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