Mexico covers an area of 1,972,500 sq. km. or 761,000 sq. miles. It is about three times the size of Texas. The capital is located in Mexico City. The population of the area around Mexico City is about 20 million, the largest concentration of people in the world. The latest estimate (in 1997) has the population of Mexico at 95 million with an annual growth rate of 1.8%. Mexico has a chief executive (president); a bicameral legislature; a judicial system with a Supreme Court, local and federal courts; and an administrative subdivision of 31 states and one federal district. Mexico has a rapidly developing economy and has sought economic prosperity through liberalization of its trade regime. The climate ranges from tropical to desert, and the terrain consists of coastal lowlands, central high plateaus, and mountains up to 18,000 feet.
The Government of Mexico requires that all U.S. citizens present proof of citizenship and photo identification for entry into Mexico. A U.S. passport is recommended, but other U.S. citizenship documents such as a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, a Naturalization Certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Citizenship are acceptable. U.S. citizens boarding flights to Mexico should be prepared to present one of these documents as proof of U.S. citizenship, along with photo identification. Driver’s permits, voter registration cards, affidavits and similar documents are not sufficient to prove citizenship for readmission into the United States. A visa is not required for a tourist/transit stay up to 180 days. Travelers entering Mexico for purposes other than tourism require a visa and must carry a valid U.S. passport. The Government of Mexico charges an entry fee of $15.00 per person to U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico’s interior.
Minors require notarized consent from both parents if traveling alone or in someone else’s custody, or from the absent parent if traveling with only one parent. Mexican regulations limit the value of goods brought into Mexico by U.S. citizens arriving by air or sea to $300 per person and by land to $50 per person. Amounts exceeding the duty-free limit are subject to a 32.8 percent tax. Upon arrival in Mexico, business travelers must complete a form (Form FM-N 30 days) authorizing the conduct of business, but not employment, for a 30-day period. U.S. citizens planning to work or live in Mexico should apply for the appropriate Mexican visa (Form FM-2 or 3) at the Mexican Embassy or nearest Mexican consulate. U.S. citizens planning to participate in humanitarian aid missions, human rights advocacy groups or international observer delegations also should contact the Mexican Embassy or nearest Mexican consulate for guidance on how to obtain the appropriate visa before traveling to Mexico. Such activities, undertaken while on a tourist visa, may draw unfavorable attention from Mexican authorities because Mexican immigration law prohibits foreigners from engaging in political activity. U.S. citizens have been detained, expelled or deported for violating their tourist visa status. Therefore, tourists should avoid demonstrations and other activities that may be deemed political by Mexican authorities. This is particularly relevant in light of the tension and polarization in the state of Chiapas. U.S. citizens and other foreigners have been detained in Chiapas and expelled from Mexico for allegedly violating their visa status or for interfering in Mexican internal politics. For further information concerning entry and visa requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of Mexico at 1911 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006, telephone (202) 736-1000, or any Mexican consulate in the U.S.
REAL ESTATE AND TIME-SHARES: U.S. citizens should be aware of the risks inherent in purchasing real estate in Mexico, and should exercise extreme caution before entering into any form of commitment to invest in property there. Investors must recognize the absolute need to obtain authoritative information and to hire competent Mexican legal counsel when contemplating any real estate investment. Mexican laws and practices regarding real estate differ substantially from those in the United States. Foreigners may be granted the right to own real property only under very specific conditions. Whether investing through a trust mechanism in border and coastal areas or by outright purchase in Mexico’s interior, U.S. citizens are vulnerable to title challenges that may result in years of litigation and possible eviction. Title insurance is virtually unknown and untested in Mexico. Also, because Mexican law recognizes squatters’ rights, homeowners can spend thousands of dollars in legal fees and years of frustration in trying to remove squatters who occupy their property.
