Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Traffic stops in Mexico: What to expect if stopped by the police

Seeing the flashing lights of a police car in your rearview mirror is always stress-inducing. But traffic stops in Mexico, where you don’t know what to expect and you may or may not speak the language, can be even more so.

Those RVing south of the border should be aware that traffic stops in Mexico are significantly different than in the United States.

If you are stopped for a traffic violation in Mexico, you will be asked for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and possibly proof of insurance. You will also be told what you did wrong.

Of course, in the U.S. we would then be issued a ticket that requires us to pay a fine or appear in court at a later date.

Not so in Mexico! In Mexico, motorists follow the officer to the nearest police station then and there.

Once at the station you can pay the fine or fight your case, should you feel the stop was unjustified. Unlike in the states, most road infractions are quite reasonable (usually under $20).

What I just described is how traffic stops in Mexico should work according to the book.

But there are two other scenarios that you might find yourself in.

Morditas or “bribing the police”

Corruption happens everywhere in Mexico, but I like to call it “equal opportunity corruption” in that it is priced in such a way that anyone can play.

I am not saying you SHOULD attempt to bribe the police if you get pulled over by law enforcement. Doing so is illegal for both the person offering the bribe and the police officer accepting it.

That said, the practice is deeply ingrained in the culture and is done all the time.

In fact, there are corrupt police who will stop people for no other reason than to extract a mordita or bribe. (The word in English means “bite.”)

If it makes you feel any better, it regularly happens to Mexican nationals as well as gringos. And also take into consideration that the average cop in Mexico makes under $15,000 a year.

To be sure, locals on the community social media boards HATE it when anyone pays a mordita as they say it just continues the practice.

That may be true. Yet I suspect many of the loudmouths do it when they get stopped.

In the 50 years or so that I have been traveling to Baja, absolutely nothing has changed in relation to morditas. Likewise, for all practical purposes, the practice doesn’t show any signs of stopping.

Twenty bucks (or its equivalent in pesos) seems the going rate for most minor infractions.  But, of course, morditas are highly negotiable. The officer will either take the bribe or not.  If not, you go to the station.

My experiences with law enforcement in Mexico

I have had two personal experiences with traffic stops in Mexico in the last six years.

The first time it was dusk. I missed a small stop sign partially hidden behind some bushes while driving my Class B motorhome. I ran the sign and nearly t-boned a cop coming the other way. Of course, I got pulled over, and rightfully so.

While I was apologizing profusely for my error to one officer, my male traveling companion was talking to another on the passenger side. Next thing I knew we were on our way.

When I inquired how, my friend informed me he asked the officer if he could “pay the fine here instead of going to the station,” and took out $20. The cop took the bill and we were on our way.

I considered it a bargain, considering my error.

The Mordita Shakedown

The second time I got stopped, it was a pure mordita shakedown and nothing more.

We were in fairly heavy traffic. I was not speeding and, in fact, could not speed. Nonetheless, I got pulled over.

The officer claimed he stopped me because I was on my phone.

I explained I was not on my phone and that the car was outfitted with a complete hands-free phone system in its dash. I had no need to ever be holding my phone.

OK, that didn’t work.

Next, he claimed he stopped me because my dogs were loose and not in cages in the car.

I was not having it. I’ve regularly seen passels of kids loose in the back of pickup trucks and the police do not bat an eye, let alone stop those vehicles. I knew a law requiring dogs to be caged in cars did not exist.

I was hungry, tired, and not in a good mood when I told him, “Enough of this. Take me to the station.”

That stopped everything.

He did not know what to do. I don’t think anyone had ever called him on it before.

He nervously told me to lead the way and he would follow me. I said I didn’t know where the station was, so I would follow him. We took off driving slowly. Very slowly. About 20 mph, until we came to a stop sign about a quarter-mile down the road.

He got out of his car, came back to mine and simply said, “Go home.”

And that was the end of it.

So if you are in the right, it can pay to politely challenge a mordita shakedown.

Remember the goal of the police officer in most mordita situations is to make a little extra cash without getting caught and with a minimum of hassle.

He is looking for frightened people willing to pay to go about their day. He does not want to explain to his commanding officer that he was trying to shake down a tourist.

The police as thieves

There is one more type of law enforcement challenge you might face in Mexico that does not happen nearly as often but is far more sinister.

I have not experienced true thuggery at the hands of Mexican police, but I know it sometimes happens. The tales usually filter onto the ex-pat community boards on Facebook.

When it happens it is almost always in remote areas, and it’s not pretty. Police have been known to steal cash, cameras, jewelry, and other valuables.

