Thinking about taking a road trip to Mexico? Driving is one of the best ways to explore the country. That said, it can be a bit intimidating. There are some documents you’ll need to gather. The border crossing can be confusing. This guide outlines everything you need to know about driving to Mexico. I’ll cover the travel documents you’ll need, Mexican auto insurance, passing through immigration and customs, traffic rules, and more. I’ll also share a few helpful tips for driving to Mexico. The rules of the road are a bit different than you may be used to.
I’ve been living in Mexico for the past 2.5 years. Mostly in Tijuana. In that time, I’ve driven across the border dozens of times. I’ve also road tripped pretty extensively in Mexico. In this guide, I’ll share my experience.
-To drive to Mexico, you will need a passport, driver’s license, FMM visitor’s permit, Mexican auto insurance, and proof of registration.
-If you plan to drive outside of the free zones, you will also need a temporary vehicle import permit (TIP). The free zones include the area 20-25 km or 12-15 miles from the land border, the Baja Peninsula, most of Sonora, and Quintana Roo.
-You must buy Mexican auto insurance. Foreign auto insurance is not valid in Mexico. You can buy insurance online or at a kiosk near the border.
-To stay safe, cross the border during the day, avoid driving at night, obey traffic laws, and keep an eye out for speed bumps. Also, be aware that police corruption is an issue in many parts of Mexico. If you’re pulled over by the police, resist paying bribes.
Table of Contents
- Documents Needed to Drive to Mexico
- Mexican Auto Insurance
- How to Drive Across the Border into Mexico
- Driving a Rental Vehicle to Mexico
- Driving Back Across the Border to the U.S.
- Is it Safe to Drive to Mexico
- 10 Tips for Driving to Mexico
- FAQ About Driving to Mexico
What Documents Do You Need to Drive to Mexico?
To legally drive to Mexico, you need:
- Passport or passport card
- Valid driver’s license
- Mexican auto insurance
- Vehicle registration and proof of ownership
- FMM visitor’s permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple)
- Temporary vehicle import permit (TIP). You only need this if you’re leaving the free zones
There are a couple of additional documents you may need including your vehicle’s title and a letter of permission if you leased or financed the vehicle.
In the following sections, I’ll outline the requirements for each document. It’s important to note that the document requirements can change at any time. For the most up-to-date info, check the U.S. Department of State website here.
Do You Need a Passport to Drive to Mexico?
Yes. Most travelers need a passport to drive to Mexico. Both passport books and passport cards are accepted for crossing the Mexican border by land.
Your passport must remain valid for the duration of your stay in Mexico. In addition, you must also have a blank page in your passport for a stamp.
There are a couple of alternative documents you can use to travel to Mexico. If you’re a resident, you can drive to Mexico with a temporary resident or permanent resident card.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide: Do I Need a Passport to Go To Mexico?
A Valid Driver’s License
You need a valid driver’s license to legally drive to Mexico. You should carry the original. Not a copy. You don’t need a Mexican driver’s license. Driver’s licenses from most countries, including the U.S. and Canada, are accepted in Mexico.
Do I Need an International Driving Permit to Drive to Mexico?
No. Most travelers don’t need an international driving permit to drive to Mexico. You can use your regular license from your home country. The only requirement is that your license must be printed in a language that uses the roman alphabet (the alphabet you’re currently reading).
If your driver’s license is printed in a language that uses another script, such as Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, or Russian, you will need to get an international driving Permit.
Do You Need Mexican Auto Insurance?
Yes. To legally drive in Mexico, you need auto insurance that is issued by a Mexican insurance company. Foreign auto insurance is not valid in Mexico. This means you can’t use your regular American or Canadian auto insurance. You need to buy a temporary Mexican insurance policy. This is an entry requirement. If you cause an accident and you don’t have insurance, you could end up in jail.
The minimum insurance policy required to legally drive in Mexico is called civil liability insurance. This covers you if you injure someone or cause damage to another person’s vehicle or property with your vehicle.
