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Renting a Car in Mexico

Renting a car in Mexico gives you the freedom to explore this beautiful country on your own time. When you have your own transportation, you can visit places other tourists miss. You don’t have to wait around for a bus or rely on taxis or public transport. Of course, there are some challenges to renting a car in Mexico. The regulations are a bit different. Scams and hidden costs can be an issue. Insurance can be confusing.

This guide explains everything you need to know about renting a car in Mexico. We’ll cover the cost of renting a car in Mexico, where to book your rental, Mexican auto insurance, common Mexico car rental scams, how to avoid hidden fees, and more. We’ll also outline some of the best car rental companies and share some tips for finding deals on rental cars in Mexico. Finally, we’ll share some helpful tips for driving in Mexico. Hopefully, this guide makes your trip to Mexico a bit smoother and easier.

A highway in Mexico City

Table of Contents

Do I Need to Rent a Car in Mexico?

Many visitors to Mexico assume that they need a rental car in order to explore the country. However, this is not the case. It’s easy and affordable to get around Mexico without a car.

Most Mexican cities offer a decent public transportation network of buses and taxis. In larger cities, such as Mexico City and Guadalajara, there is a metro system. Uber is also available in most cities. Mexico also has an excellent long-distance bus network. Major tourist attractions are all accessible by public transport. If you don’t feel comfortable renting a car in Mexico and driving in a foreign country, there is no need to.

If you’re looking for the freedom to explore at your own pace, renting a car in Mexico is a great option. There are plenty of hidden gems that are not easily accessed by public transportation. Taking a road trip is a great way to explore Mexico. Driving is also more comfortable than taking the bus or riding public transport.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

How Much Does it Cost to Rent a Car in Mexico?

On average, it costs between $40 and $60 per day to rent an economy car in Mexico. This price includes full coverage insurance.

Prices vary depending on a number of factors including the city you’re renting in, the season, the age of the driver, the type of insurance you buy, and the type of car you’re renting, etc.

In popular tourist destinations, such as Cancun or Cabos San Lucas, rental car prices are higher than in less touristy cities. During the busy season and during holidays, prices are also higher due to increased demand. In Mexico, June-August and Christmas/New Year are the busiest times of the year. Most companies charge an additional fee when renting to drivers under 25 years old. If you want more insurance coverage, you’ll pay more. Larger cars, luxury cars, and SUVs are also significantly more expensive to rent than economy cars.

While searching for a car rental, you may see quotes for incredibly low rates, such as $5 per day. This price doesn’t include taxes, insurance, and other hidden fees. Once you add those, the price is much higher. For this reason, it’s important to read the fine print so you know what’s included and what costs extra. Most car rental agencies don’t include the cost of insurance.

This can make it difficult to compare prices. One car rental company might advertise a car for $20 per day while another car rental company advertises the same car for $40 per day. The $40 car could be cheaper when you factor in taxes and insurance.

Hidden Fees for renting a car in Mexico

Hidden fees are common when renting a car in Mexico. You might find a car online a car rental website advertised for $9 per day. The problem is that this rate doesn’t include taxes or insurance.

Taxes and insurance aren’t included because the car rental company doesn’t want to pay a commission to the booking company for these charges. The rental company adds them at the office when you pick up the car. This will be disclosed in the fine print.

It feels a bit dishonest when you rent a car for $9 per day and it ends up costing $35 per day. That’s just the reality of renting a car in Mexico.

A highway outside of Monterrey, Mexico
Mexico offers beautiful landscapes

What is the Cheapest Car Rental Company in Mexico?

The cheapest car rental company depends on a number of factors including which city you’re visiting, the season, and the type of car you want to rent. In one city, Enterprise might offer the best deal. In another city, America Car Rental might be the cheapest car rental company.

The best way to find the lowest rate is to search a 3rd party booking sight such as Kayak, DiscoverCars, or RentalCars.com. These companies compare the cost across multiple rental car companies. You can quickly search local, national, and international rental car companies to help you find the cheapest option.

In my experience Mex Rent a Car and America Car Rental tend to offer the lowest rates for rental cars in Mexico. These are both reputable rental car companies.

What are the Best Car Rental Companies in Mexico?

There isn’t really a best rental car company. It really depends on who offers the best deal.

All of the international rental car companies have locations in Mexico including Avis, Hertz, Enterprize, Budget, Thrifty, Alamo, Sixt, America Car Rental, etc. If you regularly rent from one of these car rental companies, consider using their services in Mexico. You’ll already be familiar with them.

Mexican car rental companies such as Mex Rent a Car and Mexico Car Rental also exist. Sometimes these companies offer good deals. You’ll also find smaller independent Mexican car rental companies in cities around the country.

When deciding which car rental company to use in Mexico, consider the following:

  • Price- Prices can vary greatly between car rental companies. I usually rent from whoever has the best deal.

  • Loyalty rewards program- Large chains offer loyalty points for renting a car. You may be able to take advantage of a loyalty program if you regularly rent cars. You can use points for upgrades or discounts.

  • The type of vehicle you need- Most of the available cars are economy models. If you need a larger vehicle such as an SUV or luxury vehicle, you may need to search around.

  • Location of the car rental office- Most car rental companies have offices at the airport. There are also locations in the city. One car rental office may be more convenient for you to rent from.

  • Reviews-Always read some reviews of different car rental companies before renting a car in Mexico. If the car rental company gets less than 4/5 stars, consider booking somewhere else.

