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Driving in Mexico

Are you looking to experience the charms of Mexico in your own vehicle? With its diverse landscape, breathtaking beaches, delicious cuisine, and friendly people, driving in Mexico is a great way to explore this vibrant country. Whether it’s a long weekend drive across the border or an extended road trip down the Baja Peninsula, choosing to hit the highways while traveling in Mexico is guaranteed to be an unforgettable adventure. This guide outlines everything you need to know about driving in Mexico. We’ll cover document requirements, car insurance, car rentals, safety, Mexican police, and more. We’ll also share 10 tips for driving in Mexico. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip to Mexico a little smoother and easier.

A highway in Mexico City

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

  • Identification such as a passport and immigration document

  • Temporary vehicle import permit (if you’re driving a foreign-plated vehicle)

It’s a good idea to make copies of all of these documents. Also, scan them or take photos and email them to yourself so you can access them if you lose the originals.

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. Read on to see which documents you’ll need for your trip.

Keep in mind that document requirements can change at any time. For the most up-to-date information, visit the U.S. Department of State website here.

Driver’s License

You need a valid driver’s license to drive in Mexico legally. You don’t need a Mexican driver’s license. Your license doesn’t need to be in printed Spanish. Licenses from most countries are accepted. You can use your U.S. or Canadian driver’s license to drive in Mexico.

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 regular driver’s license.

There is one requirement. In order for your driver’s license to be valid in Mexico, it 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 to obtain an international driving permit. This is necessary so immigration agents and police officers can read your driver’s license.

For more info on international driving permits and how to get one, check out this guide.

Your license must also be valid. You can’t drive in Mexico with an expired or suspended license.

US Mexico border Tijuana crossing
The U.S.-Mexico border at Tijuana

Do I Need Mexican Car Insurance to Drive in Mexico?

Yes. To drive in Mexico legally, you need Mexican auto insurance. You could be asked to show proof of insurance at immigration or if you’re pulled over by a police officer.

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

The minimum insurance required to legally drive in Mexico 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 with your vehicle while driving in Mexico.

For more protection, it’s a good idea to consider buying collision insurance. Collision insurance 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 as many people drive without insurance in Mexico. Collision insurance can also cover you if you were at fault. If you back into a wall, you will be covered. 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 insurance can cover you if your vehicle is damaged by events that are out of your control. For example, it can cover theft, fire, vandalism, etc. Vehicle theft is a problem in some parts of Mexico. Comprehensive insurance is a good idea for this reason.

Some Mexican insurance companies also offer a product called 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. It will help you avoid a large out-of-pocket expense.

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.

Most major American insurance companies also offer temporary Mexican auto insurance. In most border towns, there are kiosks where you can buy temporary Mexican car insurance. If you’re renting a car in Mexico, you can buy insurance from the rental agency. 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 require a passport to drive in Mexico. Both passport books and passport cards are accepted for traveling overland to Mexico.

You will need a passport to obtain an FMM permit or temporary resident visa. If you get pulled over, a police officer could ask to see your passport and immigration document to prove that you’re in the country legally. You will also need your passport when passing through military checkpoints. If you can’t prove that you’re in the country legally, you could be detained and your car could be impounded.

Your passport must have at least one blank page for a stamp. Your passport must also remain valid for the duration of your stay in Mexico. It does not need to be valid for six months, like in most other countries.

There are a couple of alternative documents that can be used to drive in Mexico. You can legally drive in Mexico with a temporary resident or permanent resident card or a Mexican ID.

For more 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. This document proves that the vehicle is registered with the government and is legal to drive on public roads. To be valid, the registration must contain the vehicle’s VIN and the license plate number of the vehicle. The registration must also be current.

It’s also a good idea to bring a photocopy of the vehicle’s title if you have it. You don’t need to bring the original title. This copy of the title acts as proof of ownership of the vehicle.

You will need your vehicle’s registration to apply for a temporary vehicle import permit. You may also need to show your vehicle’s registration to an immigration agent at the border. A police officer may also ask to see it if you’re pulled over. If you get pulled over and you can’t prove that you are the registered driver of the vehicle, the officer could assume that the vehicle is stolen.

