Officials from the U.S. Consulate in Merida urged expats to get their “ducks in a row” to prepare for possible death or other emergencies while residing in Yucatan.
At a packed meeting at Merida English Library attended by more than 100 American expats, U.S. Consul Courtney Beale and assistants said that although the consulate can assist in event of death, hospitalization, crime or arrest, it is up to expats to take steps to facilitate the consulate’s limited role as liaison with Mexican authorities.
While the hour-long meeting was billed as a chance for discussion with Consul Beale, she allowed Natalia Almaguer of the consulate’s American Citizens Services branch to field most of the questions in the lively interchange with expats.
Almaguer explained that the consulate does not assist expats with federal benefits questions. She noted that these matters can only be addressed through an office of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Expats with Social Security Administration or Veterans Administration pension questions should email: email@example.com. No telephone assistance is available.
Beale promised a followup meeting in Merida with officials from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City on issues related to retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration.
Almaguer explained that in the event of true emergencies, someone at the consulate is on duty 24 hours a day to respond to phone calls. “We rotate these duty shifts, and we hope you will understand we have limited resources and will limit your calls to true emergencies,” Almaguer said.
The consulate’s security officer, Chris Kennan, urged U.S. expats and tourists in Yucatan to take common-sense steps to avoid becoming victims of crime. “We have no evidence that U.S. citizens are being targeted for crime, but you have to realize your `perceived wealth´ puts you in focus. Whether you may become a victim depends on how easy a target you could be.”
Kennan urged U.S. citizens to trust their instincts and fear. Staying with groups of other expats and tourists while in Yucatan is the safest approach, he said.
Kennan suggested all expats register with the U.S. State Department’s “STEP” program, which eases communication with U.S. relatives in event of emergency.
Almaguer added that the State Department does not share contact information with the IRS or other agencies because of U.S. Privacy Act restrictions.
The U.S. Consulate in Merida is responsible for American interests in the states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche. There are also small consular “agencies” in Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel.
Beale said that 9 million Americans visited the Yucatan Peninsula in 2018, the majority being tourists in Cancun and other spots in Quintana Roo.
Responding to the growth in demand for services from the U.S. Consulate in Merida, the State Department last year announced plans for construction of a large, modern building in the city’s northern suburbs.
Beale said the “three or four year” project still is in the design stage, and there is no firm opening date for the new building yet.
TEXT AND PHOTOS: ROBERT ADAMS
U.S. Consulate Merida — Contact Info
52 999 942 5700
Toll-free from Mexico: 01 800 681 9374
Toll-free from USA: 1 844 528 6611