Mexico Travel Warning in Perspective
U.S. State Department Travel Warning for Mexico
Mexico Travel Warning
Something to think about before you read:
The average homicide rate for the U.S. is 4.7 per 100,000 people. The homicide rate for US Nationals visiting Mexico in 2013 was 0.57 per 100,000. This means you are more than 8 times more likely to be murdered in your own country than on a trip to Mexico.
Updated January 26, 2014 2013 was a big year for tourism in Mexico. The black cloud that developed over the Mexican travel industry following the eruption of drug violence in 2007 seems to have passed. Positive news and publicity for travel to Mexico, along with the steadily improving economy have brought back the North American Tourists in record numbers, particularly to Baja California Sur.
By 2018 the Travel Industry is expected to be the #3 contributor to Mexico's Gross National Product. Today, Mexico is the #3 employer of persons in the travel industry with nearly 4 million participants, nearly 3 times that of the United States. Only India and China, much more populace nations, have more travel related jobs in their economies.
So, don't for a moment think that the Mexican government is going to ignore the importance and safety of travel in Mexico.
The biggest impediment to US travel to Mexico remains the WHTI (Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative) begun under the Bush administration, which now requires passports for travel to Mexico. More accurately stated, requires passports to return to the US from travel to Mexico. A decade later only about 30% of Americans hold passports, the other 70% apparently aren't going to get up from an episode of "Duck Dynasty" to get a passport and go blanket shopping inTijuana.
Two new groups of international travelers pushed their way into the significant statistics in 2013, visitors to Mexico from China and Japan were the two fastest growing segments.
Let's put the Mexico Travel Warning issued by the United States Department of State on July 12, 2013 in perspective. It is a continuation, with revisions, of the travel warning that has been in effect since February of 2008.
Bad things can happen to you anywhere, even in your own home town. I certainly would not try to say that anywhere in Mexico is as safe as San Diego, one of the safest cities in the U.S. But you have a far better chance of being struck by lightening or winning the lottery than having a negative experience in your visit to Mexico.
A visit to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit or Houston could certainly be considered more perilous than a trip to most locations in Mexico. In Baja California only Tijuana even comes closes to as perilous as the above mentioned cities.
I can not tell you that Baja is as crime free as before, but perhaps in the same breath I can tell you that Baja is as safe to come visit as ever before.
The information in this article come from some of the most reliable sources available, including the FBI, World Health Organization and U.S. State Department.
There was great disparity in information from other sites on the internet, each with a unique political or monetary perspective. Great effort was put into collaborating the facts written here.
Here are the facts about Mexico travel and living:
• Mexico returned to the #1 position as an international destination for Americans, bumping Canada to 2nd place.
• Mexico returned to the top 10 international destinations world wide in 2013.
• Mexico is the #1 location for North Americans living abroad, with 1 million Americans and more than 400,000 Canadians calling Mexico home, part or full time.
• More than 15 million Americans visited Mexico in 2013. more than 150,000 US citizens cross the border into Mexico daily.
• Cabo San Lucas became the #1 International Travel Destination on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
• 81 Americans were reported murdered in Mexico in 2013, up from 71 in 2012. That is a homicide rate 1/8th that of the US average and a little more than 1/4 of the Canadian average. You are significantly less likely to be murdered on vacation in Mexico than at home.
• The vast majority of the murders in Mexico in the last 7 years are directly related to the drug trade, and are not against tourists.
• Baja California Sur is one of the safest states in Mexico. Huge strides have also been made in Baja California since 2007 and tourist incidents remain rare.
• What is being done about the problem
Over the last couple of years headlines in Mexican and international press have highlighted great progress in Mexico's war against the cartels. Arrest headline now overshadow the headlines of body counts and horrific deaths.
Every time I update this article I receive a laundry list of particular events in Baja complied by an anti-Mexico travel group. Let me be perfectly clear, bad things to happen to tourists in Mexico. But more expat Americans and Canadians call Mexico home than any other location, nearly a million and a half of them. More Americans will visit Mexico this month than visit England in a year. Statistically speaking you are far more likely to be struck by lightening near your home than be the victim of a violent crime in Mexico. To improve your odds we have some tips below to protect your vacation.
Despite the blathering of some radio talk personalities and has been politicians clamoring for attention, Mexico is not in Civil War, nor on the verge of lawlessness.
Note to all "Americans"
At several places in this article I refer to U.S. citizens as "Americans" Before you waste your time to write in, I will point out in advance that this is not an oversight.
Although "Americans" can refer to anyone who is resident of the American continents The Oxford Dictionary of Modern English states that since World War II the word "American" can specifically refer to a citizen of the U.S.A.
Want to prove it? Just ask someone from Toronto in Paris if they are an American!
