Many have heard of the recent advisories from the U.S. State Department and Arizona's three universities, cautioning on travel to Mexico. Yet, many have also heard that Mexico beckons with some of the most tranquil beaches at appealing prices - sometimes at half the price of a Caribbean vacation.
What's a traveler to do?
The fact is, nearly 9 million Americans traveled to Mexico in 2008 alone, and the majority enjoyed their vacation without incident. That's because the border violence that spurred travel warnings has remained fairly isolated and has not been reported in resort areas or on the major highways leading to Rocky Point, a popular destination for Arizonans.
That's not to say that vacationers should abandon their caution while traveling in Mexico, or in any unfamiliar town, regardless of the city or country. Quite the contrary. Laws in Mexico differ from laws in the U.S.; to be prepared travelers should pack some common sense and keep the following tips in mind:
Before you go:
* Be prepared for new border requirement laws. U.S. citizens 19 years or older will be required to present both a government-issued photo ID and proof of citizenship, such as a passport or birth certificate paired with a driver's license. Citizens 18 or younger will be required to present proof of citizenship. Passports and birth certificates must be original or certified copies; photocopies will not be accepted. On June 1, this requirement will change and all U.S. citizens returning to the country from Mexico will need a valid passport.
* If traveling by vehicle, buy Mexico auto insurance. U.S. auto insurance is not valid in Mexico; though some companies extend their coverage a certain number of miles from the border, Mexican officials will not recognize this. If a collision occurs, a Mexico auto policy is the only form of insurance the authorities will accept as evidence of financial responsibility. If you cannot provide Mexico auto insurance, you could be arrested and sent to jail. Motorists interested in purchasing affordable Mexico auto insurance can do so at any AAA branch office or online through www.AAA.com.
* Bring copies of important documents. Make copies of your passport, birth certificate and driver's license and store them separate from the originals.
During your stay:
* Remember that in Mexico, you are assumed guilty until proven innocent. This means that if you are arrested for any reason, you may be jailed until you can prove your innocence. For this reason, obey all laws in Mexico.
* Stay with your party at all times and avoid sharing your travel itinerary with people you meet on vacation.
* Do not hail a taxi yourself. If you need a taxi, ask someone from your hotel or a restaurant to summon an authorized taxi for you.
* If you plan on renting recreational vehicles, such as jet skis and ATVs, use caution. These may be uninsured, underinsured or not covered by your personal insurance. Read the rental contract carefully and do not operate these vehicles recklessly. If you incur damage to other vehicles or people while operating a rented vehicle, you could be arrested until full restitution is made.
* Drive carefully. When driving in Mexico, remember that speed limits are posted in kilometers rather than miles per hour. Obey the speed limits and other traffic controls, even if other motorists are ignoring them.
Upon your return:
* Pick your return day and time carefully. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, peak wait times at the border are Sundays and Mondays between noon and 7 p.m. Avoid returning on these days and arrive at the border before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. to reduce delays.
* Be sure to answer all questions truthfully and declare all items acquired while in Mexico. The amount of merchandise you can bring back from Mexico varies by region.
For more information on document requirements and prohibited or restricted items, travelers can visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Web site at http://www.cbp.gov">www.cbp.gov.
Linda Gorman is public affairs director for AAA Arizona. Reach her at (602) 650-2716.