Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

Mexico has been in the headlines quite a bit recently, with multiple earthquakes and some high profile kidnappings. In the latest of our ‘Is it safe to…?‘ series, and as part of our ongoing coverage, we asked several experts if it is safe to visit.

One of the topics not mentioned below is alcohol poisoning at tourist resorts. There have been multiple cases of tourists blacking out after having one or two drinks at hotel bars – far below the level of alcohol normally associated with this. We highly recommend you research this more before booking your accommodation.

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Mexico from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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Laura Sharp at Healix International and HX Global

Email address: GSOC@healix.com
Website: http://www.healix-international.com/
Twitter: @healix_security

Laura is a London-based Regional Security Coordinator at Healix International and HX Global focused on The Americas. Healix International and HX Global are leading providers of global travel risk management and international medical, security and travel assistance services.

How safe is it to visit Mexico?

Overall we consider Mexico to be a moderate risk country, rated 3 on a 5 tier scale, although within the country there are a range of different security environments to consider, each with varying threats and potential risks. Most travellers will find themselves in areas with a higher presence of security forces as the Mexican government makes efforts to protect major tourist and business destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Acapulco amongst others. Thus, these high-profile tourist areas do not usually see the same levels of drug-related violence and crime experienced elsewhere. However, even with the government efforts, these comparatively safer locations are not immune from the cartels and in January 2018, 5,000 additional security personnel were announced to have been deployed in various cities including Cancun following an uptick in violent crime since the New Year.

It is generally safe to travel to Mexico and most people will travel without incident, but time spent researching your potential destinations and associated risks before travel is highly recommended and there are some simple precautions that can be put in place to mitigate several risks.

What are the biggest risks?

Crime.
The biggest risk to most travellers throughout Mexico will be crime. In areas frequented by tourists and business travellers, there are higher rates of opportunistic crime such as pickpocketing and mugging. Typical targets for this type of crime will be tourists busy taking in the sights and paying less attention to their own security; leaving bags unattended on the back of chairs or valuables out on display on the beach.

Violent crime is statistically less common and predominantly affects the local population, although cartel related attacks and violence can be indiscriminate and have increasingly been seen in public areas, elevating the incidental risk to bystanders.

Kidnap.
The primary targets for kidnap are local nationals, rather than foreign travellers. However there is a growing trend in Mexico for visitors to be targeted by criminals in events of ‘express kidnapping’ – where the victim is held against their will for a short period of time and taken from cash point to cash point to withdraw the maximum amount possible until their card is blocked.

To lower the chances of being targeted, travellers should avoid walking alone after dark or along quieter streets, and should only use ATMs inside hotels or bank buildings rather than on the street.

What are the overlooked risks?

Whilst not an immediate risk to personal security, travellers who find themselves in need of medical attention in Mexico should take care to attend a private facility where possible. The public healthcare system in Mexico is often overcrowded and under-resourced. Travellers should also contact their travel insurance or employer as soon as possible or expect to have to pay upfront for treatment. Businesses should ensure travelling staff are made aware of preferred medical facilities in the region before embarking on their journey.

How should people mitigate this?

Depending on the destination, the profile of the traveller and appetite for risk, mitigation procedures can vary greatly and employers sending their staff overseas should seek bespoke, itinerary-specific advice where possible. The advice below is not exhaustive but may significantly reduce the likelihood and potential impact of a security incident.

