callers say that they have kidnapped a loved one and often include a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered but before the kidnapper gets on the phone. Callers intend to confuse the victim and trick them into giving away important information. For example, if the crying voice sounds like the target’s child and the target calls out that child’s name, the caller then knows the name of the child, who could be a kidnap victim, and they will use this knowledge against the target. The voice of a victim will usually be crying and/or hysterical, making it difficult to identify and increase the likelihood that the victim will believe it is their loved one. Criminals use fear and timing against victims. They plan their calls to coincide with times when it is difficult to contact the victim (when children are on their way to/from school). Or, the callers will obtain two cell phones of two family members. They will call both victims at the same time and claim to have kidnapped the other relative. They use fear and the threat of violence to keep both victims on the line while they urge them to pay a ransom for the other. Once the kidnappers are satisfied they have obtained as much money as they can, they end the call. They may demand that the ransom be delivered in person, which can turn into a real kidnapping, or that the money be sent electronically. Variations on this scam 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 in order to free their loved one and avoid a long, expensive judicial process.
Virtual kidnapping/extortion calls are made to Mexican and international numbers and often use information obtained from social networking websites. A variation affecting travelers at hotels is an extortion-by-deception scheme, wherein a victim is called and convinced to isolate themselves from family/friends 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/loved ones. The victim's family is contacted, and a ransom is extracted. Often, the callers make statements to suggest surveillance. This is very vague but implies they have been watching the victim’s family, using fear and everyday routines against them to reinforce the threat of the kidnapping. To reduce the likelihood of receiving a virtual kidnapping call, answer the phone with “hello” and make the other person ask for you by name; know the details of your family’s itinerary and contact information (land-line 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.
In its efforts to heighten security, the government has deployed security forces to various parts of the country and has created a new military unit known as the National Gendarmerie to augment security in certain areas of Mexico.
Tourists should be wary of persons representing themselves as police officers or other officials. When in doubt, ask for identification.
Be aware that offering a bribe to a public official to avoid a ticket or other penalty is a crime. U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with the police if stopped or questioned.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
In some instances, U.S. citizens have become victims of harassment, mistreatment, or extortion by law enforcement and other officials. Authorities have cooperated in investigating some cases, but one must have the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number to pursue a complaint effectively. Americans are advised to note this information if they have a problem with police or other officials.
Crime Victim Assistance
Americans may contact the Consular Section at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City for assistance in dealing with the police. If involved in a traffic accident or 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. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged.
Host Nation Police Emergency: 911
Fire Department: 911
Ambulance: 911 (Red Cross)
Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Publica y Procuracion de Justicia del Distrito Federal (in Mexico City, takes complaints from those afraid to go to the police): 5533-5533
Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) - Office of the Mexican Attorney General is responsible for investigating and prosecuting federal crimes.
Secretary of Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB) - Oversees federal police forces. The federal police are approximately 38,000 strong and are present in all states. They oversee the Mexican Immigration Service (INAMI), whose officers have the right to detain suspected undocumented aliens and may deport them without formal deportation proceedings.
Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público) - Customs officers (Aduana) are deployed at borders and at international airports to interdict contraband.
The Bank of Mexico (Banco de México) - Operates its own security division, which is charged with enforcing banking and monetary laws, including cases of counterfeiting, fraud, and money laundering.
Procuraduria General de Justicia (PGJ) – The local Mexican Attorney in each state/city is in charge of investigating and prosecuting state and local crimes.
State Police - Each of the country's 31 states and the Federal District maintain both preventive and judicial police. State police are under the direction of the state's governor.
Municipal Police - Each state contains numerous municipalities, and within each municipality exists a municipal police force.
Military Forces - The army and navy have been heavily involved in anti-crime initiatives, as they combat organized criminal groups.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided Consular Affairs’ website Your Health Abroad.
Contact Information for Recommended Hospitals/Clinics
ABC HOSPITAL (OBSERVATORIO)
Sur 136 No. 116 Col. Las Américas, 01120 México, D.F.
ABC HOSPITAL (SANTA FE)
Av. Carlos Graef Fernández 154 (enter from Av. Vasco de Quiroga), Col. Tlaxala Santa Fe, Cuajimalpa, 05300 México, D.F.
Tel: 1103-1600; Emergencies: 1103-1666 (Spanish)
EJÉRCITO NACIONAL #613, G No. 613, Granada, Col. Polanco, (Miguel Hidalgo), 11520 México, D.F.
HOSPITAL ANGELES DE LAS LOMAS
AV, VIALIDAD DE LA BARRANCA No. 22, Col. Valle de Las Palmas, 52763 Huixquilucan, Edo. De México
Tel: 5246-5000, Emergencies: 5246-5092, 5246-5093
Available Air Ambulance Services
Advanced Air Ambulance 800-633-3590 or 305-232-7700
Air Ambulance Professionals 800-752-4195 or 954-730-9300
Recommended Insurance Posture
Please peruse Consular Affairs’ website on Insurance Providers for Overseas Coverage.
Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mexico.
OSAC Country Council Information
The Mexico City Country Council currently meets once a month and has over 138 members. Please contact OSAC’s Western Hemisphere team with any questions or to join.
U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information
Embassy Address and Hours of Operation
U.S. Embassy Mexico City
Paseo de la Reforma, 305
Mexico, D.F. 06500
Business hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1730
Embassy Contact Numbers
Mexico country code: 52
Mexico City area code: 55
Telephone - 5080-2000 (24/7 switchboard operator)
Regional Security Office: 5080-2000 ext. 2400
Medical Unit: 5080-2400 ext. 2800
Consular Affairs: 5080-2000, ext. 4440 (after hours request duty officer via switchboard)
Political Section: 5080-2000 ext. 2052
Economic Section: 5080-2000 ext. 2999 or 2699
Consulate Ciudad Juarez: http://ciudadjuarez.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Guadalajara: http://guadalajara.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Hermosillo: http://hermosillo.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Matamoros: http://matamoros.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Merida: http://merida.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Monterrey: http://monterrey.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Nogales: http://nogales.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Nuevo Laredo: http://nuevolaredo.usconsulate.gov/
Consulate Tijuana: http://tijuana.usconsulate.gov/
It is prudent to leave a detailed itinerary, including local contact information and expected date of return, with a friend or family member, and to sign up for the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
Mexico Country Information Sheet