Oaxaca City, Mexico
Oaxaca City, Mexico

What Do I Need to Rent a Car in Mexico?

To rent a car in Mexico, you will need the following documents:

  • Valid driver’s license

  • Credit card

  • Mexican Insurance

  • Passport

In the following sections, I’ll outline the document requirements for renting a car in Mexico.

A Valid Driver’s License

Most visitors don’t need a Mexican driver’s license or an international driver’s license to rent a car in Mexico. Licenses from most countries are accepted. You can use your U.S. or Canadian driver’s license to rent a car and drive in Mexico.

The rule is that your license must be in a language that uses the roman alphabet (the alphabet you’re currently reading). If your driver’s license is written in a language that uses another type of script, such as Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, or Russian, you’ll need to get an international driving Permit.

For info on getting an international driving permit, check out this guide.

Do I Need a Credit Card to Rent a Car in Mexico?

To rent a car in Mexico, you need a credit card or debit card. The card must be in the driver’s name. The rental company will place a hold or authorization on the card in case you damage the car. This hold acts as a deposit.

The amount of the deposit depends on the company you rent from and which insurance policy you buy. With basic liability insurance, most car rental companies put a $700-$1500 hold on your card when you rent a car.

You can usually get around the hold by purchasing full coverage insurance from the car rental agency. The company will still want to have your card on file to charge for the car rental.

Many travel credit cards offer some rental car insurance. If you’re planning on using your card for collision damage waiver insurance (CDW), be sure to use the correct card that comes with the insurance.

In most cases, a credit card is required to rent a car in Mexico. Some car rental companies accept debit cards and but most do not. To pay your bill when you return the car, you can use a credit card, debit card, or even pay in cash.

Tip: It’s better to use a credit card rather than a debit card when renting a car in Mexico. When you use a debit card, the company charges your card and the deposit comes out of your account. The deposit is returned when you return the car. It may take a few days to get your money back. When you use a credit card, the money is just on hold. The card isn’t actually charged.

Using a credit card also gives you more protection. If the rental agency tries to overcharge you or charge you for damage you didn’t do, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company and maybe get your money back. You can’t easily dispute charges if you pay with a debit card.

Mexican Auto Insurance

In order to rent a car in Mexico, you need auto insurance. The minimum legal coverage is liability insurance. This is the basic insurance. Additional coverage is also available. Collision and comprehensive insurance is recommended. The insurance must be issued by a Mexican auto insurance company. Foreign insurance isn’t accepted in Mexico.

I’ll cover Mexican car insurance in-depth later on in this guide. You can skip ahead by clicking here.

Do I Need a Passport to Rent a Car in Mexico?

Many car rental companies ask for a copy of your passport when you rent a car in Mexico. You may also need to show your passport if you get pulled over by the police and when you drive through military checkpoints. Your passport and immigration document prove that you’re in Mexico legally. In most cases, you will need a passport to rent a car in Mexico.

How Old Do I Have to Be to Rent a Car in Mexico?

The minimum age for renting a car in Mexico varies from company to company. Most Mexican rental car companies only rent to people who are 25 and older.

Some car rental agencies rent to people who are 21-24. For younger drivers, there is usually a young driver surcharge. This adds $10-$20 per day to the cost of the car rental. In addition, younger drivers may also be required to purchase full coverage insurance to rent the car.

A handful of agencies rent to drivers as young as 18 years old. These are rare but they do exist. The minimum legal age to drive in Mexico is 18. Those who are younger than 18 can’t rent a car or drive in Mexico.

If you’re between 18 and 24 years old, you’ll want to check the company’s policy on underage drivers before booking. You should also check for surcharges and insurance requirements. Also, be sure to ask about any additional fees.

Lake Chapala, Mexico
Lake Chapala, Mexico

Where and How to Book A Rental Car in Mexico

The easiest way to reserve a rental car in Mexico is to book online. You can book either through a third-party car rental website or directly with the rental car company. Each method of booking has its advantages and disadvantages.

Renting a Car Through Third-Party Sites

The main advantage of using a third-party booking site is that you can easily compare prices and available cars from multiple car rental companies. Sites such as Discover Cars, Kayak, and RentalCars.com allow you to search for car rentals from both international rental companies and Mexican rental companies. These sights are also very user-friendly. They allow you to quickly and easily search different car rental companies, locations, and types of vehicles.

The drawback to booking through a third-party company is that most agencies give priority to their direct bookings. If another customer doesn’t return the car on time, and there are no cars left, you may be out of luck. Some companies also do not accept car rental insurance from third-party sites. More on that later. In some cases, it’s also more expensive to book through a third-party company.

Renting a Car Directly with a Rental Car Company

The benefit of booking directly with a rental car company is that you can score some great deals. The car rental companies can offer better rates when you book directly because they don’t have to pay a commission to the booking sites. There are some great promotional offers available if you are willing to spend the time researching prices at multiple agencies.

The drawback to booking directly is that finding these deals takes a lot of time. There can also be hidden fees. Sometimes agencies advertise unbelievably low rates and then tack on various taxes and insurance fees. This makes it difficult to compare prices directly. It also feels dishonest.

Walk-in Bookings

You can also simply walk into a car rental agency and rent a car without making a reservation in advance. If you’re lucky, you can score a great deal this way. You may even be able to negotiate a discount or an upgrade if you’re traveling during the off-season when business is slow.

