How to Deal With Corrupt Mexican Police like a Local [2023]

Dec, 20, 2022

We’ve all heard the stories about the corrupt cops south of the border. With stories ranging from extortion to money laundering, to kidnapping, the Mexican authorities and the rest of Latin American law enforcement officials do not have the best reputation when it comes to police corruption.

In recent years and throughout the past decade, there has been a lot of focus on trying to get Mexican police officers under control, but the majority of these efforts by the Mexican government have failed.

While a good cop would be focused on stopping drug cartels and serious crime to improve public safety, the sad reality is that many local police forces have other priorities. In this post, we’re going to tell you our own horror story of an encounter with a corrupt police officer. Then we’ll give you some tips for dealing with corrupt police in Mexico in case this unfortunate scenario ever happens to you.

If you’re more of a listener than a reader, Our YouTube Vlog tells the whole story!

here is our story of how we got robbed by the corrupt Mexican police.

Our story begins at the crack of dawn in Puebla. We got up bright and early to make the drive to Mexico City, as we needed to catch a flight to El Paso, Texas to figure out a student visa issue. This was very early in our time living in Mexico, and only about three days after buying our first car there.

The drive from Puebla to Mexico City takes about two hours, and we planned on getting to the airport a full four hours in advance of our flight, just in case we hit any hiccups along the way.

Young woman in blue jeans sitting on the roof of a yellow mini cooper
The day we bought our first car. It only took the Mexican police two days to rob us. Oh what it was to be young, dumb, and happy.

Once we arrived within the limits of Mexico City, traffic started to get much denser and there were police officers everywhere. Just a short distance from the airport – maybe 5 miles – we were flagged by a police officer on a motorcycle and instructed to pull off the highway. We followed him down the ramp and rolled down the window to hear what he had to say.

In Spanish he told us, “You’re driving out of accordance with the Hoy no Circula policy. You can’t drive until 11am today. You’re going to have to pay me 4,800 pesos or else I will have to tow your car.”

Wow. We were so close! Two hours down and only ten minutes away from the airport. Being new in Mexico, we had no idea what he was talking about. What is Hoy no Circula, anyway? We had never heard of a law controlling who can drive on what day, and this sounded like a total joke.

We looked it up and realized that we were, in fact, driving out of accordance with the policy, had committed a traffic violation, and did deserve a ticket. But 4,800 pesos? At the time, that was about $225USD.

That couldn’t be right. In the United States, the steepest fine I had heard of for a speeding ticket was less than that, and we were driving below the speed limit! We pled with him, told him we didn’t carry that kind of money, offered him everything in our wallet, begged…you get the idea.

He could smell our fear and displeasure, and he wanted to wring every penny possible out of us. He asked me if I had a debit card or credit card with me. When I said I did, he ordered me to get out of the car and follow him to an ATM where I could withdraw cash to pay my fine.

Fishy? Yes. But it’s Mexico! Things work differently south of the border. I did not realize at the time that he was soliciting a cash bribe from me, as I was entirely unaware that this was a common scandal perpetrated by local authorities.

We offered the officer everything in our wallet, but he could smell our fear and got greedy. He walked me forcefully to an ATM with his hand on his hip, conveniently close to his gun.

We withdrew the necessary cash and paid the corrupt officer our hefty fine. He gave us a scribbled receipt and we went on our way. He told us that since we had paid our fine, we were free to finish our drive to the airport and we wouldn’t have any more problems.

If pulled over, we were to show our receipt to the officer, and he would understand and let us go.

Five minutes later, we found out that wasn’t the case. We got pulled over AGAIN for the same thing, and the municipal police officer laughed when we showed him our receipt of payment.

“That’s not a receipt, that’s just some scribbles. How do we know you didn’t just write that?” he said. Most American debit cards have a daily cash withdrawal limit of around $300, and we made this clear to him.

A bit firmer this time, we told him he could take whatever we had on us but that we couldn’t withdraw any more from the bank. That satisfied this second not-so-kind police official, and he took all our pesos – and a $20 bill that was in the side pocket of my backpack. I didn’t know that they accepted dollars in Mexico City as official currency!

Our receipt was invalid, and the police tried to scam us again for the same violation. The first cop might not have even been a police officer!

The point is, we were caught extremely off guard and unprepared. Every time we tell this story to our Mexican friends, they are torn between cracking up at our stupidity or pitying our naïveté. Regardless, we learned our lesson and did our research on how to handle this situation if it were to ever happen again.

