Out of all the Central American countries, the police in Mexico hassled us the most. We were pulled over by the police four times. Here’s what we learned from our encounters and the stories we heard from fellow travelers.

Bring expired licenses, copies of your vehicle registration, vehicle import permit, and passport.

Cops will ask for important documents to keep at the local police station until the infraction is paid. Usually, they’ll ask for your license and registration. Since the reporting officer has to actually go to the station with your documents, you won’t be able to pick them up for at least a few hours. Although, oftentimes you won’t be able to get them back for a few days.

In our experience, the police officers never checked to see if our documents were actually the ones they requested. If you give them something with a certain degree of confidence, they’ll usually take it. Although you’ll want to pay the infraction issued, you won’t be inconvenienced if your important documents get lost in the bureaucratic kerfuffle.

If your car is being searched at a routine traffic checkpoint, they’ll want to see your real passport and vehicle import permit. Giving copies or expired versions likely won’t work since these officers are looking for specific forms.

Know who you are dealing with.

There are multiple levels of law enforcement in Mexico. We saw Municipal police (Policía Municipal), State police (Policía Estatal) and Federal Police (Federales). Tourist police are meant to keep tourists safe and shouldn’t give you trouble. Its impossible to tell which types of police intend to give you an infraction and which types are only attempting to inconvenience you until you offer to settle it there.

Take your time.

When we were pulled over in La Paz by municipal police, we made sure we understood the nature of the infraction. The two municipal cops told us that we hadn’t stopped at a corner. We took a long time asking them about the fine, where we could pay it, and how we could retrieve our confiscated licenses.

During the entire interaction, the local police were looking over their shoulders. They eventually got frustrated, letting us off easy. Both the tourist and the federal police have a vested interest in making sure they types of things don’t happen. By taking as much time as possible, you increase your chances they’ll get frustrated or paranoid and give up.

Never offer a bribe to an officer. They’ll care of that.

Although inconvenient, its best to go to the station and pay the fine, which is almost definitely not the $1,000 pesos the officers estimate. In La Paz, our intention was to go to the station and pay the fine. We didn’t want to encourage officers to hassle other tourists. After insisting multiple times that we’d like to go to the station and pay the fine, the officers asked us if we want to settle it right there and then.

We asked if it was legal to do so, they said yes and requested $500 pesos. We goffed and said we’d rather take our chances at the station, until he finally asked us – ‘how much do you want to pay?’ Since we had given the officer our actual licenses, we were concerned they wouldn’t arrive at the police station. We offered him $10 USD. They agreed and sent us on their way with our licenses and no infraction.

Offer to pay the fine, but report the fine to your embassy.

We met two Canadians who had printed out a form that reports traffic infractions to their embassy. They had gotten out of two tickets, simply by asking for the officer’s badge number.

Just outside of Campeche, we were pulled over because I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. Although we gave the officer an expired license, I had regrettably given him our official title of registration. We explained that we would go to the police station and retrieve our documents (which would be available 3 days later), but we’d need to report the infraction to our government. After explaining we’d need his badge number, he let us off with a friendly warning.

It’s important to note, requesting a badge number could backfire if the officer felt threatened.

Treat all officers with respect and courtesy.

In Mexico, getting frustrated doesn’t earn you expedient service.