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SAFETY in MEXICO-TIPS & ADVICE!!!
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Prof.Gringo



Joined: 07 Nov 2006
Posts: 1931
Location: Paradise, Paradise, Paradise!

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:02 pm    Post subject: SAFETY in MEXICO-TIPS & ADVICE!!! Reply with quote

Here are some basic precautions in regards to safety and security.

Currency/Money

I believe that the safest way to carry cash, even safer then a credit/debit card is in the form of American Express travelers checks. Yes, they are a little harder to use, but they are much safer and more secure then cards. If you lose your card its going to take a while to get a new one, and that is going to be much more difficult or impossible in Mexico from a foreign bank. Don't leave home without it.

Never leave the house/apartment/hotel with more than you are willing to lose. Because of robberies, pick-pockets, and other assorted problems like corrupt cops, don't take more than you are willing to lose with you. I always leave my important ID's and take only a Mexican drivers license and enough cash for the day.

If you are in the Metro system, stay alert, don't let people shove and push you. Keep your wallet in your front pants pocket and keep your hand on it. Thieves will move on to an easier victim.

Kidnapping

Mexico is said to be the kidnapping capital of the world. This seems to rarely happen to foreign teachers here. Still, basic safety precautions should be taken. Don't carry credit/bank cards which can make you a target of an express kidnapping. Always use ATM's in a place where you feel safe, inside of a mall or store is often best. Beware of people lurking and watching for targets near ATM's.

Rip-offs

Always ask for the price before buying, trying or doing anything, especially in tourist areas. If you are in doubt, just put it back or say NO! There are many scams where locals try to rip-off tourists by charging an inflated price or even saying one thing and then changing the price after you have made a commitment. Be especially careful of an establishment that offers to allow you to run a tab. Refuse and pay for all items as they are ordered. Padding the bill in a bar or night club is a common way of getting ripped off. Better yet, don't drink and save yourself money and problems.

Taxis

Most taxis are safe and operated by people just trying to make an honest living. That being said, there have been untold numbers of crimes committed by taxi drivers and by others against people that got into the wrong cab. Be safe. Check the cab for the proper license, numbers, drivers taxi license/ID card (displayed in the window), and other signs of a legit cab. If a taxi has a meter ask the driver to turn it on as soon as you start to get into the cab. If he says it doesn't work, immediately exit the taxi. "Sitio" taxis are safer, because they are dispatched by a taxi stand and they record the taxi info. Public transit is usually the safest means of transportation because of the public nature of it.

Corruption

Paying a "mordida" or a bribe is a way of life in Mexico. Never offer to pay a bribe outright to a cop or public official. Always ask if there is "some other way" or if you can "pay an on the spot fine". You don't have to pay a bribe. You can refuse. Depending on the situation and if a crime was really committed, the police may just let you go, write you a ticket or take you to jail. Paying a mordida is often the best way to go.

Dress

Mexicans tend to dress conservative. If you want to blend in and avoid standing out so much dress like the locals do.

For men: a shirt with a collar, with a pair of pants (NOT shorts) and leather shoes will do the trick.

For women: Either a dress or skirt below the knee or pants (preferred if you don't want extra Wink attention) and a blouse/shirt with sleeves of some kind.

Food

Most of the places you might choose to eat are just fine. Do be aware that sanitation and hygiene standards are usually not on a par with back home. Use common sense and wash your hands. Remember, if the place you choose to eat doesn't have a place for you to wash your hands, the employees don't either!

Public Bathrooms
Finding a clean, decent bathroom can be a challenge. Sanborn's has the best ones. They are free, although it's expected to give a tip to the attendant (it's worth it).


Extra Tips:
Safety and violence are always something that will be debated about.
In Mexico City I don't usually feel unsafe. But I keep aware of my surroundings. I don't give off an air of "oh, I'm such a nice guy, let's be amigos". Nope. I have my war-face on in the Metro, for example and I keep my hand on my wallet. I also know the pick-pockets and street scum are going to see that and pass me by for easier pickings. Don't lug a copy of LP Mexico around with you and a camera around your neck while gawking at every vocho (VW bug) that passes by.

Trust your gut. If something feels like a bad place or feels unsafe, it probably is. Millions of years of evolution at work there.

What has people worried (My opinion) are the seemingly random shoot-outs and battles between narcos, police and the army. Again, a lot of that depends on where you are. I've yet to see any of that in Mexico City, except for the military convoys on the highways. But those (the convoys) are going somewhere either on a training mission or a real-op, but not in Mexico City it seems.

