Recently I moved to Mexico so I could enjoy the country for a few months, and I decided I would take my car with me so not to rely on my friends for transportation. I found out a great deal about driving in Mexico, such as what you will need at the border, insurance, police in Mexico, and what to expect while driving in Mexico. It has been trial and error for a lot of the things and I want to help out other tourists traveling to Mexico, with their car. I think it would have been great to have known everything before coming here, so I decided to give an insiders view on driving in Mexico.
You will first need to make sure your car is in good working condition, mechanically and physically, trust me you don’t want to be stranded on the highway between cities there isn’t much out there. Get all the paperwork for your car and bring it with you, title, insurance, everything you have bring it just in case. Mexico is a funny place sometimes they will want all sorts of details, other times they don’t ask much it’s kind of hit or miss. Now you are ready to go to the border, here you will show them your passport and you will go through some security, depending on where you cross its different everywhere. At the border ask where you can get your permissions, they will tell you where you need to go and this is where you need all your paperwork. It costs $30 dollars to get a 6 month permission if you have a credit card, if you only have cash they take up to a $300 deposit which if you get this back you are lucky, I suggest the credit card method. This all seems difficult and a pain but its actually relatively simple and painless. You will go to three windows, first the declaration window where you will fill out a document they stamp it and you go to the next window. This window they take photo copies of your title, license, and insurance. The last window they take your money, and give you the permission sticker. In my case my car was never even searched, but I would suggest not carrying anything you think would be considered illegal.
Mexican auto insurance is something you will need, you can get this online before you leave which is what I did at www.MexicanInsurance.com , its a fairly simple process and it works I had to use it and they were very helpful. Another alternative is to buy insurance at the border. My 6 month insurance only cost $130 for my 95 Toyota Celica, and most cars I looked in to were about 100-300 dollars for 6 months. Fairly reasonable if you ask me.
Now you are legal to drive in Mexico for six months, you can continue on to your destination. I suggest staying to the main highways they are safer, you will run into an occasional military stop and since you’re an American they will ask you to pull over so they can look in your car. With these guys no matter what just do what they ask, open what they ask, cooperate! Remember you are no longer in America and these guys are the law, they are very polite and easy to get a long with if you cooperate, but if you argue or get attitude you are going to have a very difficult time.
Once in the city you planned to visit you will first notice the traffic laws are more guidelines in Mexico. You will need to watch out for people running red lights, stop signs, and speeding. Be a very defensive driver, and watch out for everyone. The police won’t stop people for speeding unless you are in a school zone, hospital zone, or a church zone. Being American you are a target, so be careful I got pulled over for speeding in a church zone and the advice I can give you is DON’T SPEAK SPANISH. Even if you know Spanish act dumb, you are an American tourist and you have no clue what is going on just talk a lot and fast they will get frustrated and let you go. The rumors of cops taking you to jail for nothing isn’t true, the rumors of them wanting bribes is true, but if you speak only English they aren’t going to know what to do and will let you go. However if you speak Spanish you might be giving them some money or end up with a ticket.
You know almost everything to driving in Mexico now, the last point is a very important one I had to learn the hard way. DO NOT leave anything of value in your car! Thieves will not bother your car until they see something they think is worth money to them. If you have a nice stereo, take it out. Don’t leave purses, cameras, wallets, cell phones, or anything that looks like those objects. I left my camera in my car for 20 minutes while I ate at a restaurant and came back to a shattered window and no camera. I am not playing around there are a lot of poor people who will break a window the first chance they get to get something that will bring in some cash.
This may not be all you will need to know but it’s a great start, I wish I had known half of this before I came here. Let me reassure you that Mexico is not like the movies, you will not get arrested for doing nothing. Driving can be dangerous if you are not careful, forget all the American laws you know, just be cautious and careful and you will be fine. And always remember to lock your car and never leave anything in it that is valuable. Hope this helps you have a fun and safe experience in Mexico.