Driving in Mexico with Foreign License Plates

All content is based on the experience of real expats living across the globe and some results may vary! If you have any issues with the content please email raf@weexpats.com and we will address your concerns.

Also we sell expat health insurance, click here for a quick 1 minute quote! Don’t worry it will open in a new page.

Driving in Mexico City with foreign plates

Driving in Mexico with foreign plates can be concerning. You might wonder: Is there a standard legislation throughout all of Mexico? Does it vary from state to state? Can you drive in Mexico City with a foreign plated car? This article explores the ins and outs of driving in Mexico with foreign license plates.

 

DRIVING IN MEXICO WITH FOREIGN PLATES:

In many cases it is prohibited to drive in the Mexico with foreign plates if you are a Mexican citizen. Mexico simply doesn’t want Mexican citizens avoiding government restrictions by importing American cars without the proper taxation and registration.

The expectation is that the car driven in Mexico will be registered in the same country as the driver’s license or International Driving Permit. In some cases, exceptions can be made—like a European tourist who rents a car in Texas and drives across the border. However, it is necessary to have all the proper paperwork ready for your trip to Mexico. To learn more about bringing a rental car across the border, click here.

 

DRIVING IN MEXICO CITY WITH FOREIGN PLATES:

Mexico City has a problem with pollution, and because of this it has instituted a system of vehicle circulation based around the day of the week. In Spanish, it is said that the car does not circulate (no circula). This system—called Hoy No Circula—is in effect in all 16 boroughs of Mexico City, as well as 18 municipalities in the surrounding State of Mexico.

Previously, low-emission vehicles were exempt from this vehicle circulation schedule, however as of spring 2016, all vehicles must abide by the rules. Each vehicle has a day when they are not allowed to circulate—and it is designated by the final number of their license plate. Then the registration sticker is color-coded to indicate what day of the week the car does not operate:

  • Monday: Yellow – Plates ending in 5 and 6
  • Tuesday: Pink – Plates ending in 7 and 8
  • Wednesday: Red – Plates ending in 3 and 4
  • Thursday: Green – Plates ending in 1 and 2
  • Friday: Blue – Plates ending in 9 and 0

*Vehicles are also barred from circulating one Saturday a month on an alternating basis.

 

Cars with foreign plates from the United States and Canada are exempt from the Hoy No Circula system, as are all cars that are smogged in Mexican states without an emissions testing reciprocity agreement—which are mostly the states surrounding Mexico City. All you require is a pase touristico. For more information on how to obtain one, click here.

 

MEXICAN NATIONALS DRIVING FOREIGN PLATES IN MEXICO:

If you are a Mexican citizen, you are not allowed to drive a car with foreign plates. This is to prevent citizens from importing vehicles without the proper taxation and registration. Barring only a few exceptions, when someone is a permanent resident of Mexico, they must own and operate a car registered in Mexico. Eventually, most permanent resident expats will have to import their car to Mexico. To learn more, click here. After importing a vehicle to Mexico, a permanent resident can register the vehicle in Mexico, and they will have to get a Mexican driver’s license.

*an International Driving Permit only applies for a short time in Mexico, and after that any permanent resident will require a Mexican driver’s license. To learn more, click here.

 

FAMILY EXCEPTIONS TO DRIVING A FOREIGN CAR IN MEXICO:

There are exceptions to the rule that Mexican citizens cannot drive a car with foreign plates in Mexico. If you are immediately related to a foreigner with a car with foreign plates in Mexico, then you can drive your family member’s vehicle. Spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren can drive the car with foreign plates in Mexico as long as they have written permission from the owner of the vehicle. However, we do not recommend letting your family member who is a citizen drive your car with foreign plates in Mexico as their primary vehicle—this could cause other potential problems with regards to insurance in event of an accident. We discuss this more in the next section.

 

COMPLICATIONS THAT CAN ARISE IN MEXICO WITH FOREIGN PLATES:

Getting tourism insurance is always a good idea. Be aware of what restrictions and exclusions a tourism insurance policy will have regarding coverage. For example, many Mexico tourist auto insurance policies will not work for those with a Mexican driver’s license. Policies often require that a non-Mexican and valid driver’s license be attached to the policy. Therefore, even though the Mexican government may allow Mexican citizens to drive cars with foreign plates, often times insurance policies that cover foreign cars in Mexico will not cover the car in case of an accident. Also, Mexican authorities will often confiscate and impound cars in Mexico with foreign plates when they are being driven by a Mexican citizen.

