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Planning on Driving in Mexico? Read This!

by Brent May

There is so much to experience in Mexico, from cruising through the local communities to zipping through larger cities. There are just a few things you’ll need to get started, which will make your travels hassle-free and full of fun!

Rules of the Road

● The legal age to drive is 18 years old.
● Seatbelts are mandatory for all passengers.
● Drive on the right side of all roads and highways.
● Know enough Spanish and the metric system to understand and comply with all road signs.
● Mobile devices are prohibited, except if you have a hands-free system.
● Driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. The legal limit of blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.8%.

What You Need to Enter Mexico

If you’re planning to drive into Mexico, you’ll need to have the following for entry and departure:

● Passport or passport card (not eligible for entering by air)
● Green card

If you’re driving your own car and plan to be in the country for less than 72 hours, you are limited to the border (or free) zone, which is 20-30 kilometers from the US border. Beyond that, you’ll need a temporary visitor’s permit, also known as an FMT. This is only available to Canadian or US travelers. The FMT can be purchased for approximately $45 USD plus IVA tax at the following Mexican locations:

● Border crossing points
● Consulates
● Tourism offices

The FMT allows you to drive in most regions. Exceptions include the Baja Peninsula and those vehicles that are driving through the Nogales port of entry in the state of Sonora. If you go beyond the border zone without the FMT, your vehicle could be confiscated by customs officials.

You’ll also need to pay a refundable deposit that guarantees your vehicle will return to Canada or the United States. This ranges, depending on the year of your vehicle:

● 2007 or newer: approximately $400 USD
● 2001-06: approximately $300 USD
● 2000 or older: approximately $200 USD

To get your deposit back, you’ll need to return the import permit to a local Banjercito office before the expiration date has passed. To get the most up-to-date requirements for entry into Mexico, contact:

Mexican Embassies in Canada

Mexican Embassies in the US

● Consulate General of Mexico in Washington, DC: (202) 736-1000


Purchasing a Car

Avoid the extreme complications of importing your vehicle and changing the plates by simply buying a new or used vehicle in Mexico. This can be relatively inexpensive when compared to car purchases in other countries. Dealerships are located all across Mexico.


Driver’s Licenses

US and Canadian licenses are valid in Mexico, and you will want to carry it with you when driving in Mexico. The law requires either the owner drive the vehicle only or be inside the vehicle. Otherwise, the vehicle can be seized by custom officials, and won’t be returned. If you plan to be in Mexico for a longer period of time, you’ll need a Mexican license. You’ll need to bring the following to the driver’s license office:

● Passport
● Proof of residence in Mexico
● Health certificate
● Cash for the application fee

Depending on the state, you could be asked to take a test (written and practical) in Spanish, or just take a blood test. If you aren’t fluent in Spanish, request a test in English or an English/Spanish translator.

Vehicle Insurance

While vehicle insurance is not legally enforced (except in Baja California), it’s always a good idea to have insurance when driving in Mexico. It’s important to note that your vehicle is not covered by out-of-country insurance. But you can purchase Mexican vehicle insurance to cover you while you’re driving in Mexico.

We recommend full coverage insurance, which covers the cost of bail should you find yourself in an at-fault accident. If that is the case, Mexican law calls for the parties involved to be taken into police custody until the authorities can decide who is at fault, and if that person has the means to pay for any damage.

Vehicle insurance can be purchased at one of the many offices that are found near the border. You can purchase cheap insurance, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Aim to buy from a reputable, A-rated insurance provider.

Road ConditionsSpeed Bump Sign

Mexico’s vast number of highways and byways, backroads and toll roads, vary in condition and quality. You’ll experience topes (speed bumps) that can be particularly high and unexpected, as well as military checkpoints which check in to see where you’re coming from and heading toward. If the latter occurs, remain calm and allow the soldier to see inside your vehicle.

Also, not all roads are can handle inclimate weather. Exercise caution when driving in rain, as sewage drains are not common. Muddy roads can also be slick and many a driver has gotten stuck.

Regular and Toll Roads

When traveling across the state and nation, you’ll have several highway options:

1. Regular Highways – Also known as carreteras libres, these roads are not as well maintained as the toll roads. It’s not uncommon to drive over potholes and natural debris (some can even damage your car). Then there are the animals that meander across the road, which can be particularly dangerous. Regular highways are also slower, but you might not mind as you will be enjoying the sights, sounds and flavors of local communities.