For more protection, you may consider buying collision insurance. This covers damage to your vehicle if you’re involved in an accident. For example, if an uninsured driver hits you, you will be covered. This is highly recommended because many people drive without insurance in Mexico.
You may also choose to buy comprehensive insurance. This covers you if your vehicle is damaged by theft, vandalism, fire, etc. This is recommended because vehicle thefts are common in parts of Mexico.
Some Mexico car insurance companies also offer a product called full coverage insurance. This is a combination of different types of car insurance. A full coverage policy may include liability, collision, and comprehensive insurance. Some insurance even covers the cost of bail. This will come in handy if you cause an accident in Mexico.
There are additional insurance products available. For example, you can purchase roadside assistance to cover you if your vehicle breaks down. You can also buy personal effects coverage to cover items stolen from your vehicle. This is a good idea because break-ins are common in some areas.
Some credit cards come with insurance. It’s common for travel cards to come with collision damage waiver (CDW) insurance. This is nice to have but it is not the same as liability insurance. Most rental companies won’t accept it. You still need to buy insurance.
It’s also a good idea to buy travel insurance because your regular health insurance most likely won’t cover you in Mexico.
Where to Buy Mexico Car Insurance
You can buy Mexico car insurance online. I always use Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. They offer affordable prices. You can get a quote in just a few minutes on their website.
You can also buy Mexico car insurance in person before you drive across the border. In most U.S. border towns, you’ll find kiosks selling temporary Mexico insurance. These policies usually cost around $20-$30 per day depending on the coverage you choose.
When driving to Mexico, you may need to show your vehicle’s proof of registration. The registration proves that your vehicle is legal to drive on public roads.
You may be asked to show your vehicle’s registration to immigration when you cross the border. You will also need it to apply for a temporary import permit.
Title or Proof of Ownership
You should bring a copy of your vehicle’s title. This proves that you own the vehicle. In some cases, you will need it to apply for a TIP.
It may be a good idea to bring the original title. You will need it if your vehicle is impounded or if you’re involved in an accident.
What if You Borrowed, Leased, Financed or Rented the Vehicle?
If you borrowed, leased, financed, or rented the vehicle, you will need a notarized letter of permission to drive the vehicle to Mexico. The letter of permission proves that you are legally allowed to drive the vehicle in Mexico. You will also need it to get a TIP.
If you financed the vehicle and it’s not yet paid off, you need a letter of permission from the lienholder. If you leased the vehicle, you’ll need a letter of permission from the lessor.
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
- 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.
FMM Visitor’s Permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple)
Foreign citizens traveling to Mexico for the purpose of tourism for less than 180 days need an FMM visitor’s permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple). This document works kind of like a tourist visa.
The FMM is a travel document that allows citizens and residents of a number of countries to travel to Mexico without applying for a visa in advance. The FMM permit is available to citizens of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, European Schengen Area countries, Australia, New Zealand, and more. Check this list to see if you’re eligible for an FMM. To apply for an FMM, you need a passport or passport card.
Those who are traveling on a passport issued by these countries may not be eligible for an FMM on arrival. In this case, you must apply for a Mexican visa from your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy.
You can obtain an FMM visitor’s permit on arrival at the border. It takes just a few minutes to fill out the form. You can also apply for an FMM online in advance here. The form requires basic travel information.
If you’re 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 $40).
Every foreigner needs to have an FMM while they’re in Mexico. This document proves that you’re in the country legally. You should always carry it with you.
Don’t lose your FMM form. Depending on the border you cross when you exit Mexico, you may have to surrender it when you exit the country.
If you lose your FMM, you will have to go to an immigration office in Mexico, pay a fine, and obtain a replacement FMM form. This costs about 600 pesos or around $40.
You need an FMM. If you don’t have one, your insurance clams could be denied because you’re in Mexico illegally. You could also be deported.
It’s important to note that the Mexican government is slowly phasing out the FMM form. In the future, you will simply receive a passport stamp. All of the requirements are still the same.
