Violence in Mexico: A Cause of Concern for Retirees Looking to Travel or Relocate

Drug-war carnage and instability raise caution flags along border and in some interior states.

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Mexico is the favorite travel destination for Americans and it's also the most favored place outside the U.S. for retirees to relocate. The country's warm climate, familiar culture, and low costs naturally attract retirees. Now, however, drug-related violence and--to a lesser extent--Mexico's own recessionary pressures have made parts of Mexico dangerous. The U.S. State Department renewed its Mexico travel alert last month. Requests are escalating for more protection by U.S. border troops. Visits to major travel sites, such as Fodor's, reveal rising traveler concerns and travel cancellations.

Generally, tourist areas haven't been unusually affected by crime. Despite concerns about spring-break trips to popular resorts by U.S. college students, there have not been special problems. Nevertheless, the State Department defines these specific areas as cause for concern:

Visitors to the U.S.–Mexico border region, including cities such as Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Nogales, Reynosa, Matamoros, and Monterrey, should remain alert and be aware of their surroundings at all times. Crime in Mexico continues at high levels, and it is often violent, especially in Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, Acapulco, and the state of Sinaloa.

Beyond looking at the State Department's main web site, individual Mexican consulates may post information specific to their area. Here is one such safety warning for Ciudad Juarez, referred to in government lingo as a Warden Message: "This Warden Message is being issued to warn American citizens traveling to or residing in the Mexican state of Chihuahua to avoid traveling to the Guadalupe Bravo area southeast of Ciudad Juarez due to rising drug related violence in this area."

Generally, if you plan to travel in Mexico or are considering relocating there, here are steps you should take to improve your safety:

Before you leave, make sure your cell phone works in Mexico, that it's fully charged and that honest-to-goodness emergency contacts are loaded on your speed dialer before you begin your trip. Be honest. Do you really take these precautions? In parts of Mexico, you must.

Don't venture alone into unfamiliar areas. Seems basic but you'd be surprised how a walk on a lovely day can take you to unintended destinations. So, know where you're going before you set out, have an itinerary and travel with companions--ideally companions who live in the area or at least know it well. Losing a bit of spontaneity is a small price for your added safety.

Tell others where you're going and when you expect to return. Give them your cell phone number so they can make sure you've completed your trip safely.

If you're traveling in a vehicle, park it in safe, well-lit places and make sure nothing of value is left in plain sight in the car. If you've got removable DVD or navigation devices, remove them.

In restaurants and other public places, pay attention to your surroundings. If a problem occurred--either a crime or some unexplained commotion--what would you do, and is there an exit path? We're not talking Mission Impossible here; Just simply pay attention. Speaking of attention, don't become the center of any by flashing lots of money or bling.

The State Department offers this advice as well:

  • If you are driving, in a restaurant or other public place and you notice suspicious individuals, armed personnel, or protective security details, immediately depart the area.
  • Schedules that are the most predictable leave you the most vulnerable. Be unpredictable when possible in both your work and social schedules.
  • If you are being followed or harassed by another driver, try to find the nearest police station, hotel, or other public facility to call the police. Never lead the person back to your home or stop and get out.
  • Whenever possible, do not have a set day for personal errands (e.g. shopping). Be unpredictable.
  • Never give out your personal information such as family member and household staff names, addresses, and telephone numbers in an open setting.
  • Brief all of your family members on security measures.
  • Inform your family, supervisor, or colleagues of your whereabouts if you are traveling overnight.