Drivers in Mexico enjoy an extensive infrastructure of roads and intercity highways
Mexico has invested heavily in road infrastructure, and getting around Mexico by road today is easier and safer than it ever has been.
Car Rental in Mexico
Bringing Your Own Car to Mexico
Taking Your Car Out of Mexico
Driving in Mexico
Night Driving in Mexico
Car Breakdowns in Mexico
Military Checkpoints on Mexican Roads
Insurance for Driving in Mexico
Dealing with Car Accidents
Buying Gasoline in Mexico
Since the early 1990s, Mexico has invested huge amounts of money to upgrade its interstate road network, working with the private sector to build and maintain high-quality interstate highways which connect Mexico’s major towns and cities
Most of Mexico’s new interstate roads are tolled. The tolls are relatively expensive too, in comparison to toll roads in the USA, for example. However, the tolled roads are modern and well maintained, usually four-lane roads (except in very rugged mountainous stretches where it is impossible to build a wide road), and provide a fast, safe and effective way to travel by land across Mexico.
You can travel on Mexico’s non-tolled interstate roads for free (these are known as carreteras federales), but some are slower to travel on; most of these are two-lane highways, making it more likely that you will get stuck behind slow-moving traffic. They are also less-well maintained than toll roads, so you’ll need to look out for pot-holes and other similar road surface hazards.
Toll Roads in Mexico
Mexico has an extensive network of intercity toll-roads. See the guide about Toll Roads in Mexico on Mexperience, for more information and advice.
See Also: A Guide to Mexican Street Speak
Mexico is well-served by a number of global and local car rental agencies. Read the complete and detailed guide to Car Rental in Mexico for more details and advice about renting a car in Mexico.
Driving Within the “Free Zones”
If you drive a non-Mexican plated car across the border, but remain within the “Free Zones,” you do not need to apply for and obtain a temporary import permit for your vehicle. The Free Zones are:
- within 25km of the land border;
- the entire Baja California peninsula;
- a defined area in the northern state of Sonora; and,
- the southern state of Quintana Roo.
All roads leading into Mexico’s interior have guarded check-points, where vehicles without Mexican license plates must show a temporary import permit for the vehicle. Foreign vehicle import permits cannot be obtained at checkpoints in the interior of Mexico. You must apply for and buy the permit ahead of time, or at a Banjercito office near border crossing. See “Driving Beyond the Free Zone”, below.
Important note for holders of Permanent Residency cards in Mexico
Since the introduction of Mexico’s new immigration law in November 2012, the rules regarding car import have changed. Holders of Residente Temporal visas may import their cars, but holders of Residente Permanente visas may not.
Driving in Mexico Beyond the “Free Zone”
See also important note above about current rules for residency card holders.
Foreigners driving into Mexico beyond the ‘Free Zone’ are allowed to bring their vehicles into the country after meeting certain documentary requirements including the payment of a Temporary Import Permit (TIP).
Foreign residents (e.g. retirees) and those in Mexico on working permits holding Residente Temporal visas/cards may bring in one car (their own) for the duration of their visas and subsequent extensions.
Tourists (using a tourist visa) may also bring in one car; if it’s not their own they must show documentation to demonstrate that they have permission to take the car to Mexico.
One Vehicle Per Eligible Person
Only one vehicle can be imported into Mexico per person. If you are traveling with your spouse or adult child (18 years or older), they may each register one car in their name.
There is one exception to the one-person, one-car rule: If you tow a car behind your RV, there is no need for second person to be traveling with you; but you must show proof of ownership for both vehicles, and both vehicles must be taken out of the country together when you leave.
A trailer does not count as a vehicle, but you need to show ownership of it and it must be exported with the vehicle towing it when you leave Mexico.
Motorcycles, ATVs, etc.
If you are towing or carrying other single-passenger motorized vehicles these may be registered with the car that is towing or carrying them. You must show proof of ownership of all vehicles and you can only bring up-to three single-passenger vehicles—one each for up to three passengers traveling in the main vehicle. All vehicles must be exported together when you leave Mexico.
