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Travelling to Cancun/Riviera Maya with a criminal record

This topic pops up from time to time, so it occurred to me that it might be worthy of a Top Question.




The short answer is that no-one can tell you, for sure, what will happen when you’re standing in front of the Immigration Officer at Cancun airport. There have been posts on these forums from people with criminal histories who had no issues whatsoever and there have been posts from others who have been denied entry. Of particular note are posts from those who have been going to Mexico for years without an issue but just recently have been refused entry based on criminal charges going back many, many years.




Bottom line – the fact that your cousin’s wife’s brother committed a similar, or even more serious, crime than you and he got in doesn’t mean that you won’t be refused entry.




A point of clarification about passports as there seems to be a fairly common misconception that if you can get one, you’re good to go. That is NOT the case. A passport only guarantees that the country that issued it will let you back in if you leave; it does NOT mean that any other country will admit you.




Other threads of this nature have suggested contacting the Mexican Embassy and/or getting a visa in advance. Although contacting the Embassy certainly won’t hurt anything, reports are that they can’t/won’t give you a definitive answer and, unless you’re seeking something other than a normal tourist visa, they’re not helpful on that front either.




A general suggestion to anyone planning to travel to Mexico who has any sort of misdemeanor, felony or criminal conviction in their past, regardless of how long ago, is that you discuss the potential admittance issue with your travel companions, ahead of time. If you are refused admission, you will be detained at Cancun airport by Mexican Immigration Authorities and returned on the next flight back to where you came from. You may not be allowed an opportunity to speak with your traveling companions, so it is better to work out in advance what they will do – will they will return home as well (this would almost certainly be at their own expense), or will they continue on their vacation without you?




And finally, the main reason for my making this a Top Question, here’s a TON of more information and insight from Nik_PA, who has graciously allowed me to cut-and-paste their previous post answering a question regarding Mexico’s access to criminal history databases of other countries.






The short answer is yes Mexico (in theory) will have access to their prior record whether they were acquitted of the charges or they were dismissed doesn’t matter since arrests are tracked in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) (the federal database containing criminal records of both arrests and convictions from all US jurisdiction). The information in the NCIC comes from both local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies who are supposed to be interconnected with a uniform way of sharing data.




So any arrest and all convictions are in theory aggregated into one central system that is then accessible to all law enforcement agencies if they choose to search it.




For immigration purposes, you are arrested when:




– charges are filed




– you are fingerprinted and photographed by law enforcement




– a law enforcement officer orders you to accompany him/her against your will (this seems to include what we would call custodial detentions even if charges aren’t filed).




For immigration purposes, a conviction includes:




– a formal judgment of guilt in court




– an individual enters a guilty plea and enters some sort of program (community service, drug rehabilitation, etc.)




– pleading “no contest”




– conviction exists even if no time is actually spent in jail or if a fine is paid or probation is ordered




– the conviction of a crime that is later “expunged” is still considered a conviction for immigration purposes




Whether the NCIC actually lists their arrest/charges is one part of the uncertainty since some older charges may not be in the system from smaller counties/jurisdictions. But anything in the last 20 years probably is.




The second issue is will it appear in the Mexican immigration system. Through INTERPOL and international treaties the US and Mexico share criminal data so they would have access to the data if it is in NCIC but it may not be queried for. In other words they may not have their system ask NCIC about those types of offenses in general or those offense if there is no conviction. So Mexico may not “see” the data since they aren’t looking for it.




There is no, AFAIK, list of what offenses disqualify a person from entry into Mexico and there is no information about how they differentiate arrests from convictions or even if they do.




This is all the Mexican embassy says on the subject.






“Criminal record




Immigration authorities may decide to refuse the request to enter the country if the applicant is subject to criminal process or has been convicted of a serious crime as defined by national laws on criminal matters or provisions in international treaties or conventions that the Mexican State is party to, or if the applicant’s background in Mexico or abroad could compromise national or public security, in accordance with Article 43 of the Migration Law.




According to Article 194 of the Federal Code on Criminal Proceedings, serious crimes include all crimes that have a significant, negative effect on the fundamental values of society.




Serious crimes include, among others: manslaughter; terrorism and international terrorism; sabotage; piracy; genocide; prison break; attacks on public thoroughfares; drug-related crimes; corruption of minors; child pornography; exploitation of minors; falsifying and counterfeit of currency; rape; highway robbery; trafficking in minors; trafficking in undocumented persons; aggravated robbery; vehicular theft; extortion; crimes against the environment, committed with intent; forced disappearance of persons; bearing arms reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy or Air Force; smuggling into the country firearms not reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy or Air Force; smuggling and comparable crimes, and; tax fraud and comparable crimes.”




Unlike some countries (Canada for instance), Mexico doesn’t provide much detail on what it is looking for and what will disqualify a person from entry. Even if the data is something Mexican Immigration considers and it does not immediately disqualify entry, if the Immigration Officer sees it on their screen, they can still refuse entry at that point since they make the call on the ground. There is no way to know in advance, unfortunately.

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