Mexico Safety, Transportation

Military Checkpoints in Mexico

Soldier Checks Vehicle in Mexico

When you take a road trip across Mexico, sooner or later you will probably come across a military checkpoint.

The checkpoints are either permanent or of the type which are set-up on the fly and may appear on any highway at any time of day or night.  Some checkpoints stop every vehicle for inspection, although most create a bottle-neck to slow down the traffic enabling the officers at the checkpoint to selectively signal certain vehicles to pull-over and stop at an inspection area situated at the side of the road. Private vehicles, public buses, taxis, as well as commercial trucks and vehicles may be stopped and searched at these checkpoints.

If you’re riding on a public intercity bus, a military officer may signal the bus driver to pull-over and have search dogs check the baggage holds; officers might also board the bus to undertake further searches.

There is no need to feel alarmed if your vehicle, or a bus you are traveling on, are selected for a revision and signaled to pulled-over.

If you are traveling in a private vehicle, the officer in charge will politely ask to look at the contents of your car’s trunk, and they might also ask you to step out of the vehicle while they check the contents inside.  At some checkpoints, mirrors are used to inspect underneath the vehicle, and search dogs may be present to sniff for the presence of drugs and other illicit items.  To expedite the process in the shortest time, simply be courteous and comply with the lead-officer’s requests.

The checkpoints are installed to monitor and prevent the illegal movement of goods on Mexico’s roads.  In addition to checking for illicit narcotics, officers are inspecting vehicles for the unauthorized transportation of items such as precious woods (e.g. mahogany) as the trading of these is licensed in Mexico; ancient artifacts that might have been stolen from archaeology sites; and ensuring that large commercial trucks have their paperwork in order when they are transporting restricted or licensed goods.

In the unlikely event that the lead officer decides to detain you or your vehicle, you should ask why they are doing so and, if you are a foreign national, you should request access to your country’s consulate to inform them of your detention.

Most inspections are completed within a few short minutes and you should soon be on your way.  Unless heavy traffic has caused a backlog of slow-moving cars on the approach to the checkpoint, the event will hardly make a difference to your journey’s itinerary.

For complete guides to getting around in Mexico, connect to our Travel Essentials : Transport in Mexico section here on Mexperience.

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8 Comments

  1. Danielle Savard says

    Three years ago, we were stopped by military on the road between Akumal to Cancun while we were going to the airport. The guard wanted to give us a ticket because my brother in the back did not have his belt. It was not required at that time on that road, and with the luggage the space was tight in the car. He said to us that to contest we had to go to the police station, but since we were going to the airport he said that going to the airport will be tight. The solution he suggested was that we pay him on the spot so he will not give us a ticket. We gave him the only $40.00 left. We went many times in this area and that was the first time we had to deal with a situation like this. Now everyone in the car is advise to keep their belt on.

    • Barb says

      Ha ha, la mordita! The little bite. Similar happened to me, a woman alone with 2kids in the back seat. I did something wrong on a traffic circle. When I teared up, he said he would help me out by accepting $20 US on the spot. No pretense…I love Mexico.

  2. Christina says

    While driving into Valladolid from Tulum, I went through one in the middle of the afternoon the day after Christmas. Took 2 seconds. Said hola, The officers took a cursory glance and saw my empty back seat, and sent me on my way. Nothing to be worried about.

  3. Rose Drzewicki says

    The Lukeville border crossing in Sonoyta, MX has recently set up a Federales check point just prior to the US border. The wait times have been up to 6 hours when traveling on a weekend. Is there anyway this checkpoint can be improved to handle several lanes of cars? With extremely high temperatures, cars are overheating during the long wait.

  4. Heather Rickerson says

    We have never had an issue at a military checkpoint after years of traveling there until yesterday. We were at the El Rosario checkpoint in Baja. We realized an hour after leaving that one of the soldiers took my husband’s cell phone. We just confirmed it’s location today on the find my iPhone app. All our vacation pics had not been backed up yet.
    Is there anyone we can report this to? Thanks for any feedback.

    • Mexperience says

      Hi Heather,
      The first port of call should be the check-point where your phone was left/taken; ask to speak to the commanding officer. Otherwise, try contacting SEDENA https://www.gob.mx/sedena – the Secretariat in charge of the army.

    • Cathy Chase says

      Same. Travelled to Puerto Penasco for 30+ years, drove 2,350 miles from Guaymas to Cabo (yes, ferried part of the way) two years ago, have encountered many military checkpoints with no problem. Today, 7/10/2019, upon crossing into Mexico at Lukeville/Sonoyta, I (retired female travelling alone – not unusual) was inspected at the Military Checkpoint. First time ever, the money envelopes I’d hidden and secured in my purse were opened and $120 missing. I knew something was amiss when I re-entered the car and, when I tried to count my money, they ordered me to move, go. When I pulled over a block later and discovered the 6 20s missing (yes, I am a bookkeeper and knew EXACTLY how much I had), I turned the car around and confronted them.
      After 10 minutes, during which I wrote down the names on their uniforms (Clark and Chang — the third one did not get close enough for me to read) and said I would file a report, more back and forth ensued, ending with one speaking into his phone and then showing me the translation, roughly “we did not take your money but, to keep you happy, we will get it for you”. In the meantime I phoned a friend, a retired cop, filled him in as quickly as I could, and then left the call open and bluetoothed so he could hear the conversations when the agent(s) returned. I finally received, passed through the backseat and below any line of sight cameras, a US $50, a US $20, and $1,000Mxn, slightly over the $120 they’d taken (couldn’t very well give me back 6x 20s, since ‘they didn’t take it’. But, before he’d give me the cash, he wanted the paper on which I’d written their names. I gave it to him — like I’m going to forget CLARK and CHONG!
      I’ve heard others complain about this checkpoint periodically, and I usually put my cash envelopes in one inside pocket of my denim jacket and my cellphone in the other, but it was 111 degrees when I crossed today and I didn’t have my denim jacket on, so chanced it, leaving $38 visible and hiding the rest. The $38 wasn’t touched – the hidden envelopes were.

  5. Puerto Penasco says

    There is one permanent check point in Querobabi, Sonora, the soldiers where very nice. They made us get out of the car, for like 5 minutes and then they let us leave.

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