The tactics we mention today are a blend of advice from Mexicans and expats living in Mexico, and we think after reading this post you’ll be ready to handle any twisted cop that comes your way in Mexico or the rest of Latin America. While this post is tailored to Mexico, it is just as applicable in Panama City and in Rio de Janeiro.

The Structure of the Police System in Mexico

Before diving into tactics for dealing with corrupt police, it is important that you understand how the Mexican police system is structured. There are three different levels of police forces: local police forces, state police forces, and national police forces. The corruption tends to decrease the higher up the chain you go, and the tactics vary entirely.

Local Police Forces in Mexico

In Mexico, the local police forces are tasked with maintaining law and order in a certain city, town, or area. These are the offers you would find at a regular police station, and they are also the most likely to engage in corrupt activities and solicit cash bribes. A lot of the time, this is because they are vastly underpaid or pressured by their superiors into committing these crimes against drivers.

Generally speaking, the local police officers are focused on enforcing local laws, scanning license plate tags to make sure cars are not flagged, and stopping petty crime and drunk driving.

State Police Forces in Mexico

State police forces are slightly higher up the food chain than local police forces, and they are also slightly less corrupt, on average. At the state level, police officers are tasked with protecting the interests of the entire state, and their focuses tend to be on much larger priorities, like illegal drugs, violent crime, and following up on high-profile arrest warrants.

National Police Forces in Mexico

The national police force, more commonly referred to as the National Guard, are the highest level of police that exists in the country. Their job is to protect the interests of the whole country, like stopping narcotics traffickers and organized crime. If you have a run-in with a Mexican federal police officer, you are either in real trouble or committed a serious crime. As part of a federal agency, these officers tend to be the least corrupt.

Strategies You Should Use to Deal with Corrupt Mexican Police

We want to highlight 3 approaches that work very well in handling the police. Some approaches work better than others for certain people, so you need to judge based on your personality what will work best for you.

1. Play Dumb

Whether you are a native Spanish speaker, or you’ve been practicing for the whole last year, or you only learned the word “taco” last month, don’t even try to speak a word of Spanish. Local police officers (that is, not the state or federal police) are highly unlikely to speak English.

If you are in a popular tourist destination, like Playa del Carmen, there is a better chance that the officer will speak English. However, if you are in a less touristy place, like Puebla, the odds are very low. If you can, try to use a thick accent of some sort! My go-to would be a deep southern accent, as it is one of the hardest American accents for foreigners to understand.

Whether you choose to thicken your accent or not, just stick to your guns. In most circumstances, the officer will just give up and drive away. If he does that, get the heck out of there. You’re free to go! This should be the default approach because it doesn’t even involve you changing your excuse.

In the worst case scenario, the officer is able to speak English or calls a buddy who can, and you get to provide a whole new excuse once they translate your offense into English.

2. Pity Yourself

The corrupt cops get off on power, and if you stroke their ego they’re more likely to be nice to you. We learned this one from a good friend in Cholula.

Our best tip is to empty your wallet before you drive anywhere (including credit and debit cards) except for 100 or 200 pesos and your driver’s license. Hide the rest of your cash somewhere he will never find it – like down your pants, in your socks, or in your bra or other underwear. Show him that 200 pesos are all you have and ask if there is anything he can do to help you.

We must note, bribery is a federal offense, and you should not offer him the 200 pesos – but make it very clear that the 200 pesos are all that you have and that you’d really like to find a way to make it work. If the cop is corrupt, he will take your money and leave. If he is not, you never offered a bribe and therefore never committed a crime.

By admitting you did commit the violation (even if you didn’t) and accepting whatever “kind help” the officer offers, you’re probably going to get out of the situation just fine.

Again, just remember that speaking English or another language should be your first line of defense. Again, we do not advise bribing the police officer, but if he or she solicits it from you (though technically still a bribe), you might decide to pay the kind officer what he or she wants.

3. Kindly insist that you would like to go to the station

Counterintuitive? Absolutely! But it makes sense.

If the officer is looking to exploit you for cash, the last place he can do that is in the station. Even though he may offer to help you out and only charge a spot fine, you should kindly insist on going to the station to receive your official citation.

Most of the time, the officer will not want to go, as he or she will have to spend hours with you in the station and get nothing out of it while he or she could be out and about exploiting other drivers.

There is no legal way to pay a spot fine, by the way, and any receipt that the officer gives you will be fake. Fines can only be paid at the station, and if you insist to the officer that you know the law and that you’d like to handle it officially in the office, nine times out of ten a corrupt cop will just give you a warning and drive away.

If you do wind up going to the station and paying your fine, it will probably be somewhere between the fine he mentions and the bribe that he asks for, but at least the money will be going honestly to the station and the municipality and not just the pockets of an exploiting officer.

