Traveling Luck for Mexico

Mexico is located in Middle America, bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, between Belize and the US and bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between Guatemala and the US.

Mexico has borders with Belize for 250km, Guatemala for 962km and United States for 3141km.

Land in Mexico is high, rugged mountains; low coastal plains; high plateaus; desert.

Mexican land covers an area of 1972550 square kilometers which is slightly less than three times the size of Texas

As for the Mexican climate; varies from tropical to desert.

Mexican(s) speak Spanish, various Mayan, Nahuatl, and other regional indigenous languages.

Mexican National Map

Mexican Map

Regions of Mexico

The site of advanced Amerindian civilizations, Mexico came under Spanish rule for three centuries before achieving independence early in the 19th century. A devaluation of the peso in late 1994 threw Mexico into economic turmoil, triggering the worst recession in over half a century. The nation continues to make an impressive recovery. Ongoing economic and social concerns include low real wages, underemployment for a large segment of the population, inequitable income distribution, and few advancement opportunities for the largely Amerindian population in the impoverished southern states. Elections held in July 2000 marked the first time since the 1910 Mexican Revolution that the opposition defeated the party in government, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Vicente FOX of the National Action Party (PAN) was sworn in on 1 December 2000 as the first chief executive elected in free and fair elections.


Mexico Country Profile

Mexico has a free market economy that recently entered the trillion dollar class. It contains a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. Recent administrations have expanded competition in seaports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity generation, natural gas distribution, and airports. Per capita income is one-fourth that of the US; income distribution remains highly unequal. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994. Mexico has 12 free trade agreements with over 40 countries including, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the European Free Trade Area, and Japan, putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements. The FOX administration is cognizant of the need to upgrade infrastructure, modernize the tax system and labor laws, and allow private investment in the energy sector, but has been unable to win the support of the opposition-led Congress. The next government that takes office in December 2006 will confront the same challenges of boosting economic growth, improving Mexico's international competitiveness, and reducing poverty.

Mexican natural resources include petroleum, silver, copper, gold, lead, zinc, natural gas, timber

strategic location on southern border of US; corn (maize), one of the world's major grain crops, is thought to have originated in Mexico

Mexican religion is nominally Roman Catholic 89%, Protestant 6%, other 5%.

Natural hazards in Mexico include tsunamis along the Pacific coast, volcanoes and destructive earthquakes in the center and south, and hurricanes on the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean coasts.

Travel Advice on Mexico

Mexico

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with amendments to the Crime section (drug related violence).  The overall level of the advice has not changed.

SUMMARY

  • We advise caution when travelling  to Oaxaca City.  Since May 2006, there have been protests in the city of Oaxaca, some of which have turned violent. There was increased violence over the weekend 25 - 26 November 2006.  Several buildings were set alight, including the Supreme Court of Justice in Oaxaca and a number of hotels.  Dozens of people were injured in the clashes.  The situation  is currently calm, but there is the  potential for further demonstrations and disturbances, which could become violent.  You should see the Political Situation section of this advice for more details.

  • The rest of the state of Oaxaca (including the resorts of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco) is largely unaffected. You are advised to monitor local media reports if travelling to, or through, Oaxaca State.

  • Around 250,000 British nationals visit Mexico each year.  Most visits are trouble-free, but crime and kidnappings are on the increase.  The main type of incident for which British nationals require consular assistance in Mexico is the theft or loss of passports and other personal documents such as credit cards.  Around 140 cases of stolen passports are reported to the Embassy every year.  You should be particularly alert in tourist areas (especially on public transport and when dealing with real or purported policemen) and exercise caution when withdrawing money from cash points or exchanging money at Bureaux de Change.

  • The threat from terrorism is low.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners.  On 6 November 2006 three small bombs exploded in Mexico City at dawn, one outside the Mexican Electoral Tribunal, one at the headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and a third in a Scotia Bank branch in the south of the city.  There were no casualties.  Groups who claim they are connected with the protests in Oaxaca have claimed responsibility.

  • The hurricane season in Mexico normally runs from June to November and can affect both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.  Please see the Natural Disasters section of this Travel Advice and Hurricanes for more information.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see: Travel Insurance.


SAFETY AND SECURITY

Crime

Street crime is on the increase.  You should dress down and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches.  You should be particularly alert on public transport, at airports, bus stations and tourist sites.  Passengers have been robbed and/or assaulted by unlicenced taxi drivers, particularly in Mexico City.  At airports, use only authorised prepaid airport taxi services.  In Mexico City, use better regulated “sitio” taxis from authorised cab ranks.