The drawback is that you won’t get a car if all of the vehicles are booked. You won’t want to rely on a walk-in car rental during the busy season or holidays or if you really need a car. You might also end up spending more if demand is high.

One Way Car Rentals in Mexico

Traveling one way with a car rental in Mexico is possible but it can be expensive. Most car rental companies charge a premium for one-way car rentals. Sometimes you can score a deal if a company needs to reposition cars.

Oftentimes you can rent a car at the airport and drop it off in town for no additional fee. Renting a car at the airport is sometimes more expensive than renting from an office that’s located in the city.

If you want to do a one-way car rental, you’ll have to rent from a large chain with lots of locations. Smaller agencies oftentimes generally offer one-way car rentals.

Monterrey, Mexico
Monterrey, Mexico

Do I need Mexican Car Insurance to Rent a Car in Mexico?

Yes. You need Mexican car insurance to rent a car in Mexico. It is a legal requirement to have Mexican liability insurance on your rental vehicle. You can’t legally rent a car or drive in Mexico without insurance.

Most rental car agencies won’t rent you a car unless you purchase car rental insurance from them. Legally, car rental agencies can’t force you to buy their insurance. Third-party insurance is valid. Some car rental companies will deny you a rental if you don’t buy their insurance. This is a common problem when you try to use the rental car insurance that comes with many travel credit cards or if you buy your own third-party insurance policy elsewhere, such as a third-party booking site. More on this later.

It is also common for car rental companies to try to upsell you on insurance when you rent a car. They may push their expensive full coverage policy. Full coverage insurance can cover you, regardless of what happens to the car. Whether or not you need full coverage is up to you. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to have it.

If you don’t want to worry about insurance, simply buy a policy from the car rental company when you rent your car. Buying their insurance ensures that you’re legal to drive. It’s also easy and convenient. They’ll simply add the insurance to your daily car rental cost. You don’t have to shop for insurance or worry about being denied a car rental because you’re not buying the rental company’s insurance.

How Much is Mexican Car Insurance?

The price of car rental insurance depends on the company and which policy you buy. In general, a personal liability insurance policy costs $10-$15 per day. This is the minimal policy you can buy. For more protection, you can opt for a full coverage policy with collision and comprehensive insurance. This usually costs around $20-$25 per day.

If you buy the minimum liability policy, the deductible is usually around $2000. If you buy full coverage insurance, there is usually zero deductible. Some companies offer a range of policies with different deductibles and premiums.

What is a Deductible with Car Insurance in Mexico?

A deductible is an insurance-related term that refers to the amount of money that a policyholder must pay out-of-pocket before their insurance coverage kicks in. For example, if you have a $2000 deductible on your car insurance and you get into an accident that causes $2500 worth of damage, your insurance company will only cover $500 of the repairs. The first $2000 will come out of your pocket. If you cause $1000 worth of damage, you’ll have to cover the whole cost because the damage didn’t exceed your deductible.

In general, the higher the deductible, the lower the premium. For example, if you select a car rental insurance policy with a $1000 deductible, you might pay $10 per day for insurance. If you select a policy with no deductible, you might pay $15 per day for insurance.

The best car rental insurance has no deductible. This means you don’t pay anything out of pocket if you damage the car or cause damage to another person’s property or injure someone. These policies cost more.

What Kind of Insurance do I Need to Rent a Car in Mexico?

Rental car companies offer a range of insurance options. Insurance can be complicated. It’s important to know what’s covered and what’s not. In this section, I’ll outline a few common rental car insurance options.

Liability Insurance

In order to rent a car in Mexico, you need third-party liability insurance. It’s a legal requirement. This insurance is sometimes referred to as TPL or personal liability insurance.

Liability insurance covers you financially if you damage another person’s property or injure another person with your vehicle. For example, if you cause an accident, third-party liability insurance will pay for repairs for the other car or medical care for the driver and passengers if they are injured. Third-party insurance can also cover you if you’re sued by the other driver.

Legally, your liability insurance policy must be issued by a Mexican insurance company. You can’t use international insurance in Mexico. This means you can’t use your regular auto insurance from back home. It’s not valid in Mexico. You need Mexican liability insurance to rent a car in Mexico.

This law is kind of unique to Mexico. In most other countries, any valid insurance policy is accepted. For whatever reason, Mexico has decided not to accept auto insurance from abroad.

Collision Insurance (CDW or LDW)

Collision insurance covers damage to the vehicle in the event of an accident. This is separate from personal liability insurance. Collision insurance is also known as collision damage waiver (CDW).

If you’re involved in an accident and the rental vehicle gets damaged, you won’t have to pay for the damage out of pocket if you have CDW insurance. This will cover you if you’re hit by an uninsured driver or if you cause an accident.

CDW only covers damage to the rental car. It does not cover damage to other vehicles or medical costs. You need liability insurance for that. There is usually a deductible.

Sometimes this insurance also covers the loss of the vehicle caused by theft. This is called a loss damage waiver (LDW).

Collision insurance is not required by law in Mexico. It is required by many car rental companies. Some car rental companies will rent you a car with only CDW insurance. Most won’t. You still need a personal liability policy to be legal.

There are a number of ways to get CDW insurance for a rental car. You can get CDW insurance:

  • From the rental agency- Every rental agency offers CDW insurance. The rental agency is usually the most expensive place to buy this insurance but it is convenient. If you buy CDW from the rental agency, usually you don’t have to pay a deposit or you only pay a minimal deposit.

