Driving in Mexico with Foreign License Plates

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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.



In many cases, it is prohibited to drive in Mexico with foreign plates if you are a Mexican citizen. Mexico simply doesn’t want Mexican citizens to avoid 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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.

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Comments (32)

  • 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”.

  • 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.”

    • Raf Bracho

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

  • 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.

    • 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):


      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.

  • 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

    • 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.

  • 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

    • Raf Bracho

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

  • 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.

    • Raf Bracho

      Craig, you should be okay. Here is some additional information because I am not familiar with the particulars of your situation. I hope this helps!



    • John Dogtags Chambers

      The Temporary Import Permit is tied to your “migratory form”, in this case a 6mo tourist visa. When that six months is up, you AND THE VEHICLE must leave Mexico. Some people stay out of the country just s day or two, get a NEW permit, then reenter. If you exit/reenter without updating your vehicle import permit, you are in violation. If you are stopped, the first thing they’ll ask for is your TIP , which will have an expiration date matching your OLD tourist visa.

      • Raf Bracho

        Great information John! Thank you for your input.

  • 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!

    • 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!

  • Bill

    I am Canadian on temporal resident living in Chuburna. We drove our British Columbia registered and plated car to Mexico and obtained a TIP. One of my license plates was stolen in Merida. If the other is also stolen does Mexico have a permit or special license plate available so I can continue to drive my car?

  • Tracy

    I cant find an answer to my issue anywhere – Im driving my Nova Scotia (Canada) registered car to San Miguel and NS will not issue two license plates. Do I need a second plate to drive in Mexico? Does not having one leave you open to hassles from officialdom?

    • Raf Bracho

      Hello Tracy,

      Not having two license plates can become a hassle to be honest. If you get a ticket, they will take the license plate on the back, therefore you will be left with NO license plates. Perhaps there is a document that can be issued and notarized. That is very typical of Mexico. I would call or visit the nearest Mexican consulate and ask. 🙂

  • Evan Smith

    I came into Mexico with temporary dealer plates, and now my car is registered and I got my permanent plates fedexed down here. Do I need to get a new TIP that matches my new plate number? Any idea how I can do that?

  • Jim Douglas

    My wife and I have our temporal residency, good for the next 3 years. The 12 year old US car has a TIP registered in my name. The 20 year old US motorcycle has a TIP registered in my wife’s name. We now want to buy a Mexican car. Are we allowed to do this when we already have 2 TIPs? Will we need to obtain Mexican driver’s licenses? We are full time residents here and plan on obtaining Permanente residency in 3 years, and selling the US car by then.

  • Alan Smith

    This article seems to be about Mexican nationals driving cars with foreign plates in Mexico….all on a site called weexpats. Where is the logic?

    Also, “the Mexico” at start of piece? Do you not read what you write before posting?

    • Raf Bracho

      The article is about expats driving cars in Mexico with foreign plates. It does have an extensive section on what happens if a Mexican national drives a car with foreign plates (such as a wife)–because many expats are married to or have family and friends that are nationals. You don’t need to remind us of our demographic Alan. There is the logic Alan. There it is, plain as day.

      Sorry for the typo, I’ll fix it. Typos happen in all copy.

  • Gerald Chuzel

    My wife is Mexican (green card holder) and has a residence in Chihuahua. I am an American and she is driving an american plated car in both our names in mexico. How long can she drive the car there? Is there an exception for Mexican spouses driving american cars in mexico?

    • Raf Bracho

      Hello Gerald,

      There are some dispositions allotted for spouses and immediate family members. My understanding is that she can drive for the length of your TIP (or if you have a FMM, then only two months), and if you’re a permanent resident in Mexico then you should not legally be driving an American-registered car in Mexico. However, I would speak to a customs broker in the US or an agente aduanal for more precise information.

      We hope this message finds you well. 🙂


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