For more info, check out my guide to the FMM Tourist Permit.
If you plan to stay in Mexico for longer than 180 days or if you plan to work in Mexico, you’ll need to apply for a temporary resident visa at your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy before your trip.
How to Get an FMM When Driving to Mexico
When you’re driving to Mexico, nobody will be there to stop you in most cases. You will have to stop at immigration to get an FMM permit. Follow the ‘something to declare’ signs when you reach the Mexican border. Here, you will find a parking lot. Park your car and walk into the immigration building. Inside, you can get your FMM. An official may also check your other documents including your registration and insurance.
You need to stop at immigration even if you applied for your FMM online to get it stamped and validated. Bring a printed copy of the confirmation email.
The Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit (TIP)
The temporary importation permit allows you to temporarily drive a foreign-plated vehicle anywhere in Mexico.
If you plan to drive outside of the border zone or the free zones, you will need to obtain a temporary vehicle importation permit (TIP) before you drive to Mexico. If you plan to stay within the free zones, you don’t need a TIP.
The free zones include the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo, and most of the state of Sonora. The border zones (20-25 km or 12-15 miles from any land border) are also free zones.
The TIP remains valid as long as your immigration document (ususally 180 days if you’re traveling on an FMM tourist permit).
To apply for a temporary vehicle importation permit you need:
- A valid passport or passport card
- FMM visitor’s permit or temporary resident visa
- A valid driver’s license- It must be a non-Mexican driver’s license
- Your original registration (and maybe the title)
- An affidavit for temporary importation- This is only necessary if the vehicle is leased, financed, borrowed, or rented.
- Proof of Mexican auto insurance
You can apply for a temporary vehicle importation permit online here. If you apply online, you must apply 7-60 days before your trip. You can also apply for a temporary vehicle importation permit at Bajercito locations near most major border crossings. You can also apply for a TIP at certain Mexican consulates.
I highly recommend you obtain your temporary vehicle permit online. It will save you lots of time and hassle at the border. In order to apply for a TIP online, you’ll first have to apply for an FMM online.
There is a fee of around $59 to apply for a TIP. You’ll also have to pay a deposit of $200-$400 depending on the model year of your vehicle.
This deposit is refunded when you export your car from Mexico and cancel your TIP before it expires. You must cancel it at the border to get your deposit back.
If you drive to Mexico without a TIP, your vehicle could be impounded. The fines and fees to get it back will be extremely expensive. Immigration may check for a TIP when you enter Mexico. There are also checkpoints within Mexico where the police or military will ask to see your TIP.
For more in-depth info, check out my guide to the temporary vehicle importation permit.
How to Drive Across the Border into Mexico by Car
Once you have all of your documents in order, you can drive to Mexico. Driving to Mexico for the first time can feel overwhelming. The border crossings can be extremely busy. The San Ysidro crossing, in particular, is one of the busiest borders in the world. The border area can also be a bit confusing to navigate. There are multiple lanes of traffic. Security is also tight.
If you didn’t obtain your FMM and temporary vehicle importation permit online, you can obtain them at the border. In this case, you’ll first have to stop at immigration to get an FMM permit. After that, you can go to the Banjercito office to get a TIP. From there, you can drive across the border.
After passing through immigration, you’ll drive through customs. You usually don’t have to stop at customs if you have nothing to declare. After customs, you can proceed into Mexico.
Which Lane Do I Use When Driving to Mexico? Nothing to Declare Vs Declaration Lane
If you don’t have your FMM yet or if you obtained your FMM online, you will have to stop at the border. You can’t just drive through. Follow the signs for something to declare (Carril de Declaración.) Here, you will find parking. Park and walk into the immigration building (INM).
Inside, you can obtain an FMM permit or have your online FMM stamped and validated.
If you already have a temporary resident visa or permanent resident visa or if you’re a Mexican citizen, you can just drive through using the nothing to declare lanes.