Even in these situations, however, some of those who have stood their ground have made it stop.

Taking out a cell phone to film the encounter seems to often do the trick. But if you find yourself in this type of unfortunate encounter, you will need to judge the mood and danger of the situation and your location yourself.

However, know these crimes are usually committed by lower-ranking officers and getting caught doing these things can cost them their jobs. They do not want to get caught.

There are things you can do to protect yourself from this kind of corruption and also to minimize your losses. See the tips below.

Additional tips for traffic stops in Mexico.

  • Always be respectful. This is good advice for dealing with police in any country, including the U.S. Being belligerent will never get you anywhere.
  • You should always carry your driver’s license, vehicle registration, proof of Mexican insurance, passport, visa/FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple, also known as Tourist Card) card, and personal emergency contact numbers with you when driving in Mexico.
  • Keep the bulk of your cash somewhere other than with your driver’s license. That way if you are being shaken down, you can claim that’s all you have. If they see you have more they are likely to ask for more. The same is true if you ever get robbed.
  • In some cases, drivers have reported corrupt police trying to keep their IDs. It’s not a bad idea to keep and show a laminated copy of your driver’s license. However, if the officer asks if it is a copy it is best to be honest. Lying to the police is never a good idea.
  • If you do feel you have been wronged, Sindicatura is an organization run by the Mexican government that investigates corrupt police interactions. You can find details on their website. Sometimes just mentioning this organization can be enough to get you out of a shakedown as it will show you are at least aware of some of your rights.
  • Many people on the ex-pat message boards report their shakedown experiences ended the minute they started filming the encounter and taking the officers’ photos.
  • Avoid driving at night, especially in remote areas.
  • If possible, drive in groups in remote areas.
  • You may also encounter military checkpoints from time to time while driving in Mexico. These are different than police encounters. The uniformed, machine gun outfitted soldiers may look intimidating but these are usually quick checks of ID and immigration papers (so have passports and visas handy). Sometimes they may ask to look in the vehicle.
  • If you are asked to get out of the car for an inspection, be sure to take your wallet or purse with you, along with pets. Keep an eye on the officers searching your vehicle or RV to the best of your ability.



Cheri Sicard
Cheri Sicardhttps://cannademy.com/
Cheri Sicard is the author 8 published books on topics as diverse as US Citizenship to Cannabis Cooking. Cheri grew up in a circus family and has been RVing on and off her entire life.


  1. I had a horrifying experience trying to get back into the US with my Mexican wife (my first wife). She was born and raised in Chicago, just like me. She barely spoke any Spanish. The Mexican border guards were trying to accuse me of ‘stealing’ this Mexican lady (we were both in our 20’s) and would NOT believe we were married. They wanted to see proof. A marriage license or something that proved our marriage. Who carries THAT? Looking back, I think they wanted me to offer some cash. Finally, after a bunch of back-and-forth, and one of the guards talking (or acting like talking) on the phone they told us to “GO”. I will NEVER go to Mexico – EVER!

  2. Two weeks last fall in Oaxaca city and southern Pacific coast which included Dia de los Muertos. Had an excellent time and would do it again. It all depends on where you’re going and your intentions. I drove to Cabo in 2015 by myself in my truck camper, not one issue. The biggest issues in Mexico and other [bleeped] countries are corruption, infrastructure, garbage and stray dogs, much like many parts of the great USA. I’ve honestly been more concerned travelling in certain areas of the USA than in Mexico. Travelling outside the USA is not for everyone, I’ll leave it at that.

  3. It’s always baffled me why anyone would want to take this risk. I’ve watched plenty of YouTube RVers travel south of the border, through terrible traffic situations (roads not stable & crazy drivers) and yes, they saw some beautiful beaches. But, at what possible cost? Especially if they’re bringing children with them! There’s so much to see within our borders. No thank you.

  4. Year 2000. Husband loves Mexico, traveled in his younger days with friends. Reluctantly agreed to go. Got stopped at military check points going in and out. On the way out, major checkpoint pulling over motorists. We are in MH/towing. The side of the road is sand & husband knew we would be in trouble if we pulled over, but they were insistent and yes, had machine guns (not that they would use, just intimidating). Well we sank and couldn’t get out. They were very embarrassed. My husband tried using our 4 wheel drive to pull out the MH (gas 34 footer). No go. Next thing a military hummer comes up over the hills and pulls us out. Never went back, won’t go, especially now, because of the increased danger & the cartels & drugs coming into the US.