American citizens also should exercise caution when considering time-share investments and be aware of the aggressive tactics used by some time-share sales representatives. Buyers should be fully informed and take sufficient time to consider their decisions before signing time-share contracts, ideally after consulting an independent attorney. They should resist pressure to sign a contract the very day that they see the model unit. Mexican law allows time-share purchasers five days to cancel the contract for unconditional and full reimbursement. U.S. citizens should never sign a contract that includes clauses penalizing the buyer who cancels within five days.
Crime in Mexico continues at high levels, and it is increasingly violent, especially in Mexico City, Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Low apprehension and conviction rates of criminals contribute to the high crime rate. Other metropolitan areas have lower, but still serious levels of crime. Travelers should leave valuables and irreplaceable items in a safe place, or not bring them at all. All visitors are encouraged to make use of hotel safes when available, avoid wearing obviously expensive jewelry or designer clothing, and carry only the cash or credit cards that will be needed on each outing. Travelers are discouraged from bringing very large amounts of cash into Mexico because officials may suspect money laundering or other criminal activity. Any U.S. citizen victims of crime in Mexico are encouraged to report the incident to the nearest police headquarters and to the nearest U.S. consular office.
U.S. citizens should be very cautious in using Automated Teller Machines (ATM) in Mexico. If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected facilities (preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at a glass-enclosed, highly visible ATM on streets where criminals can observe financial transactions).
U.S. citizens should not hitchhike nor accept rides from or offer rides to strangers anywhere in Mexico.
Kidnapping, including the kidnapping of non-Mexicans, is increasing. So-called "express" kidnappings have reportedly taken place on well-traveled highways such as the Toluca Highway leading out of Mexico City. These kidnappings are an attempt to get quick cash in exchange for the release of any individual, and they do not appear to target the wealthy. U.S. businesses with offices in Mexico or concerned U.S. citizens may contact the U.S. Embassy or any U.S. consulate to discuss precautions that they should take.
Criminal assaults occur on highways throughout Mexico. Therefore, travelers should exercise caution when traveling on all highways in Mexico and use "toll" ("cuota") roads, rather than the less secure "free" highways, whenever possible. Reported incidents include robbery, kidnapping, and the 1998 murder of an Egyptian diplomat. The U.S. Embassy advises its personnel to exercise extreme caution for safety reasons when traveling on any highways after dark. U.S. citizens planning to travel on any Mexican highways should follow this advice.
All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class conveyances. Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on "toll" roads, buses on "toll" roads have a markedly lower rate of incidents than buses (second and third class) that travel the less secure "free" highways. While many of the assaults have occurred in daylight, the U.S. Embassy nevertheless encourages daytime travel to lower the chance of vehicle accidents.
Tourists should not hike alone in back-country areas, nor walk alone on lightly-frequented beaches, ruins or trails. In 1998, three Americans were killed in separate incidents when they ventured alone into such areas.
Local authorities have reported an increase in armed robberies in the popular tourist destination of northern Sinaloa, especially near the fishing resorts. Caution should be exercised when visiting this area.
In Mexico City, the most frequently reported crimes involving tourists are taxi robberies, armed robbery, pickpocketing and purse snatching. In several cases, tourists have reported that men in uniforms perpetrated the crime, stopping vehicles and seeking money, or assaulting and robbing tourists walking late at night. The area behind the U.S. Embassy and the Zona Rosa, a restaurant/shopping area near the Embassy, are frequent sites of street crime against foreigners. Caution should be exercised when walking in these areas.
Tourists and residents alike should avoid driving alone at night anywhere in Mexico City. In a new tactic, thieves stop lone drivers at night, force them to ingest large quantities of alcohol and then rob them of ATM and credit cards. A U.S. citizen was killed in such an assault in 1998. Mexican authorities subsequently arrested police officers for this murder. U.S. citizens are advised to exercise good judgment when ordering beverages in nightclubs and bars, especially at night. Some establishments may contaminate or drug the drinks to gain control over the patron. Victims, who are almost always unaccompanied, have been robbed of personal property, abducted and then held while their credit cards were used at various businesses and ATM locations around the city.
