Am I safe in Mexico?
The number one question for many people unfamiliar with Mexico is, how safe is it? But why even ask that? What causes them to think it’s inherently unsafe? To find the answers to these questions one has to delve deep into the psyche of the American people, which is far beyond the scope of this simple FAQ. Let’s just summarize by saying Mexico is NOT inherently unsafe. It’s like anywhere else; it is what you make it. Unfortunately many foreigners grow up in an environment where they are constantly fed stories designed to elicit fear and Mexico is a prime target for these stories. Fear has a purpose. It allows politicians to get elected, it allows media outlets to sell more airtime and advertising, and it allows manipulation of people. If you don’t recognize that, you may always be afraid of Mexico but there are hundreds of thousands of us who believe facts over fiction and are able to live peaceful productive lives in Mexico.
What can I do to feel safe?
I’m going to address this to tourists because if you’re thinking of moving here and don’t feel safe, you should stay where you are. Feeling safe is all in your head, but that confidence comes with knowing you’re prepared. Personal safety generally revolves around good preparation and decision making. This is true anywhere in the world; it’s not unique to Mexico. Prepare by planning your trips with personal safety in mind. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or wear flashy jewelry, and don’t go to deserted places at night or hang out in seedy bars or with questionable people, and stay away from drugs. If it wouldn’t feel right when you’re at home then don’t do it here. As a tourist you will be exposed to a lot of people who know you’re not in your element and are quite willing to take advantage of that. Act accordingly, by being skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true or that seem planned to separate you from the crowds. Human predators often work just like animal predators; they first separate the weak from the pack and then they go after them. If you need help, always go to people in trusted positions to ask for it. If you are approached rather than you doing the approaching, be cautious. Mexican people as a rule are very helpful and gracious but tourist destinations anywhere in the world tend to attract opportunists.
Is the water safe to drink?
Personal safety also includes safeguarding your health. As a tourist or new resident, your body is unaccustomed to many of the foods, drinks, bugs, and illnesses that you will be exposed to. You’ve heard people say don’t drink the water. Well that is as true in Europe or anywhere else as it is in Mexico. No matter where we go, there are always microscopic organisms in our food and drink. Our bodies adapt to them and build up resistance, but when you go to another part of the world where these organisms are different, your body needs time to adapt. Water or spicy foods can cause gastric distress. The key is to safeguard your health without being overly paranoid. I’ve actually heard people say they’re afraid to shower because they think a tiny bit of water in their mouth or eyes is going to make them sick. That is just plain idiocy. But if you’re drinking a lot of water (and you should be), you are well advised to drink bottled water (agua en botella) or water in restaurants that has been purified (agua purificada). Even many private homes have water purification systems for their drinking water, but it’s never necessary to avoid water altogether. If you’re living in Mexico for a longer period of time you will build up resistance. Until then, don’t be afraid to use tap water when cooking or bathing and get in the habit of washing all fruits and vegetables that are not going to be peeled or cooked. A tiny amount of household bleach or a few drops of iodine solution in a sink full of tap water is all that’s needed for this.
Should I get immunizations?
It’s typically not necessary to go overboard with immunizations and drugs prior to travel, but you should be aware that tropical climates are different. Mosquitoes are much more prevalent and they can carry diseases like Dengue or Zika. These are not fun to have and there are some immunizations available. If your plans include being in areas where these are common then you might want to consult with your doctor first. Other communicable diseases are really no more or no less prevalent in Mexico than in the US or Canada.