Laura Sharp, Regional Security Coordinator for the Americas at Healix International comments on the risks involved when visiting 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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