So you're headed for Mexico in a car? You're going to have a great time, but you need a crash course to avoid crashes with animals and vehicles, clashes with the law and close encounters with bandidos (very rare). You'll also need to understand driving in Mexico, Mexican car insurance, Mexico vehicle permits and tourist cards, and how to cross the border into or from Mexico.
Understand Mexican Car InsuranceThe rumors about possibly going to jail if you have a car wreck in Mexico are true. Having Mexican insurance helps alleviate that possibility. The minimum required insurance coverage to drive in Mexico is civil liability insurance which covers you in case you cause injury or damage. Your American liability insurance is not valid in Mexico for bodily injury; some American insurance policies will cover you for physical damage - check with your carrier.
If you want some flexibility on the date you'll take your car out of Mexico, consider a six month policy - about $150.
Buying Mexican Car Insurance
You can also buy Mexican car insurance in several American border towns -- there will generally be several stores or just storefronts selling Mexican car insurance near the Mexico border (Deming, NM is an exception).
Mexican Car Insurance and Renting a Car in Mexico
If you're renting a car in Mexico, your credit card will provide insurance, but buy the Mexican car insurance anyway. If you get in a car accident and don't have Mexico car insurance, you might not be able to leave the country until the damage has been paid for - your credit card will reimburse you when you get home.
- When you rent a car in Mexico, look the car over before you sign the rental agreement, and have the agent write down every scratch or non-working part or you'll have to pay for those scratches and parts when you return the car
Getting You and Your Car Into MexicoTo drive your own car into Mexico, you'll need a tourist card and a temporary vehicle importation permit, which you can get at the border. In some tourist border areas, you don't need this permit or a tourist card; for instance, I needed neither one when driving to Puerto Penasco, a tourist destination on the Gulf about 70 miles from the Arizona border. Just ask at the border.
Documents You Will Need for a Mexico Vehicle Permit and Mexico Tourist Card
- Proof of car ownership
- Proof of American registration
- An affidavit from any lien holders authorizing temporary importation
- A valid American driver's license
- Proof of citizenship (like a passport)
Consider bringing your marriage certificate if the name on your passport is different than the name on your driver's license because you're a newlywed.
Mexico Vehicle Permit Cost
The vehicle permit costs $15 and you must pay with a credit card; if you don't have a credit card, you'll have to pay a bond and a processing fee of $15. Keep the permit on your windshield while you're in Mexico.
Mexico Tourist Card Cost
Get a tourist card at the border with a US driver's license and proof of citizenship. Fill out a simple form at the border immigration office declaring information (your purpose in Mexico, for instance), pay $15 and then hang onto the card! It's good for up to 180 days.
Crossing the Mexico Border From the USAt the US-Mexico border, you'll drive through one of several lanes (number of lanes depends on how much traffic the border crossing handles). Traffic lights hang above the lanes; stop your car -- if the traffic light in your lane turns green, welcome to Mexico!
If the border crossing traffic light is red, you'll be directed to an area where you'll park, and a Mexican customs official may ask you some questions or search you and / or your car. As long as your papers, like your Mexico vehicle permit and tourist card, are in order and you are carrying nothing illegal like switchblades or illicit drugs, you'll be fine.
Please go on to the next page to read about Mexico's driving rules of the road.