  • From your credit card company- Many travel credit cards come with CDW insurance as a perk. In order to use this insurance, you must pay for the rental car with tha credit card that offers the insurance. If you decide to use your credit card insurance, it’s a good idea to confirm with your credit card company that you are covered in Mexico.

  • From your travel insurance provider- Some travel insurance policies include collision auto insurance for rental cars. Sometimes you can add it on to your existing travel insurance policy for an additional fee. Check your policy to make sure the insurance is valid in Mexico. If unsure, call your travel insurance provider and ask about rental car insurance.

  • From a third-party booking site- Most rental car booking sites offer collision insurance that you can add on at the time of booking.

A Note About Credit Card Insurance

As mentioned earlier, many travel credit cards come with CDW insurance. If you choose to use your credit card for CDW insurance, you will have to pay the rental agency out of pocket for any damage you cause to the car. You will then have to file a claim with your credit card company to get reimbursed. Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to use your credit card insurance.

Comprehensive Insurance

Comprehensive insurance is a type of auto insurance that covers losses due to damages caused by events other than a collision. This includes coverage for theft, natural disasters, falling objects, fires, and vandalism. If your CDW doesn’t cover theft, it’s a good idea to buy a comprehensive policy.

Full Coverage Insurance

Most car rental companies also offer a product called full coverage insurance. This policy includes all of the insurance offered including personal liability insurance, collision damage waiver, and comprehensive insurance. A full coverage policy gives you maximum protection.

Having full coverage insurance brings peace of mind. If you cause an accident, get hit by an uninsured driver, lose the vehicle to theft, or if the vehicle gets vandalized, you won’t have a major out-of-pocket expense.

It’s important to note that some damage may not be covered by full coverage insurance. Some policies exclude certain parts of the car, such as the glass or tires. Sometimes lost keys aren’t covered. Minor damage such as knicks and scratches to the paint may also be excluded.

If a rock cracks your window or if you drive over a sharp object and destroy a tire, you may have to pay for repairs out of pocket, even if you have full coverage insurance. This feels a bit scammy but it’s how most rental agencies operate.

Sometimes all damage is covered with full coverage insurance. It’s important to read your policy so you know exactly what is covered and what’s not.

Additional Insurance Products

When you rent a car in Mexico, most companies will try to upsell you on additional insurance products. They may offer a more expensive policy with a low deductible or no deductible.

Another optional product is roadside assistance. This covers you if you break down and need a tow, if you have a flat tire, or if your battery dies.

Some car rental companies also offer personal effects coverage. This can cover your personal belongings if they’re stolen from the car.

You’ll have to decide what kind of coverage you need to feel safe. Some travelers are fine with a basic personal liability insurance policy. Others prefer the protection of a full coverage policy with zero deductible.

Personally, I usually opt for the maximum insurance coverage when renting a car in Mexico just to be safe. Being fully insured brings me peace of mind. If I get involved in an accident, I know I’m covered, regardless of who is at fault.

The Mexico Car Rental Scam

There is one common scam that many Mexican rental car agencies run. Some Mexican rental car agencies advertise an extremely low daily rental rate for their cars. You may see rates as low as $5-$10 per day. Uninformed tourists book these cheap rental cars thinking they’re getting a great deal.

When you book one of these cheap car rentals, you’ll be surprised with a range of taxes, fees, and insurance charges when you pick the car up. After factoring in all of the additional charges, a rental that you thought was going to cost $10 per day actually ends up costing $40 per day.

This isn’t really a scam. It’s dishonest marketing. The information about the additional taxes and insurance charges is all available in the fine print but who reads that?

If it seems too good to be true, it is. This rental car scam doesn’t just happen in Mexico. It happens in rental agencies all over the world.

Some 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 claims you caused the scratch and they charge you for it. This is a true scam.

You could be charged an expensive cleaning fee if you track a bit of sand or mud into the car. If you’re worried about this, try to clean out the inside of the car before returning it.

How to Avoid the Mexican Car Rental Scam

The best way to avoid the Mexican car rental scam is to read the fine print. Check the price of tax, insurance, and any additional fees.

Before signing the rental contract, you should also ask to see the final total price for the rental. This way, you won’t be surprised with a big bill when you return the car. You know what you’ll be paying. If you’re not happy with the price or if you feel that the agency is being dishonest, you don’t have to sign the contract. You can leave.

When booking a car with an extremely low daily rate, you can triple the price to get a rough idea of the actual daily rate. For example, if a car is advertised at $10 per day, you can assume it will cost around $30 per day, once you factor in insurance and tax.

Gas Station Scams

You can also get scammed while fueling up your vehicle. Most commonly, an attendant will tell you that you handed them a smaller note than you actually did. For example, maybe you hand the attendant a 500 peso note but they tell you that you only gave them a 200 peso note. They keep the difference. Make sure you’re getting what you paid for.

Before the attendant begins pumping gas, you should also check the meter to make sure that it’s zeroed out. Sometimes, an attendant will begin pumping with the meter already reading a couple of liters. In this case, you get less gas than you paid for. You’re getting scammed.

When buying gas in Mexico, ask for the quantity that you want instead of the amount of money you want to spend. For example, ask for 20 liters instead of 1000 pesos worth of gas. For whatever reason, you sometimes get more gas this way. I’m not sure why. A local shared this tip with me.