Duration of Vehicle Temporary Import Permit
The Temporary Import Permit (TIP) lasts for as long as your current visa lasts. If this this a FMM (Visitor’s Permit) the period is 180 days. If you are living in Mexico on a temporary resident visa (Residente Temporal), your car import permit will be valid for as long as your visa is valid—including any visa extensions. If you are entering Mexico on a permanent resident visa (Residente Permanente) you cannot import your own vehicle using a TIP. See the Immigration page for details of different visa types and see this article about importing foreign-plated vehicles to Mexico.
Note: If your immigration status changes while you have a vehicle in Mexico, you do not need to apply for a new vehicle permit. For example, if you entered Mexico on a FMM, and subsequently apply for and are granted a temporary resident visa, your vehicle permit does not have to be renewed and will last so long as your temporary resident visa is current. (See also note above about car import restrictions when entering on permanent residency visas.) See also “Taking Your Car Out of Mexico” below, for details about what to do when you leave Mexico.
Documentation Required for Vehicle Import Permit
Foreigners will need to show:
- Proof of nationality (e.g. Passport)
- Their Mexican visa or tourist card
- Proof of ownership of the vehicle
- A valid driver’s license with photo
Proof of Ownership: Financed Vehicles, Rental Cars and Company Cars
In the event the vehicle is being financed or leased, a letter of credit or invoice from the corresponding financial institution will need to be presented.
If the vehicle is rented, the hire contract in the driver’s name and a description of the vehicle.
If it’s a company car, the importer will need to show documented proof of a working relationship with the company (e.g. letter on headed paper signed by a company official), as well as the company’s proof of vehicle ownership.
Payment of Import Bond (Deposit)
The Mexican authorities require that the driver also deposits a bond, which is forfeited if the car is not exported by the expiry date printed on the import permit. Holders of American Express, Visa or MasterCard credit cards can provide a card’s details as security for the bond. If you are leaving a cash deposit, the amount asked will be between US$200 and US$400, depending on the make, model and age of the vehicle.
Recovering Your Bond Payment
In order to recover your cash deposit or avoid credit card charges, you must go to any Mexican Customs office located along the border immediately prior to departing Mexico
How to Obtain Your Temporary Import Permit
Contrary to any advice you may hear, foreign vehicle import permits cannot be obtained at checkpoints in the interior of Mexico. You must arrange the permit ahead of time or at the border crossing.
Beware of Fraudsters at the Border
We’ve heard stories of unscrupulous individuals approaching persons lining up at the Banjercito booths and offering to “process” their vehicle import application. These people take cash and leave individuals with worthless documentation. Don’t be caught out! Get to the front of the line before you begin to transact any paperwork and don’t hand over any money or credit card details before then.
The Mexican government is very strict on the import and export of vehicles in Mexico and uses a centralized computer system to track and trace all cars entering and leaving the country; furthermore, the authorities are strict when it comes to applying the rules about car import and export.
When you leave Mexico, you MUST stop at the border checkpoint and get the Temporary Import Permit (TIP) cancelled. Keep the receipt they give you to demonstrate that you surrendered the TIP and that it was cancelled.
Holographic Windscreen Stickers Being Phased Out
In years past, vehicles with a TIP were issued with a special ‘holographic’ windscreen sticker that provided visual evidence of the vehicle’s legal status in Mexico.
Since January 1, 2020, Banjercito no longer issues holographic stickers for placement in the windshield and the permits are validated by email instead, although we recommend that you print out the documentation and keep it on-hand at all times, in case you cannot access your email if you are stopped and questioned about your vehicle’s presence in Mexico. You may be asked to show proof the vehicle’s legal presence in the country at any military checkpoint and/or by federal or traffic police.
If your vehicle still has a holographic sticker that is still valid, it’s important that you leave it in place and do not remove it. You should never remove the sticker yourself: the official at the Banjercito office at the border should do this for you when you cancel/surrender your permit.
Multiple Entries and Exits Between the US and Mexico
One you have a TIP approved, you can drive your vehicle back-and-fro across the land border for so long as the TIP is valid (not expired).
Failing to Export The Car Properly
If you failed to undertake the exit procedure (stopping at the border, surrendering your TIP and having your import record updated to show the car has been exported) —and thus “export” the car officially— then you will need to drive the car back to a land border to undertake the TIP surrender/cancellation procedure.
