Travel by Car
People are often surprised when inconveniences occur because they were unaware
of the laws regarding crossing the border. The government of Mexico strictly
regulates the entry of vehicles into Mexico.
It is important for visitors to remember the following steps when crossing the
border between the United States and Mexico by automobile. There are no
procedures to comply with if you are traveling within the Border Zone or Free
Trade Zone (including the Baja California Peninsula and the Sonora Free Trade
Zone). If you wish to travel past these zones, you will need to adhere to
The first step to take is to obtain the original and photocopies of the
appropriate immigration form, the vehicle state registration certificate
or document certifying legal ownership, and leasing contract. If the
vehicle is leased or rented then it must be in the name of the person who is
driving the car. If the vehicle belongs to a company, proper documentation is
necessary to show you work for the company. A valid drivers license and an
international credit card (American Express, Diner s Club, Mastercard or Visa)
are needed in the name of the owner of the vehicle. If you do not
possess an international credit card, you will be asked to post a bond, payable
to the Federal Treasury, issued by an authorized bonding company in Mexico. An
alternative is to make a cash deposit at Banco del Ejercito in an amount equal
to the value of the vehicle according to the tables of vehicle values for
bonding companies. This is often a substantial percentage of the vehicle s
The second step is to present the documents you have received to the Vehicular
Control Module located in Mexican Customs to process the importation permit.
Carry this document with you at all times! The permit is valid for
periods up to six months. The vehicle may be driven across the border multiple
times during the authorized period of the permit. Other persons may drive
the car as long as the owner is in the vehicle.
Other foreigners with the same "tourist" status as the vehicle owner may drive
the vehicle without the owner present in the car. If you wish to authorize
another person to drive your car, record the authorization with Mexican
officials when you enter Mexico - even if you expect to be a passenger when the
other person drives.
Do not, under any circumstances, allow an unauthorized person to drive the
vehicle when the owner is not in it. Such a person would have to pay a
fine amounting to a substantial percentage of the vehicle s value, and your
vehicle would be confiscated. All documents and the credit card must be in the
name of the owner, who must be present upon crossing the border. We caution
American citizens not to loan their vehicles to Mexican citizens resident in
Mexico as those vehicles are subject to seizure by Mexican authorities. If
confiscated, they are not returned.
In the third step, your credit card will be charged an amount in national
currency equivalent to U.S. $10 at the Banco del Ejercito. If you do not
have a credit card, the bank will accept cash in an amount equal to the value of
your vehicle shown in the table of vehicle values for bonding companies. Your
deposit plus any interest it may earn will be returned upon departure from
Mexico. You may also, instead, obtain a bond through an authorized Mexican
bonding company located at all border crossings. The bonding companies require a
refundable deposit equal to a substantial percentage of the vehicle s value. The
bonding company will also assess taxes and processing costs for this service.
Finally, upon your departure from Mexico, and if the vehicle will not be driven
back into Mexico, the permit for temporary importation must be canceled at
Customs. If these steps are carefully followed, there should be no problem
taking your car to Mexico. Remember, if your car is found in Mexico beyond the
authorized time or without the proper documents, it will be immediately
confiscated. Also, the sale, abandonment, or use of the vehicle for financial
gain will result in its confiscation. Travelers are advised to consult with the
nearest Mexican Consulate in the U.S. for additional detailed information prior
to departing the US.
If you bring spare auto parts to Mexico, declare them when you enter the
country. When you leave, be prepared to show that you are taking the unused
parts with you or that you have had them installed in Mexico. Save your repair
receipts for this purpose.
All vehicular traffic is restricted in the capital city of Mexico City in order
to reduce air pollution. The restriction is based on the last digit of the
vehicle license plate. (This applies equally to permanent and temporary plates.
There is no specific provision regarding plates with letters only.)
Monday: no driving if license plate ends with 5 or 6.
Tuesday: no driving if license plate ends with 7 or 8.
Wednesday: no driving if license plate ends with 3 or 4.
Thursday: no driving if license plate ends with 1 or 2.
Friday: no driving if license plate ends with 9 or 0.
Saturday and Sunday: all vehicles may be driven.
Avoid excessive speed and, if at all possible, do not drive at night. Loose
livestock can appear at any time. Construction sites or stranded vehicles are
often unmarked by flares or other warning signals. Sometimes cars have only one
headlight. Many cars lack brake lights. Bicycles seldom have lights or
reflectors. This makes for very dangerous driving conditions at night. Be
prepared for a sudden stop at any time. Mexican driving conditions are such
that, for your safety, you must drive more slowly than you do at home.
Learn local driving signals. In Mexico, a blinking left turn signal on the
vehicle in front of you could mean that it is clear ahead and you may pass, or
it could mean the driver is making a left turn. An outstretched left arm may
mean an invitation for you to pass. When in doubt, do not pass.
An oncoming vehicle flashing its headlights is a warning for you to slow down or
pull over because you are both approaching a narrow bridge or place in the road.
The custom is that the first vehicle to flash has the right of way and the other
When it begins to rain, immediately slow to a crawl. Freshly wet roads are
dangerous because oil and road dust mix with water and form a lubricant. Until
this mixture washes away, driving is extremely hazardous. Beware of sudden
rains. Stop, or go extremely slowly, until conditions improve.
To avoid highway crime, try not to drive at night and never drive alone during
this time. Never sleep in vehicles along the road. Do not, under any
circumstances, pick up hitchhikers who not only pose a threat to your physical
safety, but also put you in danger of being arrested for unwittingly
transporting narcotics or narcotics traffickers in your vehicle. Your vehicle
can be confiscated if you are transporting marijuana or other narcotics. There
are checkpoints and temporary roadblocks where vehicles are checked.
If you plan to drive, learn about your route from an auto club, guide book or a
Mexican government tourist office. Some routes have heavy truck and bus traffic,
others have poor or nonexistent shoulders and many have animals on the loose.
Also, some of the newer roads have very few restaurants, motels, gas stations or
auto repair shops. You may not be able to avoid all problems, but at least you
will know what to expect if you have done some research. For your safety,
have your vehicle serviced and in optimum condition before you leave for Mexico.
It is wise to bring an extra fan belt, fuses and other spare parts.
Pack a basic first-aid kit and carry an emergency water supply in your
vehicle. Unleaded gasoline (magna sin) is generally available throughout Mexico.
Bring a flexible funnel to fill your gas tank because some gas stations have
nozzles too large to fit unleaded tanks.
If you have an emergency while driving, call the Ministry of Tourism s hotline
or (91)(5) 250-8221/8555 ext. 130/297 to obtain help from the "Green Angels," a
fleet of radio dispatched trucks with bilingual crews that operate daily.
Services include protection, medical first aid, mechanical aid for your car, and
basic supplies. You will not be charged for services, only for parts, gas, and
oil. The Green Angels patrol daily, from dawn until sunset. If you are unable to
call them, pull off the road and lift the hood of your car; chances are good
they will find you.