Last updated: August 2022

Tips for Traveling Through Mexico by Car

From sleepy seaside villages to bustling city squares, Mexico is alive with the sights and sounds of a colorful culture that begs to be experienced--especially by car! While driving your own vehicle south of the border gives you the freedom to hop around wherever your tastebuds or dancin' shoes may take you, there are some important things to plan for before grabbing your passport and packing up the car.

Preparing for Your Drive to Mexico

Sunscreen? Check. Swimsuit? Check. Mexican automobile insurance, temporary import permit, and an International Driver's Permit? Nope! Incidents involving U.S. citizens who were injured in traffic crashes in Mexico have highlighted the significant differences between the legal systems of Mexico and the U.S., says the San Diego County Government. Being prepared with the following insurance and documentation could make a big difference when driving in Mexico, especially if an accident occurs.

Make Mexico Auto Insurance a Priority

While there are many American auto insurance companies that offer policies with coverage for driving in Mexico, the Mexican police may not recognize this coverage, reports USA Today. It is best to purchase Mexican liability insurance, along with comprehensive and collision coverages from a Mexican insurance company, given that most U.S. insurers won't cover a comprehensive or collision claim that occurs in Mexico.

Why is Mexico auto insurance a priority? Here's why the U.S. State Department thinks so: "If you do not have Mexican liability insurance, you may be prevented from departing the country, even if you require life-saving medical care, and you are almost certain to spend some time in jail." 

Apply for a Temporary Import Permit

Temporary import permits are intended to prevent out-of-country vehicles from remaining in Mexico illegally. If you plan on staying within the Border Zone, an area extending approximately 20 kilometers south of the U.S./Mexico border, you do not need to apply for a permit. You are also not required to have a permit if you only plan on driving in the Free Trade Zone (i.e. the Baja, CA peninsula and the Sonora Free Trade Zone). Outside of these zones, you could have your vehicle confiscated by Mexican customs officials if you do not have a temporary import permit, says U.S. Department of State.

To apply for a permit, bring the original and two photocopies of the following documents: vehicle registration, passport, U.S. driver's license, and credit card to the "Modulo de Control Vehicular" lane at the border or to a Mexican Consulate near you.

Opt for an International Driver's Permit

Many countries do not recognize a U.S. driver's license, but most DO accept an International Driving Permit (IDP). Apply for an IDP about six months prior to your trip, either through AAA or the National Auto Club. Even if you don't speak the language, your driver's permit will!

Driving in Mexico

With the proper documentation and insurance coverage in hand, it's time to enjoy your drive into and throughout Mexico! Like you do when driving in the U.S., pay attention to posted speed limits and heed all traffic controls. That means carrying a valid I.D. and wearing your seatbelt, too! Also, note the following safety concerns cited by the U.S. Department of State, as well as helpful contact information for Mexico's unique roadway helpers, the Green Angels.

Safety Concerns

While many U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, the U.S. Department of State reports that carjacking and highway robbery are serious problems in many parts of the border region, and U.S. citizens have been murdered in such incidents. For this reason, the Department advises tourists to avoid driving at night and on isolated roads . Where possible, use toll roads ("cuotas"), do not exit from major highways, and avoid any areas where it appears that a demonstration may be occurring.

After an Accident

Simply put, if you are involved in a motor vehicle crash in Mexico you will likely be detained until the authorities determine who is at fault. If you are in need of medical attention, you may be taken to the closest medical facility for treatment while the incident is being investigated. If it is determined that you are the at-fault driver, you will be required to demonstrate financial responsibility and post a bond to cover the estimated costs before you are released from custody, says the Arizona Department of Administration Risk Management.

The Green Angels

Few countries can boast that they offer free roadside assistance, but Mexico can! The Ángeles Verdes, or Green Angels, are a federally sponsored fleet of more than 275 bilingual mechanics that are not only trained in car care, but also in first aid. They patrol Mexico's main highways 24 hours/7 days a week and carry oil, gasoline, spare parts, tools, and communication capabilities (which is another great reason to stay on the main roads). They will tow or fix your vehicle for free, but will charge you for any equipment used (like oil, a spark plug, or an engine belt). The toll-free number for the Green Angels is 01-800-987-8224. Add this number to your cell phone or write it down and put it in your car--rápido!

If you're packing your bags and putting on your sombrero for the ultimate south-of-the-border road trip, give us a call at 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) or visit any one of our many locations in Texas or Louisiana. A Mexico auto insurance policy could help you stay out of a Mexican jail, help you access life-saving medical care in a more timely manner after a car accident, and give you much needed peace of mind during your travels!

More Helpful Resources for Driving in Mexico:

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