Theft on buses is also common.  All bus travel should be during daylight hours and on first-class buses if possible.  Although there have been several reports of bus hijackings and robberies on toll roads (de cuota), buses on toll roads have a markedly lower rate of incidents than buses (second and third class) that travel the less secure "free" (libre) roads.  Although most first-class bus companies perform security checks when passengers board buses, armed robberies of entire busloads of passengers still occur.  Be vigilant; watch your hand luggage.  Long distance bus travellers have had their personal belongings rifled while asleep.

Women travelling on their own should be particularly alert.  There have been incidents of rapes on urban buses (micros) on routes in the south of Mexico City.  Most attacks have occurred early in the morning or late at night.  A number of serious sexual offences have also occurred in tourist areas in Cancun.  Care should be taken even in areas close to hotels, especially after dark.

Business travellers should keep a close watch on their briefcases and luggage at apparently secure locations such as the lobby of their hotel.  Pick-pocketing is common on the Mexico City Metro.  Avoid travel during the rush hour if you can.

Exercise caution when withdrawing money from cashpoints or exchanging money at a Bureau de Change.  It is safer to limit withdrawals or currency exchanges to small sums, and to only use cashpoints during daylight hours and inside shops or malls.  Be especially vigilant when leaving a Bureau de Change as there have been incidents of people being followed and attacked.

Short-term opportunistic kidnapping – called “express kidnapping” – is frequent and increasing in urban areas, particularly in Mexico City.  Victims are required to withdraw funds from credit or debit cards at a cashpoint to obtain their release.  Where victims have friends or relatives living locally, a ransom may be demanded from them.

Longer-term kidnapping for financial gain also occurs, and there have been allegations of complicity by police officers.  You should be cautious and discrete about openly discussing your financial or business affairs.

Be wary of strangers approaching you in person or contacting you by telephone, requesting personal information or financial help.  They may be part of a scam operation.  In particular, be wary of persons presenting themselves as police officers attempting to fine or arrest you for no apparent reason.  There have been instances of visitors becoming victims of theft, extortion or sexual assault by persons who may or may not be police officers.  When in doubt, ask for identification and if possible note the officer's name, badge number, and patrol car number.

Drug related violence has increased in northern border states, Sinaloa and Acapulco.  In February 2007, in two separate drug related incidents, police officers and government officials were killed in Acapulco. Additionally in Acapulco, foreign tourists have been caught up in drug related crimes in early 2007.  British nationals have not to date been affected.  However you are advised to be extra vigilant within these areas.

On 1 September 2006, two grenades were thrown at the door of the offices of the PorEsto! newspaper in Merida, on the Yucatan peninsular.  One grenade exploded, breaking windows and injuring three employees.  Military personnel disarmed the other device. The authorities blamed the attack on drug related violence.

Around 140 cases of stolen passports are reported to the Embassy every year.

Political Situation

We advise caution when travelling to  Oaxaca City.  Since May 2006, there have been a number of protests in the city of Oaxaca, some of which have turned violent.  On Friday 27 October 2006, several people were wounded and three killed including a U.S. journalist.  On 28 October 2006, 3500 federal police were deployed to the city to restore law and order.  There was increased violence over the weekend of 25-26 November 2006. Several buildings were set alight, including the Supreme Court of Justice in Oaxaca and a number of hotels. Dozens of people were injured in the clashes.  On 16 December, the federal police began to withdraw from the city. The situation is now calm, although there is the potential for further demonstrations and disturbances, which could become violent.  The rest of the state of Oaxaca (including the resorts of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco) is largely unnaffected.  You are advised to monitor local media reports if travelling to the state of Oaxaca.

Political demonstrations can occur across the country.  These can be tense, confrontational and turn violent, and onlookers can be quickly drawn in.  You should avoid all demonstrations and monitor local media.

The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and participation in activities such as demonstrations may result in detention and/or deportation.
Mexico Country Profile

Local Travel

Exercise particular caution if you have to travel after dark, and keep away from isolated beaches, ruins or trails at all times.

There is still tension in parts of the state of Chiapas, where armed groups are present.  If you visit the highlands around San Cristobal de lasCasas and the municipality of Ocosingo and the jungle area towards the Guatemalan border, you should exercise caution, particularly where crowds are gathered, and should not venture off main roads without seeking local advice.

Road Safety

The Mexican style of driving and standards are very different from the UK.  Be prepared to stop unexpectedly, and beware of potholes, slow moving vehicles, vehicles changing lane without indicating and going through red lights.  Many local drivers do not have any form of car insurance.  Keep your car doors locked at all times and the windows shut, especially at traffic lights.

Sea Safety

If you visit Mexican beach resorts, you should be aware that sports and aquatic equipment may not meet UK safety standards and may not be covered with any accident insurance.  This applies particularly to scuba diving, parasailing and jet-ski.  Check that your own travel insurance covers these activities if you decide to rent equipment or take classes.