Queretaro Aquaduct

FAQ about Renting a Car in Mexico

In this section, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions about renting a car in Mexico.

Are One-way Car Rentals Available in Mexico?

Yes. One-way car rentals are available. The cost of one-way car rentals is usually substantially higher than local rentals. In order to do a one-way rental, you’ll also have to rent from a large agency that has an office in the city you’re renting the car in and your destination.

Do I Need a Mexican Driving License if I’m Renting a Car in Mexico?

No. You don’t need a Mexican driver’s license or an international driver’s license to rent a car in Mexico. You can use your regular license from your home country as long as it’s written in the Latin alphabet. If it’s written in another alphabet, you’ll need an international driver’s license.

If you need a temporary import permit, you must have a foreign driver’s license. You can’t apply for a TIP with a Mexican driver’s license.

Can You Rent a Car in Mexico and Drive to the United States?

Usually not. Most Mexican rental car companies only allow you to drive the car in Mexico. There are some rare exceptions. If you attempt to drive a Mexican rental car into the U.S. the border agents may stop you and tell you that you can’t cross.

Can You Rent a Car in the United States and Drive to Mexico?

Most American rental car companies only allow you to drive the car in the U.S. and Canada. If you drive the car into Mexico, you’re violating the rental contract. Your U.S. rental car insurance also won’t cover you in Mexico.

It is possible to rent a car in the U.S. and drive to Mexico but there are restrictions. It’s not straightforward.

Some major international rental agencies allow you to rent a car to drive to Mexico. If you want to rent a car to drive to Mexico, you’ll have to pay an additional fee. You may have to pay a larger deposit. There will also be extra insurance requirements. You’ll have to buy Mexican insurance for the car. You will also need to fill out some extra paperwork before you can drive the rental to Mexico. For example, you may need a letter of permission from the rental agency to prove that you have been granted permission to drive the car to Mexico.

You’ll have to call ahead and notify the rental agency that you plan to drive to Mexico before booking the car. Most locations won’t allow you to drive the car to Mexico. You may have to call several rental offices. You can’t just reserve a car online and then drive it across the border. You’ll have to shop around to find an agency that will let you drive their car to Mexico.

If you’re starting your trip in the U.S. and you want to cross the border into Mexico, it’s easier to rent a separate car on both sides of the border. Drop your U.S. rental car off, walk across the border on foot, and then rent a different car in Mexico.

What Kinds of Cars are Available for Rent in Mexico?

You can rent all kinds of cars in Mexico including economy cars, large sedans, SUVs, minivans, luxury cars, sports cars, and more. You’ll find all of the familiar brands. A few of the most common car makes in Mexico include Chevrolet, Nissan, Kia, Volkswagen, Peugeot, and Renault.

These days, almost all rental cars in Mexico come with an automatic transmission. You don’t need to know how to drive a stick shift to rent a car in Mexico. There are some exceptions. Some agencies offer economy cars in stick shift. If you don’t know how to drive a manual, you should reserve a car with an automatic.

Can I Buy Mexican Auto Insurance at the Border?

No. You can’t buy Mexican auto insurance at the border. You can buy Mexican auto insurance near the border before you cross into Mexico. In most border towns, you’ll find kiosks where you can buy a temporary insurance policy in just a few minutes. For a full coverage policy, temporary Mexican auto insurance costs around $20-$25 per day.

You can also buy temporary insurance online. I use Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. They offer affordable prices. You can get a free quote in just a couple of minutes.

Some U.S. auto insurance companies also offer insurance.

A City-by-City Guide to Renting a Car in Mexico

You can rent a car in pretty much any decent-sized city in Mexico. In this section, I’ll outline the process of renting a car in some of Mexico’s most popular destinations.

Renting A Car in Mexico City

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

The most convenient place to rent a car in Mexico City is at the airport. All of the major rental agencies have offices there. There are also rental offices located throughout the city.

For the majority of visitors, renting a car in Mexico City is not worth it. The traffic is congested and parking can be difficult to find. People drive fast and close together. It’s a stressful place to drive. Most visitors avoid driving in Mexico City.

In addition, the public transportation system in Mexico City is reliable and affordable. To get around Mexico City without a car, you can take the metro, ride the bus, take taxis and Ubers, or use the city’s EcoBici (shared bicycles) program. The Mexico City Metro is particularly cheap and efficient. A ticket costs just 5 pesos (around $0.25).

There are plenty of agencies that offer car rentals, but the rates can be high in the city. This is one of the most expensive places in Mexico to rent a car.

Unless you have a specific reason for renting a car in Mexico City, it is probably not worth the hassle. One exception is if you’re planning to take day trips outside of Mexico City. In this case, renting a car may be worth considering. There are plenty of towns near Mexico City that are worth visiting including Taxco and Cuernavaca.

Renting a Car in Cancun

A beach in Cancun

Cancun is a world-renowned vacation destination, and for good reason. Its pristine beaches and turquoise waters are a perfect backdrop for a relaxing getaway. Cancun is also a large and vibrant city, with plenty to see and do.

If you’re planning on exploring Cancun beyond the beaches, renting a car is the best way to get around. A rental car gives you the freedom to explore the surrounding area. There are some fascinating Mayan ruins and beautiful cenotes located near Cancun. You can also drive to the famous archeological site of Chichen Itza.