Strategies You Should NOT Use to Deal with Corrupt Mexican Police

Now, we want to break down two approaches that we absolutely do not recommend trying. For different reasons, these approaches are more likely to get you locked into paying a price, and probably a higher one than he initially asks for, too.

1. Don’t Be a Tough Guy or Tough Gal

This is literally the worst thing that you can do. Remember how we mentioned that you want to stroke the officer’s ego and make them feel big and mighty? Rivaling his or her authority is the complete opposite of that, and it is your first step toward a bigger problem.

If you act tough, get angry and make threats, the officer will simply arrest you for being disorderly or assaulting him or her. This is a very big no-no. Towing your car is technically something that the officer can’t do, even though they will threaten it.

But if you give them enough of a desire to cause you harm, they will absolutely find a way to make it happen. While police brutality isn’t a huge concern for tourists, having a long day at the police station and paying fees to get your car back are within the realm of possibilities.

While most officers will not do anything illegal beyond soliciting bribes for traffic violations, they most certainly can act above the law when they really want to. Don’t give them a reason to want to, because you will not win.

Having your car towed (and potentially never seeing it again) is a lot more expensive than paying him one hundred bucks (but if you listen to our tips above you shouldn’t ever really pay more than 10).

2. Don’t Mention that You’re in a Hurry or that You Have Somewhere to Be

Remember in the story of our encounter how we mentioned that I begged and pled and tried everything I could? One part of that was begging to let us go because we had a flight to catch. To us, it was just another reason why he should let us go. To him, it was fluorescent neon green dollar signs jumping up and down.

When we mentioned we had a flight to catch, we became hostages. He knew that we would pay more of a price because we were in a hurry and missing the flight would be more expensive than paying him a wad of cash.

Looking back, we now see that this is the reason why we were forced to pay so much. This is why he felt so confident in escorting me to an ATM and demanding cash. We showed our hand (which was as bad as an off-suit 2 and 7, if you play poker) and he took advantage.

Lesson learned. However, this doesn’t just apply to flights! Whether you have a tour, a meeting, a flight, a dinner, or whatever, don’t mention it! It’s customary to be 15 minutes late in Mexico, anyway, and odds are you won’t lose your spot on most things (but flights are a different story).

That wraps up our advice for how to deal with the corrupt cops in Mexico. We hope you heed our advice and have good luck if you ever have to deal with the cops, but more so we hope you never have to worry about dealing with them at all!

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to drop them in the comment section below or email us at [email protected]. Also, if you’re planning on driving in Mexico make sure to read our post with tips for driving in Mexico. If you enjoyed the story about our run-in with the Mexico City police, be sure to check out the video that we linked at the top of this post and subscribe to our Youtube channel.


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.


  1. Reply


    April 24, 2023

    We were recently extorted by an officer in Tulum for $200usd. I know what to do if there’s a next time!

    • Reply


      May 9, 2023


      I’m so sorry to hear that! In touristy places like Tulum this has become very common, unfortunately.

  2. Reply


    May 22, 2023

    Guess I will avoid going to Mexico because of corrupt police. Very unfortunate.

    • Reply


      May 22, 2023


      That is so sad! Don’t avoid Mexico just because of corrupt police officers. It is such an amazing country with so much to see. I recommend just not renting a car so that you never run into these issues!

  3. Reply


    June 6, 2023

    We’re in tulum now and been harassed by the same 2 police officers. Our first night they took $80 usd from us and now tonight they tried taking $100 usd and my husband stood up to him and said no, took his picture and told him we’re contacting the embassy and they let us leave.

    • Reply


      June 7, 2023

      Good for him! I’m happy he stood up to him. I hope you have a great rest of your trip, and that you have read my Tulum travel guide!

  4. Reply


    June 14, 2023

    Hi, you should remove all suggestions to pay the officer or allow the officer to take money from you. This is illegal. Its corruption. Period. Every time someone allows a police officer to scam them and the police officer succeeds and gets a nice reward out of it, the police is encouraged to do it again. He/she may even tell or encourage other police officers and the extortions will grow.

    You should use the same approach that the US takes with terrorists. The US does not negotiate with terrorists. Period. Similarly, neither should you.

    The correct approach is to say as little as possible. Document as much as possible and let the officer incriminate himself/herself. Say no to any illigsl requests (such as for extortion money, or illegal searches, etc) and stand you ground. Call the police and tell the criminal trying to extort you or search you (usually to try to find anything to extort you with) that police are on the way. When the corrupt police officer hears that police are on the way, he/ she will not stick around because they will be exposed as corrupt in front of a police officer they do not know and don’t want to take the risk of this exposure.

