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Driving in Mexico in 2024: Everything You Need to Know

Driving in Mexico is a great way to explore the country. Whether you’re taking a long weekend drive across the border, renting a car in Cancun, or road tripping down the Baja Peninsula, hitting the road in Mexico is an adventure. It can also be a bit overwhelming. The rules of the road are different. There are some documents you’ll need. This guide outlines everything you need to know. 

In this guide, I’ll outline the document requirements, Mexican auto insurance, car rentals, safety, driving customs, and more. I’ll also share 10 tips for driving in Mexico.

I’ve been living in Mexico for the past 2 years. During that time, I’ve driven my own car and rentals pretty extensively in the country. I also used to drive to Mexico with my dad every year for annual fishing trips. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.

Key Takeaways

– To drive in Mexico, you’ll need a passport, driver’s license, visitor’s permit, Mexican auto insurance, and proof of registration. You may also need a temporary import permit depending on where you’re driving.

– Be sure to buy temporary Mexican auto insurance as your U.S. policy won’t be valid in Mexico.

– The local driving customs are different in Mexico. Some drivers use turn signals to indicate it is safe to pass and driving on the shoulder to accommodate passing traffic is normal.

– The Green Angels offer free roadside assistance. In case of an emergency, the number to dial is 911, just like in the U.S.

– Police corruption is an issue in Mexico. If you’re pulled over by the police, resist paying bribes. Ask for a paper ticket or ask to pay at the police station.

US Mexico border Tijuana crossing
The U.S.-Mexico border at Tijuana
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Table of Contents

Documents Required for Driving in Mexico

To legally drive in Mexico, you need the following documents:

  • Valid driver’s license
  • Mexican auto insurance
  • Vehicle registration and proof of ownership
  • Your passport and immigration document
  • Temporary vehicle import permit (if you’re driving a foreign-plated vehicle outside of the free zones)

In the following sections, I’ll outline each document that you may need to drive in Mexico. The documents you need depend on whether you’re driving your own car or renting a car, where the car is registered, and where you’re driving in Mexico.

Oaxaca City, Mexico

Driver’s License

You need a valid driver’s license to drive in Mexico legally. Licenses from most countries are accepted. You can use your U.S. or Canadian driver’s license to drive in Mexico. International driver’s licenses are also accepted.

If you’re living in Mexico on a temporary or permanent residency visa, you are supposed to get a Mexican driver’s license. I’m not sure whether or not this is actually enforced. If you plan to buy a car in Mexico, you will need a Mexican driver’s license.

Do You Need an International Driving Permit to Drive in Mexico?

No. Most travelers do not need an international driving permit to drive in Mexico. You can use your foreign driver’s license

There is one requirement. Your driver’s license must be printed in a language that uses the Latin alphabet (the alphabet this article is written in). If your driver’s license is in a language that uses another alphabet, such as Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or Arabic you will need an international driving permit.

Do I Need Mexican Car Insurance to Drive in Mexico?

Yes. To drive in Mexico legally, you need Mexican auto insurance. If you get involved in an accident and you don’t have insurance, you could end up in jail.

Foreign auto insurance is not valid in Mexico. Your insurance must be issued by a Mexican insurance company. This means you can’t use your regular car insurance while driving in Mexico.

The minimum insurance required is called civil liability insurance. This insurance can cover you if you accidentally injure another person with your vehicle or if you accidentally damage another person’s vehicle or property while driving in Mexico.

For more protection, it’s a good idea to buy collision insurance. This covers damage to your vehicle if you’re involved in an accident. For example, if you’re hit by an uninsured driver, you will be covered. This is recommended because many people drive without insurance in Mexico. Collision insurance can also cover you if you were at fault. If you’re driving a rental car, you may want to buy collision damage waiver or CDW insurance. With this insurance, the rental car company can’t come after you if the car is damaged.

Another type of car insurance to consider is comprehensive insurance. This can cover you in the event of theft, fire, vandalism, etc. Vehicle theft is a serious problem in some parts of Mexico. Comprehensive insurance is a good idea for this reason.

Some Mexican insurance companies offer full coverage insurance. This is a combination of liability, collision, and comprehensive insurance. This usually has low or no deductible. Personally, I recommend you purchase a full coverage policy for peace of mind.