LOCAL LAWS AND CUSTOMS

Do not become involved with drugs of any kind in any way.  Penalties for drug offences are severe.  Convictions carry very long sentences – up to 25 years.


ENTRY REQUIREMENTS

British tourists visiting Mexico need a passport valid for at least six months from the intended date of entry and should obtain a tourist card (known as the "FMT") available from Mexican Consulates, Mexican international airports and border crossing points and most airlines serving Mexico.
Families with children should note that since January 2005, it is no longer required that minors travelling alone or with only one parent needing to have a notarised letter from their parents.  Minors only need a valid passport to fulfil the general migration requirements applied to their nationality.
Tourists are not permitted to undertake voluntary work or any form of paid employment.
Certain adventure or eco-tourism activities (eg caving, potholing, entomology) may require visas especially if they involve any scientific or technological research.  Be aware that the Mexican authorites may define scientific or technological research activities far more broadly than other countries.  If in any doubt, you should check carefully with the Mexican Representation in London well in advance of your visit and request written confirmation if necessary.
You should not bring meat or dairy products to Mexico.  The importation of these products from the EU is prohibited.


HEALTH

You should have comprehensive travel and medical insurance when you visit Mexico.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.  Please see Travel Insurance.  Be aware that not all hospitals will agree to deal directly with medical insurance companies and you should be prepared to pay for treatment yourself up front and then seek a refund.

Public hospitals are usually understaffed and under funded, which affects the quality of the treatment offered.

We strongly recommend you should drink bottled (not tap) water.  Ice is frequently made from tap water.  Food and unbottled drinks sold by street vendors are also likely to be unsafe.

On arrival in Mexico City and other high altitude areas, you may feel a lack of energy, shortness of breath or headaches.  Allow for a short period of adjustment when making your travel plans.

Malaria and dengue fever are endemic in low-lying rural areas of Mexico and outbreaks can occur throughout the year.  If you plan to visit these areas, before travelling there you should seek medical advice about suitable anti-malarial medication and on arrival take adequate precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes.  More than three-quarters of British travellers who contracted malaria in 2005 did not take preventive measures, such as malaria prevention tablets.  However, malaria can occur despite appropriate prevention, and therefore you should promptly seek medical care in the event of a fever or flu-like illness in the first year following your return from travelling to a malaria risk country.  Before travelling you should seek medical advice about the malaria risk in Mexico.

You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.  For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at: www.dh.gov.uk.

NATURAL DISASTERS
In October 2006, the Tecan Uman border Crossing on the Mexican/Guatemalan border was temporarily closed due to heavy rain, mudslides and flooding, particularly on the Guatemalan side of the border.

The hurricane season in Mexico normally runs from June to November and can affect both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.  You should monitor local and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation.  You can also access the National Hurricane Center website at:  http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.  Please see Hurricanes for more detailed information about what to do if you are caught up in a hurricane.

Heavy rainfall could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides over areas of mountainous terrain.  Visitors to the affected areas should keep in close touch with their travel operators and should also follow the advice of the Mexican authorities who are actively monitoring the situation.

The Yucatan Peninsula was hit by Hurricane Wilma between 21-23 October 2005.  Cancun, Riviera Maya and Cozumel all suffered damage.  Nearly all the damage has now been repaired.  Cancun airport, many hotels and most other tourist facilities are operating normally.

Most of Mexico is subject to earthquakes and tremors occur regularly.  The last major earthquake in Mexico took place in January 2003 affecting the city and state of Colima.

The Popocatepetl and Colima volcanoes are active and they are closed to the public.  There are danger zones around both, the size of which can change depending on the current level of activity.  Updated information on their current status can be found at:  http://www.cenapred.unam.mx/mvolcan.html for Popocatepetl (reports available in English) and http://www.ucol.mx/volcan/boletin for Colima (reports in Spanish only).


GENERAL

If things go wrong when overseas please see:  What We Can Do To Help.

English is not widely spoken outside the main cities.  Basic Spanish phrases are essential.

The police sometimes ask foreigners to show some form of identification.  You may wish to carry photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport and important documents and leave the originals in a safe place.

Building specifications are different in Mexico.  In some hotels, balcony balustrades may not be at the same height as you would find in the UK or elsewhere in Europe and there is a risk of falling.

Before buying property in Mexico, you should seek advice from a reputable and professionally qualified lawyer.
Money
American Dollar travellers' cheques and notes are more easily exchanged throughout Mexico than sterling equivalents.  But UK debit and credit cards are widely accepted, including by ATMs.