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Driving in Mexico

Conditions for driving in Mexico depend greatly on the time of year and number of tourists.

Drivers must secure the propert permits before driving in Mexico. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Drivers must secure the propert permits before driving in Mexico.

Driving in Mexico

With destinations such as legendary colonial cities, scenic byways and sun-drenched beaches, driving in Mexico is a multifaceted affair. Mexico sees an increase in tourists during the warmer seasons, as Northerners flock to the beaches and other popular locations. According to the 2008 statistics from the World Tourism Organization, Mexico ranks as the tenth most popular international tourist arrival location.

Preparing to Drive in Mexico

Before heading off to Mexico, travelers should invest in a few maps. Visitor centers offer maps, as do many hotels. Travelers can also check online sites for specific directions. Additionally, Mexico is mapped well for GPS devices. One of the most popular GPS systems is Garmin, which has street details for more than 2,100 cities throughout the country. Additionally, Mexico is divided into seven regions through Garmin, which can allow the travelers to only purchase the areas of interest they desire.

Whether bringing their own automobile or renting one when they arrive, tourists must be prepared to drive along Mexico's roadways. According to Lonely Planet, there are more than 40 official crossing points on the United States-Mexico border. If they bring their own car, Mexican law is rather strict in stating that the drivers are responsible for taking that same car out of the country. Before driving the car into Mexico, drivers must secure a temporary vehicle import permit. Additionally, drivers must possess the following:

  • Tourist card
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Certificate of title or registration
  • Valid state license plates
  • Drivers license
  • Credit card


The tourist card is also known as an immigration form and states how long the visitor plans to be in Mexico. The credit card must be issued outside of Mexico and serves as a guarantee that the driver will take the car out of the country by the date on their tourist card. Failure to do so can result in monetary penalties. All this information needs to be presented at the customs office located at the border.

Safety Considerations

There is no best car for drivers to take when traveling to Mexico, as it depends upon the final destination. Additionally, there are certain areas of the country that have roads that are more congested than others. Certain highways, such as the one connecting Mexico City to Cuernavaca, Puebla and Queretaro, contain more traffic on public holidays. Most of the new interstate roads are tolled and are considered more expensive than American toll roads. However, not all roads are in the best condition: some of the roads that run between smaller towns may still be paved with cobblestone instead of asphalt. Additionally, there are potholes and bumps in the road that drivers must be aware of.

Perhaps the biggest problem that drivers may encounter on the road is livestock. While livestock in the United States may cross roads in rural areas, livestock in Mexico cross much more frequently, due in part to the lack of widespread fencing. The livestock tend to roam anywhere they can locate food, which often leads them near well-traveled streets and byways.

Tips for Driving in Mexico

With recent changes to passport requirements, travelers to Mexico must bring along either a birth certificate or passport. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as of January 31, 2008, U.S. citizens age 19 and older must present documentation proving identify and citizenship, such as a passport. For those U.S. citizens ages 18 and younger, they only need to provide proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Tourists traveling by land to Mexico can purchase a U.S. Passport Card, which is a wallet-size passport card that is cheaper than a passport booklet. However, these cards cannot be used when traveling by air.

Before driving to Mexico, travelers should check with their auto insurance company to see if their policy includes Mexico. Most collision and comprehensive insurance issued by U.S. insurance companies is not valid in Mexico. If the drivers are not insured, auto insurance can be purchased separately on either side of the boarder. At a minimum they must have liability insurance, which covers the driver in case of injury or damage. However, American liability insurance is not valid in Mexico for bodily injury.

Unfortunately, if American drivers do not have car insurance that is valid in Mexico and are in an accident, they will not be allowed to leave the country, even for medical treatment, and may also face criminal charges, depending upon the severity of the injuries. Mexican law is Napoleonic, which means that those involved in driving accidents are guilty until proven innocent. The person who is most likely to decide this is the first person to the scene: the police officer.

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