Road checkpoints in Mexico are a familiar sight, installed in response to the rising cartel presence in the country. They have been put there mostly to look for guns, drugs and evidence of cartel activities. If you are traveling by car in Mexico, expect to see several along both highways and secondary roads. However, as long as you don’t have any guns or drugs in the car, you should have no worries.
Most checkpoints are manned by military personnel, and may be semi-permanent or temporary installations. They can appear at any time of the day and night, and may stop every vehicle, which causes some congestion. Some may only pick and choose among the vehicles for those which are likely to be used by the cartel, such as dark colored SUVs.
In most cases, being pulled over at a checkpoint is no cause for alarm. There are instances, however, when fake checkpoints will be established which are put up in order to hijack likely vehicles for a cartel’s use. To avoid being victimized by these types of road checkpoints in Mexico, keep these tips in mind:
- Avoid traveling at night – most of the fake road checkpoints will be set up at night, although they can also be set up during the day on the less frequented roads
- Keep to highways and well-populated areas – the temptation to explore off the beaten track can be great, but it is safer to travel in roads where a lot of people are
- Avoid traveling alone and in SUVs
When you are pulled over in legitimate checkpoints at night, douse your outer lights and turn on interior lights. In most cases, you will only be stopped for a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on whether they decide to check your luggage area. Make sure that you have:
- Required travel documents, including your passport, driver’s license and Mexico car insurance
- No opened bottles of beer or any alcoholic drinks
- No guns or other types of arms
- No drugs, except prescription drugs for medical conditions. You cannot bring medical marijuana. Make sure you have your prescription with you
- Ancient artifacts or specific types of wood, unless you have a license to transport them
Road checkpoints in Mexico are often manned by police or military personnel who will speak little or no English. They are mostly polite and will not give you a hard time unless you act suspiciously. Handy phrases to know include:
- Habla Español? – Do you speak Spanish?
- Adonde va? – Where are you going?
- De donde viene? – Where are you coming from?
You may be asked to step out of your vehicle, and the underneath of your vehicle inspected with mirrors. Your license plate and passport information may be noted. Always smile, remain courteous and comply with what the officer asks you to do. If for any reason you or your vehicle is detained at one of the road checkpoints in Mexico, ask why and inform the consulate immediately about your situation. Your consulate may be able to coordinate with the officer who detained you to get full details and to assist in any possible misunderstanding. At any rate, the consulate will know where you are and monitor the situation. It would be infinitely better if you can speak or at least understand Spanish when you get to road checkpoints in Mexico, especially if you are more than a tourist.