You should always surrender your TIP, unless you plan to come back to Mexico in short order, which you can do provided the TIP has not expired.
If you didn’t surrender your TIP, you will need to drive the same car back to a border crossing (it does not have to be the same one you entered through) and surrender it.
Car not available: If you cannot take your car back to the border (e.g. it was stolen or crushed, or it’s simply not viable to drive it back to the border), contact Banjercito who will explain the procedures you can take in these circumstances.
See Also: Driving Out of Mexico with Your Car
Taking Your Car to Sonora
The border state of Sonora has a special arrangement, waiving the fees, deposits and other requirements for visitors who intend to stay in Sonora state, provided that the vehicle passes into Mexico at the Nogales border crossing. See the Banjercito website for details about this program.
Taking Your Car to the Baja Peninsula
If you take your car into Mexico and stay in the Baja California peninsula, there is no need to undertake the “import” arrangements or pay any fees as described above. Instead, your vehicle must have valid and current US or Canadian license plates, and the plates/stickers must be kept current during the vehicle’s stay on the Mexican Baja peninsula. Many foreign residents keep their US/CA plated cars in Baja and have the plates/stickers/documentation mailed to them as required.
See Also: US/CDN Insurance while driving in Mexico
Driving in Mexico City
Most foreign visitors to the nation’s capital eschew driving, unless they have a specific reason for needing a motor car. Taxis are plentiful and affordable, and the city’s Metro system is still the most efficient way to get into the center of the city, without the malaise of traffic and parking to deal with.
Mexico City is extremely congested with traffic, and journey times for even mid-range distances can exceed one hour—considerably longer during the early morning rush hour and again between 6 pm and 9 pm at night.
See Blog: Driving the Mexico City Way
Need for Documentation
Have your driver and vehicle documentation on hand at all times when you are driving in Mexico. If you are used to driving in a country where immediate documentation production is not required (e.g. UK), you may be accustomed to leaving your driver’s license and/or other car documentation at home, because if you get stopped, you can present it to the police later, or they will look up your record electronically from the squad car. This is not so in Mexico. Traffic police are allowed to ask to see your license and your car registration card, known in Spanish as the “tarjeta de circulacion.” It’s also practical to keep your car insurance papers with you.
If you’re renting a car in Mexico, besides the personal documentation listed above, the rental company will provide the other necessary documentation related to the car.
Getting Pulled over by the Police
You’ll need to present your paperwork (as described above) to the officer who pulled you over. If you don’t speak Spanish, they may well just leave you alone, unless your offence was serious or you are involved in a nasty accident; in such extreme circumstances, get your country’s Consulate involved.
If you live in the UK, Ireland, Australia or other country where people drive on the left, remember that you will be driving on the right hand side in Mexico.
Driving in Mexico City is similar to driving in other large metropolitan cities. Be careful, use your mirrors, and be additionally vigilant for the unexpected as drivers in Mexico don’t often give warning about their intentions.
Drivers in Mexico don’t often use their indicators, and won’t be that amenable when it comes to letting other drivers into a line of traffic from a side road—even if the line isn’t going anywhere! Signaling your intentions might help or it might simply ensure that other drivers prevent you from making the maneuver; e.g. changing lanes.
Cars may be in a higher state of disrepair than you might be used to at home, especially in rural areas. Bald tires, no head lights or tail lights, and malfunctioning break lights are not uncommon. Take extra care in bad weather conditions.
“Topes,” Mexican Spanish for speed bumps, are a common feature on all Mexican roads in urban areas, and on highways which pass through small towns and villages. Some are worn out and behave like bumps in the road that you don’t notice anymore, and some are like brick walls that will do real damage to your vehicle if you go over them at speed. If you are renting a car be especially aware of speed bumps – rental companies regularly check under the car for speed bump damage. Slow down at all bumps, and keep your speed down in urban areas; not all topes are sign-posted or marked out.
If you drive defensively in Mexico, chances are you’ll have no problems at all. Driving in Mexico can be a very enjoyable and safe experience; you’ll simply need to exercise extra care, especially in urban areas where traffic congestion is higher.
