If you’ve done any sort of travel by road in Mexico, you are no doubt familiar with the occasional military checkpoints that pop up in certain places. Seeing the policia armed with machine guns can be a little unsettling, but unless you have something to hide, there is nothing to worry about.
Some checkpoints are set up when they are looking for a specific vehicle or persons. Some can be permanent checkpoints, for instance near a water port. Usually, they are looking for illegal narcotics or transportation of some kind of illegal items. For the most part, they are checking the Mexican people coming through and it is rare to not get waved by if you are an American or Canadian citizen.
What to do When Rolling Up to a Checkpoint
When you come up to a checkpoint, the traffic will likely be slowed into 1-2 lanes and there will be armed guards looking in the vehicle. Slow down and be prepared to stop if asked. Most of the time they make eye contact and wave you by. Sometimes they may ask you to stop and want to know where you are going. If you look suspicious, they may ask you to pull over to ask additional questions or inspect your vehicle. If this happens, it is usually just a few minutes unless they find something that you are not supposed to have.
If you are detained for any reason, find out why they are doing so and request to speak with the U.S. or Canadian Consulate (or wherever you are a naturalized citizen from)
Another thing to understand in Mexico is there are several levels of law enforcement.
- Municipal Police (Policia Municipal) – these are similar to city police and they handle minor disturbances and traffic violations.
- State Police (Policia Estatal) – these police handle drug dealing, crimes against the government, and crimes in more than one jurisdiction.
- Federal Police (Policia Federal) – they are considered the “preventative police” and do much of the investigation to prevent crime.
- Mexico City Police – this very large police force maintain public order and safety in Mexico City.