What if You Borrowed, Leased, Financed, or Rented the Vehicle?

If you leased, financed, rented, or borrowed the vehicle, or if you’re driving a company car, you’ll also need a letter of permission to drive in Mexico. This is necessary because the vehicle may not be registered in your name. You also won’t have the vehicle’s title. You can drive a vehicle that you don’t own in Mexico. To do this, you need one additional piece of paperwork.

The letter of permission proves that the owner of the vehicle is allowing you to drive the vehicle in Mexico. You have permission. This document is required for insurance purposes. It may also be required if you need to apply for a temporary import permit. You may also need it if you’re pulled over by the police.

You need to obtain a letter of permission from the owner of the vehicle. This could be a lienholder if you’re financing the vehicle, the lessor if you’re leasing the vehicle, a rental agency if you’re renting the vehicle, the company you work for if it’s a company car, or a friend if you’re borrowing the vehicle. If the vehicle is registered in your spouse’s name, you’ll also need to bring your marriage certificate.

The letter of permission must include the name of the person or company that owns the vehicle, the name of the person borrowing the vehicle, and the dates that the vehicle will be driven in Mexico. The owner of the vehicle needs to sign the letter of permission. The letter of permission should also be notarized by a registered public notary.

If you’re driving a leased vehicle, it’s also a good idea to bring a copy of the lease. If you’re driving a financed vehicle, it’s a good idea to bring a copy of the credit contract. When driving a company car, the letter of permission needs to state that you are an employee. It must also be printed on the official letterhead. You need this document even if you own the company that owns the car.

In most cases, you will need to purchase Mexican car insurance before you can get a letter of permission. The owner of the vehicle will need proof that you have sufficient insurance in case the vehicle is damaged or stolen while it’s in Mexico. You will need the letter of permission if you’re involved in an accident. The insurance company will require it. If you don’t have it, the insurance company could deny your claim.

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

If you’re not a Mexican citizen, you will need an immigration document to drive in Mexico. 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.

The FMM tourist permit allows citizens and residents of these countries to travel to Mexico without needing to apply for a visa in advance. This document is available to citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, European Schengen Area countries, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and many more countries. To apply for an FMM permit, you will need a passport book or passport card. These are the only documents that you can use to apply for an FMM.

Visitors who are traveling on a passport issued by these countries may not be eligible for an FMM permit. If you’re not eligible for an FMM, you must apply for a Mexican visa from your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy before you can travel to Mexico.

You can obtain an FMM permit on arrival at the border. Simply fill out the form and hand it to an immigration official along with your passport. You can also apply for an FMM online here.

When driving to Mexico, it’s recommended that you apply online. It can save some time at the border. You need to get the FMM before entering Mexico. It is not available in Mexico. If you apply online, you must stop at the border to get the FMM validated.

The FMM form requires basic travel information including your name, date of birth, passport number, nationality, the purpose of your trip, your destination, how long you plan to stay in Mexico, etc.

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).

Every foreigner needs to have an FMM while driving in Mexico. Every traveler, including children older than two, needs their own FMM. This document proves that you’re in the country legally. You need to carry it with you while you’re driving in Mexico.

If you’re stopped by the police and you can’t prove that you’re in the country legally, you could be detained and deported.

If you lose your FMM while you’re in Mexico, you’ll need to obtain a replacement. This involves going to an immigration office, and paying a fine of around 600 pesos.

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. You just don’t have to fill out a form.

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

If you need to drive in Mexico for longer than 180 days or if you plan to work in Mexico, you will need a temporary residency visa. You can apply for this document at your nearest Mexican embassy or consulate. It allows you to import your vehicle for up to 1 year.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato, Mexico

Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TIP)

If you plan to drive outside of the hassle-free zones, you must obtain a temporary vehicle importation permit (TIP) to legally drive in Mexico.