There are numerous rental agencies located throughout the city, and most offer competitive rates. The most convenient place to rent a car in Cancun is at the airport. All of the rental agencies have offices there. From there, you can easily drive to your hotel or Airbnb. Cancun airport is located about 13 miles or 21 km from the city.

The rental rate is usually the same whether you rent at the airport or in the city. Most rental car companies allow you to drop the car off either at the airport or in the city without charging an extra fee.

You don’t need to rent a car to get around Cancun. Public transportation can take you wherever you need to go in the city. It’s convenient and affordable. If you’re staying in an all-inclusive resort or sticking to the beach, you won’t need to drive.

That said, public transportation in Cancun can be slow. It’s also important to note that Uber doesn’t operate in Cancun. Taxis are extremely expensive here. A rental car gives you the freedom to explore at your own pace without breaking the bank.

When renting a car in Cancun, be sure to comply with traffic laws and have the proper Mexican insurance. With a rental car, you can see all that Cancun has to offer, without being beholden to bus schedules or taxi fares.

Renting a Car in Cabo San Lucas

El Arco, Los Cabos

Cabo San Lucas is a popular resort town in Mexico that is known for its beaches, luxury hotels, and vibrant nightlife. Visitors to Cabo San Lucas usually fly into the nearby airport in San Jose del Cabo and then take a shuttle or taxi to their final destination. Renting a car is a popular option, as it gives visitors the freedom to explore the area at their own pace. There are many beautiful beaches located outside of Cabo that are difficult to visit without a vehicle.

There are many rental car agencies located in Cabo San Lucas, and most offer competitive rates. For most visitors, the airport is the most convenient place to rent a car. All of the rental agencies have offices there. From the airport in San Jose del Cabo, it’s a 45 minute drive to Cabo San Lucas.

You don’t need a rental car to enjoy your stay in Cabo San Lucas. Public transport is reliable and affordable. Visitors can easily get around without a car. There are plenty of things to keep you occupied in the city. If you plan to take day trips and explore the surrounding area, renting a car can be a good idea. Ultimately, whether or not to rent a car in Cabo San Lucas depends on the individual traveler’s needs and preferences.

Renting a Car in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a popular tourist destination on Mexico’s Maya Riviera, and it’s easy to see why. The town is located on the Caribbean Sea, and it has a laid-back atmosphere that’s perfect for a relaxing vacation. Playa del Carmen is also within easy reach of some of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions, including the ancient city of Chichen Itza, the eco-park Xcaret, and a number of cenotes.

If you’re planning a trip to Playa del Carmen, one of the best ways to get around is by renting a car. This will give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and make day trips to nearby attractions.

In most cases, the most convenient and affordable option is to rent a car at Cancun airport when you arrive and then drive down to Playa del Carmen. The drive takes around 1 hour. Alternatively, you could rent a car in the city of Playa del Carmen. There are several rental shops in the center. The cost is usually a bit higher than in Cancun.

Tips for Renting a Car in Mexico

Renting a car in Mexico is pretty straightforward. In this section, I’ll list a few tips to make the process even smoother.

Tijuana, Mexico
Tijuana, Baja California

Check Rental Agency Reviews Before Booking

Before booking a rental car, it’s a good idea to read some reviews. Look for customer complaints such as upselling, overcharging, hidden fees, scams, poor customer service, etc. Also, look at the overall rating. If it’s under 4/5 stars or if multiple customers have the same complaint, consider booking somewhere else. In most cities, there are plenty of rental agencies to choose from.

When looking for reviews, be sure to check the reviews of the specific office you’re renting from. Not the agency in general. Within a single agency, the quality of the service can vary greatly. The office at the airport may provide efficient and honest service. The office in town may be dishonest or disorganized.

Read the Terms and Conditions of Mexico Car Rentals Carefully

Before even booking a car, you should take some time to carefully read the terms and conditions on the booking site. Before signing the rental contract, you should also read what you’re signing. Every reputable agency will have this information available in English.

By reading the terms and conditions, you can avoid most scams and unexpected expenses. You’ll know exactly what you’re paying and what your insurance covers and what it doesn’t.

There are some risks to renting a car in Mexico. If you carefully read the terms and conditions, you can greatly reduce these risks.

Check Your Rental for Damage & Take Photos

Before taking possession of the car, you’ll have the opportunity to do a walkaround with the rental agent. This is your opportunity to document all damage to the vehicle. Look carefully for scratches, dents, dings, paint chips, cracks in windows, stains in upholstery, tears in upholstery, tire damage, and any other minor damage you can spot. Look inside the car and out.

The rental agent will have a piece of paper where they will mark the damage. You should receive a copy of this page. Use your phone to take photos of the damage as well. You can use this as evidence if the rental company tries to charge you for damage you didn’t cause.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
San Miguel de Allende

10 Tips for Driving in Mexico

Driving in Mexico is pretty straightforward. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind. In this section, I’ll share 10 tips to help you stay safe while driving in Mexico.

1. Avoid Driving at Night in Mexico

There are a number of reasons for this. Some stretches of road are not well-lit. There are curvy sections that get treacherous at night. Pedestrians and animals can walk on the road. It’s hard to see them at night. Signage also isn’t very good in many Mexican cities. This makes it easier to get lost at night. 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 still happen in Mexico. There are also fake police checkpoints where criminals rob drivers.

If you must drive at night, stick to major roads. Use the toll roads and main thoroughfares in cities. Major roads are safer because police presence is higher.