A couple of other insurance products exist that are worth considering. You can buy a roadside assistance policy to cover you if you break down while driving in Mexico. You can also buy personal effects coverage. This covers you if personal items are stolen from your vehicle. Vehicle break-ins are common in some parts of Mexico.

Where to Buy Mexican Car Insurance?

You can buy temporary Mexican car insurance online before you cross the Mexican border. I always use Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. They make it extremely easy to buy insurance online. You can get a quote in just a few minutes by clicking the link.

In most border towns, there are kiosks where you can stop and buy temporary Mexican car insurance before you cross the border. If you’re renting a car in Mexico, you can buy insurance from the rental agency. Some American insurance companies also offer temporary Mexico policies.

Mexican car insurance policies typically cost $20-$30 per day. The exact cost depends on the coverage you choose and the type of vehicle that you drive.

Do I Need a Passport to Drive in Mexico?

Yes. Most travelers will need a passport to drive in Mexico. Both passport books and passport cards are accepted for traveling across the border overland.

For more in-depth info, check out my guide: Do I Need a Passport to Go to Mexico?

Vehicle Registration and Proof of Ownership

When driving in Mexico, you must carry your vehicle’s registration. To be valid, the registration must contain the vehicle’s VIN and the license plate number of the vehicle. It must also be current.

It’s also a good idea to bring a copy of the vehicle’s title if you have it. This proves that you own the vehicle.

You will need your vehicle’s registration to apply for a temporary import permit. You may also need to show your vehicle’s registration at immigration.

If you leased or financed your vehicle, you may not have the title. In this case, you may need to get a letter of permission from the lessor or the lienholder.

Immigration Document (FMM Visitor’s Permit or Residency Visa)

All foreign citizens traveling to Mexico for tourism purposes for less than 180 days need to obtain an FMM permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple) or get a passport stamp when entering Mexico. You need to carry it with you while you’re driving in Mexico.

The FMM tourist permit allows citizens and residents of these countries to travel to Mexico without needing to apply for a visa in advance. To apply for an FMM permit, you will need a passport book or passport card.

You can obtain an FMM permit on arrival at the border. All you have to do is fill out a simple form with basic travel info. You can also apply for an FMM online in advance here.

If you’re planning on staying in Mexico for less than 7 days, the FMM is free. If you’re staying for more than 7 days, it costs 595 pesos (about $30).

It’s important to note that the FMM form is being phased out. At some borders, you simply get your passport stamped. All immigration rules remain the same.

For more info, check out my guide to the FMM Tourist Permit.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato, Mexico

Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TIP)

If you plan to drive outside of the free zones, you need to get a temporary vehicle import permit (TIP) to legally drive in Mexico. The free zones include the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, most of the state of Sonora, and the state of Quintana Roo. The border zones (the areas 12-15 miles or 20-25km from any land border) are also considered free zones.

A temporary importat permit is a document that allows you to temporarily drive a foreign-plated vehicle anywhere in Mexico.

To apply for a temporary import permit, you need the following documents:

  • A valid passport or passport card
  • An immigration document (FMM or residency visa)
  • Valid non-Mexican driver’s license
  • Your vehicle’s title or registration
  • An affidavit for temporary importation (if the vehicle is leased, financed, borrowed, or rented)
  • Proof of Mexico car insurance

There $51 application fee. You must also pay a deposit of $200-$400 depending on the age of your vehicle.

You can apply for a temporary vehicle import permit on the Banjercito website here. If you apply online, you must apply 7-60 days before your trip. It is also possible to apply at Banjercito locations near major crossings. You can also apply at some Mexican consulates.

For more info, check out my in-depth guide to the temporary vehicle importation permit.

Driving Across the Border to Mexico

The US-Mexico border
The U.S. Mexico border

The border crossing can be busy, confusing, and overwhelming. Particularly if you cross at a large border. For exmaple, the San Ysidro crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. There’s lots of traffic. Security is also tight. If you’re prepared and patient, crossing the border into Mexico is pretty easy. Mexican immigration officers are professionals.

Before you reach the border crossing, gather all of your documents and have everything ready and organized. To make the crossing easier, apply for your FMM permit and temporary import permit online in advance. This will save you time.

Once you reach the border, follow the signs for the ‘something to declare’ area. Park and walk into the immigration building to get your FMM or get your online FMM stamped and validated.