I've witnessed several robberies in broad daylight, 3 thugs robbing a guy on the side of a very busy central road with a knife to his throat...
Many of the street robberies happen when somebody withdraws cash from an isolated bank, esp. in industrial areas and after hours. Much better to do so in a commercial shopping plaza. Even better if there are 2-3 police (PBI in DF) standing out front with sub-machine guns. Use some common sense here.

Don't withdraw large amounts of cash from the bank. If you do, be careful. Many times a spotter will work the bank inside and then send a signal to his buddies outside to intercept somebody that has just made a large withdraw (that's why cellphone use is banned in banks).

Most crimes are not planned, but are crimes of opportunity. Don't give criminals opportunity and they will pass you by.

Small things can have a big impact. If you're really worried about getting mugged, buy some pepper spray, a kubotan works well (it's what I carry), and don't carry much of anything on you.

And yes, crossing the street is the most common way to get seriously injured or killed! Cars will hit you and just keep going.

Never carry a laptop in public, if you need to, use a backpack, not a laptop case.

Try to blend in. Kinda hard if you have blond hair, but it's still better than standing out even more.

Just stay aware of who and what is around you. Cool
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Guy Courchesne



Joined: 10 Mar 2003
Posts: 9381
Location: Mexico City

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pretty good! Nice and thorough, well reasoned.
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Enigma2011



Joined: 28 Dec 2010
Posts: 60

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent thread Prof. Gingo!!! I already feel safer in the DF. HAAA!
You should think about writing a book and selling it on lulu.com
I agree, people need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Avoid situations where you may have to resort to self defense. I stand out due to my beautiful, golden blonde hair but since I look like John Lennon and some say Chuck Norris, I don't worry about the cowardly criminals bothering me.
For the newbies coming to Mexico to teach,this is good information to have. Heed it and remember...criminals are a cowardly lot for the most part. That's why they hide behind guns and knives; their hand to hand skills are non existent. So just carry yourself with a lot of confidence and a look that says, please %&*# with me!! Twisted Evil
My 2 cents.
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Samantha



Joined: 25 Oct 2003
Posts: 2032
Location: Mexican Riviera

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

While this advice wouldn't be applicable to the entire country of Mexico, it seems appropriate for the big city.
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MotherF



Joined: 07 Jun 2010
Posts: 1082
Location: 17°48'N 97°46'W

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with Sam.

While within the country it is normal for people to use the word, México to refer to the Federal District. It would be wise for some members of this forum to use the words Mexico City as many of our readers will take the term Mexico to mean the entire country.


I'd like to add my very best tip---wash your hands. Frequently. Do not over look this. In Mexico eating almost always involves touching your food with your hands. Think eating on the street made you sick? Did you wash your hand before you picked up that taco? Are you sure? Didn't you just get off the subway where you were holding the hand rail? Did you pick up a coin you dropped on the street? What makes you think it was the taco, and not your very own fingers that made you sick?
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Guy Courchesne



Joined: 10 Mar 2003
Posts: 9381
Location: Mexico City

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I'd like to add my very best tip---wash your hands. Frequently. Do not over look this. In Mexico eating almost always involves touching your food with your hands. Think eating on the street made you sick? Did you wash your hand before you picked up that taco? Are you sure? Didn't you just get off the subway where you were holding the hand rail? Did you pick up a coin you dropped on the street? What makes you think it was the taco, and not your very own fingers that made you sick?


Got a lot of subway commuters where you are? Wink Just kidding, good tip.

What would those of you outside of Mexico City add for your tips and advice that is different from this city?
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Prof.Gringo



Joined: 07 Nov 2006
Posts: 1931
Location: Paradise, Paradise, Paradise!

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My post/thread is meant for Mexico DF, but the same precautions taken in a big city can apply just as well to a smaller community. I would expect a place the size of the greater Mexico City area, with one quarter of Mexico's ENTIRE population to have crime and problems.

But to imply that all small towns and rural areas of Mexico are "safe" is just plain wrong.

Many of the worse episodes of the current drug war have taken place in rural areas and small towns all over Mexico.

The so-called "tourist" zones are not exempt from the drug violence, as the killing of 31 people in just 4 days in Acapulco has shown.

