Visiting Mexico: Tips to Follow When Encountering a Police Checkpoint

Police Checkpoint in Playa del Carmen (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

The police checkpoint is definitely one of Mexican law enforcement’s favorite crime-fighting tools. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see permanent police checkpoints on major roadways leading in and out of cities and towns (like the one in the main photo). On any given day we might drive through four of five such checkpoints

In addition to the permanent checkpoints, the police like to establish mobile checkpoints at random locations. For example, you might be driving down a road on your way to the store and suddenly see five police vehicles and a dozen heavily-armed police officers or military personnel stopping vehicles.

By the way, it is not uncommon to see military personnel assisting local law enforcement. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon started the practice back in 2006 and in December of 2017, a new law was passed (Ley de Seguridad Interior) to expand the military’s role in combating crime inside Mexico’s borders.  

In the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, the government routinely sends additional military personnel to assist police in maintaining security, especially during busy times of the year (e.g. Holy Week). So, if you see some soldiers at a checkpoint while you’re here on vacation, don’t immediately panic and think their presence means that something big is going on or that you’re in a dangerous area.

Basic Tips

If you’re driving in Mexico and you approach a police checkpoint, here are some tips to follow:

1. Reduce your speed and turn on our hazard lights

The use of your hazards isn’t mandatory but it will help prevent another tourist from running into the back of you when you start to decelerate.

2. Don’t give them a reason to stop you

This means the driver should not be using his or her cellphone and everyone should have seatbelts on. Just like in the United States, traffic laws can vary from one jurisdiction to the other. That’s why it’s better to just play it safe and have everyone in the car put them on.

3. Don’t stop unless they tell you to

If they are actively working the checkpoint — meaning they are stopping cars for inspection at that time — there will often be one or two officers standing in the roadway watching the cars drive by. If the officer doesn’t signal you to stop, just keep driving slowly until you clear the checkpoint.

4. If they do stop you, be polite and brief in your answers

The officer may signal you to stop in travel the lane to ask you some quick questions like: Where are you headed? Where are you coming from? or Have you been drinking? The officer may also request to see your driver’s license.

If the officer is satisfied with your responses, he or she will flag you on to freedom. If not, you will likely be told to pull over into the secondary inspection area for a more extensive interview.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Don’t let the police checkpoints stress you out. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, on any given day we may pass through several of them and in almost three years here, we have only been flagged to the secondary inspection area twice. Both times it was by immigration officials who happened to be at the checkpoint at that time.

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

32 Comments on "Visiting Mexico: Tips to Follow When Encountering a Police Checkpoint"

  1. John Bohlman | April 8, 2018 at 8:07 am |

    It is worth mentioning here, the Police or Military personnel may ask for ID for the driver as well as the registration and/or insurance papers for the vehicle. What they ask for varies with the agency. Another reason to verify you have the items before starting the drive.

  2. They stop buses too. get out your passport and wave it and dont speak spanish at all. They will get rid of you quick. You passport should have your visa tucked in the front of it. However on the bus others may be the reason you are held up for awhile, Always smile and say Buenos /Dias even if it is night time.

  3. Mark Dietz | April 8, 2018 at 8:47 am |

    Polite goes along way , I pass 2 times a day , I wave and tooot horn. Cops are not used to friendly people , you won’t have any problem,

  4. LindaRose Richardson | April 8, 2018 at 9:00 am |

    I´ve lived in Mexico, all over Mexico! for the last 26 years and they never ask for insurance papers! Your posts are very informative for someone who has lived here for a short time….I read them religiously! Thanks!

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:37 am |

      Wow, 26 years! That’s a long time. You should consider starting a blog. I’m sure that you’re a wealth of information.

  5. I somehow stumbled upon your blog and I’m glad I did. So much helpful information. My husband retired as the captain of the Cheyenne Police Department after 25 years in law enforcement (starting in LA County). We are in the process of selling everything and hope to be in San Carlos by fall. We’ve been to Playa del Carmen many times and love it there. I know we aren’t that close to PDC but maybe we’ll all meet up someday! Thanks for all your info.

  6. They’ve been really active at the exit on 307 heading to the airport lately. Any reason for this?

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:35 am |

      There have been a few crime issues in certain areas of Cancun (mostly local neighborhoods) but nothing has been reported in the news about that area. I know the government likes to show off their security forces to make tourists feel safer. It’s probably just that.

  7. mounddweller | April 8, 2018 at 10:14 am |

    I have not seen any police checkpoints here in the state of Jalisco. Not saying they don’t exist here, just haven’t seen any in the area of Lake Chapala and Guadalajara. The only ones I have ever seen have been in and around Cancun.

  8. Joe Hancock | April 8, 2018 at 10:14 am |

    My first encounter with the security check was in 1995 south of PDC on a bus. They had a very large rope across the road and a pickup on each side of the road with .50 caliber machine guns mounted. My thoughts were that they took their security very serious in Mexico.

  9. Your blog posts are always sensible, informative, and perhaps most importantly, brief and to the point. Please keep up the great work.

  10. Chris Wells | April 8, 2018 at 11:30 am |

    I’ve been advised by a long time resident to roll down your car window and remove your sunglasses as you pass through their check point when traveling during the day.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:33 am |

      I do remove my sunglasses but I never put my window down. However, I can see that would be a good idea if you have tinted windows.