Mexican Customs (Aduanas)

After passing through immigration, you’ll drive through customs. If you have nothing to declare, you usually don’t have to stop at customs.

You could be randomly selected for a customs inspection. Mexico uses a red-light-green-light system at many border crossings. If you get a green light, you continue driving. If you get a red light, you have to stop for a quick inspection.

Don’t worry if you get stopped. As long as you don’t have anything illegal or anything that you should have declared, you won’t have any issues.

A highway in Mexico
A highway outside of Monterrey, Mexico

Driving a Rental Car in Mexico

To rent a car in Mexico, you’ll need a valid drivers license, a credit card, and civil liability insurance. Some agencies require a copy of your passport. Debit cards usually aren’t accepted.

All of the major car rental agencies have locations in Mexico including Hertz, Enterprise, National, Budget, Dollar, Alamo, etc. There are also several Mexican brands and local agencies.

On average, car rentals in Mexico cost between $40 and $50 per day. This price includes full coverage insurance.

The minimum age to rent a car at most agencies is 25. Some agencies allow those who are 21 and older to rent a car. In this case, there is usually a surcharge. Most agencies require that you’ve held a license for at least 2 years. Some require that you’ve held a license for 5 years.

It’s important to note that most rental cars in Mexico come with a manual transmission. If you can’t drive a stick, be sure to reserve an automatic. This is usually slightly more expensive.

For more in-depth info, check out my guide to renting a car in Mexico.

Rental Car Insurance in Mexico

You can buy insurance from the rental agency. The minimum insurance required to rent a car in Mexico is third-party liability insurance. Full coverage is also available at most agencies at an additional cost.

Some credit card companies include rental car insurance this as a perk for cardholders. Check with your credit card company to see if they offer it and what’s covered. Sometimes, they only include a collision damage waiver insurance.

When you rent a car in Mexico, you should buy insurance, even if your credit card includes rental car insurance. If you’re involved in an accident and you don’t have sufficient insurance and you might not be allowed to leave the country until you pay for all damage. Credit card insurance usually reimburses you after you’ve paid for the damage. It’s best to buy Mexican insurance.

Renting a Car in Mexico Vs the U.S.

If you want to drive a rental car in Mexico, you should rent it in Mexico. Most U.S. car rental agencies will not allow you to drive their vehicle across the border.

It is possible to rent a car in the U.S. and drive to Mexico but there are restrictions. You will have to arrange this with the agency before you rent the car. You may have to pay an additional deposit, pay an additional fee, and fill out some extra paperwork. Most agencies simply won’t allow you to drive their cars to Mexico.

Rental Car Scams

If you decide to rent a car in Mexico, you should be aware of a couple of scams that exist. Most commonly, car rental companies advertise an incredibly low daily rate. You may see rates as low as $10 per day. The actual car rental price is far higher.

Visitors reserve these cheap cars thinking they scored a great deal. When they arrive at the rental office to pick the car up, they get surprised with a range of unexpected charges for taxes, fees, and additional insurance. After factoring in all of the extra charges, a car rental that was advertised for $10 per day actually ends up costing $40 per day. This isn’t really a scam. It’s dishonest marketing. If it seems too good to be true, it is.

Another potential scam to be aware of is rental agencies trying to charge you for damage you didn’t cause. For example, if there’s a small scratch on the vehicle, the rental agency could try to claim you caused it. They may try to charge you for it when you return the car.

To avoid this scam, do a walkaround with the car rental agent before you sign the rental agreement. Look for scratches, dings, dents, cracks in windows, stains and tears in upholstery, tire damage, parts that don’t work, etc. Document all damage to the vehicle, no matter how small it is. Take photos as proof.

The rental agent has a document where they can take note of all damage to the vehicle. You should receive a copy of this document when you rent a car.

A highway in Mexico
A highway in Querétaro

Buying Gas in Mexico

In Mexico, you do not pump your own gas. Instead, an attendant pumps your gas for you. When you pull into a gas station, drive up to the pump. All you have to do is let the attendant know how many liters you want or how much money you want to spend. If you want them to fill the tank, just say ‘llénalo, por favor’ (fill it please). Also, specify which grade of fuel you want. You also need to tell them how you want to pay. ‘Efectivo’ means cash and ‘tarjeta’ means card.