Passing Through Customs (aduanas) When Driving to Mexico
If you have nothing to declare, you usually don’t have to pass through Mexican customs (aduanas) when driving to Mexico. You can just drive straight through.
Mexican customs does perform random checks. Some borders use a red light, green light system. When you reach customs, you’ll see a traffic light. If it’s green, you’re free to drive through and exit the border area. If it’s red, you have been randomly selected for a customs inspection. You will be asked to pull over into the inspection area. Mexican customs can stop anyone for any reason.
If you’re stopped at customs for a secondary inspection, don’t worry. As long as you don’t have anything illegal or items that you should have declared in your vehicle, you won’t have any issues.
When you pull into customs, a customs officer will inspect your vehicle to check for contraband. They may ask you to open the trunk. They could ask you to open your luggage. This inspection is usually pretty quick.
If the customs officer doesn’t find anything, they will send you on your way. The customs officers working at the borders are professional. They will not ask you for a bribe or threaten you. As long as you haven’t broken the law, you won’t have any issues.
Driving From California to Mexico
California borders the Mexican state of Baja California. There are six public ports of entry between California and Mexico where vehicles can cross.
Driving to Mexico from California is easy. Most travelers start their journey from Los Angeles or San Diego and drive to Tijuana. The two most popular border crossings include the San Ysidro port of entry (El Chaparral) and the Otay Mesa crossing. There is also a large crossing to the east between Calexico, California and Mexicali, Baja California. There is also a crossing between Tecate, California and Tecate, Mexico.
For most travelers, San Ysidro is the most convenient crossing to use. It is located just 16 miles south of San Diego. The San Ysidro crossing takes you directly to Tijuana. From the border, you’re just a mile from downtown. There is also easy access to Highway 1 and 1D. These highways takes you down the Baja Peninsula. From Tijuana, you can also access Highway 2, which takes you to mainland Mexico.
San Ysidro is one of the busiest land border crossing in the world. Up to 50,000 vehicles cross daily. There is often a long line. When returning to the U.S., you may have to wait in line for 1-2 hours. You can check border wait times on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here. To reduce your wait time, you can cross late at night or early in the morning or use a less busy crossing.
Driving to Mexico from Texas
Texas and Mexico share a 1,254-mile-long border. There are 25 vehicle crossings between Texas and Mexico.
The largest crossing is the El Paso crossing between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Other popular crossings between Texas and Mexico include the Laredo crossing, the Brownsville and the Matamoros crossing.
Driving to Mexico from Arizona
Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora share a 370-mile-long border. There are six vehicle border crossings.
By far the most popular is the Nogales crossing. The second most popular is the San Luis crossing, near Yuma, Arizona. The Douglas-Agua Prieta crossing is the third busiest. If you’re driving to Mexico from Arizona, chances are you’ll use one of these three crossings.
Driving to Mexico from New Mexico
New Mexico shares a 180-mile-long border with Mexico. There are only three crossings between New Mexico and Mexico.
The Columbas-Puerto Palomas crossing is the largest of the three. The Santa Teresa-San Jerónimo crossing claims to have the shortest wait times on the whole US-Mexico border. The Antelope Wells-El Berrendo is a minor crossing that is only open from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm every day.
What is the Best Border Crossing to Use When Driving from the U.S. to Mexico?
There are about 50 vehicle crossings between the U.S. and Mexico. The best crossing for you to use depends on where you’re starting your trip, your destination in Mexico, and the time of day you plan to cross.
You may choose to use the closest crossing for convenience. Alternatively, you could opt to use a smaller crossing. Smaller crossings can be easier to use because they’re less crowded. The wait is often shorter.
It’s also important to consider the time of day you plan to cross. Large crossings are always open. Some smaller crossings close at night. If you need to obtain a temporary import permit at the border, you will need to use a larger crossing with a Banjercito office.
The two busiest crossings between the U.S. and Mexico are the San Ysidro crossing between San Diego, California and Tijuana and the El Paso crossing between El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez.