TAXICAB CRIME: Robbery and assaults on passengers in taxis are frequent and violent, with passengers subjected to beatings, shootings and sexual assault. U.S. citizens visiting Mexico City should avoid taking any taxi not summoned by telephone or contacted in advance at the airport. In December 1997, a U.S. citizen was murdered in a taxi robbery. When in need of a taxi, please telephone a radio taxi or "sitio" (pronounced "C-T-O"), and ask the dispatcher for the driver’s name and the cab’s license plate number. If you walk to a "sitio" taxi stand, use only a driver known to you. Please ask the hotel concierge or other responsible individual calling on your behalf to write down the license plate number of the cab that you entered. Passengers arriving at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport should take only airport taxis (which are yellow, with an airport symbol on the door) after pre-paying the fare at one of the special booths inside the airport. Radio taxis may be called at tel. 5-271-9146, 5-271-9058, and 5-272-6125 (within Mexico). U.S. citizens should avoid taking taxis parked outside the Bellas Artes Theater, waiting in front of nightclubs or restaurants, or cruising throughout the city.
SECURITY IN AREAS OF CONFLICT: The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that U.S.citizens traveling to the state of Chiapas exercise extreme caution. The Mexican military has reestablished authority in rural towns and villages. But armed rebels and armed civilian groups are still present in some areas of the state. Tension and violence ebb and flow, especially in areas traditionally affected by political conflict. Those areas include the mountain highlands north of San Cristobal de las Casas, the municipality of Ocosingo, and the entire southeastern jungle portion of the state east of Comitan. Some segments of the local population resent the presence of foreigners and express their hostility openly. For further information, please see the U.S. State Department’s Report on Human Rights Practices at http://www.state.gov.
U.S. citizens traveling to Chiapas are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for further security information prior to traveling to the region.
Two insurgent groups, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and the Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army (EPRI), operate in the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, and have attacked police and military targets and have kidnapped civilians in the past. There is no evidence that U.S. citizens or other tourists have been targeted. Several Mexican military police and civilians, however, have been killed or injured. While Mexican Government authorities have taken steps to prevent further incidents, they may occur again. U.S. citizens may encounter military roadblocks while traveling, and tourists should be prepared to show identification and have their vehicles searched. Army roadblocks are most common in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca.
Adequate medical care can be found in all major cities. Health facilities in Mexico City are excellent. Care in more remote areas is limited. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can be very costly. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Mexico is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Fair
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Fair
U.S. driver’s licenses are valid in Mexico. Mexican insurance is required for all vehicles, including rental vehicles. Travelers should obtain full coverage insurance when renting vehicles in Mexico. Travelers arriving in their own vehicle can easily obtain Mexican insurance on the U.S. side of the land border and should do so. If a traveler is involved in a vehicle accident resulting in damages or injuries to another party, the driver may be arrested and detained by Mexican authorities until a settlement is arranged with the injured party. Furthermore, depending upon the extent of damages or injuries to the other party, the traveler may face charges filed by the Mexican judicial authorities.
For additional information concerning Mexican driver's permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, mandatory insurance, etc., please contact the Mexico Government Tourist Organization (MGTO) at 1-800-44-MEXICO (639426). Travelers are advised to consult with the Mexican Embassy or the nearest Mexican consulate in the United States for additional, detailed information prior to entering Mexico.
TRAVELING TO CIUDAD JUAREZ: Several U.S. citizens, including innocent bystanders, have been killed in drug-related shootings in Ciudad Juarez over the past three years. Ciudad Juarez became the focal point for narcotics smuggling along this stretch of the border in the 1990s. In recent months, some of these drug-related shootings have taken place on principal thoroughfares and outside of popular restaurants and other public places, including convenience stores, a currency exchange, and a gas station. In other instances, U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and scores imprisoned after getting involved in the sale or purchase of illegal drugs. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid any involvement with controlled substances or those who deal in them. U.S. citizens should be particularly alert to their surroundings when visiting Juarez.