A temporary vehicle importation permit is a legal document that allows you to drive a foreign-plated vehicle anywhere in Mexico for a predetermined period of time. The TIP is available for all types of vehicles including cars, trucks, motorcycles, campers, or even boats.

You only need a temporary vehicle importation permit if you plan to drive outside of the hassle-free zones. 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.

Only those driving in Mexico on an FMM tourist permit, Temporary Resident Visa, and Mexican citizens living abroad are eligible to apply for a TIP. The temporary import permit remains valid for as long as your immigration document. If you’re traveling on an FMM, the TIP is valid for up to 180 days. if you’re traveling on a temporary resident visa, it’s valid for up to 1 year.

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

  • A valid passport or passport card

  • An immigration document (FMM or 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 is a fee of $51 to apply for a temporary import permit. You must also pay a deposit of $200-$400. This deposit is refunded when you export your car from Mexico and cancel the TIP.

The TIP is issued by a Mexican bank called Banjercito. This is a Mexican government-run bank. 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.

I highly recommend that you obtain the temporary import permit online if possible. Applying online saves a ton of time at the border. In order to apply for a TIP online, you must first apply for an FMM permit online.

You can also apply for a TIP at all Bajercito locations near major border crossings. If you apply for your TIP in person, you can get it right before you cross. You can also apply for a TIP at some Mexican consulates.

After you exit Mexico, you must cancel your TIP. You can cancel it at any Banjercito office. It’s not necessary to make an appointment. You must cancel it in person. After you cancel your tip, you will receive a refund for your deposit in the same method that you paid.

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

If you’re traveling in a region where a TIP is not required, such as the Baja Peninsula, you still need your driver’s license, your vehicle registration, and temporary Mexico car insurance.

If you need to drive in Mexico for more than one year, you will need to either import your vehicle, pay import taxes on it, and register it in Mexico. Alternatively, you can buy a car in Mexico.

Driving Across the Border to Mexico

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

The border crossing can be busy, confusing, and overwhelming. 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 can be exciting. Mexican immigration officers are professionals. They will not try to solicit bribes.

Before you reach the border crossing, be sure to gather all the necessary documents and paperwork and have everything ready and organized. You may need your passport, proof of Mexican driving insurance, and your car’s registration.

To make the crossing smoother, apply for your FMM permit and temporary import permit online. Print both documents. This will save you time.

Also, check to make sure that the border you plan to cross is open. Large crossings are open 24 hours. Some small crossings close at night.

Once you reach the border, follow the signs for the ‘something to declare’ area. Park your car and walk into the immigration building to get your FMM or get your online FMM stamped and validated. If you didn’t get your temporary import permit online, you’ll have to travel back to the Banjercito office to apply.

If you already have a valid immigration document, such as a temporary resident visa, or if you’re a Mexican citizen, you can drive across the border without stopping at immigration, as long as you don’t have anything to declare.

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 must stop at customs for an inspection.

In this case, a customs officer will briefly inspect your vehicle for contraband and then send you on your way. After customs, you can proceed to Mexico.

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. The customs officers are professionals. They won’t ask for bribes or threaten you.

If you have something to declare, you’ll have to drive to the declaration area, park, and pay the necessary tax. There are limits as to what you can bring to Mexico.

You can bring your personal belongings to Mexico duty-free. In addition, you can bring up to $300 worth of gifts or new merchandise with you when you drive to Mexico. You can also bring up to 3 liters of liquor or 6 liters of beer and wine with you duty-free.

If you’re bringing more, you’ll need to pay tax. The current import tax is around 16% of the value of the items you’re importing.

If you’re unsure as to whether or not you need to stop at customs, check out this guide. It outlines the items that you can and can’t bring with you to Mexico.

A highway in Mexico
A highway outside of Monterrey, Mexico

Driving a Rental Car in Mexico

If you don’t want to drive your own car in Mexico, you can fly or walk across the border and rent a car in Mexico. 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 is the price for an economy car. This price includes full coverage insurance. Car rentals are pretty affordable in Mexico.

