Traveling in Mexico can be a highly enjoyable and learning experience. It is important to know, however, what your protections are when outside the US. This applies to travel to any foreign country, because your US citizenship will not exempt you from the laws that apply to the country you are visiting. Traveling in Mexico is no exception.
One avenue for help that you may want to know more about is the American consulates. There are 12 consulates in different states in Mexico, namely: Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara, Hermosillo, Matamoros, Merida, Monterrey, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo, Puerto Vallarta, Tijuana, VPP Chiapas-Tabasco, and VPP El Bajio. You can, and should, look up the address and contact information of the relevant consulates where you will be traveling in Mexico. In case of an emergency anywhere abroad, the Overseas Citizen Services may be contacted at 202-501-4444, and when in Canada or the US at 1-888-407-4747.
Getting a permit when traveling in Mexico
If you are bringing a car from the US when traveling in Mexico, you will need a temporary import permit. The consulates in Albuquerque, Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Bernardino, and Phoenix can help in the processing but you will need Mexico car insurance to get one. Liability insurance from an accredited company is required if you want to drive while traveling in Mexico.
Keeping updated when traveling in Mexico
The American consulates can provide pre-preemptive assistance to US citizens traveling in Mexico who are enrolled in the STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). The consulate can relay current data on local situations that may have an impact on a traveler’s safety and security while traveling in Mexico. All a citizen has to do is to sign up online with the State Department or to go directly to the nearest consulate to provide their updated contact information and travel itinerary. The consulate may more easily provide assistance in emergencies with STEP enrolees.
The information a US citizen may provide the consulate is protected by the Privacy Act, which means that they may not provide any information regarding the citizen while traveling in Mexico or any other country. Unfortunately, this also applies to family members, so it may cause some distress. However, this also protects a citizen from unwanted communications while keeping the consulate informed of their welfare and location.
Imprisoned while traveling in Mexico
Perhaps the most important assistance the American consulates can provide a US citizen traveling in Mexico is to ensure that they are treated humanely and fairly when in prison. While the consulate cannot interfere with Mexican laws, they can serve as a conduit between the prisoners and their families and vigorously protect their human rights Consulates will issue a protest to the Mexican government at the request of a citizen prisoner if the situation calls for it.
American consulates are subject to international law, so this limits their authority. However, consulates can also insist that US citizens who may be facing allegations of criminal activity or civil liability be treated according to international standards of due process and humane treatment while in prison. The consulate may also provide assistance in finding appropriate legal representation and inform family members regarding a citizen’s situation with the expressed permission of said citizen.
Dealing with crime when traveling in Mexico
If a US citizen is a victim of a crime while traveling in Mexico, the Consular Citizen Services can help by providing relevant information and resources available to crime victims, including assistance in filing a report or denuncia with the Ministerios Publicos (Public Prosecutor). To be most effective in this instance, the consulate must be given a copy of the complaint as well as current contact information so that the consulate may monitor the progress of the case.
Some problems encountered when traveling in Mexico can be traumatic. American consulates can help in making unpleasant situations or serious problems more manageable when traveling in Mexico.