Traveling to Mexico
Mexico has suffered a drop in tourism since the implementation of WHITI, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiate, implemented by former president Bush, requiring passports of citizens to re-enter the US. Mexico's walk-across traffic for shopping in border towns dropped dramatically, but the country remains the #2 travel destination for Americans after Canada.
More US travelers visited Mexico in 2012 than almost all the countries of Europe combined. That is about 10 times that which visited Great Britain in 2012, the #1 European destination. Mexico fell from the world wide tourist destination top 10 in 2012, not because Mexico travel decreased, but because of the increased popularity of Europe, during the Euro downturn. Tourism in Mexico rose by 5.6% in 2012.
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) took some responsibility for the decline of international travel as well. More than 70% of travelers surveyed who expressed dissatisfaction with their travel plans blamed treatment and delays caused by these US agencies for their bad trip experiences.
Only about 30% of Americans hold passports. The U.S. is a big country with a wide variety of destinations. But it is very likely that this low percentage of international travelers from the States is why the population has a low understanding of international politics and other cultures. The U.S. has the lowest percentage of international passport holders of any industrialized country. Get out and meet the world folks! This author has visited more than 70 countries in the last 30 years.
With the number of people traveling to Mexico, the occasional story of a ghastly tourist crime need to be taken in perspective. You are more than 10 times more likely to be struck by lightening and 100 times more likely to win the California lottery than you are to be affected by a violent crime in Mexico. Petty theft is the #1 crime against tourists in Mexico according the PGR (equivalent to the FBI in Mexico)
Living in Mexico
More than 1 million US citizens and about half again that number of Canadians live part or full time in Mexico. It is believed that up to 80% of them live in Baja California and Baja California Sur. Mexico is home to more US expatriates than any other nation by a huge margin. The number of North Americans living in Mexico dipped in 2009 and 2010, as some folks returned north of the border, liquidating their assets in Mexico. A recent survey by a Mexican real estate interest found that the vast majority returned for financial reasons, while some admitted to having sold out for concerns of personal security.
I have lived in La Paz, now in my second decade. I speak Spanish fairly well. I consider this a significant factor in your enjoyment, if not safety in a Mexico adventure. Without a doubt, La Paz has endured an increase in crime since my first version of this article in 2007. We had our first mass murder in 2013, with 7 bodies found in one grave. The culprit was captured and connections to drug sales and distribution was proven with all 7 dead. 2013 will likely show an increase in the homicide rate in Baja Sur, but it remains below that of most U.S. states. We also had the 'hit' of a Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix in Cabo San Lucas in October. Felix was a 'retired' member of the Arellano Felix Cartel, the arrest of his two younger brothers a few years ago caused the power vacuum that has lead to the past few years of drug violence.
What puts this all in perspective is that more than 3.5 million people live in the norther state of Baja California and another 700,000 live in Baja California Sur. The vast majority of these inhabitants live in the urban areas; Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada, La Paz and Cabo San Lucas. If you look at the crime statistics for any location with 3.5 million people you find the results very favorable for the peninsula. Bad things happen everywhere, do you want to spend the rest of your life under your bed?
PGR statistics show that foreigners living in Mexico are just slightly less likely to be affected by petty crime per capita than their Mexican neighbor and dramatically less likely to be affected by violent crime. But that is because few foreigners are cartel members.
Kidnapping has become an industry in parts of Mexico and the recovery rate of victims remains a concern. But the kidnapping of tourists remains rare it does in fact happen. The usual victims are prominent business people or doctors, from which a known ransom can be extracted. Although there have been incidents of this here in Baja, it remains very unusual. Statistics show that if you are a victim, the time to resist is the moment of abduction. This crime is more common on the mainland in Acapulco, Mexico City, Veracruz and Monterrey.
Where NOT to Visit in Mexico
Many Americans are most familiar with Mexico in terms of day trips over the border to cities like Tijuana, Mexicali, Nogales and C.D. Juarez. If dozens of trips to these border cities makes you think you know Mexico, you're wrong.
For reference, dangerous US Cities like Detroit had a homicide rate of 47 per 100K. The US as a whole has fallen to a low 4.7 per 100K. Mexico has risen to 23.7 per 100K. CD Juarez had a 148 per 100K rate and Acapulco had a 114 per 100K.
Once again, Mexicali was the most dangerous per capita city on the peninsula and Tijuana tied with Philadelphia.
But all this in perspective, as stated above, a tourist in Mexico faces a 0.5 per 100K risk. Statistics show a North American is safer on vacation in Mexico than you are at home.
For Canadians you are just slightly safer, your homicide rate is 1.6 per 100,000. But we're a lot warmer!
Choosing Your Destination Wisely
Would you avoid Disney World in Florida for the crime ridden New Orleans or Baltimore? I think not. Mexico is a big country, and like the States, has its problem locations. Certainly, anyone who has lived in a metropolitan area has portions of their own city that is more dangerous than nearly all of Baja.