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

You must also be of age. The minimum age to rent a car at most agencies in Mexico is 25. Some agencies allow those who are 21 and older to rent a car. In this case, there. is usually a surcharge. Some car rental agreements require that you have held a driver’s license for 5 years.

There are some benefits to renting a car in Mexico rather than driving your own car. First, renting a car can save you time. You can fly to your destination and rent a car rather than driving all the way.

You also won’t have to deal with the hassle of buying temporary car insurance. Instead, you can just buy insurance from the rental agency.

Another benefit of renting a car is that you won’t have to worry about damaging your own while driving over potholes and speedbumps in Mexico.

You’ll also have a car with local license plates. This can reduce your likelihood of getting pulled over by a corrupt police officer.

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

Rental Car Insurance in Mexico

The minimum insurance required to rent a car in Mexico is third-party liability insurance. You can buy Mexico insurance from the car rental agency.

For more coverage, consider buying insurance with collision damage waiver insurance (CDW). Some credit card companies include this as a perk.

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 permitted 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 to Mexico. If you drive a U.S.-registered rental car to Mexico, you may not be covered if you’re involved in an accident.

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. Some agencies offer this service but most don’t. The rules vary from company to company.

Rental Car Scams

If you decide to rent a car to drive 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 $5-$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. These charges make car rentals more expensive than expected.

This isn’t really a scam. It’s dishonest marketing. All of the information about taxes and insurance is in the fine print. Most people don’t bother reading that. If it seems too good to be true, it is. It’s a good idea to compare prices across several agencies before you book to get a better idea of the actual rental price.

Another potential scam to be aware of happens when rental agencies try 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, it’s important to 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, wear and tear, and any other damage you can spot. Look both inside the car and out. Document all damage to the vehicle, no matter how small it is.

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. Use your phone to take photos of the damage as well. You can use this as evidence in case the rental car company attempts to charge you for damage you didn’t cause.

Gas Station Scams

While we’re on the topic of scams, I might as well mention some more scams to look out for. You can also get scammed while fueling up at gas stations.

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.

Always, make sure you’re getting what you paid for when you buy gas. If someone tries to shortchange you, speak up. Eventually, they’ll give you what you paid for if you stand your ground.

Sometimes, the attendant may begin pumping gas with the meter already reading a couple of liters. In this case, you get less fuel than you paid for. You’re getting scammed out of a couple of liters. Before the attendant begins pumping gas, you should check the meter to make sure that it’s zeroed out. If it’s not, speak up and the attendant will zero out the meter.

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.

A highway in Mexico
A highway in Querétaro

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, a 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. This is affordable but the cost can add up if you’re on a tight budget or if you’re traveling cross-country.

The main benefit of taking the free roads is that you’ll pass through small pueblos that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. This can make the drive a bit more fun and adventurous. The toll roads bypass most small towns.

Toll Road Insurance

Another major benefit of taking the toll roads is that the price of the toll includes additional insurance. After you pay the toll, you are automatically covered by toll road insurance. This insurance is provided by Caminos y Puentes Federales.

Toll road insurance covers damage to the road, medical bills, damage to other vehicles, and damage to your vehicle. Exactly what’s covered depends on who is at fault in the accident.

If you’re at fault, only damage to the road, other vehicles, and other drivers’ medical expenses are covered. If you’re not at fault, the toll road insurance covers your medical bills and damage to your vehicle. Paint chips and cracked window glass are only covered if the damage was caused by poor road maintenance.

Your receipt acts as proof you’ve paid the toll. You’ll need your receipt to file a claim. Be sure to store it somewhere safe, such as in your pocket.

You still need Mexican auto insurance, even if you’re driving on toll roads. Toll road insurance only covers you while you’re driving on the toll road. It is also limited in what it covers. While you’re driving around in the cities, you still need to be insured. 

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 to drive long distances in Mexico, it’s important to know what to expect at these military checkpoints.

When you encounter a checkpoint, an officer will stop all vehicles and ask to see everyone’s ID. If you’re a foreigner, you’ll need to show your passport and immigration document (FMM or residency permit). You may also be asked to show proof of insurance.