Can I Rent a Car and Drive to Mexico?
Yes. It is possible to rent a car in the U.S. and drive to Mexico but there are some restrictions.It’s not so straightforward. It can be a bit of a hassle. You can’t simply book a rental car online and drive to Mexico.
Most rental agencies won’t allow you to drive their cars across the border to Mexico. That said, it is possible to rent a car to drive to Mexico if you really want to.
Major large international rental agencies such as Enterprise, Avis, Dollar, Budget, Hertz, National, etc. will allow you to rent a car in the U.S. and drive it to Mexico. Most locations don’t offer this service but a few do. You’ll have to call ahead and ask. When you call, be sure to ask about the rules and requirements.
The requirements vary from company to company. You may have to pay a large deposit. There will also be an additional fee that you’ll have to pay. You may also need to fill out some additional paperwork. For example, you may need a letter of permission from the rental agency.
Renting a Car in Mexico
Instead of renting a car in the U.S., it’s far easier to fly or cross the border on foot and then rent a car in Mexico.
All of the major rental agencies have locations in Mexico including Enterprise, Hertz, Budget, Dollar, Alamo, etc. There are also Mexican brands and independent rental companies. On average, it costs $40-$50 per day to rent a car in Mexico, including Mexican insurance.
To rent a car in Mexico, you will need:
- A valid driver’s license
- A credit card- Debit cards usually aren’t accepted.
- Mexican auto insurance- The minimum insurance is third-party liability insurance. It’s a good idea to buy full coverage insurance. You can buy insurance from the rental agency. You should buy insurance, even if your credit card comes with rental insurance.
- A valid passport or passport card
- A driver who is of age- Many Mexican rental agencies only rent to people who are 25 and older. Some agencies rent to those who are 21-24 but charge an underage fee.
Be Aware of Car Rental Scams
Many Mexican rental car agencies advertise an extremely low daily rate online. You may see rates as low as $10 per day. The actual rental price is much higher.
When you return the car, you will be surprised with unexpected charges for taxes, fees, and additional insurance. A rental that was advertised for $10 per day actually ends up costing $40 per day. This feels like a scam even though it really isn’t. It’s just dishonest marketing.
Some scammy rental agencies may also try to charge you for damage you didn’t cause. For example, maybe there is a small scratch on the vehicle. When you return it, the rental agency could try to charge you for it.
To avoid this, be sure to do a walkaround with the rental agent before you sign the rental contract. Document all damage to the vehicle. Look for scratches, dents, dings, paint chips, cracks in windows, stains in upholstery, tears in upholstery, tire damage, parts that don’t work, and any other damage you can spot. Look inside the car and out. Be sure to take photos. You can use this as evidence if the rental company tries to charge you for damage you didn’t cause.
For more info, check out my guide to renting a car in Mexico.
Driving Back Across the Border to the U.S.
If you’re a U.S. citizen, all you’ll need is your passport or passport card. There are also some alternative documents you can use. 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, NEXUS card, or Global Entry card).
If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you’ll need your passport and visa or visa waiver (ESTA) or a green card.
When returning to the U.S., there is often a long line at the border. At busy crossings you might have to wait in line for up to 2 hours.
Once you arrive at the border crossing, you’ll find several lanes of traffic. If you don’t have a SENTRI card, use the general entry lanes.
Once you reach immigration, an agent will ask you some questions about your trip. They may ask you why you traveled to Mexico, how long you stayed, and where you went. They will also ask you if you’re bringing anything back from Mexico. Make sure that you give honest answers here. You don’t want to get caught in a lie.
A customs officer may briefly inspect your vehicle. They might ask you to pop the trunk or unlock the doors so they can have a quick look around. If they choose, they can look through your luggage. They may also use mirrors to inspect the underside of your vehicle. They could also use sniffer dogs.
Be sure to declare any items that you bought in Mexico. Even if everything you’re bringing back is within the legal limit, you should tell the officer what you have.