Road Conditions – Smaller and fringe roads can be under-developed or in disrepair. Watch out for pot-holes—some are bad enough that they will wreck your suspension and possibly leave you needing a new tire or wheel. Sometimes they are marked with a cone (or a rock painted white is also common), but sometimes they are just there and may be hard to see, especially so at night.
Markings and Lighting – Road markings may not be present. This makes driving tricky on remote dark highways or inside unlit provincial towns when you can’t see where the road edge ends. Road signs may not be lit up. If you’re traveling by car at night it’s best to stay on a main highway (toll roads are best) or be in an area you know.
Cyclists and Pedestrians – Be vigilant at night for cyclists: most don’t have lights fitted to their bikes nor do they wear any reflective clothing; they will be near-invisible until you are very close to them. The same applies for pedestrians: in rural areas, many locals walk home from work along the edge of local roads when there are no sidewalks; they may not be walking towards you and probably won’t be wearing anything bright and far less likely to be wearing reflective clothing.
Beware of the Animals! – Another important consideration when driving, especially at night, is the presence of cattle and animals wandering into the roads. Many roads in Mexico do not have fences fitted either side of them where they cross ranches, farms or areas where animals are allowed to graze. It’s not uncommon for cows, sheep, chickens, dogs and other animals to wander aimlessly into the middle of the road, regardless of what may be traveling towards them! Not only does this present a danger to your own vehicle (if it’s a rental car, you may have to pay excess charges for any damage – see Car Rental, above) the event could be a catalyst for a bigger accident involving several cars.
If you rented a car, your car rental company should have breakdown recovery services in place—check with them to find out what the procedure is before you start your journey.
Angeles Verdes (Green Angels)
On the interstate highways, “Angeles Verdes” (Green Angels) patrol the roads, looking for broken down vehicles, and helping out with minor repairs and, surprisingly frequently, selling fuel. They ride green trucks; sometimes it’s a tow truck, and will provide free help, although they will charge for fuel if you need it, as well as any car parts. They’ll tow you to the nearest town if your car is in need. It’s appropriate to Tip the mechanic if they help you out.
Dealing with Breakdowns
If you are driving in a rented car, or your own private car, dealing with a breakdown in Mexico will depend where you are and what cover you have in place to help you.
If you are in a large town or city, someone may come to your aid to help you move the car to the edge of the road while you wait for breakdown assistance.
If your car is rented, call the rental car company at once, as they will mobilize their breakdown service and get help out to you as soon as possible.
If you are covered for breakdowns by your insurance company or some other breakdown service (for example AMA, Asociacion Mexicana de Automoviles) call them to get help to you.
If you are on a major highway, especially toll-roads, a patrolling vehicle from the Angeles Verdes may find you and help you (see note above). Note that cell phone coverage can be scarce on remote roads across Mexico; tolled highways have wired phones posted every few miles. If you are on a non-tolled highway, and there is no cell phone coverage, you may need to walk back to the nearest town or village to summon help.
Beware of ‘Fake Breakdowns’
Principally on major highways, and especially non-toll roads, some deceptive people may stage a breakdown to lure a potential crime victim. Because of the risk, the best advice is to ignore people who are broken down on the highways and trying to flag you to stop, especially if you are alone and it is night; an alternative way to help them is to alert highway police or Angeles Verdes (see above) if possible.
If you take a road trip across Mexico, sooner or later you’ll encounter a military checkpoint. Some checkpoints are semi-permanent, although many are are set-up on the fly and may appear on any highway at any time of day or night. Some check points stop every vehicle for inspection, although most create a traffic bottle-neck to slow down the traffic enabling the officers at the checkpoint to selectively signal certain vehicles to pull-over and stop at an inspection area situated at the side of the road.
You can read more about Military Checkpoints and how to deal with them if you are pulled over by one by reading this blog article: Military Checkpoints in Mexico.
If you are involved in a car accident in Mexico and you are not properly insured, the authorities will pursue you personally for costs related to the repair of the public highway and third parties may also pursue damages against you.
Under Mexican law, you must have auto liability insurance from a Mexican insurer to drive your vehicle on Mexican roadways. Driving without adequate insurance for your vehicle is a risk, as police routinely ask to see insurance documentation when they stop road vehicles. Your US or Canadian policy will not suffice: you must have a policy underwritten by a Mexican insurance company—see next section.