  5. Now I know where Cook County IL (Chicago) gets all their crooked ways, I worked on the south side of Chicago back in the 70’s and 80’s and it was commonly know to always carry a $50 bill neatly folded behind your drivers license in case you were stopped by city or county cops. That way when they asked for your license you could pull our your license and the $50 together and hand it to them under the license. Usually just a verbal warning was all that you got, besides being in need of another $50 bill. Living outside of Cook county I wasn’t aware of these procedures and when I was stopped on a bogus stop, the officer just said he and his partner were kind of hungry and hadn’t had breakfast. I picked up on that and asked how much they normally ate as I only had $27 on me. He said that would get them by until lunch, the next day I got a fresh $50 bill and put it under my license, even though I got by for less money I wouldn’t have been standing outside my car for 40 minutes

    • I grew up in Chicago in the 50s and 60s. It was in the 60s when I started driving and being a typical teenager (young and dumb and full of, well, you know) I was caught speeding (or so the cops said) many times. Many of them would openly ‘suggest’ you could contribute to their lunch fund which was an overturned hat in the front seat. Usually a fiver would cover it. That’s all changed now, I think. But it sure kept me in a driver’s license in those days.

  6. I realize many Americans travel in Mexico with little or no problems and have been doing so for years. However, a friend was traveling with his neighbor’s family and was run off the road by a dump truck that was passing another vehicle in a blind curve. Their motorhome rolled down a hillside and they suffered serious injuries. The local police charged them with the accident. Their documents were confiscated and the shakedown went on for over 6 months both in the hospital and intermittent jail episodes. Their families finally paid bribes and they were able to escape by sneaking across the border to avoid the Mexican authorities. This happened in the 1970s and none of them has ever gone back. Currently, there are almost 600 Americans unaccounted for in Mexico.

  7. why would you even want to go to Mexico in an RV….or in anything for that matter. The country is totally corrupt and run by the cartels. No way would I subject my family or myself to the danger.

    • Your first mistake is stating that the “country is totally corrupt”. Have you ever been to Mexico”? There are many safe places and states in Mexico.. The state of Yucatan is one of them. My family has been traveling there for 8 years during the winter season. Never had a problem. I’d be more concerned about traveling in many of the US states.

  8. The easy solution to all the problems is don’t leave our beautiful country. When you do you are asking for trouble, no other country in the world has the freedoms we have. Most foreign countries you are guilty until proven innocent so even a traffic stop could put you in jail for a long time.

    • You say “ no other country in the world has the freedoms we have.” You are discounting Canada, our wonderful neighbor to the North. While visiting Canada, you won’t have to duck the flying bullets at the mall. Gun ownership in Canada is minimal.

      • Like he said, freedoms like us. Until people quit blaming a object like bullets or scary guns instead of the perp, criminal, slime bucket who committed the crime and hold that person accountable and keep them in prison instead of a revolving door…should be no such thing as a rap sheet, only 3 ways to stop the madness!!!

        • In North East Pa the judges are linient on criminals who shoot others. One guy got two years house arrest less a couple months he spent in jail. So why would people care about shooting others. No one complains about this situation, but these same people want to take our guns.

      • Our Canadian neighbors have most of the freedoms we enjoy but not all of them. They only allow criminals to have guns that way they can’t be shot by an armed citizen. Just one of the freedoms we enjoy, the right to defend ourselves. Need I go on?

    • I feel more comfortable traveling in Mexico than the USA. Your comment about “freedoms” in your country is a discussion for another time.

  9. Right. Bribery is “part of the culture”. Corruption is just in their blood. And people who point out that paying a bribe is a federal crime and that there are other cards to play in these situations are loudmouths.

  10. It’s Mexico, no need to read further. Enjoy it if you go, I won’t be in your way. But see if some folks need a ride back before you leave.

  11. Being a retired police officer, with personal knowledge of at least four separate police families being robbed BY Mexican Police, never will I subject my family or friends to ever go again to Mexico! As another reader said there’s just too much great things to see in America, to subject ourselves to that!

    • Also being former law enforcement, my patience with these illegal shakedowns would be very limited. They would know how I feel and the situation would probably escalate. Paying a bribe is not in my character. For that reason, Mexico, a country that wants the tourist U.S. dollar will not get mine…ever.

  12. We spent 12 winters on the Baja. VERY nice people. Still have lots of Mexican friends there. Always carried an International Driver’s License(Available from AAA-$45?), so my actual license stayed in my pocket. One friend got shook down on the highway. Cop asked for $1000, settled for $50. I was rear-ended at a stop sign. Cops very nice. Sent me on my way(Very little damage. I agreed). Lost a flashlight to a military stop. Another military stop wanted a knife I had forgotten to conceal. I was able to dissuade him. My Mex. friends in Baja won’t go to the mainland, or Tijuana, too dangerous.
    RVed in South Africa in 2015. Same cautions there as listed in this article.
    Recently saw an article about a small town in a southern state that was shaking people down.
    Humans suck.