The officer might ask you a few questions such as, where are you coming from and where are you going? They could also briefly search the vehicle for contraband. They could also check to see that you’re wearing your seatbelt and not using your phone while driving. Sometimes, they’ll just wave you through.

As long as you have your documents in order, you’re not carrying any contraband, and you’re not breaking Mexican law, 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. Sometimes there may be a small line of cars that you have to wait for. These checkpoints are usually just a minor inconvenience.

It is possible that a corrupt officer tries to solicit a bribe at a checkpoint. The officer could tell you that you need to turn around. They could also tell you that your documents aren’t in order. I have never encountered this but I have heard stories of it happening.

In this case, you could request a written citation. If you delay, they’ll usually let you go. Avoid paying any bribe if possible. If you have to pay, 200-500 pesos should be enough. I’ll talk more about police corruption later on in this guide.

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. Most drivers follow the rules. The traffic laws are also fairly familiar. Driving in Mexico isn’t much different from driving in the U.S. or Canada. Driving in a large city, like Mexico City, is similar to driving in a large American city.

Having said this, driving in a foreign country can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. Drivers may be aggressive. Sometimes people drive close together. Roads may be more narrow than you’re used to. The signage isn’t very good in some areas. It’s easy to get lost. Sometimes Mexican drivers perform risky passing maneuvers, such as passing on the shoulder. It’s important to exercise caution when driving in an unfamiliar place. Always drive defensively and stay alert while driving in Mexico.

Before your trip, take some time to familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and road signs. Remember, the signs will be in Spanish. For American drivers, it’s important to remember that the speed limit signs are in Km/h in Mexico. Keep an eye on your speed. Always wear your seatbelt, respect speed limits, and don’t use your phone while driving. It’s the law. Laws are enforced.

Before driving in Mexico, you should research your destination and route carefully so you’re aware of associated road safety risks. Consider reading the Mexico travel advisory from the U.S. Department of State. This can help you avoid dangerous regions.

Before setting off on your journey, it’s important to plan a route and have a good understanding of the region you’re traveling through. 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 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. Try to drive during daylight hours when possible.

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. In fact, you should never leave anything in your vehicle.

While driving, always keep an eye out for dangers such as roadblocks, checkpoints, potholes, speedbumps, people on the road, stranded cars, etc. Stay alert while driving in Mexico.

Driving distances can be far. Mexico is a big country. The weather conditions can also be extreme in places. Mexico experiences extreme heat in desert regions. 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. It’s best to be prepared.

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.

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. In general, Mexican drivers follow the rules of the road.

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. Motorbikes zip between cars. During rush hour, traffic is stop-and-go everywhere in the city. It can be intimidating at first to try and navigate such a chaotic city while behind the wheel. Driving in Mexico City can take some getting used to. 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.

Mexican drivers also tend to use their hazard lights more often than you may be used to. Drivers put their hazard lights on when they’re making a sudden stop due to traffic. Some drivers put their hazard lights on when they don’t know where they are going. This is common in Mexico City.

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. This can be annoying but it’s not a big deal. It’s best to make sure there is no traffic coming before proceeding through an intersection. If you get honked at, so be it.

Passing in Mexico

In general, Mexico has very similar traffic laws to the U.S. and Canada. One major difference 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, it’s important to remember that 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 where the driver is planning to turn. Of course, you also need to check for oncoming traffic. Don’t blindly trust the driver ahead of you.

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. For this reason, you need to pay attention to oncoming traffic.

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. You need to stay aware of your surroundings. 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. They could claim that you were talking on your phone while driving, that you weren’t wearing your seatbelt, that you parked illegally, or that you failed to stop at a stop sign. Alternatively, they could accuse you of a much more serious crime such as possession of a controlled substance or driving under the influence. Whatever crime they accuse you of, they will make it sound very serious.

After pulling you over, the officer will request to see your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. They may also ask for your passport and immigration document. If they choose, they could search your vehicle or your person.

Eventually, 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. In rare cases, they could push you around a bit.