Also, corrupt cops and criminals targeting foreigners are much more common in tourist areas. I have never been harassed specifically for being a foreigner in Mexico City, but I have been harassed dozens of times in tourist and border areas by the super-corrupt cops.

Also remember that in the very rural areas of Mexico, law enforcement is either sporadic, or all too often taken into the hands of villagers in small ethnic communities where mobs dispatch vigilante style justice, often to outsiders.

http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2000-08-02/news/0008020286_1_puebla-lynch-mexico-city

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/mexico/091027/vigilantes-justice-crime

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11394424

I am not really in the mood for a flame-war, but I will point out that smaller or more rural does not always mean safer.

Also, in regards to the drug war, what is a "hot-zone" today could be calm in six months and your own backyard could be the next "hot-spot" erupting with violence.
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MotherF



Joined: 07 Jun 2010
Posts: 1082
Location: 17°48'N 97°46'W

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another thing for the interior of the country--public bathrooms, unlike in the US, GAS STATIONS have some of the best public bathrooms in this country. I know if you are from the US you might not believe me, I was shocked myself. But restaurants (with the exception of the Vips and Sandborns type places) have some of the grottiest bathrooms. Well the mom and pop type places anyway. Nasty bathrooms, but go across the high way to the pemex and there will be a really nice bathroom, even in tiny places hardly big enough for a pemex station. Like Tehuitzingo, Puebla for example. Beautiful bathroom in that place.
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Prof.Gringo



Joined: 07 Nov 2006
Posts: 1931
Location: Paradise, Paradise, Paradise!

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MotherF wrote:
I'd like to add my very best tip---wash your hands. Frequently. Do not over look this. In Mexico eating almost always involves touching your food with your hands. Think eating on the street made you sick? Did you wash your hand before you picked up that taco? Are you sure? Didn't you just get off the subway where you were holding the hand rail? Did you pick up a coin you dropped on the street? What makes you think it was the taco, and not your very own fingers that made you sick?


Do like I do and carry anti-bacterial gel with you. I it use whenever I get off/out of all forms of public transport for example.

But as I said, if you go to wash your hands in a food-service establishment and there's no soap, guess what? None of the cooks, waiters, etc washed their hands with soap either. If it's street cuisine, just say a quick prayer before you munch on those 5 peso tacos and you'll be just fine Wink
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MotherF



Joined: 07 Jun 2010
Posts: 1082
Location: 17°48'N 97°46'W

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 5:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

One, what makes you think the cooks used the same sink as you do?
Two, they very well may carrry their own soap like many locals do.
Three, there may have been soap in the bathroom but you were not equipped to see it.

What do I mean by that last one? I've been out with a group of colleages who reported that there was no soap in the bathroom. I went back there and there a bag of powdered detergent--the type referred to as fad--under the sink. That's what you are supposed to use to wash your hands with. That's what all the locals do.

I do carry alcohol in gel with me (not the antibatirial stuff, just alcohol in gel) but mostly use that only when there is no water, which is often from Feb-June is this part of the country.
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Samantha



Joined: 25 Oct 2003
Posts: 2032
Location: Mexican Riviera

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 6:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Prof Gringo wrote:
Quote:
I am not really in the mood for a flame-war, but I will point out that smaller or more rural does not always mean safer.


Calmate! The point is that not all the advice put forward, applies to all areas around the country. Thank you for clarifying it was for Mexico City. No one said anything about it being safer or not safer, just different.

Travelers cheques are a nightmare to cash, where I live. The hotel's will cash them if you are a guest, however the exchange is robbery. ATM's are the way to go, here. Life's too short to waste on lining up trying to get travelers cheques cashed, when a quick trip into the ATM works fine. I would suggest making sure your bank knows you are in Mexico, and bring along an extra ATM card for backup in case a machine eats your card. Also let your credit card company know you are going to be in Mexico or they will likely freeze your card when you try to use it. Don't lose sight of your credit card when making a purchase. Cloners are here, like anywhere else in the world.

The way we dress is quite different where I live. We wear jeans to blend in better and not look like a tourist, but locals here are not conservative the way they are in the non-beach cities. The women wear shorts, and tight clothes out and about. It's the norm. The men wear shorts and golf shirts in summers (which is about 6 months of the year.) It's the uniform for many places. In the city of Culiacan, we get stared at for wearing shorts while shopping. It's more formal. And it's only 2 1/2 hours up the road.