If you wish, you can also give the attendant a small tip of 10-20 pesos ($0.50-$1). Many of the attendants live off of tips.

On most routes, there are plenty of gas stations. There is a gas station in every small town. It’s still a good idea to keep your tank topped up when traveling long distance, just in case.

It’s important to note that some gas stations in Mexico don’t accept credit cards. This is common in small towns. When driving in Mexico, be sure to carry some cash in pesos, just in case.

Gas Station Scams

After you pay, the attendant could tell you that you handed them a smaller note than you actually did. For example, maybe you hand the gas attendant 500 pesos but they tell you that you only gave them 200 pesos. They pump 200 pesos worth of gas into your car and pocket the difference. They scammed you out of 300 pesos.

Sometimes, the attendant may begin pumping gas when the meter isn’t zeroed out. In this case, you get less fuel than you paid for. Before the attendant begins pumping gas, you should check the meter to make sure it is zeroed out.

At some gas stations, the attendant will tell you that they don’t accept cards. They may tell you that the system isn’t working. I’m not sure if this is true or if they just want cash. You should always carry some pesos with you while driving in Mexico so you can pay at gas stations..

Cuota Roads Vs Libre Roads

In Mexico, there are toll highways (cuota) and free highways (libre). When driving between large cities, you can often choose to take a toll highway or a free highway to your destination.

For most travelers, taking the toll road is the better choice. The toll roads are smoother and wider than the free roads. They are also maintained better. There aren’t any potholes or speed bumps. Traffic also isn’t as bad. You can reach your destination faster when you take the toll road.

The main drawback is the cost. On average, the toll usually costs around $5-$8 for a 2-3 hour drive. Tolls can range from 25 pesos to over 200 pesos. The costs can add up if you’re taking a long road trip. Make sure you have cash.

The benefit of taking the free road is that you’ll pass through small pueblos that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. The free roads are slower. There are pedestrians and livestock on the roads that you have to look out for. There may also be potholes and speed bumps to look out for.

My dad and I used to drive to Ensenada every year to go fishing. Usually, we took the toll road. It was fast and smooth. On a couple of occasions, we took the free road. It was fine. Just slower and rougher. I usually take the toll roads because they are safer.

Police or Military Checkpoints While Driving in Mexico

Police officers in Mexico

Police and Military checkpoints are common in Mexico. Particularly on federal highways (carretera federal). You will pass a checkpoint when you exit the Mexican border zone (12-15 miles from the borders. There are also checkpoints located throughout the country. If you’re planning a road trip in Mexico, it’s important to know what to expect at these military checkpoints.

When you get to a checkpoint, may stop you and ask to see your ID. You’ll need to show your passport and immigration document (FMM or residency permit). You may also be asked to show proof of insurance and your driver’s license.

The officer might ask you a few questions such as, where are you coming from and where are you going? They could also search the vehicle for contraband. Sometimes, they’ll just wave you through.

As long as you have your documents in order, you’re not carrying anything illegal, and you’re not breaking any laws, there’s no need to worry. You’ll pass through the checkpoint smoothly. The officers working these checkpoints are just doing their job. They’re usually friendly and honest. Usually, it only takes a couple of minutes to pass through the checkpoints.

It is possible that a corrupt officer tries to solicit a bribe at a checkpoint. I have never encountered this but I have heard stories of it happening.

It’s best to avoid paying a bribe. If you delay, they’ll usually let you go. If you have to pay, 200-500 pesos should be enough.

A road in Tijuana, Baja California
Tijuana, Baja California

Is It Safe to Drive in Mexico?

Yes. Driving in Mexico is safe. The country has a well-developed network of roads. The traffic laws are also fairly familiar. Driving in Mexico isn’t much different from driving in the U.S. or Canada.

Having said this, driving in a foreign country can be a bit of overwhelming. Drivers may be aggressive. Sometimes people drive close together. The signs are different. It’s easy to get lost. Sometimes Mexican drivers perform risky passing maneuvers. It’s important to drive carefully when you’re in an unfamiliar place. Always drive defensively and stay alert.

Before your trip, take some time to familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and road signs. For American drivers, it’s important to remember that the speed limit signs are in Km/h in Mexico. Always wear your seatbelt, respect speed limits, and don’t use your phone while driving.