C.D. Juarez, a battle ground for the cartels, had a significant drop in the murder rate per capita in 2012. Juarez, Nogales, Mexicali, and Tijuana enjoyed millions of tourists in 'walk-across' traffic in the years prior to WHITI. Dirty, crime ridden and poverty stricken these border towns were unfortunately the impression of Mexico that many Americans walked away with. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Acapulco was once one of the shining stars of Mexico travel but with dirty beaches, decades old hotels and as a weekend get-away for cartel middle management it is a destination informed North Americans should reconsider. Mazatlan has also earned a negative reputation for crimes against tourists.
Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the Yucatan are very popular with the more than 90 million people living in the Atlantic Corridor on the East coast of the U.S. There has been an increase of crime in some of these east coast locations, but when examining the numbers, it really isn't significant as the press would lead you to believe.
Much of the western U.S. and Canada choose Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta as their vacation get-away. More than 35,000 people per month visit Cabo San Lucas by air and another significant number by cruise ship. Crimes against tourists have increased in Los Cabos and made headlines. But when measured against the population and number of visitors since the city had a palapa covered airport, they have actually decreased per capita.
Mexico is a rapidly advancing country with dramatic architecture, a growing technology sector and a focus on the health and education of its population. With the expansion of credit and infrastructure investment Mexico's economy will grow two to three times faster than the U.S. in 2013 and the country will become one of the worlds top 10 economies by 2020.
A Real Look at the Statistics
I will reiterate that I am not saying a trip to Mexico is as safe as a trip to San Diego, it just isn't true. But with millions of visitors every year to Mexico, there are plenty of vacation destinations that would be statistically safer than say a trip to Anaheim, California to visit Disneyland! (and less expensive too!)
Headlines recently announced that more than 26,000 people have disappeared in the drug war over the last 6 years and another 45,000 are estimated to have been killed. In perspective again, more than 35,000 people per year go permanently missing in the U.S.
I could not find comparable murder stats for 2011, but in 2012 the U.S. murder rate was 4.7 per 100,000 and Mexico's was 19.4 per 100,000. 2012 was a particularly bad year for Mexico and the cartel drug war. If you deduct the 'soldiers' (police and criminals) in the drug war from these numbers on both sides of the border, the US and Mexico were tenths of a percent apart. The lesson here is Mexico is only a lot more dangerous if you work for the Cartels.
Baja California Sur is expressly NOT maligned in the most recent Travel Warning for Mexico from the US State Department. Baja Sur has been mostly exempt from the Cartel war and has a crime rate lower than most US states. The state is well aware that tourism is one of the mainstays of the economy, following agriculture, and has worked hard to protect its image.
Petty crime against tourists has in fact risen. Tourists are easy marks for criminals worldwide and petty crime traditionally rises during economic down-turns. Being a smart tourist can protect you anywhere you travel.
Being a Smart Tourist.
Due to their innate sense of security at home, Americans tend to be less aware of their surroundings when traveling than they should be. In a recent survey of hotel concierges worldwide, Americans were rated as the most poorly dressed and 2nd most obnoxious group of tourists. Keeping your eyes open and not standing out as an 'Ugly American", in both senses of the word, is a good first step.
Exploring bad neighborhoods anywhere, from San Diego to Bombay can be exciting, culturally educational and deadly. Choose your adventures wisely. Checking out that dive bar in Ensenada or Cancun, drunkenness in public, standout clothing or jewelry or just being a loud American can result in negative attention.
What is Being Done
For ages the populace response to crime and corruption in Mexico by Mexicans has been, "That's just the way it is." However, the past few years have seen a popular uprising of voices for change in both the system and a demand for action by authorities. Demonstrations have occurred right here in Baja California Sur by entire towns, calling for more effective policing.
The presidential elections in Mexico also brought rhetoric about the direction of crime fighting in the country. The winner, Enrique Peña Nieto took office with a pledge to curtail concern for the flow of drugs to the U.S. while stepping up the protection of Mexican citizens and how the crimes of the Cartel effect Mexico.
Corruption in government has long been seen as an institution in Mexico. Steps have been taken in nearly every aspect of government from education to immigration to standardize enforcement and make transparent the actions of government offices. When visitors to Mexico complain about being extorted $500 pesos by the cop on the corner they should recall a much larger extortion of more than $1 trillion dollars received by the U.S. banking community under two administrations. In Mexico it seems to be just more in your face.
Handling Military Checkpoints in Mexico Mexico Travel Requirements
Baja Road Report
Police Corruption in Baja
The bottom line here is that Mexico is not a vacation or relocation destination to be feared. Be smart, select your destination wisely and remain alert, because as a tourist you are a stand out minority. But despite the more than 150 years of abuse heaped on Mexico by it's northern neighbor Mexicans remain a joyful, friendly and welcoming people who appreciate the travel dollars of their guests.
Come visit us here in Baja, it is an odds on favorite you will be glad you did!