TRAVELING TO CANCUN: Cancun is now a fairly large city, approaching 500,000 inhabitants. There are increasing reports of crime, so it is important for travelers to be aware of their surroundings and to take general precautions while visiting Cancun. There has been a significant increase in the number of pickpocketing incidents, purse snatchings and hotel room thefts. Public transportation is a particularly popular place for pickpockets. Valuables should be left in a safe place, or not brought at all. Please keep track of your luggage when getting in and out of ground transportation from the airport to the hotel, and vice versa.
There has been a noticeable increase in the number of reports of police harassment, abuse, and extortion in Cancun. Local authorities are concerned about these incidents and have cooperated in investigating such cases when they have been reported.
Several rapes have been reported to the U.S. Consular Agency in Cancun. Most of these occurred at night or in the early morning hours, and they involved alcohol and the discotheque environment. The victim commonly finds him/herself in a vulnerable situation and is taken advantage of after being separated from friends.
Visitors should be careful when crossing streets in Cancun. Public transportation vehicles, specifically taxis and city buses, often do not obey the posted speed limits and do not stop at traffic lights.
Warning flags on the beach should be taken seriously. If black flags are up, please do not go in the water. There is often a very strong undertow along the beach from the Hyatt Regency all the way south to the Sol y Mar. There is minimal lifeguard supervision in most areas.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens should carry with them a photocopy of their passport, and leave a photocopy with a relative or friend in the United States. Travelers may refer to the Department of State’s pamphlet, A Safe Trip Abroad, for ways to promote a more trouble-free journey. This pamphlet, as well as others, such as Tips for Travelers to Mexico, is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
DRUG PENALTIES AND PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS: Penalties for drug offenses are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences up to 25 years and fines. As in the United States, the purchase of controlled medication requires a doctor's prescription. The Mexican list of controlled medication differs from that of the U.S., and Mexican public health laws concerning controlled medication are unclear and often enforced selectively. The U.S. Embassy recommends against U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico for the sole purpose of buying prescription drugs. U.S. citizens have been arrested, and their medicines have been confiscated by the Mexican authorities, even though their prescriptions were written by a physician and filled by a licensed Mexican pharmacist. Possession of any amount of prescription medicine (especially psychotropic drugs, such as valium) brought from the United States can result in arrest if Mexican authorities suspect abuse or if the quantity of the prescription medicine exceeds the amount required for several days' use. Individuals should consider carrying a copy of the prescription and a doctor’s letter explaining that the quantity of medication is appropriate for their personal medical use. U.S. citizens, who plan to go to Mexico to purchase medication or who may be in possession of medication prescribed in the United States, should check with the nearest Mexican consulate before traveling to Mexico.
FIREARMS PENALTIES: The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against taking any type of firearm or ammunition into Mexico without prior written authorization from the Mexican authorities. Entering Mexico with a firearm or even a single round of ammunition is illegal, even if the firearm or ammunition is taken into Mexico unintentionally. The Mexican Government strictly enforces its laws restricting the entry of firearms and ammunition along all land borders and at air and seaports. Violations have resulted in arrests, convictions, and long prison sentences for U.S. citizens, including several who unintentionally crossed the border with firearms or ammunition in their possession. U.S. citizens approaching Mexico along the land border who realize they are in possession of unauthorized firearms or ammunition should not try to enter Mexico. The only way to import firearms and/or ammunition into Mexico legally is to secure a permit in advance from the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. or from a Mexican consulate, even if the firearm is legally registered in the United States.
Vessels entering Mexican waters with firearms or ammunition on board must have a permit previously issued by the Mexican Embassy or a Mexican consulate. Mariners do not avoid prosecution for arms smuggling by declaring their weapons at the port of entry. Before traveling, mariners who have obtained a Mexican firearms permit should contact port officials to receive guidance on the specific procedures used to report and secure weapons and ammunition.
ALIEN SMUGGLING: Anyone arrested for transporting aliens into or out of Mexico may be prosecuted by Mexican authorities for alien smuggling in addition to any charges they may face in the other country involved, including the United States. Alien smuggling and harboring aliens is a serious felony offense in Mexico.
BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION FACILITIES: A number of facilities have opened in Mexico that offer behavior modification therapy for teenagers and others suffering from drug addiction or other psychological disorders. Standards held by the Government of Mexico and local government, where they exist, may not meet standards for similar facilities in the United States. Parents planning to enroll their children in these facilities should take appropriate action to investigate the facility first. Please refer to the Behavior Modification Fact Sheet at http://travel.state.gov/behavior_modification.html.
VOLCANIC ACTIVITY: Since December 1994, the Popocatepetl Volcano, situated 38 miles southeast of Mexico City, has registered varying levels of seismic activity including the release of vapor, gas, ash, and incendiary material. Depending on the levels of activity, the Mexican National Center for Disaster Prevention restricts access or closes parks and hiking trails on the mountain’s slopes. U.S. citizens planning to hike in the area should be alert to any warnings or signs posted, and should contact the U.S. Embassy for the latest information about seismic activity.
Civil defense officials in the states of Jalisco and Colima are closely monitoring activity at the Volcan de Colima, (also known as Volcan de Fuego), located in south-central Jalisco. The volcano produced a number of gas exhalations, explosions and ash falls in February 1999. There is also active lava flow on the south side of the mountain. A major eruption is possible. U.S. citizens should exercise caution if planning to travel to the area surrounding the volcano. They should contact the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico at 011-523-825-3429 for the latest information. Updated information may also be obtained in Spanish at web site http://www.ucol.mx/volcan/.
U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy or at one of the U.S. consulates, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Mexico. The U.S. Embassy is located in Mexico City at Paseo de la Reforma 305, Colonia Cuauhtemoc, telephone from the United States: 011-525-209-9100; telephone within Mexico City: 5-209-9100; telephone within Mexico 01-5-209-9100.
There are U.S. Consulates General in:
Ciudad Juarez at Avenida Lopez Mateos 924-N, telephone (52-16) 113000.
Guadalajara at Progreso 175, telephone (52-38) 25-2998.
Monterrey at Avenida Constitucion 411 Poniente 64000, telephone (52-83) 45-2120.
Tijuana at Tapachula 96, telephone (52-66) 81-7400.
There are U.S. Consulates in:
Hermosillo at Ave. Monterrey 141, telephone (52-62) 172375.
Matamoros at Ave. Primera 2002, telephone (52-88) 124402.
Merida at Paseo Montejo 453, telephone (52-99) 25-5011.
Nogales at Calle San Jose, Nogales, Sonora, telephone (52-63) 134-820.
Nuevo Laredo at Calle Allende 3330, Col. Jardin, telephone (52-871) 4-0512.
There are U.S. Consular Agencies in:
Acapulco at Hotel Acapulco Continental, Costera M. Aleman 121 –Local 14, telephone 52-74-840-300/52-74-690-556.
Cabo San Lucas at Blvd. Marina y Pedregal #1, Local No. 3, Zona Centro, telephone (52-114) 3-35-66.
Cancun at Plaza Caracol Two, Third Level, No. 320-323, Boulevard Kukulcan, km. 8.5, Zona Hotelera, telephone (52-98) 83-02-72.
Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo at Local 9, Plaza Ambiente, telephone (52-755) 4-26-06.
Mazatlan at Hotel Playa Mazatlan, Rodolfo T. Loaiza #202, Zona Dorada, 82110, telephone (52-69)134-444 ext. 285.
Puerto Vallarta at Edif. Vallarta, Plaza Zaragoza 160-Piso 2 Int-18, telephone (52-322) 2-0069.
San Luis Potosi at Francisco de P. Mariel 103-10, telephone (52-481) 2-1528.
Oaxaca at Alcala 201, Deps. 206, telephone (52-951) 4-3054.
San Miguel de Allende at Dr. Hernandez Macias #72, telephone (52-415) 2-2357/2-0068.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Mexico’s Civil Aviation Authority as Category 1 -- in compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Mexico’s air carrier operations. For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the U.S. at tel. 1-800-322-7873, or visit FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/index.htm. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD a tel. 1-618-229-4801.
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