  • Care should be taken to avoid overt displays of wealth such as jewellery or watches to minimise the risks of being targeted by petty criminals.
  • Taxis should be booked through your hotel if possible or use better regulated ‘sitio’ taxis from authorised cab ranks. They should not be hailed on the street and unlicensed or ‘libre’ taxis should not be used.
  • If driving outside of major cities avoid isolated roads and use toll roads (‘cuotas’) whenever possible. They are quicker and see lower rates of vehicular crime or illegal roadblocks.
  • Protests are common in Mexico and the authorities have occasionally been known to resort to violence. Travellers should monitor local news and social media to stay up to speed on developments that may result in civil unrest. Where possible, liaise with local contacts and avoid all protests if they occur.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Mexico have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the operating environment that they are sending their staff to and that there is a robust travel risk management program in place covering all eventualities. Responsibility for staff overseas should be delegated to specific individuals in accordance with local knowledge and expertise. Alternatively, employers can outsource this task to an organisation such as Healix, who have dedicated intelligence and operational teams monitoring developments and who maintain a network of local contacts capable to assist in protection or emergency response.

Employees who travel to Mexico should ask to be briefed on the risks of travel to their specific destinations prior to departure, and ensure that they are familiar with company protocols in place for what to do if they are in need of assistance. Ensure there is a designated point of contact for the trip and that they have a reliable means of communication available.

A colourful array of cactus accompanies this piece in which experts explain some of the travel safety risks facing visitors to Mexico.

Image by Thomas Verbruggen on Unsplash

Emil de Carvalho, Executive Director at S-RM

Email address: info@s-rminform.com
Website: www.s-rminform.com

Emil de Carvalho is an Executive Director at S-RM, working out of the company’s New York and Rio de Janeiro offices.  S-RM is a risk consulting firm that works with leading businesses, governments and private clients worldwide.

How safe is it to visit Mexico?

From a personal security perspective, it would be misleading to provide a one-size-fits-all answer for a country as diverse and complex as Mexico.  Situational awareness is key: be aware of local threats and your own personal exposure and vulnerabilities; know where you are going and how you are going to get there safely; know what to do and who to call if things go wrong.

The security situation in Mexico can be remarkably dynamic – yesterday’s tourist spot may be today’s no-go zone, and vice versa.  It is important to inform yourself of the current local conditions at your destination.

What are the biggest risks?

In up-market neighbourhoods of Mexico City, other large cities and tourist areas, the main risks are opportunistic street crimes – muggings, pickpocketing and car-jackings.  Travellers should maintain low profiles and avoid flaunting overt signs of wealth. Travellers should also monitor credit card statements closely, or activate alert messages to flag fraudulent activities, since credit card cloning and similar scams are common.

Kidnapping and extortion are serious problems in Mexico, but generally affect Mexicans and residents rather than travellers.

What are the overlooked risks?

Travellers should be aware of the hazards caused by natural disasters.  Mexico has several active and dormant volcanoes, is frequently hit by hurricanes along both its Eastern and Western coastlines, and is subject to significant seismic activity.

How should people mitigate this?

Travellers should be aware of local conditions, especially during hurricane season or when travelling close to non-extinct volcanoes.  Staying in newer, well-established international hotels may be safer since they are more likely to withstand most tremors.  Keeping a ‘grab bag’ with personal documents, money, a good flashlight, water, snacks, cell phone back up battery and charger, etc. is a sensible precaution.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Mexico have in place?

Employers should start with a risk assessment of where their staff work, travel, live and socialise.  Vulnerabilities can be corrected, based on the results of the assessment, and in line with the organisation’s general risk appetite.  An organisation with employees visiting Mexico City on an ad hoc basis may choose to provide them with security awareness training, reservations at international hotels and a trusted car and driver, for example.  A company sending employees to remote areas of states such as Veracruz or Tabasco, would probably choose to implement much more robust security measures.

What should employees ask for?

Three key things:

1) Information on what to expect when travelling to Mexico.  What are the local dangers and annoyances?  How does Mexico differ to where they currently live?  What precautions should they take?  This should ideally be imparted pre-departure, with a more detailed training session in Mexico for longer-term visitors, once they have arrived.

2) On-the-ground support with on-going advice on local conditions and resources, to maintain an acceptable personal security posture.

3)  Reassurance that measures are in place to assist the employee and their families should be they become victims of serious crime or be affected by natural disasters or medical emergencies in Mexico.

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