2. Toll Roads – Also known as autopistas de cuota, these roads are in much better condition than regular highways. They are more direct, and since they cost money, are not as frequented by the general population, so you’ll likely shorten your travel time. We recommend using these roads when possible, especially as you’re learning your way around. While some accept credit and debit cards, it’s always a good idea to carry cash for the toll roads. For route rates, visit the Secretary of Communication and Transportation website for information on individual routes and tolls.


Fueling Up

Pemex gas stations are government owned and can be found all around Mexico. Attendants pump gas and will wash windows, which always warrant a tip around 12 pesos ($1 USD).


Roadside Assistance

One of the benefits to driving on toll roads, and some major highways, is the government-sanctioned roadside assistance that comes with it. Angeles Verdes mechanics, also known as “green angels,” can be called if you blow a tire, have a battery issue or experience other vehicular issues. While their service is free, you will need to pay for any replacement parts. Tipping or buying a cold beverage or a warm lunch is always a recommended. For roadside assistance, dial 078.

Crime on the Roads

Sometimes Mexico is thought of as the Wild, Wild West, and you do want to use caution on back roads. Unsavory characters have been known to take advantage of kind-hearted travelers.

Stay safe by avoiding:

● Broken-down vehicles
● Hitchhikers
● Rides from strangers

Don’t Drive Days

Heavy air pollution in densely populated cities can be very problematic for the air quality. To curb the issue, the Mexican government instituted Hoy no circula, meaning that car drivers are banned from driving one day a week. (Motorcycles are exempt from this ban.) Numbers on license plates determine who cannot drive from 5:00 to 22:00 on a specific day.

Public Transportation

When in doubt, there’s always public transportation in most cities and villages across Mexico. Buses are the most prevalent, but you will need to know some Spanish to converse with the driver, passengers and maps.

Should you have any questions, feel free to contact us anytime. We’ll share the best comings and goings to get to where you want to go in Mexico!

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Lee-Anne Calhoon July 15, 2018 - 2:29 am

Oh my gosh Brent, I’ve watched your videos and read your blogs. I feel like you’ve been a long time amigo (like Rowland and Patti Casey on the House Hunter video). My mom is Canadian so maybe that’s why I find it easy to watch and read your blogs. You are so informative. I’ve had my car 16 and was going to trade it in for a new CRV and drive it with my stuff to Oaxaca. I totally love Honda CRVs. They last forever and are such low maintenance. After reading this and other blogs from people who have moved to Mexico, I now think I’d rather buy a car there and contribute to the Mexican Economy. You are answering so many questions before I even ask. I REALLY appreciate you sharing your surgery issue. I’m wondering if any American or Canadian docs/dentists practice in Oaxaca/Hualtuco. You are making each day easier.

In future blogs can I request you talk about how efficient the Mexican mail services are to other countries. I had a bad experience 10 years ago mailing a couple boxes to the Playa Fire Dept. if someone mails me a letter or package from the US or Argentina, how likely will I get it? Do you get your mail at home en Hualtuco or do most people have a PO Box? I see I can give away many things here before a get on that plane, because there is an Amazon Mexicano out of DF. I hear the gov and Amazon have stepped up security and the bandits aren’t hyjacking the trucks? What do you think of the Amazon Mexicano service?

Any thoughts on dog adoption, vets, availability of dog food and dog treats?

Laws for Americans working in Hualtuco or Oaxaca?

What is the process to get residency?

Bless you Brent for taking your personal time to educate us “still on the other side”,

Lee-Anne Calhoon

Erin May July 25, 2018 - 9:45 pm

Hi Lee-Anne, Thank you for your kind comments and also your great ideas for blog posts. I’m glad you find our posts informative and helpful. As far as I know, there are not any American or Canadian doctors or dentists here in Huatulco. However, there are many good Mexican doctors that speak English. The postal service in Mexico is generally good. I, personally, don’t receive too much mail via Correos their postal service, but I do receive packages via DHL, FedEx, and other national shipping companies. I’ve never experienced any problems not receiving my packages. Amazon Mexico works great. They offer lots of products and have quick delivery. Thanks again for the great blog topics. Keep an eye out here and you’ll likely see some of them in the near future.


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