In the event you are involved in a serious accident in Mexico, where persons are hurt or killed, you will be detained by the police until blame is assessed. If it is deemed that you are to blame, you will be detained for longer until the other party (parties) are satisfied with any compensation being offered by you (or more likely your insurance company) at which point they will sign the paperwork that will have you released from police custody.
Good insurance policies offer legal counsel and bail-bond services so that, in the worst-case scenario, you have the legal support and financial assistance you will need.
Auto Insurance in Mexico
If you are driving your own car across the border from the USA or Canada into Mexico, you must purchase an insurance policy that will cover you in Mexico. However comprehensive your US or Canadian auto insurance policy is, it will not cover you when the vehicle is present in Mexico. You can purchase specialized auto insurance polices for Mexico which are not expensive and will give you peace of mind when you’re driving here.
Learn more: Connect to our comprehensive guide about Auto Insurance in Mexico for full details about the requirements, documentation, and how to get cover for your vehicle in Mexico.
If you are renting a car in Mexico, be sure that you are fully and comprehensively insured in that vehicle. See Mexico Car Rental Insurance.
Personal Liability Insurance
It’s advisable to carry personal travel insurance when driving in Mexico—in addition to the car insurance. Most car insurance policies that cover your vehicle also cover your personal liability, and include legal and bail cover. If the policy does not cover these additional elements, don’t buy it.
The better insurance policies on the market also offer travel assistance so in the event of a car accident, for example, you would have access to English-speaking advisers via 24/7 help line. They can get doctors, lawyers and other professionals to contact you directly and even send emergency messages to friend and family back home on your behalf.
See also: Guide to Auto Insurance in Mexico
Minor Accidents and Bumps
Mexicans will tend to walk away from minor accidents because many drivers will not have insured vehicles. If you are involved in a “fender bender” or other minor accident, don’t be surprised if the other party drives off. In the event where the other driver does get out, you may need to wait until an insurance assessor arrives for the matter to be resolved (see below). If you are renting a car and the other driver speeds off, you will be liable for the damage on the rental car (or the excess fee associated with any damage) if you are not traveling with “full cover” insurance.
Hit-and-Run Accidents in Mexico
Bumps and scrapes which happen while the car is stationary in a public parking space are common, and very few—if any—drivers in Mexico will stop to ‘leave a note’ with their insurance details on the windscreen. More serious hit-and-run accidents involving ‘fender-benders’ on the road or, more seriously, accidents involving pedestrians or where a serious accident takes place can happen, because drivers who are uninsured don’t tend to stop to deal with the police and legal system. Needless to say, if you are involved in any car accident in Mexico, the worst thing to do is abscond. Aside from the moral issue at hand, a car with foreign plates (or a rental car) driven by a foreigner is easily traceable and, as unsophisticated as the Mexican police may appear at times, they can be very efficient at finding someone when they really want to. If you become the victim of a hit-and-run accident, you should report this to your insurance company or rental car agency as a matter of course.
For more serious accidents, and where the police get actively involved, it is certain that you will be arrested and held until blame is assessed.
You should always contact the insurance company and/or rental car agency in the event of a serious accident or where the police are involved.
If any person is hurt or killed as a result of the accident, then you will be subject to a detailed legal process and will surely need the services of a lawyer and your insurance company and may also require assistance from your country’s consulate in Mexico.
If it is subsequently deemed that you are to blame for the accident, you will be detained for longer until the other party (parties) involved in the accident are satisfied with any compensation offered by you (or by your insurance company on your behalf) at which point they will sign the paperwork that will have you released from police custody.
Good auto insurance policies offer legal counsel and bail-bond services so that, in the worst-case scenario, you have the legal support and financial assistance you will need. See Auto Insurance in Mexico for more details.
Where an accident takes place between road vehicles in Mexico, insurance assessors from the companies representing the drivers are dispatched to the scene. This is why you may see, adjacent to a car accident scene in Mexico, additional vehicles with insurance company logos painted on them.
In many countries where there is no personal injury or death involved in an accident, or the police are not involved, drivers simply exchange insurance details and the ‘fender bender’ is later sorted out between insurers.