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. In this case, they may take most of the money you have on you. If you don’t have any cash on you, the officer may escort you to an ATM and instruct you to withdraw maximum.

What to Do if You Get Stopped By the police in Mexico

When you interact with the police in Mexico, speak respectfully, stay calm, and have patience. Never show any signs of frustration, anger, or aggression while talking to a police officer. Never act like you’re in a hurry.

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. You know the fine is legitimate if the officer issues you a written citation. Another option is to ask the officer to go to the police station to pay. When you pay your fine at the police station, you will receive a receipt.

If the officer behaves aggressively, you can simply negotiate and pay the bribe. This is the quickest and smoothest solution. Corrupt police officers commonly ask for $100. You can often negotiate this fine down to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50). After you pay the fine, you’ll be free to leave. Paying a bribe should be your last resort.

How to Avoid Getting Stopped by Corrupt Police While Driving In Mexico

To avoid getting pulled over by the police while driving in Mexico, obey all traffic laws. Wear your seatbelt at all times while you’re driving. Never talk on your phone while driving. Don’t drive over the speed limit. Don’t park illegally. Make complete stops at stop signs. You are far less likely to get pulled over by the police if you follow the rules of the road. Don’t give the police any reason to pull you over.

You’re also far less likely to get pulled over when you drive a car with local license plates. Consider renting a vehicle rather instead of driving your own. When you rent a vehicle, it will be registered in Mexico and will have local plates. You’ll look like a local driver.

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. The Mexican government has tried for years to stop police corruption but so far they have not been successful. If you know how to behave, you can reduce your losses at police stops.

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

Breakdowns While Driving in Mexico

Mexico is a hot country. It’s sparsely populated in some regions. It’s important to have plans if your vehicle breaks down. You don’t want to find yourself in the middle of a desert without any supplies or a way of calling for help.

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. It’s also a good idea to purchase insurance that includes roadside assistance. Some travel insurance policies include it.

To avoid breakdowns, get your vehicle serviced regularly. Before a long drive, check the fluids and tires. Carry some spare parts and tools if you’re knowledgeable about auto repair. For example, it’s a good idea to carry some extra oil and water.

While driving in Mexico, it’s a good idea to have a phone with a local SIM card so you can call for help if you need it.

Green Angels (Angeles Verdes)

If you break down or you need help while driving in Mexico, you can call the Green Angels for assistance. The Green Angels (Angeles Verdes in Spanish) is a mobile roadside assistance program that has been working to keep Mexico’s highways safe since 1960. 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. Most are bilingual so they can assist you even if you don’t speak Spanish.

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 Angeles can also help provide aid in the event of a car accident or emergency situation.

The Green Angels service is completely free. They are a government-funded organization. They are part of Mexico’s Secretaría de Turisimo (SECTUR). 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.

For more info on the Green Angels, check out this guide.

San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende

Tips for Driving in Mexico

Driving in Mexico is pretty straightforward but there are some risks. In this section, I’ll share a few tips to make your drive a bit safer, smoother, and less stressful.

1. Avoid Driving at Night

It’s best not to drive in Mexico at night. There are a number of reasons for this. Road fatalities are higher at night. Some stretches of road are not well-lit. There are few overhead lights. Curvy sections of road can become treacherous at night. It’s harder to spot potholes and speedbumps in the dark. Some people drive without working lights. This can make it harder to see other drivers. Pedestrians and animals can walk on the road. It’s harder 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. Major roads are safer to drive on because police presence is higher. Avoid rural roads and secondary roads. Particularly when driving through high-crime regions.

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

If you’re planning on driving in Mexico, it’s important to be aware that speed bumps (topes in Spanish) are common in Mexico. Speed bumps are commonly found on the edges of small towns. You’ll find them when you’re approaching a populated area. They are used in cities as well.

Speed bumps in Mexico can be large and difficult to see. It’s important to be on the lookout for signs that warn of their presence. 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 and pass over it with caution. Speed bumps can cause damage to your vehicle if you’re not careful and you hit them too hard.