Before driving in Mexico, you should research your destination and route carefully. Consider reading the Mexico travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State. This can help you avoid dangerous regions.

Before setting off, plan a route. There are some roads in Mexico that are not safe to drive. For example, some rural roads are particularly dangerous due to cartel activity. Tourists have accidentally driven down the wrong road and been stopped by cartel members. Stick to major highways while traveling between cities.

It’s also best to avoid driving at night in Mexico. Crime increases at night. Road conditions become a bit more dangerous. Visibility is poor in some areas. Some roads aren’t well lit.

It’s also a good idea to always keep your car doors locked while driving and while your vehicle is parked. Never leave valuables unattended in your vehicle.

While driving, always keep an eye out for dangers such as roadblocks, checkpoints, potholes, speed bumps, livestock on the road, people on the road, etc.

Driving distances can be far. Mexico is a big country. Make sure you’re prepared before you set out on a drive. You should always have plenty of fuel as well as extra food and water in your vehicle. You should also have a phone so you can call for help. If you break down, you may have to wait a while for help to arrive.

For more general safety info, check out my guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.

A highway over the Tijuana River

How Do Mexicans Drive?

Mexico is a big country. The driving habits of the locals can vary from city to city and region to region. Some regions are harder to drive in than others.

In large cities, such as Mexico City, traffic can get pretty crazy. Mexico City is known for its incredibly heavy traffic and aggressive drivers. People drive fast and close together. They constantly honk their horns. Motorcycles zip between cars. During rush hour, traffic is stop-and-go everywhere in the city. It can be intimidating. Most tourists avoid driving in Mexico City for these reasons.

In other regions, such as the Yucatan Peninsula and Baja Peninsula, drivers are much more laid-back. They generally follow the rules of the road. As long as you drive defensively and stay alert, you won’t have any issues driving here. Driving in small towns is also pretty relaxed. Most drivers are courteous.

There are a few differences I have noticed between drivers in Mexico and drivers back home in the U.S. In my experience, drivers in Mexico don’t signal as much or as long. They may only activate their blinker for a couple of seconds at the last minute before making a turn. Oftentimes, they don’t signal at all.

Drivers also tend to honk more frequently than you may be used to. If you don’t pull away from a stoplight the instant it turns green, the driver behind you may give you a quick beep.

Passing in Mexico

One major difference between driving in the U.S. and driving in Mexico is passing. Mexicans do not like to wait behind slower vehicles. They use all of the road while passing, including the shoulders. In fact, they consider the shoulders half-lanes. Slow vehicles sometimes drive on the shoulder to leave room for faster vehicles to pass.

One important difference to note is that turn signals can mean ‘you can pass’. While driving on a two-lane highway, the driver in front of you may pull into the shoulder and turn on their left turn signal when the road ahead is clear. This is your invitation to pass them.

Of course, a turn signal can also mean that the driver is planning to turn. Before you overtake a vehicle, make sure there isn’t an intersection ahead. You also need to check for oncoming traffic.

Sometimes drivers attempt to pass when there isn’t enough space. If an oncoming vehicle is in your lane while passing another vehicle, you are expected to move into the shoulder while they pass.

If a driver is approaching you from behind and you don’t move out of the way for them to pass, they may pass on you the right shoulder. Always keep an eye on the traffic behind you to see what they’re doing.

Before changing lanes, passing, or moving into the shoulder, perform a head check. There could be a car in your blind spot or on the shoulder where you don’t expect it.

Police Corruption in Mexico

A police car in Mexico

Police corruption is a serious issue across Mexico. It is common for a police officer to stop a tourist and solicit a bribe or ‘mordida’ in Spanish. This can happen almost anywhere at any time of day.

After pulling you over, the officer may accuse you of a crime. The officer may tell you that you can settle the issue right there and then by paying a ‘fine’ in cash. They are asking you to pay a bribe. They could also threaten you with a big fine or jail time if you don’t pay.

Sometimes the officer will ask for $100. If the officer accuses you of a more serious crime, they may ask for $400-$500. An officer could simply demand that you hand over your wallet.

If the officer is asking for money, there are a few ways to handle the situation. The best option is to request a paper ticket. Another option is to ask the officer to go to the police station to pay.

If the officer behaves aggressively, you can simply negotiate and pay the bribe. Paying a bribe should be your last resort.

