Safety in Mexico

In Mexico, Safety Comes Through the People

Not being attuned to, and exposed to the major safety problems of a new country, when you first arrive you can feel a false sense of security. Mexico is a safe place, but this comes in different ways than in the US and Canada.


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Safety is an important issue to most Mexicans. Those who study English often misuse the word “insecurity” to describe “safety issues.” In Spanish, the word “inseguridad“ means the opposite of security. It is something that they talk and think a lot about. Early in 2005 there was a march of thousands of people from all over Mexico in Mexico City to protest the amount of inseguridad that they are forced to live with.

I feel less safe in Mexico than I did in the US. I often try to challenge myself to think about what is driving this perception. It’s all perception anyway. As we all know, we feel like it’s safer to ride in a car than an airplane, while statistics tell us that it’s the opposite. Besides, I force myself to admit that we leave our gate unlocked and our front door open all day and late into the night. The fact is, it is my neighbors and our mutual trust relationship that makes me feel secure in my home.

Here, if anything happened, there are about 6 people within shouting distance. They would all come running to help me out, if I needed it. In the Pacific Northwest, I never even had that many neighbors who knew my name! I spent 10 months as a college student in a basement apartment and didn’t know one SINGLE PERSON on the whole street!

On the other hand, I’ve heard more news of tragedies in the three years since moving to Cuernavaca, than I ever heard in all my 25 years living in my home state. Granted, I never lived in the inner city, but still the contrast is a shock.

In the United States I put my trust in services, such as 911 and the police and fire departments. Safety services in Mexico are under-funded and understaffed. The personnel who administer them are likely under-trained. There is also less public education about the use of these services. The general public expects the worst out of the police departments and expects very little out of other departments. Therefore, in Mexico I put my trust in the people around me. You should create a network of people around you. You should also learn which public safety services are available in Mexico.

The good news is that statistics tell us that most crimes are committed against cars. If you have a car in Mexico you MUST learn about car security in Mexico.

When I first moved to Mexico I was overwhelmed by the amount of home security in evidence. People have 20 foot high walls with razor wire on the top and exposed windows are tightly barred. Protecting your home in Mexico is very important due to the lack of public security services namely the police.

Hands down, the most terrifying crime common in Mexico is kidnapping. There are a few things you can do to Minimize your risk of becoming a kidnapping victim and to protect your children.

All of this said, I have an anecdote that shows perfectly how things always work out very well in Mexico. My husband was riding his bike at about 30 miles per hour down a hill (wearing a helmet, by the way) when a taxi driver pulled out in front of him and he hit the taxi. He launched into the air and hit the ground with a painful scream. This is the bad part. The good part is that right at that moment a man happened to be crossing the street. The man was a paramedic. My husband received stellar, professional help right in the moment he needed it. This may sound like a lucky break. It’s not. Take it from me, lucky breaks are to be expected in Mexico.

David Eidell has a wonderful article on safety in Mexico. He explains the way the people themselves are your best safety providers.

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Here is a web site dedicated to safety in Mexico.

MarioSecurity Corner offers  International Visitors a unique free service: Staying SAFE, in Mexico, promoting the Culture of Crime Prevention. Our monthly column is recommended by the Washington Post’s TRAVEL Section, International Destinations’ Experts’ Safety Tips and Q&A Advisory,more than 20 of the most prestigious newspapers, specialized Travel magazines in the world. We do not represent any commercial, political or governmental interests. Credibility is an Incentive: our only concern is your personal safety.

2 comments

  1. Sandra Szczepanski de Flores Jan 5

    Julia,

    I find that i have posted a lot on your site in the past hour, maybe it’s just that i’m relieved that someone out there feels like i do!

    I have now lived in 3 mexican states; Michoacan (cotija), Veracruz (Poza Rica) and now Nuevo Leon (Santiago). Cotija is one of the towns that houses the michoacana family, Poza Rica is a battle ground for 2 mafias fighting for the territory and Santiagos mayor and 20 police officers were killed a few months ago because they opposed the Mafia, also it’s only a 2 hour drive to the border (laredo Tx). Knowing this I should feel terrified to live here but it’s just the opposite. I find this country very safe, the mafia rarely kill/attack civilians and unless you walk around waving dollars and screaming “I’M AMERICAN!!!!” people won’t kidnap you. I’m a 27 year old white female who speaks little spanish and I have travelled around the country by myself extensivly and i have NEVER had a problem.

    I don’t lock my doors, my back door is always unlocked. My husband, who is mexican, on the other hand locks and double locks everything and told me once to not open the door when he’s not home.. i laughed at him. I also asked him why he is so paranoid, has he been robbed, has his house ever been broken into? no and no. he has never had anyone jump him on the street, he has never had a break in, yet he is paranoid, the media has done a great job scaring people. everyone needs to relax.

    I do agree that the police are very corrupt but my new husband explained something to me that I find helpful.

    Policia municpal are the lowest paid officers, they are the most corrupt, their average salary is 5000 pesos a month, if you were making that and knew that you could more than triple your income wouldn’t you take bribes too?

    policia estado are rarely seen but these are next on the ladder.

    Policia Federal make a decent salary so you can trust these guys more

    Army, these guys are paid wel land their training is superb, it is actually in their contract that if they betray the government, the government can execute them. they mean business and more often then not they’re really nice guys, i always smile and wave at them

    i also agree that you should know your neighbours because they will be the ones to help you in an emergency. Mexicans are much friendlier and more willing to help a stranger than an american or canadian (i’m canadian) I actually dropped 20pesos while i was walking one day and a man ran up to me to return it, honestly if a 20$ had fallen out of a bag in canada i would have pocketed it.

    I love the people here, and as corrupt as the cops are, I have found them helpful, esspecially with directions!

  2. Julia Taylor Jan 7

    Sandra,

    Thanks for your comment on safety. It’s important for readers right now, with the terrible media coverage Mexico is receiving. Of course, every shooting in every US city doesn’t get blasted all over U.S. and Canadian television — and there are plenty of them! It’s good to hear that you still feel safe there. At the same time, are you sure that it’s the media that has scared your husband? Husbands don’t always come home and report tidbits from conversations that they had during the day. When I was in Mexico (I live in Canada now), I felt safe in my house, on my street, but I didn’t feel safe about letting my child out of my sight for a millisecond. I heard so many, many stories about kidnapping, and they did not all have happy endings. I suggest that you have some open-ended dialog with your husband and also with other trusted friends who know your town and state well, just to be sure that you have a grasp of the whole situation.

    Kindest Regards,

    Julia C Taylor

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