Stops by the Federales in Mexico

I’m replying to a comment Contessa made about my interaction with the Federales yesterday. In short, I described the in-depth and honest conversation we had with them and her comment implied that honesty is not the best policy with them. Hmm.

I took her comment to my two other Mexican experts, Chris, who has lived in Mexico a very, very long time, and Croft, who, thanks to a small RV, has spent many winters traveling through Mexico and getting close to the locals. In their reply, both advocated full disclosure in interactions with the Federales. Chris went so far as to remind me that if I get caught in a lie, I could have things confiscated, or worse, depending on the law being violated. He followed up with this :

Federales have a base salary of 36000 pesos a month and a university degree is required. They are only one step down from the military. Many of them speak English also, or at least to some degree. Here in the north I would bank on 75% that speak English well.
My hat goes off to those guys, they take the bullets and are back up for military and state police in some pretty big stand offs.
You’re in good shape with those guys.  We have two safety nets in Mexico, our boys in green and our men in blue.

I’m happy to know that I was right in answering the officer’s questions correctly yesterday and did not put myself into any danger.  I will continue to practice full honesty and knowledge of Spanish when interacting with all levels of Mexican authority unless, like today, something just feels ‘off.’

20 thoughts on “Stops by the Federales in Mexico

  1. Good advice. I have met two Federales in off duty, social environments and was very impressed with both. The first got his law degree while working, went on to become a Federal prosecutor and then a private lawyer defending police who were wrongly accused of crimes, His family took us under their wing and invited us to their house for a weekend which in Mexico is an honor. They also took us to their daughter’s Christmas school concert.

    The second was the daughter of our neighbor in an RV park. We became friendly with our neighbor who was a lawyer and met his daughter, the federali when she came to visit for the weekend. She was high up in the organization and when they left the park they both gave us their cards with instruction to phone either of them day or night, from anywhere in Mexico if we ever have a problem.

    I would not hesitate going to a federali for help. But like Chris says, you would not want to cross them. City cops are another matter. I have had two of them attempt to extort money from me. One succeeded but got much less than the $500 US dollars he demanded. After arguing for a half hour Norma slipped him 200 pesos and told him to buy his kids a present. Dual wheeled vehicles must stay in the curb lane but I moved to the left lane to make a left turn, a serious offense according to him. The second was a Cancun cop who accused me of speeding when I was doing at least 20 KMH under the limit looking for a street name I had to turn on. This time there was no question I did nothing wrong and I argued until he got bored and left to find another gringo to harass.

  2. Hola Rae,

    The Federales have a much better reputation in Mexico than the local cops, who are often viewed with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. But I would note that if you’re driving around and they want to know where you’re staying, it would be virtually impossible for them or anyone to prove you were lying if you said you didn’t know, due to uncertainty of travel stamina, even though you had a place in mind. I suppose if you had a reservation it’d be another matter, but what are the odds of anyone investigating such a thing?

    Even though I have more respect for the Federales than for the local cops, I never give up more information than I have to, and the closest I’d come to telling them where I was going to stay would be to name a town. Especially for a woman, it’s none of their business where you’re staying. And it could be risky to tell them.

    But it sounds like you’re doing a fine job of navigating the bureaucracy, cops, and everything else.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we wouldn’t tell a US cop where we were staying either.

    • Kim, one thing that none of you know (I think) is that I’ve had the same kind of training that police officers and border people have had for conducting these types of interviews. Combine that with really good instincts and that’s how I get through sticky situations (like CBSA being complete arseholes) very easily. I was asked what hotel by a cop who was concerned about a solo woman traveler whom he wanted to know was going to be safe, not some sketchy corrupt jerk who was going to make my life difficult. I met that guy the next day and deflected his answers.

  3. I agree with Kim and Contessa – never tell them where you’re staying. Yes, as Kim said, the town, but the name of the hotel no. I agree with Chris and Croft as well – tell them the truth – yet as Contessa and Kim said you don’t have to tell the whole truth. As in court just answer the question, don’t embellish. Never give up any more than is asked for. I also agree don’t speak Spanish and if you must don’t speak it well. I know numerous people who are as fluent as if they were born and raised in Mexico and never, ever say more than “buenos dias” and “gracias” when crossing the border and even then make it sound as though they’re stumbling over it. It works beautifully to get waived through faster.

    • When an official asks me a direct question, I answer, unless the hairs on the nape of my neck are prickling. He specifically said to me, “What hotel are you staying at” and I answered.

      I would hate to be the person who gets caught knowing more Spanish than they let on.

  4. Well said Dean and thank you. We have been traveling through almost of all Mexico for longer than Croft has and we have never ever had a problem nor been detained other than once in Toluca. Again it was a question of us not being able to tow our car as double remolques were not allowed through town. Well that was the only road and as we were pulled over many many trucks pulling another load behind them passed by. We stuck to our ground of not paying the bribe nor turning over our passports nor speaking Spanish. Finally they let us go. Found out later than many RVers we knew were either earlier or later pulled over and those who complied were left in tears after turning over all their money as that was the only way they could get their passports back. Toluca, a well known police corrupted state. The cops even offered to drive them to an ATM machine so they could get money out to pay the bribe.

    • Toluca indeed had/has a reputation. We missed the bypass and got caught in town. We stopped a cab and paid him to lead us out of town, telling him he must handle any cops. We made it out of town with no problem and Norma paid him double the 50 pesos he asked for.

      There is a very nice cuota bypass on the Mexico City side now. No more problem.

    • I fail to see how your car is a ‘double remolque.’ Double remolque would be like towing a 5er that’s towing a boat, very illegal in most of Canada and the US. I know RVers who do it, but you really have to watch where you go. That’s a terrible story about Toluca. 🙁

    • I wasn’t pulled over. It was a checkpoint, like we sometimes have NOB for making sure people haven’t been drinking. I think it’s tied to the fight against the drug trade, hence while I call the the narco stops.

      • My experience last year was that there were these military checkpoints at every state border, and a few times, in between state borders. They’re totally routine.

        Of course with so many checkpoints, it does rather raise that uncomfortable question of how so many drugs still manage to make their way north, having had to pass checkpoint after checkpoint.



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