Travel Safety in Perspective: USA vs. Mexico

Zacatecas - older than Boston, and safer

There’s been a lot of news coverage about violence in Mexico, very little of it bothering to note that Mexico is a huge country with thirty-some states and that a) almost all of that violence is narco-related and b) you can count the number of tourists affected on one hand.

Meanwhile, according to the FBI, “An estimated 15,241 persons were murdered nationwide in 2009” in the United States of America.

Officially, 111 U.S. citizens were killed in Mexico last year, a third in just two cities. Almost all of them were involved in illicit vocations, usually the trafficking of guns, drugs, or people across the border. This is 111 out of close to 8 million visitors, with nearly 1 million of those being part- or full-time residents choosing Mexico over the U.S. or Canada.

You know who else had 111 murders in one year recently? Boston. And Las Vegas. And Orlando. Are any tourists scared of going to those places?

Meanwhile, almost 1,000 U.S. citizens died in Puerto Rico. Nobody running the news desks cares about Puerto Rico or has an incentive to make people scared of Puerto Ricans (by nature, they can’t be “illegal immigrants”), so this isn’t widely reported.

Then there’s the U.S. proper, which can’t get a State Department travel alert because it’s, well, not a foreign country. How’s your city doing in comparison to Mexico when it comes to the annual numbers?

Atlanta  – city, 80 murders. Atlanta MSA (metropolitan statistical area), 325 murders
Baltimore – 238 city, 298 MSA
Boston – 50 city, 111 MSA
Dallas/Ft. Worth – 210 city, 310 MSA
Detroit – 365 city, 447 MSA
Houston – 287 city, 462 MSA
Indianapolis – 100 city, 111 MSA
Jacksonville, FL – 99 city, 120 MSA
Kansas City – 100 city, 163 MSA
Las Vegas – 111 city, 133 MSA
Los Angeles – 312 city, 768 MSA
Miami  – 59 city, 377 Miami to Boca Raton corridor
New Orleans – 174 city, 252 MSA
New York City – 471 city, 778 MSA
Orlando – 28 city, 111 MSA
Philadelphia – 302 city, 436 MSA
Phoenix – 122 city, 302 MSA
San Francisco – 45 city, 292 MSA
St. Louis – 143 city, 210 MSA
Washington, DC – 143 city, 325 MSA

To put things in perspective, the murder rate in the Yucatan state of Mexico is 2 per 100,000. That’s about the same as Fond du Lac, Wisconsin or Evansville, Indiana. Mexico City’s is 8 per 100,000. Despite being one of the most populated cities on the planet, that’s on par with Albuquerque, NM. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never felt scared in Albuquerque…



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  1. Scott

    seriously, how many crimes and violence is from gangs that are not just us americans. Japanese, Chinese, or lets say just asian gangs, Mexican gangs, u.s gangs. Drug related crimes. You don’t see these happening down there as much because you don’t see or hear about asian’s blacks (sorry African Americans) Mexicans, Colombians moving to mexico now do you. If they would there would be aot less crimes here and guaranteed more there.

  2. Gary

    So TRUE! I live in Puerto Vallarta and I’ve been looking for soli info to share to friends and other tourists who are “scared”. Thank you so much and thanks for making me laugh out loud with the ending Albuquerque note :)
    Do you mind if I outsource or Re-blog this?

  3. Tolstae

    Invaluable article that dispels the myths about crime in latin america and especially mexico. This article changed the way I view Latin America and opens up the gateway to exploring mexico and all its offerings for a better life style and wonderful vacation experience.

  4. S

    As someone who has lived in Metro Detroit for almost nine years, and lived and worked in Detroit the last three and a half… I came to this site to look up actual people talking since I’ll be taking a business trip with my husband to Aguascalientes soon. I can see how both sides can have something to say. People from Detroit love to rave about it, but then I know how much arson is within a mile from me, know I can’t go to the Exxon up the street from me after seven o’clock, and have known several people carjacked. The point of these anecdotes is: many people saying, “Mexico’s great!” or “These parts of Mexico are great!” could be akin to the hipsters thinking Detroit is great–Detroit ISN’T great, even if a patch or two might be nice. That also being said… some of the statistics I read on Mexico pale in comparison to Detroit’s. I think it was maybe a year or two ago that we smashed our murder record by… February of that year? Many deaths in Detroit, unfortunately, are gang related… in that bystanders (drive bys, fires, etc.) are affected, not just “people fighting.” That would be my question on the gang-related statistics of Mexico. If the USA got rid of their goddamn “War on Drugs,” this whole blog post wouldn’t be needed though :/ Any violence that exists in Mexico would all but disappear.

  5. Klare

    i live in the Yucatan on the coast and live here now for 2.5 years and what i have noticed in my area was only petty theft but not major crimes. personally i did not experience any crimes at all.

  6. Bilede

    Staggering data I must confess. I used to think Mexico is a dangerous place to travel to until I meet a student trough AIESEC and she told us a lot about her country, good and bad parts. It’s strange how we let our self influenced this much by TV and movies and how researching helps you know the truth and for your own opinion. I have a friend who just got married and he will travel during 3 months all over the world, including some destinations I myself had doubts about. As for Mexico and USA, I think there are a lot more things to see in Mexico – culture wise, then in USA.

  7. Joselyn Seifer

    You’re right. When you put the number in perspective like that, there really is no greater danger in traveling to Mexico as there is to traveling to many major US cities. I think it’s sad that Mexico’s tourist industry has suffered so much because of the drug related violence down there. Going to somewhere like Cancun or Acapulco is no more dangerous than it’s even been, and it’s never been that dangerous to begin with.

  8. John Scherber

    I’ve lived in Mexico for 7 years and crime is hardly a consideration. Avoid the drug trade–easy to do–and you’ll be fine. After 15 months of criss-crossing Mexico, my new book looks at Americans and Canadians who’ve chosen to avoid the big expat colonies in San Miguel de Allende and Lake Chapala. What they’ve found is both diverse and surprising. If you’re wondering what the expat experience is like, whether on the beach or in the colonial cities of the interior, you need to listen to this conversation. The book is called Into the Heart of Mexico: Expatriates Find Themselves Off the Beaten Path, and there is no other book like it. There’s a sample on my website:

  9. Jim

    I have been to Mexico 3 times driving with no incidents. I researched the best entry points and areas to avoid. Common sense and a little research goes a long way. If you go looking for drugs you are begging for trouble. Murders of tourists in Mexico makes for good press. Tourist murders in the US do not. You can get killed in any major city in the US by getting lost and ending up in the wrong neighborhood QUICK ! The press is the worst place to get accurate info.

  10. Maureen

    Tell that to Evan Tweed. I have heard of one too many people getting “arrested” (kidnapped by the officials) for no reason, including at an all-inclusive resort, merely so the officials can force them to pay a ransome they disguise as a fine. I will NEVER spend one dollar in that country. Never.

    • Tim Leffel

      Since this has happened to probably 0.000001 of the people who have visited a Mexican resort, I think it’s safe to say you’ve got another reason for not going. You’re more likely to get killed by a random gunman where you live now, if you look at the real statistics.

  11. Katherine Prince

    And how many Mexican citizens are murdered in Mexico every year? This article compares apples to oranges. Why would you want to mislead people like this? If you want to write a story, at least make valid points please…smh.

  12. Angelica James

    Quite good one

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