U.S. immigration and customs officials are pretty strict. When speaking to immigration and customs officials, stay calm, be polite, and cooperate.
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 couple of minutes.
After crossing back into the U.S., cancel your TIP at the nearest Banjercito office if you don’t plan on using it again or if it’s expiring soon.
What Can I Bring Back to the United States?
To avoid any problems at customs, you must declare anything you’re bringing back with you from Mexico. A few common items you can and can’t bring back include:
- Your personal belongings and luggage.
- $200 worth of gifts or personal items that were bought in Mexico.
- One liter of alcoholic beverage if you’re over 21.
- You can bring prescription drugs only if you have a valid prescription from a physician who is licensed in the U.S.
- Most fresh fruits and vegetables are prohibited to prevent the spread of invasive species.
- You can bring fish you caught in Mexico.
- Products made from endangered species are prohibited.
- 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 from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Is it Safe to Drive to Mexico?
Yes. It is generally safe to drive to Mexico. Millions of Americans do it every year. The roads are generally in decent condition. Most drivers follow the rules of the road. Traffic laws are familiar if you’re used to driving in the U.S. or Canada.
That said, driving in a foreign country can feel overwhelming at times. In big cities, drivers can be aggressive. People drive fast and close together. Mexican drivers sometimes perform risky passing maneuvers like passing on the shoulder. You may need to take some extra precautions. Always stay alert while driving in Mexico.
It’s also important to be aware of the local laws and road signs. The signs will be in Spanish. One of the most important things for American drivers to remember is that speed limits are in kilometers per hour.
Before driving to Mexico, you should also read up on any current travel warnings. You can check the Mexico travel advisory from the U.S. state department. This can help you avoid potentially dangerous regions.
It’s important to plan your route ahead of time. There are some areas that are not safe to drive due to cartel activity. It’s best to stick to the main highways.
To stay safe, keep your car doors locked while driving and while your vehicle is parked. Never leave valuables in your vehicle. While driving, always keep an eye out for dangers such as roadblocks, potholes, speedbumps, people or animals on the road, etc.
Mexico is a large country. Driving distances can be far. To be safe, you make sure you always have plenty of fuel as well as extra food and water in your vehicle. If you break down, you may have to wait a while for help.
It’s best to avoid driving at night. Visibility will be low in some places because the lighting is poor. Crime also increases at night.
For more general safety info, check out my guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams.
Mexico’s Green Angels (Angeles Verdes)
If you need help while driving in Mexico, you can call the Green Angels (Angeles Verdes in Spanish). This is a government-funded mobile roadside assistance program.
The Green Angeles patrol Mexico’s highways and toll roads in green trucks. They aren’t available on secondary roads.
These guys can repair flat tires, charge dead batteries, tow you if you break down, add oil and other fluids, and perform basic auto repair. They also know basic first aid. In addition, they can provide you with basic supplies such as motor oil, gasoline, or water.
The service is completely free. They do appreciate tips. If your vehicle needs a part replaced or if you need gas or oil or some other consumable, you will have to pay for what you use.
You can contact the Green Angels by calling 01-800-987-8224. In case of an emergency, you can dial 078 or 911.
Police Corruption in Mexico
Unfortunately, corruption is a major issue in police forces across Mexico. It’s not uncommon for a police officer to stop a driver and solicit a bribe or ‘mordida’ in Spanish.
After checking your documents, the officer may accuse you of committing a crime. For example, they may claim that you were using your phone while driving or that you weren’t wearing a seatbelt. They could also accuse you of a more serious crime like driving while intoxicated. The officer may threaten you with a big fine or jail time.
At this point, the officer may imply that you can settle the problem right there and then by paying a ‘fine’ in cash. They are asking for a bribe. Oftentimes, they will ask for $100. If the officer accuses you of a more serious crime, they may ask for more.
If the officer insists that you give them money, there are a few ways to handle the situation. The best option is to ask for a written citation. You may have to be firm and ask multiple times.
