Many seem to believe today that Mexico is this incredibly dangerous place and travelers should not leave their beach resort, etc. for the sake of their safety. But in reality, Mexico (especially the Yucatán) is one of the safest places to live in Latin America. Here are a few things everyone should know about studying abroad in Mexico and safety.
- Crimes of opportunity rather than being targeted
In Mérida, crime is extremely low (lower than many U.S. cities) and none of it is related to the Mexico we see in the news. No drug cartels are established here and there is no anti-American resentment strong enough to feel that you’re at risk. Here, people can see that you are not from Mérida and that you are wealthier, and therefore may take advantage of you. This may be little things such as charging you a different price in a market or taxi, or something more severe like pickpocketing.
- It’s generally safe to hail a taxi off the street in Mérida
In Mérida and other areas of the Yucatan like Playa del Carmen and Tulum, taxis are an essential mode of transportation that can be depended on. Taxis in Mérida are metered, whereas the taxis in tourist areas are not and you negotiate the price (know going in that you will pay more simply because you are a tourist, but show off your Spanish and they might give you a break!). However, ridesharing services tend to be cheaper and more reliable to take the quickest route to your destination. If you decide to travel to Mexico City, however, hailing a taxi off the street is never recommended and it is preferred that you call a ridesharing service or call a taxi company directly.
- Water is (somewhat) safe to drink in Merida
Water in the Yucatan is potable, meaning that it does not carry any illnesses. But the water here is very hard, meaning it has high concentrations of minerals like calcium in it. Continued exposure to these minerals at such high concentrations can be detrimental for your health, so it is recommended that you only drink bottled water here. However, for small quantities such as for brushing your teeth, there is no risk. If you travel, it’s generally better to be safe than sorry to use bottled water for everything you do.
- There are more police, for your safety
When you arrive, you may be surprised at the number of police officers patrolling around Mérida. Don’t be frightened by this – it’s a preventative approach they take to ensure your safety. For example, there are police checkpoints for all major roads into Mérida to make sure that nothing unsafe enters the city. Police here are very dependable and are nothing to be concerned about. They may ask for a copy of your passport and your visa card, so make sure to always keep them on you!
- Be careful when going to ATMs
Anywhere in the world, ATMs are targets to rob people. Here, you will be withdrawing large sums of money to avoid fees from your bank, so you will have a lot of money on you when you leave an ATM. Never count it as you walk away, you’re asking for someone to take it at that point. Just trust that the machine knows what it’s doing and place it in a secure place on your person (such as your front pocket) and walk away. You can organize it when you get home.
- Be cognizant of your (and your friends) surroundings
The bar and club scene in Mexico is new for study abroad students, and it is more fun for all if everyone is safe. In order to do that, make sure you are aware of your and your friends’ surroundings and belongings to ensure that everyone is safe and having a good time. Simply being aware can reduce your risk for petty theft and other crimes.
- Have a cell phone that is dependable for any emergency
For anything as simple as calling a taxi to calling 911, you should have a cell phone for any situation that may come up in Mexico. See here for more information about having a cell phone in Mexico.
- When in doubt, show off your Spanish and blend in
People always treat others better if they can understand each other. Use your Spanish, and people will know that you are not someone here only for Spring Break. It is the easiest thing you can do to ask for respect while in Mexico. It’s also a great way to practice. Using your Spanish to blend in (in addition to attitude, volume, and studying up on the area) will immensely diminish the risk of something happening to you, although it is already low.
- Always trust your instincts
No one knows yourself better than you. If you feel uncomfortable with a situation, get out of it. You already know that you should, so just do it. It’s the same as in the U.S., never let the “study abroad” thing ever blind your instincts. You know what’s safe and what’s not.
If you hadn’t noticed before, almost all these tips apply no matter where you are. Mexico really isn’t the place you see on the news. You face the same risks to your safety here in Mexico as you do at your home university. The only differences are that it’s a new place and you’re in a new culture, but make sure you are safe so you can enjoy those during your experience in Mexico!