What should you know about owning a vehicle in Mexico? If you want to bring a vehicle with you, or purchase one once you arrive, you should understand the rules and regulations that apply to vehicle importation, registration, insurance and obtaining a driver’s license. You should also learn a thing or two about Mexico’s highway system.
Rules and procedures will vary based on the status of your visa, whether you are importing your vehicle temporarily or indefinitely, whether the vehicle is brand new from a country with which Mexico has a free trade agreement or the vehicle is classified as used or classic. If the car’s model is nine years old at the time of import, and the Certificate of Origin is from Mexico, U.S. or Canada, the car can be imported without further requirements.
Temporary residents and retirees are permitted to import their vehicles to Mexico, but you can only import one vehicle. All new vehicles (i.e., current or later model years with an odometer reading of less than 600 miles) from the U.S., Canada and the E.U. are admitted duty free.
If you do not drive your vehicle to Mexico yourself, only an authorized customs agent can carry out the importation of your vehicle to Mexico on your behalf. It is important to note that Customs agents are NOT officers of SAT (Servicio de Administración Tributaria, Mexico’s tax administration) or INM (Instituto Nacional de Migración, Mexico’s immigration service). They do not issue permits, only verify the permit issued by SAT. Only certified Customs agents are authorized to do this at the border. The only exception to this is spouses and family members may temporarily import their family member’s car if they prove the relationship. Cars that are leased or financed require a letter from the leasing or financing company giving permission to be taken into Mexico.
If you wish to bring a large truck over one ton in weight, you will need a special certification. You also may bring a trailer and motorcycles with your vehicle, up to three non-road legal recreational vehicles.
The duration of the temporary importation permit conforms to your immigration document, which is up to 180 days for tourists and up to the end of the total four-year term for temporary residents. Permanent residents may not import or drive foreign plated cars, unless the importer is in the car or the car is imported by a direct family member.
If you or a family member do not bring the vehicle in to Mexico, you will need to employ a freight forwarder/broker that specializes in vehicles and is experienced with Mexican customs. This may be the same company or affiliate of the company you are using for your household move, if you choose to use an international moving company. Once your permit has expired, you will need to take the car out of Mexico. Failure to do so will result in not being able to get a new permit for another car in the future.
Documents required to import your vehicle into Mexico are:
- Registration from your country of origin not expired more than three months
- Invoice or bill of sale
- Original vehicle title
- Driver’s license
- Passport copy
- Original Temporary Resident visa
- Permission from finance/leasing company
If you would like more information on how to import your vehicle, this Mexican government website provides details, in Spanish.
Once your vehicle has been imported, you will need to register it in the state where you will reside. Vehicle registrations are processed at the Instituto de Control Vehicular. The average cost of vehicle registration for those with temporary resident visas is generally no more than US$51. For those holding a permanent resident visa, the cost is 10 percent of the cost of the vehicle plus taxes. The good news is you will only pay once for your registration. Once you get a sticker for your vehicle, it is permanent.
Your vehicle also must have a certificate from the state of your residence showing that it is not stolen. Vehicle owners must also record the purchase title under their name at the registration office. Once the vehicle owner has registered his/her vehicle, home country plates and registration must be sent to the state’s Secretaria de Finanzas.
When it comes to getting a driver’s license, the first thing to remember is that states issue them and every state in Mexico has some regulations that are specific to that state. The test is based on the Regulation of Transportation of the Government of the State. Each has a list of documentation required from foreign citizens who are applying for a driver’s license, but most often include:
- Residency visa
- Birth certificate
- Proof of residency in the state (electric bill, bank statement, phone bill, property tax bill)
- Previous driver’s license
Once you have all the required documents, you will need to apply for your driver’s license at a local Transito office, make payment (the cost varies by state but is usually under $400 pesos), provide your blood type, take an eye exam, take a written test (in most states it is computerized) and then pass a driving test. Some states have English versions of the driver’s test.
Once you pass both tests, you will be photographed, fingerprinted and will provide your signature. After you present your receipt for payment, you will be issued your license. You must be 18 years of age to apply for a permanent driver’s license, which is good for three years.
Although many expats use their home country driver’s license, by law it is illegal for those holding temporary or permanent resident visas to use them. Mexican law stipulates that you must have a Mexican driver’s license, unless you are visiting on a temporary visa.
You will need Mexican insurance for your vehicle when you enter the country. In addition to your name, address and other contact information, the insurer will need to know:
- Make of your vehicle
- Model of your vehicle
- Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
- Coverage you require
Typical coverage includes:
- Material damage (up to the vehicle’s value)
- Theft (up to the vehicle’s value)
- Liability of US$300,000
- Medical per passenger (US$4,000/US$20,000
- Legal assistance
- Road assistance
Premiums depend upon the term of the policy and the value of the vehicle. For example, the annual premium for a vehicle with a value of US$7,000 would be about US$385.
Mexico’s Highway System
Major national interstate highways in Mexico are very good and well- marked. The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Mexico’s highway system 52nd out of 137 countries they study each year. Roads also are good around popular tourist areas. Rural area roads, however, are rougher and are often unpaved. Speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour.
Autopistas are highways with four or more defined lanes. Federal highway 15 is an autopista that runs from Nogales in the north to Mexico City, for example. The maximum speed limit is generally 110 km/h (68 mph) for cars and 95 kmh (59 mph) for buses and trucks. North-south highways have odd numbers and east-west autopistas have even numbers.
If you have a mechanical problem on the highway, you can call Asistencia en Ruta, or Roadside Assistance, which provides motorists with free roadside assistance if you are using a toll road in Mexico. The number is printed on the toll receipt.
Finally, beware the topes, or speed bumps. You will find them everywhere in Mexico. They can create problems if you do not see or ignore the signs.