Taxi's are very safe here. No incidents of taxi drivers harming passengers in any way. The ones worried about their safety are the taxi drivers. We have to call a taxi from our home number at night, since we live outside the tourist zones. If our phone number isn't in the data bank, no taxi. The taxi drivers have a system with police, where they signal if they feel uneasy with the passenger or the destination.

Foreigners don't EVER get kidnapped here, "express" or otherwise. You made it sound like foreigners (but "rarely" foreign teachers) are kidnapped in the city. How would the kidnappers know a teacher from another foreigner? Is that true?

As far as mordidas, I have lived here for ten years, married to a local, and neither of us has paid a mordida in all this time. We don't feel that anyone has ever tried to hit us up, in any dealings we have had. Connections are like gold here, as you know, and we have never had to pay to have anything done that needed doing. I tried to offer a cop (in the first year I was here) a little pre-reward for locating my stolen wallet and cell phone. (I probably read somewhere that this was common place!) He acted offended, and said "that's my job". I was embarrassed enough to never try that again.

Getting to the cartel subject, I don't know how you would put forth safety tips there. They aren't targeting regular people. I guess the advice would be don't get involved in the business. That never ends well. The common sense tips you provided, to be aware of your surroundings, is probably about as good as it gets. I feel that being run down by a car is a greater danger to us than the chance of catching a stray bullet. Amazingly, these gun toting morons seem to hit their targets without collateral damage.

And yes, we do have health inspectors for restaurants and food sellers. There is soap in all bathrooms I have ever been in, in some form or another (as MotherF mentions).
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notamiss



Joined: 20 Jun 2007
Posts: 848
Location: El 5o pino del DF

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 7:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very good. I have only two reservations on what you wrote.

1) Do you have positive recent experience exchanging traveler's cheques? I found it difficult and cumbersome even 25 years ago when ATMs were not an option and traveler's cheques were common. Some postings on travel forums suggest that it is no better now, if not worse; that many banks and exchange houses simply won't accept them. It would be useful to know if my impressions are wrong.

2) I think that dress guidelines for women are more varied than you suggest. At least here in DF, many, many women wear pants(Brit: trousers) rather than dresses or skirts, and sleeveless tops are more common than your guidelines would suggest. If trying to dress to blend in, I think it's helpful to look around at people in public and more specifically in one's own environment, and note what features of one's own wardrobe are rarely or never seen in persons of one's own age group and gender.
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Guy Courchesne



Joined: 10 Mar 2003
Posts: 9381
Location: Mexico City

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 7:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

While living in Acapulco, I found pretty much the same applied as to Mazatlan above. I figure I'll describe one of the other places I've lived since DF is mostly covered.

Traveler's checks were hard to cash - and forget personal checks altogether. ATMs and cash were the way to go, along with credit cards. Card cloning is a problem there for credit cards and Mexico as a country is flagged by major financial institutions around the world for it (this is why your cards can be frozen after you use them the first time after arriving).

side note - we've been able to cash traveler's checks through our bank easily in the last year, but that is likely because we have an established account.

Dress was beach style - it's bloody hot on the coast! I don't find the word conservative to be the right one to describe dress difference between DF and the coast as DF is politically super liberal. Climate is the bigger factor. Still, a lot of workers in Acapulco wear light cotton pants and short sleeve dress shirts.

Taxis in Acapulco are not dangerous, but given the tourism, they'll try to jack the prices up on you. It was endlessly annoying living there and being seen as a tourist all the time, and having to 'prove' my residency by knowing the right rates.

Bribery is the order of the day in Acapulco and little gets done without it, though a visiting foreigner would probably not see it - anyone driving in with DF plates would, however. Homeowners dealing with local water and electricity bribe workers to get lower rates, install diablitos, overlook infractions, etc. Political parties threaten unions and associations to support them and use payoffs or restrictions as means of control. People in Oaxaca City are familiar with how this works and the results.
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donato



Joined: 05 May 2010
Posts: 93
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 8:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

1. Be sure to show your money in public as much as possible. This will send a clear message of "don't mess with me".

2. For some reason criminals are less likely to mess with you if you drive an Italian sports car.

3. Explore the less common areas at night...alone...while drunk...some really nice bars in Tepito.

4. Tell everyone you're from Arizona and the U.S.A. is #1.
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donato



Joined: 05 May 2010
Posts: 93
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

PostPosted: Tue Jan 11, 2011 8:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In all seriousness, some good tips listed here. I also had trouble cashing traveller's checks though.
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