2. Keep an Eye Out for Topes (Speedbumps)

If you’re planning on driving in Mexico, it’s important to be aware of the speedbumps that are commonly found on Mexican roads. These speedbumps, or topes in Spanish, can cause damage to your rental car if you’re not careful and you hit them too hard. They can be difficult to see, so it’s important to be on the lookout for signs that warn of their presence. Sometimes there is no sign so you have to keep your eye on the road at all times. When approaching a speed bump, slow down and approach it with caution.

3. Pay Attention to Speed Limits

In Mexico, 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. The speedometer in your rental car will also be marked with kilometers per hour. This makes it easy to keep an eye on your speed.

Speed limits also change quickly in Mexico. The speed limit on the highway might be 100 kilometers per hour. Then it will quickly drop to 50 when you enter a town or village. Then it might go back up to 100. Pay attention to the signs so you don’t get caught speeding. There are speed traps in Mexico.

4. Police Checkpoints are Common on Mexican Roads

Police checkpoints are common in Mexico. If you’re going to be driving long distances in Mexico, it’s important to know what to expect at these checkpoints.

The police will typically stop all vehicles and ask to see everyone’s passport and immigration documents. They may also search the vehicle for contraband. Sometimes, they’ll just wave you through.

As long as you have your documents in order, there’s no need to worry. The police are just doing their job. They’ll let you pass through the checkpoint as long as everything is in order.

The officers working these checkpoints are usually friendly and honest. Just be prepared for a minor inconvenience when driving in Mexico. Usually, it only takes a couple of minutes to pass through the checkpoint. Sometimes there may be a small line of cars that you have to wait for.

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.

5. Use the Toll Roads (Cuota) When Available

When driving between major cities in Mexico, there are free roads (libre) and toll roads (cuota). Mexico’s toll roads are a great option for drivers who want a safer, faster, and more comfortable journey. The toll roads are well-maintained. They offer a smoother ride than free roads. There are no potholes or speedbumps. Toll roads are typically wider and less crowded than free highways, making the journey faster and less stressful. You don’t have to deal with as much traffic.

When using a toll road, you’ll need to pay with cash in pesos. Cards and dollars aren’t accepted. Be sure to bring enough cash with you. The tolls are affordable. A 2-3 hour drive might cost $5-$7, on average. Prices vary around the country. While tolls can add to the cost of a trip, the benefits of using a toll road make it worth the extra expense in most cases.

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. You’ll also save a bit of money.

6. Keep an Eye Out for People and Animals on the Roads

While driving through agricultural regions in Mexico, it’s common to see animals (live and dead) on the roads. You may see cows, roosters, goats, dogs, etc. It’s important to keep an eye out so you don’t hit anything.

In urban areas, it’s common to see people walking on the sides of the roads. You may even see people walking on the sides of highways. You need to be careful not to hit anyone. Stay alert.

7. You Do Not Pump Your Own Gas in Mexico

In Mexico, you do not pump your own gas. Instead, full-service gas stations are the norm. An attendant will gladly pump gas for you. All you have to do is let them know how many liters you want or how much money you want to spend, and they will take care of the rest.

When you’re finished, simply pay the attendant and give them a small tip of 10-20 pesos ($0.50-$1). Many of the attendants live off of tips.

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.

8. Download an Offline Map of Your Route

Before your trip, it’s a good idea to 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.

If you’re going to be spending more than a couple of weeks in Mexico, consider buying a Mexican sim card for your phone. Alternatively, choose a phone plan that allows you to use data in Mexico. T-mobile and Google Fi are popular options for Americans. Being able to make calls and use data while driving can make planning your route easier. It’s also important for your safety. If you break down, you can call for help.

9. Don’t Use Your Phone While Driving

In Mexico, it is illegal to use your phone while driving. You can be ticketed for simply holding your phone while driving.

If you must use your phone, use a hands-free device. This will allow you to keep your hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road.

10. Window Cleaners will Approach While You’re Stopped at Stoplights

These guys can get pretty annoying. They walk up to your car while you’re waiting at a stoplight 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.

Guanajuato, Mexico
Guanajuato, Mexico

Pros of Renting a Car in Mexico

  • Freedom- When you rent a car, you can go wherever you want. You can visit small towns, beaches, and tourist attractions that are difficult or impossible to visit with public transport. Renting a car is your only option if you want to get off the beaten track.

  • Convenience- With a rental car, you can explore Mexico at your own pace. You never have to wait around for a bus or flag down a cab.

  • Cost- For a family of 4, renting a car and driving yourself can be cheaper than buying multiple bus or plane tickets.

  • Comfort- When renting a car you don’t have to deal with crowded and uncomfortable public transportation systems. You never have to sit next to strangers on a bus. You can use the heat or AC to keep the climate at your preferred temperature.

  • Renting a car can save you time- If you’re trying to visit multiple sites in one day, renting a car and driving can be much faster than waiting for buses and Ubers. It’s also faster to fly to your destination and rent a car rather than driving all the way to your destination.

Cons of Renting a Car in Mexico

  • Driving in a foreign country- The rules of the road are slightly different. Signs are in a foreign language. There are toll roads. Some people just don’t feel comfortable driving in a foreign country.

  • Complicated insurance guidelines for car rentals- Mexico requires that you purchase Mexican car insurance when renting a car. Your insurance from back home isn’t accepted. There are a number of different policies and types of insurance to choose from. This can make renting a car in Mexico kind of confusing.

