Mexico’s reformed immigration law enacted in 2012 changed the rules concerning the import of foreign-plated vehicles. For temporary visitors (tourists) and temporary residents, procedures remain straightforward; however, a significant change is that permanent residents are no longer allowed to import a foreign-plated car into Mexico using a Temporary Import Permit (TIP). Here are the details:
Obtaining a Temporary Import Permit (TIP)
If you intend to drive your vehicle beyond the 25km border zone (checkpoints exist), or anywhere outside of a defined Free Zone (Free Zones are: Baja California peninsula, a defined area in the state of Sonora, and the state of Quintana Roo), you must have a valid TIP to avoid fines and confiscation of the vehicle. You must obtain the permit before you cross into Mexico: they are not available anywhere inside Mexico, nor at Mexico’s interior checkpoints.
Visitors entering Mexico using FMM (Visitor Permit)
If you are visiting Mexico on a tourist/visitor permit, you can import your foreign-plated vehicle to Mexico, but you must export it again before the permit expires. FMM permits last for a maximum of 180 days (about 6 months) and cannot be renewed or extended beyond this time period.
Entering Mexico with a Residente Temporal permit
Holders of Residente Temporal (with or without work privileges) and Residente Temporal Estudiante may import their car to Mexico using a Temporary Import Permit (TIP). The vehicle will remain legal in Mexico for so long as the TIP remains current. For details about residency permits, see our Mexico Immigration page.
Temporary Import Permits (TIP) and Visitor & Temporary Residency Permits
Whether you your TIP is tied to a Visitor Permit (FMM) or your Residente Temporal permit, you can leave Mexico without your vehicle and the vehicle will remain legal in Mexico for so long as the TIP remains current (not past its expiry date).
We have heard from Banjercito that these TIPs are not extendable and they become invalid: when they expire, the vehicle will be illegal in Mexico; and holders will lose their deposits. We therefore suggest that if you are in Mexico with a vehicle and TIP that you drive out of Mexico before the TIP expires.
Entering Mexico with a Residente Permanente permit
If you are carrying a Residente Permanente permit, you will not be allowed to bring your foreign-plated car into Mexico on a Temporary Import Permit (TIP). However, you can go through a process to permanently import the car. If you want to formally import your car, we recommend you hire a Customs Broker to do this. (The import rules are complex and depend on the vehicle type, where it was manufactured, its age, etc.)
Expats with Permanent Residency status and cars in Mexico
If you have a foreign plated car in Mexico now and change your immigration status from Residente Temporal to Residente Permanente you will need to make some choices about what do to with your foreign-plated vehicle, for example:
Export the car permanently – Take the car out of Mexico (crossing the border into the US or Belize) – see also “Safe Return” procedure, below.
Export and then re-import the car using a Customs Broker – If you exchange your temporary residency for permanent residency, and want to keep your current (foreign plated) vehicle for use in Mexico, you will need to drive the car out of Mexico (see “safe return” procedure, below), and then formally re-import it. There is a process to legally import a car by paying the relevant duties and import taxes and getting Mexican plates for the vehicle. You’ll need a Customs Broker to assist you with this process.
Export the car and sell it to a person with a Residente Temporal permit – If you know a foreigner with a Residente Temporal permit who wants to buy your car, you can export it, sell it to them, and they can re-import it using their Residente Temporal permit. Note that the car must be exported to make this transfer, it cannot be done within Mexico.
Export the car by sea – In some circumstances, export of your car on a sea vessel might be a viable option. You’ll need a customs broker to help you with the process. As a rule of thumb, shipping fees to the US range from $1,000-$1,500, which might be worth it if your vehicle is particularly valuable.
‘Safe Return’ Procedure: If your vehicle is currently “illegal” (or will become illegal when you switch from Residente Temporal to Residente Permanente), and you want to take the car out of the country, you can apply for a “Retorno Seguro” permit from SAT, which gives you five days to drive the car out of the country (to the USA or to Belize).
Rules for Sonora, the Baja California peninsula, and the state of Quintana Roo
Sonora: There is no need to apply for a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) if you plan to use your vehicle within the State of Sonora’s “Free Zone” which includes the popular cities of Agua Prieta, Bahia de Kino, Caborca, Guaymas, Hermosillo, Magdalena, Nogales, Puerto Peñasco, San Carlos, and Santa Ana (green area on map, click/tap here for full size version). If you plan to travel outside of the Free Zone and remain within the state you can get a “Sonora Only” permit. If you intend to drive the vehicle beyond the free zone / Sonora state you will need to apply for a TIP.
Baja Peninsula: Foreign-plated vehicles driven into the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur do not require a Temporary Import Permit (TIP). However, your US or Canadian car plates must be valid and any stickers must be kept current while the vehicle is on the Baja peninsula. If you take your car from La Paz to the Mexican mainland (by ferry) you will become subject to the car import rules described above.
Qunitana Roo: If you’re driving from Belize into Mexico and remain within the state boundary of Quintana Roo, you do not need to obtain Temporary Import Permit (TIP). However, if you plan to drive anywhere outside of the state, it’s important to have a valid TIP to avoid problems and possible confiscation of your vehicle.
Entry and exit ports
When your foreign-plated vehicle has a TIP, you don’t necessarily have to exit Mexico through the same port that you entered. For example, you can import the car at the US border and export it through Belize, or you could enter through Nogales and exit through Laredo, etc.
Lost, stolen, or abandoned foreign-plated vehicles
If you abandon your foreign-plated car in Mexico, you’ll have to pay Aduana (Mexican Customs) 40% tax on the car’s value. This rule was brought-in some while ago to discourage foreigners from abandoning or selling their foreign-plated cars and telling Mexican Customs they were lost or stolen.
There is an established process in place that prevents someone who has legitimately had their vehicle stolen (or suffered total loss of the vehicle in an accident) from having to pay the fee. Proper documentation will be required to get the TIP cancelled, so a police report has to be filed, plus special forms have to be filed with the Mexican Customs office, and the hired services of a Mexican Notary Public will be needed to formalize all the paperwork to cancel the TIP of a stolen car. While the authorities cannot prevent you from leaving if you don’t pay the tax, failure to do so will forfeit your rights to import any other foreign-plated vehicle to Mexico in future.
Donating your vehicle to Mexican Customs
If you want to dispose of your car, there is a procedure whereby you can “donate” it to Mexican Customs; you can find more information about that here on the Mexican SAT web site.
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