Is it safe to travel to Mexico? This is typically one of the first questions I get asked once someone finds out that I live in Mexico. As a female expat living on my own, safety and security is especially important to me and I wanted to address these concerns based on my experience living in Playa del Carmen.
I’ve now been living in Playa for over six months and have stayed at all-inclusive resorts many times. I’m a blonde. I’m a female. I definitely stand out here. But based on my experience so far, my answer is yes, I do believe it is safe to travel to Mexico. Does crime exist? The answer is also yes. I’m definitely not naïve to the fact that there are crime related incidents in the Playa del Carmen and Cancun areas. However, from my experience the incidents seem to be more targeted and drug-related, and tourists are rarely involved.
Petty crime and theft does exist, especially in a vacation town where tourists are more prone to relax and indulge in alcoholic beverages, but I haven’t found that Mexico is any more dangerous than living in a large city in the United States. In fact, I moved to Mexico from downtown Chicago, which has one of the highest crime rates in the country.
As in any other place, I think it’s important to use common sense and always be vigilant of your surroundings. For example, I’m always sure to hold on securely to my purse and cell phone, especially when walking down 5th Avenue or through crowded areas. If I’m walking home at night, I’ll be sure to stick with friends or give someone a call, same as I did back in Chicago.
I know there’s a lot of media hype about crime related incidents in Mexico, especially on American news channels. I do think that the media does a good job at blowing many of these incidents out of proportion. Recently I saw a news story detailing a local crime and every article that I read relayed drastically different information. From the crime location to the victim’s nationality, the “facts” were all very different. One article alleged that the crime happened “blocks from the beach”. Keep in mind that the entire town of Playa del Carmen is “blocks from the beach” and the actual neighborhood that the crime occurred is not the safest neighborhood, or one that is frequented by tourists.
I think it’s important to remember that what the media portrays is not always accurate. And if local news stories can’t provide accurate information, you can only imagine how the information gets skewed on international news channels.
Mexico Travel Advisory
In regards to travel advisories, the U.S. Department of State has maintained the travel advisory for the state of Quintana Roo (where Playa del Carmen and Cancun are located) as a level 2 -“Exercise Increased Caution.” There are currently no travel restrictions for U.S. government employees. In fact, many of the tourist destinations in Mexico have the same level travel warning as destinations in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and China. More information can be found on the Department of State website here.
Exploitation and How to Avoid It
While I do believe it is safe to travel to Mexico, you also have to remember that Mexico is considered a third world country. There are many people that are struggling to make a living so the chances of exploitation are high. I have found that this can even be true of authority figures like police officers, military members, hospital workers, etc. I think that is one thing we take for granted in the United States, is that we rarely have to question the integrity of public service officers.
Now I’m definitely not saying that every authority figure in Mexico is corrupt, but it’s important to know that it does exist. Most tourists will not have much interaction with these types of figures or situations but generally speaking, it’s best to trust your instincts and if something seems off, don’t be afraid to question it. For visitors, this can be as simple as reviewing your restaurant bill, counting your change, confirming costs upfront, etc. I know it’s easy to feel rushed especially when you’re in an unfamiliar place, but just take your time and be careful not to be a target.
Since moving to Mexico, I’ve heard of a few common scams that I wanted to share so you know what to be on the lookout for and things to avoid.
Yes, this is a real thing. It’s a new scam that I read about that happens while you are waiting in line at Sam’s, Costco, etc. Basically someone comes up behind you and “accidentally” spills a ketchup packet on your shirt or clothing. They then offer to help you clean it by escorting you to the bathroom, where another accomplice is waiting to steal your money.
Mexico recently released a new $500 MXN bill that is blue in color. Since $20 MXN bills are also blue, I’ve heard of people, most commonly gas station attendants, that will try to return your $500 bill with a $20 bill in the hopes that you don’t notice.
When exiting the airport and looking for your prearranged airport transportation, someone will approach you and tell you that your airport transfer has been cancelled and that no other vehicles are available. They’ll even call the alleged “transfer company” and have you speak to an accomplice on the phone that acts as a reservation agent. They’ll then offer to drive you to your destination at an exorbiant rate.
So yes, crime does exist in Mexico, as it does in many tourist destinations around the world. But as long as you are cautious, use common sense, and avoid unsafe areas, I do believe it is safe to travel to Mexico. There were over 40 million visitors that traveled to Mexico last year and few have experienced problems with safety. In my opinion, there are just so many things to enjoy about Mexico—beautiful beaches, delicious food, and a vibrant culture—that I don’t think safety concerns should affect anyone’s decision to visit.