Vacation Tips » Legal Advise for Mexico Travelers
If you run into legal trouble in Mexico, the U.S. and Canadian consulates may be able to provide limited assistance. Remember that the consulates have no legal jurisdiction in Mexico. Their main purpose is to provide you with information. As a visitor, you are subject to local Mexican law, which will interpret your actions and behavior. Mexican law is very different from U.S. or Canadian law.
If you are arrested in Mexico, ask the local authorities to contact the closest consulate. Consuls cannot act as your attorneys or have you released from custody; however, the consuls can work to protect your legitimate interests and ensure that you are treated in the same manner as Mexican prisoners. They can provide a list of attorneys and information on Mexico's legal system, offer to contact the arrested person's family or friends, visit on a regular basis, protest mistreatment, monitor jail conditions, offer dietary supplements, and keep the U.S. State Department or the Canadian government office informed of your situation.
There are basic differences between North American, Canadian and Mexican law and their judicial systems. For instance, in Mexico you are considered guilty until proven innocent, and you may be considered guilty of a crime by association. For example, if you are involved in a motor vehicle accident, you will be detained in a jail until the circumstances of the accident are resolved. This may mean a lengthy incarceration, even if you are not at fault. Also, if you pick up a hitchhiker who is later found with contraband or weapons in your presence, you may well be charged with a crime.
Jail conditions in Mexico are very poor. Food and medical care is substandard. If you want good food you will have to have someone from the outside bring it to you. You may be extorted by other prisoners and required to pay fees for protection. So, do your best to avoid any actions that could land you in a Mexican jail.
If you become hospitalized in Mexico and cannot pay your hospital bill you cannot be lawfully detained against your will. If this happens or is threatened, call the ministerio público (district attorney) for help. For your city or town's district attorney's phone number and address, you may refer to the emergency information section of each city listing.
Typically, you will have to sign a waiver of legal recourse on entrance to a hospital or emergency room. In many instances you will be required to pay in advance or leave a deposit. All too many Mexican hospitals have complained that they have treated foreigners who later skipped on paying their bills. This strict policy is a result of this unfortunate practice. It is your duty to pay your bill and seek reimbursement from your domestic insurer when you return home. Make sure that you request thorough documentation of your treatment from your Mexican doctor(s) or hospital.
Here is the address and phone number for the U.S. Consular Agency in Cancun:
United States Consular Agency - Plaza Caracol II, 3er. Piso KM 8.5 - Zona Hotelera - Cancún, México 77500 - 011-52-998-883-0272
Robert H. Page, MD and Curtis P. Page, MD are authors of the MEXICO: Health and Safety Travel Guide and the Healthy Traveler Regional Series.