 

MEXICAN CITIZENS AND MEXICO TOURIST AUTO INSURANCE:

Tourist auto insurance in Mexico is a specific type of insurance that only works in another country than that of your current residence—especially if that residence is your nationality. Therefore, if you are a Mexican citizen, then tourism auto insurance is not a good fit for you. If you are a Mexican citizen, then you need a vehicle that is registered in Mexico, and an insurance policy from a company that operates in Mexico.

We want to thank you for making it to the end of our article.

If you would like to help support us please click below to find out how much it would cost to insure your adventure abroad!

Comments (14)

  • Dean Whinery

    Have had “interesting” experiences driving in México.
    I was fined in early January one year on a one-day visit to San Luís Rió Colorado, Son., for driving my California licensed car without a new sticker; I had a receipt showing I’d paid, but the Calif. DMV hadn’t sent it yet.
    I was fined the equivalent of 100 dollars for driving a car with Zacatecas plates in D.F. The cop, with his hand on his pistol, told me it was “illegal to drive cars from Zacatecas in the Federal District”.

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Wow! I´m so sorry to hear that! I´m glad everything turned out for the best. I´ve never heard of out-of-state plates being illegal. . . I doubt that´s true.

      Reply
  • Jason Davis

    first sentence is wrong. Should read Mexican citizens are not allowed to drive US plated cars in Mexico. You said, “In many cases it is prohibited to drive in the United States with foreign plates if you are a Mexican citizen. Mexico simply doesn’t want Mexican citizens avoiding government restrictions by importing American cars without the proper taxation and registration.”

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Thank you! We´ll take a look right now.

      Reply
  • Lyle Renner

    Is it legal for an expat (Canadian) to drive a Mexican plated (Veracruz state) vehicle.The vehicle is owned, licensed & insured by my wife(Mexican national)?? Thank you for your comments,suggestions recommendations.

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Hello Lyle,

      My understanding is that you can legally (by the letter of the law) drive with your foreign driver’s license for two months after you arrive in Mexico. I have heard realistically you can drive for much longer, however that would not be our official recommendation. You should carry your driver’s license, a copy of your visa and passport, and likely a letter from your wife saying it’s okay to drive your car (just to be safe).

      For the long term, we have two blogs that might help:

      The first is how to get a Mexican Driver’s license in Mexico. You might be able to get one in Veracruz, I have no idea. You would have to ask your local Mexican DMV.

      Here is that blog: https://weexpats.com/drivers-license-mexico-tourists-expats-can-get-mexican-drivers-license/

      The second is a blog on getting your international driving permit, which can work in just about any country outside of Canada (your home country):

      https://weexpats.com/international-drivers-license-international-driving-permit/

      Lastly, Sonia Diaz is a lawyer who specializes in the legal aspects of Mexico. Her blog holds a wealth of knowledge for the nitty-gritty aspects of immigration law. Looking through her blog can help you find the answers you need: http://www.soniadiaz.mx/

      I sincerely hope this comment finds you well. All our best from WeExpats.

      Reply
  • Dale thomas

    Can my Canadian common law wife drive my Canadian license truck in cancun if her name is not on the registration
    I use tourist insurance

    Reply
    • Justin Barsketis

      The police will not mind much, your insurance policy may not cover her though. It is best to review your policy with your broker to see if other drivers are covered on the policy, if not it would be best to add her to it as it will not be much more.

      Reply
  • frank lawrence

    I recently got my veracruz driving license…The law before was that it was only good for 6 months if you are a foreigner…..now it is for 3 years. frank

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Thanks Frank for commenting! Is that 3 years with a foreign license? Or is that with a Mexican license?

      Reply
  • Craig E Knudson

    I just bought a home in Puerto Vallarta. I want to bring my South Dakota Plated 2011 car down next month. Will that be a problem? How long can I keep the car here without returning to the U. S.? I have a 6 month tourist visa. I fly back and forth frequently.

    Reply
  • Eric Mintz

    I am planning on getting my Temporary Residence Visa and keeping my car in Mexico for the 4 years. I can’t register the cats in Mexico with a Temporary Visa. I’m unsure how to handle the car insurance though. The car must maintain its California plates and I need to buy Mexican insurance before driving in Mexico. I’m told that I can’t drop my California insurance if the car is registered there. So, it appears that I need Both a California and Mexico policy. Is that right? If so, can I drop some parts of the California policy? It would seem so since my California policy won’t cover anything in Mexico. I’ll ask these questions when I go to DMV and when I go to the. Mexican Consulate. Any help is appreciated!

    Reply
    • Raf Bracho

      Hello Eric, is your issue that you need car insurance that works both in Mexico and the United States? I am sure the DMV and the Mexican Consulate near you can help you better because they would know the particulars of the situation more than I would. However, we are here to help in any way we can!

      Reply

Leave Comment