In Mexico, this is not the case. In all circumstances, insurance assessors arrive on the scene to interview the drivers, take notes and photograph the incident to file a detailed report. If the drivers involved in the accident share the same insurance company, then one assessor will represent both parties; otherwise two or more assessors may arrive on the scene.
If you are renting a car in Mexico and are involved in an accident, then the car rental agency will probably arrange for the insurance company’s assessor to visit the scene of the accident. They may also have other people attend the scene; for example, an agency representative with a replacement car if the vehicle you are driving is no longer roadworthy due to the accident.
Once the scene of the accident is assessed, the insurance assessors will arrange for tow trucks, etc., if required, and negotiate with each other about who is to blame.
If people are hurt or killed, a legal process will also ensue (see Serious Accidents, above), otherwise, people will drive off (or have alternative transport arranged by the insurance company) and go about their business.
See also: Guide to Auto Insurance in Mexico
Mexico’s energy reform Act of 2013 brought-in sweeping changes to Mexican energy policy, including the way that gasoline is priced in Mexico.
Gasoline Prices in Mexico
Until 2016/17, the Mexican government used to set a ‘maximum price’ for the cost of gasoline and diesel in Mexico. IN towns and cities along the border with the USA prices are set to prices across the U.S. border for local commercial reasons. Sometimes those prices are below those of the rest of the country, and at other times they are higher, since U.S. prices vary considerably in line with world oil prices.
A staggered price deregulation program was started in 2015/2016 which intends to transform Mexico’s gasoline price regime from a government-cap to a market price system. Read the blog article: Changes to Mexico’s Gasoline Prices for details.
Gasoline Service Stations in Mexico
Until around 2015, all filling stations in Mexico were PEMEX franchises. PEMEX—an acronym for Petroleos Mexicanos—is the state-owned oil company which had a national monopoly on the supply of fuel in Mexico until the reform Act of 2013. To find a PEMEX filling station, look out for the green and white PEMEX signs located in towns, cities and along highways throughout Mexico.
From around 2015, non-Pemex gasoline stations began to operate —Hidrosina was the first— and part of the intention of the energy reform law is to gradually create an open market for fuel, as exists in the US and Canada.
All stations are FULL SERVICE. Check that the counter on the pump is set to zero before the attendant begins to dispense the fuel. Most gas station attendants make a point about showing you that the meter is set at zero before filling.
Ask the attendant to fill the tank, (lleno -“YAY-noh”) or to a specified monetary amount, e.g. “Dos cientos pesos.” Additionally, if you ask, the attendant will also clean the windscreen, check/fill your oil if required (check this with him), replace your windscreen wiper blades (these are sold), fill your vehicle with water or coolant, check your tire pressure and adjust as necessary, and any other minor job that may need doing that won’t take more than a few minutes at most.
Someone may come along and clean your windscreen for you, unsolicited. It’s optional to pay, but you may like give them 2 or 3 pesos in return for their efforts if you allow them to clean your screen.
Tipping Gas Station Attendants
Attendants at gasoline stations should be Tipped, commensurate with the amount of work they do for you. 3-5% of the cost of your fuel is normal for fuel-only, 5-10% of same for additional services.
Paying for Your Care Fuel in Mexico
Historically, buying fuel for vehicles was a cash business in Mexico. However, in recent times, gasoline stations have been rolling-out credit and debit card payments on the forecourt, although it’s wise to make sure you carry some cash with you on your journey in case the station you stop to refuel at doesn’t accept cards yet, or (more likely) their card payment system is not working.
Debit/Credit Card Safety at Gasoline Stations
Gasoline stations are one of the most common places where ‘card skimmers’ operate: unscrupulous people who secretly copy (skim) your card’s details and then sell them on the black market. We therefore have two recommendations when you use plastic to pay for your gasoline in Mexico:
1. Use a credit card instead of a debit card. It’s much harder to get your money back from a debit card if the account is compromised by a skimmer; and
2. Never let the card leave your sight. Don’t hand the card out through the car’s window: climb out of your car, hand the card to the attendant personally, and don’t let the attendant walk away with the card. The attendant should bring a portable payment machine to you where you’ll either sign the piece of paper it dispenses or enter your card’s payment PIN on the number pad in lieu of your hand-written signature.
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