3. You Don’t Pump Your Own Gas in Mexico

In Mexico, you do not pump your own gas. Instead, an attendant pumps your gas for you. Full-service gas stations are the norm.

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). You also need to indicate how you want to pay. Efectivo means cash and tarjeta means card. Also, specify which grade of fuel you want. If you don’t, they may pump the more expensive high octane fuel.

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.

4. Obey All Traffic Laws While Driving in Mexico

To stay safe and avoid getting pulled over by the police, obey all of the rules of the road while driving in Mexico. Make sure that everyone in the vehicle wears their seatbelt. Never talk on the phone while driving. Don’t speed. Also, familiarize yourself with foreign road signs. Remember, the signs are in Spanish and speed limit signs are in Km/h.

5. Download an Offline Map of your Route Before Your Trip

Before your trip to Mexico, 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 signal when driving long disance.

If spending more than a couple of weeks driving in Mexico, 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. Most large phone companies offer international service. Sometimes there is an additional fee. Being able to make calls and use the internet while driving can make planning your route much easier. It’s also important for your safety reasons. If you break down, you can call for help.

6. Use the Toll Roads When Available

When driving between major Mexican cities, there are free roads (libre) and toll roads (cuota). Mexico’s toll roads offer a safer, faster, and more comfortable journey. The roads are well-maintained. There are no potholes or speedbumps. They are regularly patrolled by police and Green Angels. They are typically wider and less crowded than free highways. Traffic is also lighter.

You’ll need to pay the toll with cash in pesos. Cards and dollars aren’t accepted. You’ll pay at a toll booth. Be sure to bring enough cash with you. The tolls are affordable. While tolls can add to the cost of a trip, the benefits make it worth the extra expense in most cases. A toll road is safer.

7. Follow the Speed Limit While Driving in Mexico

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. You’ll have to keep a close eye on your speed. In most cars, the speedometer is marked in both miles and kilometers. If your car has a digital speedometer, you can easily switch it from miles to km. Check your car’s manual.

Speed limits can change 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. If a police officer catches you speeding, they can pull you over and write you a ticket. Speed traps are common.

8. Be Aware that Police and Military Checkpoints are Common in Mexico

As you drive through Mexico, you will encounter checkpoints. These checkpoints are put in place in an attempt to reduce cartel-related crime. At these checkpoints, officers are primarily searching for drugs and firearms.

You’ll find these checkpoints all throughout Mexico. They are common in border zones. You’ll find plenty of them in the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo as well as the northern border states.

When you arrive at the checkpoint, an officer will usually ask to see your passport. They may take a brief look incases your car. In rare cases, you may be asked to step out of your vehicle so they can perform a more thorough inspection. As long as you don’t have any weapons or illegal drugs on you, you’ll pass through the checkpoint smoothly.

9. Never Drive Under the Influence in Mexico

Mexico has zero tolerance for driving under the influence. Police enforcement of this law is strict. If you are caught driving drunk, you could face jail time. There are also hefty fines for driving under the influence.

It’s best to play it safe and never get behind the wheel after drinking. If you’ve been drinking, take a taxi or Uber instead of driving. Obey Mexico’s road laws, stay sober and safe, and enjoy your travels without worrying about breaking Mexican law.

10. Don’t Talk on the Phone While Driving in Mexico

In Mexico, it is illegal to use your cell phone while driving. In fact, you don’t even need to be using your phone. You can be ticketed for simply holding your phone in your hand while driving a vehicle.

If you must talk on the phone while driving, use a hands-free BlueTooth device. This allows you to keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road at the same time.

11. Always Wear your Seat Belt

In Mexico, you must wear your seat belt while driving. It’s the law. If a police officer catches you without a seatbelt, they can pull you over and write you a ticket.

Don’t give the police any reason to pull you over. Always wear your seatbelt while driving in Mexico.

12. 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. Sometimes items may fall off of trucks. Keep an eye out so you don’t hit anything.

In urban areas, you may see people walking on the sides of the roads. You may even see people walking on the shoulders on highways. Always keep an eye out so you don’t hit anyone. Stay alert. Particularly while driving at night.