Another option is to ask the officer to take you to the police station to pay the fine. When you pay your fine at the police station, you receive a receipt.
It’s best to avoid paying a bribe when possible. If the officer is acting aggressively, you can negotiate and pay the bribe as a last resort. You can often negotiate down to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50).
How to Avoid Getting Pulled Over
The best way to avoid getting pulled over by a corrupt police officer in Mexico is to obey all traffic laws. Wear your seatbelt. Never talk on your phone while driving. Don’t speed. Make complete stops at stop signs. Don’t park illegally. You are less likely to get pulled over if you follow the rules of the road. Don’t give an officer a reason to stop you. You’re also less likely to get stopped if you’re driving a vehicle with Mexican license plates.
If you spend enough time driving in Mexico, you will get pulled over by a corrupt officer at some point. There is no avoiding it. The Mexican government has tried to stop this type of corruption but so far they have not been successful.
For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Mexico.
How Old Do I Have to Be to Drive to Mexico?
The minimum age to drive in Mexico is 18. Most rental car agencies in Mexico won’t rent to anyone under 25. Some will rent to people who are 21-24 but charge an additional underage fee.
Can You Drive to Mexico with a Dog?
Yes. You don’t need any documentation for your pet as long as they are healthy. it’s a good idea to bring their rabies vaccine records, just in case. They may be inspected at the border. They should also have a kennel.
For more info, check out my guide to driving to Mexico with a Dog or Cat
10. Tips for Driving In Mexico
1. Learn the Rules of the Road and Obey all Traffic Laws
To stay safe, you should obey the rules of the road. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t talk on the phone while driving. Don’t speed. Also, familiarize yourself with common road signs.
One difference between driving in Mexico and driving in and driving in the U.S. or Canada is passing. Mexican drivers will sometimes drive on the shoulder to let others pass or even pass on the shoulder. If an oncoming vehicle is passing in your lane, you are expected to move to the shoulder. Some drivers use their turn signal to tell you that it is safe to pass. This is common if you’re driving behind a slow vehicle.
2. Avoid Driving at Night in Mexico
Some stretches of road are not well-lit. Pedestrians and animals can walk on the road. It’s harder to see them at night. It’s also harder to spot potholes and speed bumps at night. You can also get lost more easily at night. Signage isn’t very good in many cities.
Crime is also higher at night. Carjackings happen in some parts of Mexico. You could encounter fake police checkpoints where criminals stop you and rob you.
If you have to drive at night for whatever reason, stick to major highways, toll roads, and main thoroughfares in cities. Major roads are safer to drive on because police presence is higher.
3. Use Toll Roads (Cuota) When Available
When driving between cities, there are free roads (via libre) and toll roads (cuota). I recommend you take the toll roads because they are safer.
The toll roads are well-maintained. They offer a smoother ride, higher speed limits, and wider lanes. There are no potholes or speed bumps. There is usually less traffic on the toll roads. They make the journey faster and less stressful.
When using a toll road, you’ll need to pay with cash in pesos. Be sure to bring enough cash with you. The tolls are generally affordable. A 2-3 hour drive on a toll road might cost $5-$7. You’ll pay at a toll booth.
As an added benefit, the price of the toll includes some additional car insurance while you’re on the toll road. This insurance can cover you in the event of an accident.
There are benefits to taking the free road instead. Usually, the free road passes through small pueblos and rural areas that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. The free roads can be more scenic. You’ll also save a bit of money.
4. Gas Stations Are Not Self-Serve in Mexico
In Mexico, you don’t pump your own gas. An attendant pumps gas for you. All you have to do is let them know how many liters you want or how much you want to spend and which grade of fuel you want.
You are expected to give the attendant a small tip of 10-20 pesos ($0.50-$1). Many of the attendants live off of tips.
Some gas stations in Mexico don’t accept credit cards. This is common in smaller towns. For this reason, it’s important to always carry some cash.