    In mexico, you should always ask for the official ticket and say you will pay it later. If they insist on paying on the spot it is extortion plain and simple. Insist on them wiring the ticket. If needed insist on going to the police station. Insist that you will not pay anything today and that you will just take the ticket. Chances are the police officer wrong write you the ticket.

    For traffic stops… if you are pulled over only roll down your window an inch to be able to hear the police officer. you may need to show ID, however, you don’t need to hand it to the police officer. You should keep your window up and just show them by placing the ID on the window.

    If the officer tries to search your vehicle, they can only do so if they have a good reason. You can ask them why. If they don’t have a reason or it’s a made up, or invalid reason or they are just trying to trick yoi… simply say that’s not a good reason and don’t move. Repeat as often as needed. Afyer repeating a few times you can then be sure that you have made it clear that they don’t have a valid readon and they are just trying to conduct and illegal search to find (or plant) “evidence” they can use against you, most likely to extort you. At this time you can start asking if you can leave since you have don’t nothing wrong. Repeat this forever until they understand that you know your rights and they won’t get anything out of you. You can simply repeat “Me gustaría ir ahora ya que no he hecho nada malo. ¿Soy libre de irme?”.

    The corruption will only continue if people keep giving in an paying corrupt police officers. If you don’t like it and want it to end, everyone needs to stand up to it. Everytime you pay, you are encouraging corruption to continue and you are part of the corruption problem.

  5. Reply


    July 4, 2023

    Don’t ask to go to the station.. Ever. You’re probably going to end up having to pay much more in bribes or they’ll find a reason to lock you up. In almost every case the cops bosses are going to cover for him and, if they are corrupt too (likely), they’ll want a bigger bribe. Nobody in Mexico is going to have sympathy for some gringo. They assume you have a ton of money or have family back home that will send it.

    We chose to live here. Learn Spanish, make friends with locals, blend in, become a part of your community, etc. When in Rome..

    -over 5 years in Acapulco and never have any problems. Blend in and you’ll be fine.

    • Reply


      July 5, 2023

      Great insight. Thanks, Thomas!

  6. Reply


    August 10, 2023

    I found this post because I m looking for options on what to do. My husband didn’t do anything wrong and a corrupt (maybe fake) police officer stopped us saying he passed a red light, which is so untrue, as we waited for the green light… Anyway, we were off guard and he paid 400 dollars so we wouldn’t have to go to the police station. He didn’t give us any paper… We are so pissed.

  7. Reply

    Greg K

    August 15, 2023

    Is there any institution that would at least accept a report of such an incident?

  8. Reply

    BoraDa Travels

    September 11, 2023

    Why on earth would you suggest paying a bribe – even 200 pesos- it perpetuates the corruption of local Mexican Police. Your recommendation to go to the police station is the only correct answer

  9. Reply

    Ronnie Owings

    October 1, 2023

    The same story happened to us yesterday while our Mexican friend was taking us to MEX airport. If only we had hidden our money in our socks, we would have been $200 richer today. Great advice. Thanks for taking the time to write this article.

    • Reply


      October 12, 2023

      Oh no Ronnie! I’m sorry to hear that!!

  10. Reply


    October 31, 2023

    We also were fined by a corrupt police officer in Mexico City for allegedly highspeeding. We reported it to the embassy and will file a complaint. We had to pay a fine of 9000 Pesos. The police officer let us pay by credit card. He even had his own card reader. He used Google translator to talk to us. Our little child was crying and screaming. It was horrible. We tried to ask for the ticket. He told us that we could download it online using the car plates numbers. When we wanted to call our friends, he threatened to arrest us and told us that it is prohibited to call anyone. When we wanted to go to the police station, he told us that we will have to pay the fine anyway and they will have to keep my driving licence and the documents of the car for 5 days and we would be able to get it back after those 5 days. I also asked him for mercy because it is a high amount of money but he didn’t care we only wanted his 9000 Pesos. We had car plates from Yucatan and we barely left the airport when the incident happened.

    • Reply


      February 19, 2024


      I’m so sorry you had this experience. How terrible. I can relate to the screaming child in the car! I’m so sorry you had to deal with this. Mexico really needs to get this issue under control.

  11. Reply


    October 31, 2023

    By the way, you are allowed to call anybody and you can make a video of the police officer (estoy grabando) and ask for his ID. And stay calm and polite.

  12. Reply


    December 18, 2023

    Just got shook down for 400 USD in Cancun. Cop insisted that it was take my driver license or pay… What else is a gringo to do? Not like them taking my license would have gone any better. Merry Christmas for that cops kid, I guess.