  • Scams- Rental car companies may try to charge you for damage that you didn’t cause. You may encounter hidden fees when renting a car. Sometimes gas stations try to rip you off. A police officer could pull you over and solicit a bribe. You may fall victim to a scam when renting a car in Mexico.

  • Renting a car in Mexico can be expensive- If you’re traveling solo or as a couple, it’s usually cheaper to take public transport rather than renting a car. If you’re on a budget, you’ll probably want to avoid renting a car in Mexico.

  • Renting a car in Mexico can be dangerous- People can drive aggressively. The road conditions may not be up to the standard that you’re used to. Some roads are narrow. There are potholes and random speedbumps. On some roads, crime is an issue.

Is it Safe to Drive in Mexico?

Yes. It is safe to drive in Mexico. The country has a well-developed and well-maintained road network. Most drivers follow the law. The rules of the road are familiar. Driving in Mexico isn’t much different from driving in the United States or Canada.

That said, driving in a foreign country can be an intimidating experience at first. Driving can be a bit more aggressive in Mexico. Sometimes people drive close together. Roads may be more narrow than you’re used to. It’s important to exercise caution when driving in an unfamiliar place. Always drive defensively.

Be sure to familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and road signs before driving in Mexico. Wear your seatbelt, respect speed limits, and don’t use your phone while driving.

Before driving, you should research your destination and route and any associated road safety risks. Consider reading the Mexico travel advisory. There are some roads in Mexico that aren’t safe to drive. For example, there are roads that are cartel-controlled that are dangerous to drive. Stick to major highways while traveling between cities.

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

Police Corruption in Mexico

Corruption is a major problem in police forces across Mexico. It’s not uncommon for an officer to stop a tourist and solicit a bribe or ‘mordida’ in Spanish. You can be stopped for no reason at all. This can happen at any time of day pretty much anywhere in the country. In some parts of Mexico, police corruption is worse than in others.

After stopping you, the officer will claim that you committed a crime. For example, they may claim that you were using your phone, that you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, or that you didn’t stop at a stop sign. They could also accuse you of a more serious crime like driving while intoxicated or being in possession of a controlled substance. 

When you’re stopped, the officer will ask to see your driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, and your passport and FMM visitor’s permit. They may search your person or the vehicle.

At this point, the officer may threaten you with a big fine or jail time. They may also imply that you can settle the problem right there and then by paying the ‘fine’ in cash. They are asking for a bribe.

The amount of the bribe varies. Sometimes they ask for $100. Sometimes, they will demand that you hand over your wallet. In this case, they will probably take most of the cash you have on you. If you don’t have any cash on you, the officer could take you to an ATM and demand you to withdraw the maximum.

A police car in Mexico

What to Do if You Get Pulled Over by the Police While Driving a Rental Car in Mexico

When interacting with the police in Mexico, always speak respectfully, stay calm, and be patient. Sometimes, it can help to play dumb and act confused. Never show any signs of frustration, anger, or aggression while speaking with the police in Mexico or you’ll make matters worse for yourself. Also, avoid acting like you’re in a rush.

If the officer insists that you pay a bribe, there are a few things that you can do:

  1. Ask for a written ticket- If the officer gives you a written ticket, you know the fine is legitimate. The money won’t go into their pocket. If the officer won’t give you a written ticket, continue insisting.

  2. Ask to pay the fine at the police station- If you pay at the police station, you will receive a receipt. You may also be given an opportunity to speak to a judge, who can reduce or eliminate the fine.

  3. Negotiate and pay the bribe- This is the quickest and easiest option. Corrupt officers commonly ask for $100. You may be able to negotiate down to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50). After paying, you’ll be free to go. You should only pay a bribe as a last resort.

How to Avoid Getting Stopped by The Police While Driving in Mexico

The best way to avoid getting pulled over by a corrupt police officer is to obey all traffic laws. Wear your seatbelt, don’t use your phone while driving, don’t drive over the speed limit, come to a complete stop at stop signs, etc. You are less likely to get pulled over if you follow the rules. Don’t give the police any reason to stop you.

You’re also less likely to get stopped if you’re driving a vehicle with Mexican license plates. One benefit of renting a car in Mexico rather than driving your own car is that the rental car will have Mexican license plates. The police will assume you’re a local.

If you spend enough time driving in Mexico, you will get pulled over by a police corrupt officer at some point. You can’t avoid it. Even if you do everything right and follow all of the rules, you could get stopped.

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

Final Thoughts About Renting a Car in Mexico

Renting a car in Mexico is a great way to tour the country at your own pace. With a car, you can explore Mexico’s hidden gems without having to rely on a bus or taxi.

It’s safe to rent a car and drive in Mexico. The roads are generally well-maintained and most drivers follow the rules of the road. Traffic can get hectic in large cities but it’s manageable if you’re a decent driver. If you follow the tips outlined in this guide and take some basic precautions, you shouldn’t have any issues. Be sure to purchase quality insurance as your regular policy won’t be accepted in Mexico.

For your convenience, consider renting a car from the airport. After you arrive, you can simply walk to the rental car booth, pick up your car, and drive directly to your hotel to check in or just start exploring.

Whether or not you end up renting a car in Mexico, I hope this guide has helped you in making your decision.

Have you rented a car in Mexico? Share your experience in the comments below!

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