13. Window Cleaners Will Approach You While You’re Stopped at Stoplights

These guys are pretty annoying. They approach your car while you’re sitting at a stoplight and start washing your windshield with a dirty rag without asking. If you wave them away, they’ll just move on to the next car. If you feel like it, you can pay them 5-10 pesos ($0.25-$0.50) to wash your windshield for you. I recommend against it. It’s usually dirtier after they wash it.

Alternatively, someone may leave a newspaper on your windshield while you’re waiting at a stoplight and then walk away. When they return, they expect you to pay for it. If you just leave it there, they will take it and leave. You can also just wave them away.

14. 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

FAQ About Driving in Mexico

In this section, I’ll answer a few frequently asked questions about driving in Mexico.

On Which Side of the Road Do You Drive in Mexico

In Mexico, you drive on the right side of the road, just like in the U.S. and Canada. If you come from a country that drives on the left, you’ll have to adapt.

Is it Safe for Tourists to Drive in Mexico?

Yes. It is safe for tourists to drive in Mexico. Driving is one of the best ways for tourists to see the country. However, it is important to be aware of the local laws and regulations when driving, as well as to exercise caution on the roads due to a higher rate of accidents. Also, avoid driving at night when possible.

Is Driving in Mexico Difficult?

Driving in Mexico can be difficult because of the different traffic rules, varying road conditions, and language barriers. Familiarizing yourself with the local roads and traffic laws can help make your experience smoother.

Driving Across the U.S. Border from Mexico

Before driving back to the border make sure you have all of your documents in order. 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, Nexus, Global Entry, or FAST). If you’re not a U.S. citizen or resident, you’ll need a passport and a visa in most cases.

You should also check the opening hours of the border you plan to cross. Large crossings are open 24/7. Smaller crossings may only be open during the day.

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 crossing, you might have to wait in line for an hour and a half to 2 hours. Sometimes longer during peak periods. You can check border wait times on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here.

Once you arrive at the border crossing, you’ll find several lanes of traffic. If you don’t have a Trusted Traveler Program card, you’ll wait in the general entry lane. If you have a SENTRI card or a Global Entry card, you can use the SENTRI lane. Wait in line until you reach immigration.

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. If you were just visiting, tell the officer that you were there for tourism.

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 your vehicle. 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.

It’s important that there be nothing illegal in the car during the border crossing process. It’s also important to declare any items you bought in Mexico. You don’t want to get caught in a lie when speaking to immigration or customs.

U.S. immigration and customs officials are strict. When speaking to them, stay calm, be polite, and cooperate. If you show any signs of aggression or if you don’t cooperate, you could be detained and further questioned.

The immigration and inspection process is usually pretty quick. If you don’t look suspicious and the immigration agent doesn’t find any contraband, you’ll be through the checkpoint in just a minute or two.

Once you’ve been cleared by immigration and customs, you are free to drive through the border crossing back into the United States.

What Can I Bring Back to the United States?

To avoid any issues with customs, it’s important to 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. Anything more will be taxed.

  • One liter of alcoholic beverage if you’re over 21. Anything more will be taxed.

  • You can bring prescription drugs if you have a prescription from a U.S. physician.

  • You cannot bring any illegal drugs back from Mexico. If you do, you could be fined or jailed.

  • Most fresh fruits are prohibited. Eat them or discard them before crossing the border.

  • You can bring fish you caught in Mexico.

  • You can’t bring any products that are made from endangered species.

  • Most weapons are prohibited including guns and switchblade knives.

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 About Driving in Mexico

With a bit of research and preparation, driving in Mexico can be an exciting and safe experience. By familiarizing yourself with the local laws, customs, and etiquette, you can make the most of your time on the road. There are a few documents you may need to obtain to drive legally in Mexico. With these tips in mind, you’re sure to have a great time behind the wheel in Mexico.

If, after reading this guide, you decide not to drive in Mexico, you can always fly, take a cruise, or take the bus to your destination. Public transportation and taxis are available for local transport. 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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