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How to Protect Yourself Against Corrupt Police in Mexico

The Tulum we dreamt of became a nightmare.

We have visited Mexico over 8 times betweens us, and during the past two trips’ things have gotten progressively worse with illegal traffic stops and extortion of tourists by the Mexican police.

During our most recent trip to Tulum Mexico, (in the Zama Village, a popular AirBnb Neighborhood) we had our most frightening and costly experience, ruining an otherwise amazing trip, costing us $100’s in bribes, and causing us to have to leave the city 2 days earlier than expected. The scary thing is that it could have been worse.

Our party of 6 were traveling on ATV’s we were headed downtown to watch the Celtic’s game. As soon as we pulled out of our residential complex, We were pulled over on a dark dirt road with no street signs or lights by two police officers, one with a large military assault rifle.

Luckily for us, Talita speaks fluent Spanish, and we did a ton of research to be able to safely negotiate and get out of two of the last 4 illegal traffic stops and extortion with corrupt Mexican police in our last 2 trips to the country.

After speaking to locals they mentioned that this is becoming a major problem where people’s businesses are dying out because tourists are afraid to stay in the area, and for good reason! Furthermore, several locals have said the cops are doing this even to the Mexicans.

Tips to Protect Yourself

The tips below won’t solve the problem of fear and intimidation that can ruin your trip but at least it can save you a ton of money, and will know your legal rights.

In fact, corrupt police in Mexico bank on the fact that most tourists don’t know their rights or even the laws in Mexico. It is through this confusion, the threat of illegally taking your Identification, and the brandishing of military style weaponry during the stops, that dishonest police use as their main tools in extortion.

1) Always read up on travel blogs about the police situation

Not doing this was our biggest mistake and why we are dedicating this article to the topic. Knowing what to do when you are scared and being lied to is your most powerful tool in a very difficult situation.

2) If you get pulled over and you are asked to pay the cop directly you are getting robbed, this is illegal

3) Be ready to record

And start your recording before the conversation even starts with the police. If the camera is rolling, they know it is illegal for them to tell you to stop and you’d have that on recording. If you try to record after the police have engaged you, they will lie, intimidate you, and tell you that you will be in more trouble if you start recording.

Always have your camera ready, rolling and your script for the conversation thought out. For example, start with letting the officers know that you were advised by the police chief to record any suspicious traffic stops, get the officer’s full name and patrol number (usually located on the car they are driving).

This initiated approach will put the corrupt police off guard, and they will be unable to verify your story. Their bribery scheme only works because they have isolated you from information. But they have also done that to themselves as they can not report a valid reason to have pulled you over when calling in your story.

4) 1st offenses are forgiven

If you are in the Quintana Roo state of Mexico, where Tulum and Cancun are located, have this document with you. It is a copy of the local traffic laws, specifically around 1st time exemptions for tourists for minor infractions. Having this wit you will indicate to an officer pulling you over that you are aware of your rights.

5) Carry a burner ID

ALWAYS either take a picture of your license or have an old one in your wallet when out, hiding your real one somewhere safe and NEVER carry your passport when not necessary.

The main leverage used to bribe you in a traffic stop is to demand you surrender your personal identification cards. The average tourist would find this idea terrifying because losing their identification means being stranded in a foreign country. Worse yet, one with corrupt police who now know have all your personal information.

The cops trick is to take your ID from you and to tell you they won’t give it back until paid. When you willingly surrender your burner ID, it will completely flip the dynamic of the coercion, and in some cases, the police will simply give up, “give you a warning” and send you on your way.

6) Keep your wallet empty

Leave a disposable $10 with your burner ID, and keep your main cash elsewhere. This will help you if you want to make things move along faster during the stop as the police will not want to waste time and effort for just $10.

Keep in mind this will not work for incidents that escalate to the police conducting a random search. If this happens, they will riffle through every credit card slot in your wallet, and check your shoes and socks. Nothing will not be searched.

7) Why the full body search? Drugs

We’re not even talking about the bad stuff. Weed. Legal in Arizona, puts you in jail in Mexico. Most Americans live in a bubble and think laws are universal. Well, if you are naive enough to think getting caught with some weed in Mexico results in “1st offenses are forgiven.”

You would be very wrong. $1000’s of dollars wrong. When Drugs are involved, you actually now give corrupt police probable cause for their actions, and completely fuck yourself over in negotiations.

8) Lastly, Have a story ready. Tell it confidently

Know that you are in the right. The more informed you appear to corrupt police, the more hassle you become to them, and they will move on.

Our story, “We got robbed by corrupt cops yesterday and went to the police department to file a claim. Your boss told us to follow these steps (including recording the incident) as they are trying very hard to fight police corruption, so it is my right to follow all of the instructions he gave me, and let you know that WE know what YOU know.” 😂😉

The officer then took Talita’s photo and told her she was now blacklisted.

We have no idea what that meant but we were worried for our safety.

(See our REEL of the incident)

The next 24 hours, everytime we left the residence we wondered if we were being watched. Some of us had trouble sleeping that night, imagining every nightly noise to be a luring intruder. Our trip was ruined. More mentally ruined than financially from the few $100’s we paid in bribes to get out of the first traffic stop.

We decided to cut our losses and leave the city 2 days early. We went to a resort back in Cancun as we felt unsafe on the streets of Tulum.

If you are looking to go to Mexico to explore which is what we tried to do be aware and do as much research as possible if you are going to be driving. Tulum is very confusing to navigate, especially in the neighborhood of Aldea Zama and Zama Village.

Many of the streets in google maps were out of date. Some were one way, when the app said 2, and some did not exist at all!

We are experienced travelers so this is not to be taken lightly; In all of our previous trips to Mexico we have never felt so threatened or violated. Unfortunately, since the pandemic, things seem to be getting worse. When visiting Tulum, your best bet is to take cabs or avoid Mexico altogether until things improve with police corruption.

Our Dope Life Continues.


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