  11. Yvonne Bailey | April 8, 2018 at 1:13 pm |

    We are looking at purchasing property in Mexico, right now we are looking as to what is available on line and I have run into some real estate companies that will have a posting and it says under contract, could you please tell me what this means?

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:31 am |

      Shopping for real estate online can be frustrating because many properties aren’t listed. When a listing shows “under contract” it generally means that it is in the process of being sold.

      The best way to buy property is the old “boots on the ground approach”. You need to find a realtor you trust, tell him or her what you’re looking for, and plan to visit several places in person.

  12. Paul. Your living the life I plan to have in the next couple years. I just returned home from 4 weeks in Playa del Carmen . It was a future relocation information holiday. Absolutely loved the whole length of coast from Tulum to Playa del Carmen. I follow your blogs and envy your move to paradise. Keep up the great work , it is very informative. Maybe in the future our paths will cross and I can thank you in person. You two enjoy yourselves.

    Thank you.
    Neal Watson

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:29 am |

      Thanks for following the blog and good luck on your future move down. We’ve been here almost three years now and we have absolutely no regrets.

  13. Robert Baechle | April 8, 2018 at 1:38 pm |

    Afternoon and cheers Paul, thanks for your helpful information and your service in Florida. I have only stayed in resorts and my bracelet has been adequate. I plan to start staying outside of resorts and hear conflicting information, do you give your license or provide a black and white copy? Or does that make a difference depending on the circumstance i.e. check point compared to walking in town

    Thanks for any clarifications

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:27 am |

      If you’re driving a car, they will want to see an original license. The only way to check the security features is to see the original. If it’s just for identification purposes, then a photocopy or a picture on your phone should suffice.

  14. Can’t be too polite. Don’t be a wiseass or try and be chummy or make chit chat or comment on the humidity. Same as at the airport. Respect the authority and defer to it more than back home, wherever home is.

  15. Joe B. from Kent Island, MD | April 8, 2018 at 4:02 pm |

    We have seen reports of criminals setting up fake check points in Belize to shake down gringos, sometimes w/serious consequences. We have also heard of them in Mexico, but mostly from corrupt cops in the inner areas of the country. We’ve personally seen check points in Belize and Costa Rica in the middle of nowhere where there aren’t any police cars or any other distinguishing signs that indicate that the check point is official (we were with tours so it wasn’t an issue). I’m sure in highly populated areas like PDC it wouldn’t be an issue. So, and I know this is a little off topic, how do you know the check point is official? And what would you do if you came across a check point like the one’s I described (It’s not like you could drive thru the check point to a public place to pull over because you are miles away from everything)?

    • Jason Belanger | April 9, 2018 at 9:55 am |

      Excellent questions.

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 11:26 am |

      That sort of thing is definitely a concern when you’re in the middle of nowhere. There are also parts of the country where locals will set up their own checkpoints and request money to pass. To my knowledge, that sort of thing is not likely to occur in our neck of the woods. Your only choices if you come upon one of those is either stop or turn around.

      The official checkpoints are easy to spot because everyone is in full uniform and if it’s a mobile checkpoint, there is usually a marked vehicle there too.

  16. If you are a Permanent Residence, is it necessary to obtain a Mexican driver’s license if you have a valid one from the States?

    • Q-Roo Paul | April 9, 2018 at 10:32 am |

      The only time an officer will give you a hard time about driving with a foreign DL is if you’re driving a Mexican plated vehicle in your name.

      DL’s are super easy to get and can help you prove you’re local for discounts etc. It’s worth it to get one.

  17. Walton Fisher | April 9, 2018 at 12:49 pm |

    On an exploratory trip to PDC 6 years ago there was a mobile checkpoint on Constituyentes right in the middle of town. We were driving a Suburban and it was packed with all the gear we needed for a 2 month visit. They were local police and searched the truck thoroughly – even checked the ashtrays. One guy talked with my wife in Spanish on one side of the truck and another talked with me in English on the other side of the truck. They were polite and we were on our way shortly. We apparently fit a profile that they were looking for.

    We put a deposit on an apartment on that trip. We returned 4 months later and got settled into the apartment. One day we drove out of our parking garage and a motorcycle cop pulled us over with lights and siren. He took off his helmet walked to my window and said “you’re back – bienvenidos!” He was one of the guys inspecting us at the checkpoint 4 months earlier.

    It became a regular thing. If he saw us driving he would pull us over and we would chat for a bit and catch up. Occasionally we would go for tacos. A delightful guy who was half my age – a true Mexican.

  18. Randi Cawley | April 10, 2018 at 8:01 am |

    Thank you so much for your wonderful tips on such relevant topics. My husband an I have been coming to Mexico for the past 8 years. We are exploring retirement in Quintana Roo within the next 3 years. We absolutely love Mexico and the Mexican people and the culture. Looking forward to your next topic.
    Randi

  19. One suggestion when approaching check points is to approach the checkpoint at a very slow speed. Leave one car length of space between you and the guy in front of you. Have your front and back seat windows rolled down, remove sun glasses, Make sure seat belts are on. At night do all of these same things and turn on your inside dome lights to light up the interior of your vehicle. Mexico police are expert profilers and in most case they are looking for specific people or vehicles. By having your windows down will allow them to see your contents and in most cases will eliminate the search. Tinted windows are not welcomed down here. Professional courtesy goes along way.

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