To avoid getting pulled over by the police while driving in Mexico, obey all traffic laws. You’re also far less likely to get pulled over when you drive a car with local license plates.

If you drive in Mexico long enough, you will get pulled over by a corrupt police officer at some point. There is no avoiding it.

For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Mexico.

Vehicle Breakdowns

It’s important to have a plan in case your vehicle breaks down. Always carry a phone so you can call for help if you need it.

If you break down or you need help, you can call the Green Angels for assistance. The Green Angels (Angeles Verdes in Spanish) is a mobile roadside assistance program. They patrol Mexico’s highways in green trucks and help drivers in need. The green angels are only available on major highways and toll roads in Mexico. They aren’t available on secondary roads. They only operate during the day.

The Green Angels can perform many services including repairing flat tires, charging dead batteries, assisting with towing, basic auto repair, adding oil and other fluids to your car, etc. They are also trained in basic first aid. In addition, they can provide you with basic supplies such as motor oil, gas, or water.

The Green Angels service is completely free. They are a government-funded organization. The drivers do appreciate tips. If your vehicle needs a part replaced or if you need gas or oil, you will have to pay for what you use.

You can call the Green Angels by dialing the toll-free number 01-800-987-8224. In case of an emergency, you can dial 078 or 911. These numbers will connect you to emergency services in Mexico.

If you’re driving a rental car, you can call the rental company for emergency assistance if you break down. They will repair or replace the vehicle.

San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende

Tips for Driving in Mexico

1. Avoid Driving at Night

It’s best not to drive in Mexico at night. There are a number of reasons for this. Some stretches of road are not well-lit. Curvy sections of road can become treacherous at night. It’s harder to spot potholes and speed bumps in the dark. Some people drive without working lights. Pedestrians and animals can walk on the road. It’s hard to see them at night.

It’s also easier to get lost at night. Signage isn’t very good in many Mexican cities. It’s harder to see road signs in the dark. If you make a wrong turn, you could end up in a bad neighborhood or on a dangerous back road.

Crime is also higher at night. Carjackings aren’t common but they do happen in some parts of Mexico. You could encounter fake police checkpoints where criminals stop you and rob you. These crimes mostly happen at night.

If you have to drive at night, always stick to major highways, toll roads, and main thoroughfares in cities. Avoid rural roads and secondary roads.

2. Keep an Eye Out for Speed Bumps (Topes) and Potholes

Speed bumps (topes in Spanish) are common in Mexico. They are commonly found on the edges of small towns. You’ll find them when you’re approaching a populated area. Sometimes people build their own speed bumps to make you slow down in front of their business.

Speed bumps in Mexico can be large and difficult to see. It’s important to keep an eye out for them. Look for a bright yellow sign with a picture of a speed bump and the word ‘TOPE’. Some signs also indicate the distance in meters. Sometimes there is no sign so you have to keep your eye on the road for speed bumps at all times.

When approaching a speed bump, slow down to a crawl. Speed bumps can cause damage to your vehicle if you’re not careful. Some of them are so large that you can scrape the underside of your vehicle.

I hit a big one while driving in Baja. It may have thrown my car out of alignment. I learned my lesson. Now, I always keep an eye out.

3. Be Careful of Potholes

The roads can also be full of potholes. Particularly in Central and Southern Mexico. Hitting a large pothole could cause a flat tire. It could even damage your wheel. You also have to be careful of other drivers trying to avoid potholes. They may drive into your lane to go around. Potholes can slow down your progress. 43. Download an Offline Map of your Route Before Your Trip

Download an offline map so you can still use GPS when you don’t have an internet connection. Google Maps and Maps.Me both offer this feature. This is important because you may pass through an area where there is no cell signal when driving long disances.

Consider buying a Mexican sim card with some data and minutes. You can buy a cheap plan for less than $20. Alternatively, choose a phone plan that allows you to make calls and use data while in Mexico. T-mobile and Google Fi are popular options for Americans. Being able to make calls and use the internet while driving can make planning your route much easier.

4. Give Yourself Plenty of Time

In some parts of Mexico, there are so many speed bumps and potholes, you may only average 30mph. In other parts, you can cruise along at 65mph on smooth highways. Give yourself plenty of time, just in case.

It’s also important to note that speed limits in Mexico are marked in kilometers per hour. If you’re used to driving in the United States, this can take some getting used to.