  13. Most of the stuff mentioned in the article happened to me in one traffic stop in Greybull, Wyoming in the early 1970s.
    I’ve travelled in Mexico also and don’t doubt they are probably a little more corrupt than officials here, a little.

  14. We have RVed the Baja end to end. Driven Mex 200 from Bahia Kino to Puerto Angel with many side trips away from the coast (Tequila, Patzcuaro, Guadalajara, etc.) Currently driving around the Gulf coast to Chetumal and along the Guatemala border to central Chiapas, Oaxaca, Mexico City, and back home to Delaware. We have been stopped many times by local cops, state police, and military. They have all been very friendly, curious, and happy to see people from the US. One guy did ask if we would buy him a cup of coffee. We gave him 20 pesos ($1).
    We have never met an unfriendly Mexican.
    We avoid gringo tourist areas, but we have been to all of them.
    If you hang out in tourist bars, bad things happen. Have ever been out late boozing in a big US city? Same deal – stupid, except in the US, the criminals have guns.
    Stay away from the border or move through it quickly. We wouldn’t go near Tijuana.
    Leave your guns at home.

    • I guess from your point of you that might be correct. I’ve traveled back-and-forth between Baja and the US for several years and Cheri is right about all of these things but don’t let it dissuade you from experiencing the great weather, the still unspoiled beaches, the fantastically friendly people. The hot hot sun. The gorgeous sea. Sorry you’re going to miss our gym

    • I agree. Why would I spend money in a country that allows illegal immigrants to pass through their country and into the USA unchecked!

      • If your country didn’t let them in they won’t come. If your country can’t control the drug addicts there would be no reason to send drugs to your country. Get your country in order before you put down mine! I became a Mexican citizen because the United States walks too proudly on the earth I prefer a land far less racist and far more accepting.

  15. We go to Mexico on a regular basis. Mostly to Puerto Peñasco. We have never had an issue with the Police. We are careful about stop signs and speed limits. This article is accurate and reflects reality. Many of the “urban legends” you will hear are just not accurate and instill fear. One comment about having clips in the RV is a real bozo no no. DO not take arms or ammo to either Mexico or Canada.

  16. And the reason I won’t ever dream of going to Mexico. I saw to many Sailors and Soldiers getting fined in Tijuana for the exact amount of cash they had minus the bus fare to get back to the base. No wonder the people south of the border want to come here. I just hope they don’t bring the Bribery culture here.

    • News Flash ! It’s already here. I wonder what some of us always open-minded RVers would think if Mexico turned all the RVs away at the border in an effort to stop the North Americanization of Mexico. (Los Angeles Bay instead of Bahia de Los Angeles? Sheesh!)

  17. One of the reasons I’ll never go to Mexico. Went to TJ as a kid and had a good time. No way will I ever venture there again.

  18. One other problem in Mexico…..criminals who impersonate the police….this can be extremely dangerous. Tijuana is often rated as the most dangerous city in the world (that is not in a war zone). Multiple murders, assaults, robberies. You might think that’s a real cop pulling you over….but it might not be!

  19. Made the terrible mistake of leaving a clip of bullets in the Jeep and got pulled over. That one was costly and involved ak’s pointed at me for an hour.

  20. Nothing that I’ve read in this article is a surprise, but it is good to read real experience and how it was handled. What surprises me, is that anyone is willing to risk an RV trip into Mexico. A cruise stop, or a flight destination town (Acapulco, Cancun, etc) is one thing. But, driving from Point A to Point B in a foreign land, where corruption runs rampant amongst those that are sworn (actually not sure about that) to protect, is not worth the risk to me & my family. After 4 years of RVing, we are only about 1/3rd of our way thru our bucket list. We fortunately have plenty to see in the U.S.

    • Corruption is there but in no way does it run rampant. Also the poverty here does run rampant so when the occasional coins disappear from the car or some items I made like disappear from the yard, I think about the people who are taking that and how hard it must be for them. Somehow we can recover.

    • Dave…so right you are!

      I have been fortunate to have traveled to many countries on five continents. While I have mostly enjoyed the travel, I have always been very happy when my feet were firmly planted back on U.S. soil! That said, if I couldn’t live in the US I would probably pick Australia or Canada.

      Between the US and Canada, I’ll never run out of great places to go.


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