    I’m not going to visit Mexico again. I’ve traveled to lots of much seedier countries and I’ve never had such a problem before.

    Sie la vie. 400 dollars is a lot.

    • Reply


      February 19, 2024

      400? That is ridiculous. I can’t believe that. I’m sorry you had this experience.

  13. Reply

    Mark Fischer

    December 31, 2023

    Here is a data-point to consider.

    Friday, December 22nd, 2023, I was robbed, in Mexico, by the police, within minutes of crossing the western station at Mexicali.

    Was in morning traffic, no possibility of speeding. Did not run a red light. Not far enough in country to see a stop-sign yet. Two officers — or people pretending to be officers, an average-sized man, accompanied by a much larger man — the “bouncer”, as it turns out.

    They literally ransacked my car, looking for money — and found the pesos I had brought with me for gas-money and attending to local restaurants at my destination.

    Over 10,000 pesos, and 160 in 20s I happened to have on me.

    Rattled, but determined to get where I was going, I went the length of Baja California, again [ this is like my 30th trip to Baja California.

    At a special dinner arranged by my host for Christmas eve, at my destination, I happened to encounter another person, who had just arrived, and was sharing his very similar adventure. He had been told his offense was not stopping for a yellow light!

    Of course I shared what had just happened to me — on comparing notes, we realized _it was the same pair_! Let us call them Mutt and Jeff.

    Other people have said that, if you find yourself in this situation, “Just say ‘no’!”. I am willing to bet they have never actually done such a thing. This other gentleman, had also heard this advice, and tried it. Then took out his phone, and attempted to record the interaction — they took his phone, smashed it on the ground, and _put him in a head-lock_!

    So how did he get out of the predicament? 10,000 pesos! Interesting that his offense, “running a yellow light”, and mine, “driving funny”, both have the same fine!

    The real crime, apparently, is crossing the border, alone, with California plates, in a shiny new car. One may as well have a sign on the back that says “please rob me”.

    In summary — let me suggest a few points that might help if one is considering crossing the Mexican border in a vehicle:

    — If you bring cash, pesos or dollars, HIDE IT. I mean, hide it to the point that they would have to unload your car, and go through everything, to find it. These guys want to wrap this up quickly, so make “quickly” just about impossible.

    — If you bring cash, use _small denominations_. 10,000 pesos, 50 pesos at a time, is a very unwieldy bundle of money.

    — You can try to “assert your rights”, if you must. But please understand, these people are not cops, they are criminals, dressed as cops, and could not care less about your so-called “rights”.

    — Do not travel ALONE. I was alone. The other gentlemen who was also robbed, by the same people, on the same day, was also alone. They do not want witnesses — and if you are alone, you will have no witnesses that might cause these idiots to re-consider what they are doing. All those other times in Mexico without issue — had another person in the car with me.

    — Do not escalate. They have guns, and you don’t.

    — Do not run. Now you are “evading arrest”, and they have radios.

    Wishing all safe travels. I, for one, will never be in Mexico again in this life. When the cops are the bad guys [ it turns out “la mordida”, as it is known, is at epidemic proportions — and not, as I had mistakenly come to believe, confined to the mainland ], it is _no wonder_ people want to leave that country.


    • Reply


      February 19, 2024

      Hey Mark, thanks for sharing your story. I’m sorry you had that experience. It is a shame that this problem is so rampant in Mexico and many parts of Latin America, because it is such a big deterrent to travelers!

  14. Reply


    January 9, 2024

    We had exactly the same experience as Justyna. It was no 5min after arriving in CDMX. We informed ourselves for our further vacation time and can recommend for CDMX area the App Mi Policía, which intends to fight police corruption.
    When returning now after 3 weeks to CDMX airport we had the exact same scam about to happen again. We stayed calm, requested ID and mentioned checking with the App and it worked just as it should- he let us go.
    We couldn’t catch his plate so can’t report him officially which bugs me. But hey, this time no 9000 pesos (which from the first incident btw we are trying to retain from the credit card institute)

    Keep calm, ask a lot of questions and ID, ID, ID

    • Reply


      February 19, 2024

      Hey Stefanie,

      I’m sorry that you had a similar terrible experience. I will have to look into the Mi Policia app! That sounds like an awesome way to fight the corruption, which is such a massive issue.

  15. Reply


    May 14, 2024

    Wow, this is such an important topic! 🌍🚔 Your tips on dealing with corrupt police are super practical and eye-opening. It’s always good to be prepared and know what to do in tricky situations while traveling. Thanks for sharing your experiences and advice!

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.