Speed limits can change also quickly in Mexico. The speed limit on the highway might be 100 kilometers per hour. When you enter a pueblo, it may quickly drop to 50 then it might go back up to 100 when you exit the pueblo. Pay attention to the signs so you don’t get caught speeding. Speed traps are common.

Driving through a flooded road in Tijuana
After a heavy rain in Tijuana, I got caught in some flooding. It was slow going.

5. Never Drive Under the Influence in Mexico

Mexico has zero tolerance for driving under the influence. Police enforcement is strict. If you are caught driving drunk, you could face jail time. There are also hefty fines for driving under the influence. If you’ve been drinking, take a taxi or Uber instead of driving.

6. Always Keep an Eye Out for People, Trash, and Animals on the Road

While driving through agricultural regions, it’s common to see animals walking on the roads. It’s also common to see trash and other debris on the road. You may see people walking on the sides of the roads or on the shoulders on highways. Always keep an eye out so you don’t hit anyone.

7. Be Aware That Locals May Try to Stop Your

If you plan to drive in Oaxaca or Chiapas, you may encounter some roadblocks. People sometimes block roads over land ownership disputes.

Occasionally, children will pull a rope across the road to stop traffic and ask for money. In this scenario, many people suggest that you don’t slow down. The children will drop the rope when they see that you’re not going to stop. Alternatively, you could stop and give them a few pesos.

These situations usually aren’t dangerous. They’re just locals trying to make a bit of money. If you refuse to pay, they could tell you to turn around.

8. If You Have an Emergency, Dial 911

The emergency number in Mexico is 911, just like in the U.S. This number will connect you to emergency services.

The US Mexico border
The US-Mexico border

Driving Across the U.S. Border from Mexico

If you’re a U.S. citizen, all you’ll need is your passport book or passport card. You can also cross into the U.S. with a permanent resident card (green card), enhanced driver’s license, or a trusted traveler program card (SENTRI card or Global Entry card). If you’re not a U.S. citizen or resident, you’ll need a passport and a visa or visa waiver (ESTA) in most cases.

When returning to the United States there is often a long line at the border. At busy crossings, such as the San Ysidro crossing and El Paso crossings, you might have to wait in line for an hour and a half to 2 hours. You can check border wait times on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here.

Once you reach immigration, an agent will ask you some basic questions about your trip. They may ask you why you were in Mexico, how long you stayed in Mexico, and where you traveled in Mexico. They will also ask if you have anything to declare. Make sure that you give honest answers.

After immigration agents finish questioning you, they may inspect your vehicle. They might ask you to open the trunk or the back doors so they can have a look around inside. They can also look through your luggage. In addition, they may use mirrors to inspect the underside of your car. Sniffer dogs may also inspect your car.

U.S. immigration and customs officials are strict. Just stay calm, be polite, and cooperate and the process will be quick and painless.

What Can I Bring Back to the United States?

To avoid any issues with customs, declare anything you bring back with you from Mexico. A few things you can and can’t bring back include:

  • $200 worth of gifts or personal items that you bought in Mexico.
  • One liter of alcoholic beverage if you’re over 21.
  • You can bring prescription drugs if you have a prescription from a U.S. doctor.
  • You cannot bring any illegal drugs back from Mexico.
  • Most fresh fruits are prohibited.
  • You can bring fish you caught in Mexico.
  • You can’t bring any products that are made from endangered species.
  • Most weapons are prohibited.

For more in-depth info, you can read about what you are and are not allowed to bring back from Mexico in this guide.

Final Thoughts

Driving is a great way to see Mexico. Driving in Mexico is pretty safe and easy. The document requirements are minimal. Road conditions are generally decent. The driving laws are similar to the U.S. and Canada. If you’re comfortable driving in a foreign country, I recommend taking a road trip in Mexico.

You don’t have to drive in Mexico. If, after reading this guide, you decide driving in a foreign country isn’t for you, you can always fly, take a cruise, or take the bus to your destination. Public transport is pretty good in Mexico. There is a large network of long distance buses. There are also several budget airlines. Mexico is an easy place to get around. Whether or not you decide to drive to Mexico, I hope this guide helps make your trip a bit smoother.

Have you driven in Mexico lately? Share your tips and experience in the comments below!

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