There are a number of scams to be aware of at gas stations. Be sure to check the meter before they begin pumping. Some attendants will start pumping gas when the meter isn’t zeroed out. In this case, you get less than you’re paying for. Some gas station attendants may try to claim that you gave them a smaller bill than you actually did. For example, they may claim that you handed them a 200 peso note instead of a 500 note.
5. Keep an Eye Out for Speed Bumps (Topes)
Speed bumps, or topes in Spanish, are common in Mexico. You’ll often find them on the edges of towns when approaching populated areas.
Speedbumps in Mexico can be large. They are also difficult to spot. In most cases, there is a sign indicating that there is a speed bump. This is a bright yellow sign with a picture of speed bumps and the word ‘TOPE’. Sometimes there is no sign so you have to keep your eye on the road at all times.
These speed bumps can damage your car if you hit them too hard. When approaching a speed bump, slow down.
6. Download an Offline Map to your Phone
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 are great options.
7. Keep in Mind that Speed Limit and Distance Signs are in Kilometers
Speed limits are marked in kilometers per hour. If you’re used to driving in the U.S., this can take some getting used to.
Speed limits also change quickly in Mexico. Pay attention to the signs so you don’t get caught speeding. Speed traps are common.
8. Be Aware that Police Checkpoints are Common in Mexico
Police checkpoints are common on highways. At the checkpoint, the officer will ask to see everyone’s passport and immigration documents. They could also ask to see your TIP and proof of insurance. They may briefly search the vehicle. In additon, they could ask you a couple of simple questions such as where you’re coming from and where you’re going. Sometimes, they just wave you through and you don’t even have to stop.
As long as you have your documents in order, there’s nothing to worry about. The officers working these checkpoints are usually pretty friendly. Usually, it only takes a couple of minutes to pass through a police checkpoint.
It is possible that a corrupt police officer tries to solicit a bribe at a checkpoint. I have never encountered this but I have heard stories of it happening.
9. Don’t Talk on the Phone While Driving in Mexico
In Mexico, it is illegal to use your phone while driving. You can even be ticketed for simply holding your phone, even if you’re not using it. If you must use your phone, use a hands-free device.
10. Window Cleaners May Approach You at Stop Lights
These guys can get pretty annoying. They walk up to your car and start washing your windshield with a dirty rag without asking. If you wave them away, they’ll usually just leave. If you want, you can pay them 5-10 pesos ($0.25-$0.50) to wash your windshield.
Alternatives to Driving to Mexico
If, after reading this guide, you decide that driving to Mexico is too much of a hassle, there are some alternative options. You don’t need a vehicle to visit Mexico.
Probably the most convenient way to get to Mexico is to fly. Mexico is a major tourist destination. There are regular flights to cities all over the country.
Another popular way to travel to Mexico is to take a cruise. You can cruise down the Pacific or Caribbean coast and visit some of Mexico’s most beautiful coastal cities.
It is also possible to take the Greyhound bus to Mexico. For example, you can catch a Greyhound to Tijuana. From there, you can transfer to a Mexican bus to pretty much anywhere in the country. There are long-distance buses running all over the country.
Once you reach your destination in Mexico, you don’t really need a car to get around. You can use public transport. Most cities have public buses or shared taxis (called taxis de ruta). Large cities, like Mexico City, have a metro system. Of course, you can also get around with taxis and Ubers.
Driving to Mexico is pretty straightforward. You’ll need to obtain some documents before you can drive across the border. When you stay in the free zones, you’ll only need a passport, driver’s license, vehicle registration, and Mexican insurance. If you plan to leave the free zones, you’ll need a temporary vehicle import permit. All of these documents are relatively easy to obtain.
If you decide not to drive to Mexico, you can always fly, take a cruise, or take a bus to Mexico. For some travelers, renting a car in Mexico is more convenient. Whether or not you decide to drive to Mexico, I hope this guide helps make your trip a bit smoother and less stressful.
Have you driven to Mexico recently? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.