How to Bring a Foreign-Plated Car Into Mexico

Mexico has specific rules and permits for people who wish to bring their foreign-plated vehicle to Mexico.  This article describes the current rules for keeping your vehicle legally present here.

Summary of Mexico’s vehicle import rules

Here is a summary of the current rules.  Details about these rules are described below and on our related article about import permits.

  • Foreign-plated vehicles can be brought to Mexico without an import permit, provided they remain within the 25km (15 mile) border zone and/or within one of the defined border area Free Zones.
  • Foreign-plated vehicles can be driven beyond the 25km border zone and outside of the defined Free Zones by visitors and temporary residents for a defined period by using a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) that is associated with the vehicle.  The vehicle must be driven out of Mexico before this permit expires.
  • Foreign-plated vehicles that stay within one of the defined ‘Free Zones’ near the northern and southern border areas do not need a TIP and can be brought to Mexico indefinitely—provided the vehicle remains legally registered in its home country.
  • Permanent residents cannot apply for a TIP, and cannot bring a foreign-plated car to Mexico, except within the Free Zone, where a TIP is not required.

Obtaining a Temporary Import Permit (TIP)

If you intend to drive your vehicle beyond the 25km border zone (checkpoints exist), or anywhere outside of a defined Free Zone (see below), you must obtain a TIP before you cross into Mexico: they are not available anywhere inside Mexico, nor at Mexico’s interior checkpoints.

The defined Free Zones are:

  • the entire Baja California peninsula; and
  • a defined area in the state of Sonora; and
  • the state of Quintana Roo.

If you drive your vehicle outside of one of the defined Free Zones without a TIP, the vehicle will become subject to confiscation.

Temporary Import Permits: Learn more about Temporary Import Permits for foreign-plated vehicles in Mexico.  They are acquired via the Banjercito website.

Visitors entering Mexico using FMM (Visitor Permit)

If you are visiting Mexico on a tourist/visitor permit, you can import your foreign-plated vehicle to Mexico using a Temporary Import Permit (TIP).

Your vehicle permit when you enter as a visitor will last for a maximum of 180 days and cannot be renewed or extended beyond this time period.

You must export the vehicle (drive it out of Mexico) before the vehicle’s temporary import permit expires. If you don’t, you’ll lose your deposit and your vehicle becomes liable to confiscation.

Entering Mexico with a Residente Temporal permit

Holders of Residente Temporal (with or without work privileges) and Residente Temporal Estudiante may import their car to Mexico using a Temporary Import Permit (TIP).

The vehicle’s permit expiry date will be aligned with your temporary residency card expiry date.  If you bring your vehicle to Mexico using a temporary residency sticker, your vehicle import permit will last for only 30 days and you’ll need to visit the local customs office when you get your residency card.  See the TIP FAQs for more details about this.

You must export the vehicle (drive it out of Mexico) before the vehicle’s temporary import permit expires. If you don’t, you’ll lose your deposit and your vehicle becomes liable to confiscation.

Learn more about routes to residency in Mexico.

Leaving Mexico without your vehicle

Whether your TIP is tied to a Visitor Permit (FMM) or your Residente Temporal permit, you can leave Mexico without your vehicle and the vehicle will remain legal in Mexico for so long as the TIP remains current (not past its expiry date).

TIPs are not extendable and they become invalid: when they expire, the vehicle will be illegal in Mexico; and holders will lose their deposits and the vehicle becomes liable to confiscation.

Entering Mexico with a Residente Permanente permit

Residente Permanente visa or card holders are not allowed apply for a TIP, but can drive a foreign-plated car to Mexico without a TIP provided that the vehicle remains in one of the defined Free Zones.

If you are the holder of a Residente Permanente permit and want to bring your car to Mexico and drive it outside one of the defined Free Zones, you can go through a process to permanently import the car (get Mexican plates for it). If you want to formally import your car, we recommend you hire a Customs Broker to do this. (The import rules are complex and depend on the vehicle type, where it was manufactured, its age, etc.)

Foreign residents with Permanent Residency and foreign-plated cars in Mexico

Foreign residents with Residente Permante cannot keep a foreign plated car in Mexico outside of the defined Free Zones.  If you:

  • have a foreign-plated car in Mexico now; and
  • live and/or drive the car outside one of the defined Free Zones (see previous section); and
  • change your immigration status from Residente Temporal to Residente Permanente; then
  • you will need to make a choice about what do to with your foreign-plated vehicle, for example:

Export the car permanently – Take the car out of Mexico (crossing the border into the US or Belize) – see also “Safe Return” procedure, below.

Export and then re-import the car using a Customs Broker – If you exchange your temporary residency for permanent residency, and want to keep your current (foreign plated) vehicle for use in Mexico, you will need to drive the car out of Mexico (see “safe return” procedure, below), and then formally re-import it. There is a process to legally import a car by paying the relevant duties and import taxes and getting Mexican plates for the vehicle.  You’ll need a Customs Broker to assist you with this process.

Export the car and sell it to a person with a Residente Temporal permit – If you know a foreigner with a Residente Temporal permit who wants to buy your car, you can export it, sell it to them, and they can re-import it using their Residente Temporal permit.  Note that the car must be exported to make this transfer, it cannot be done within Mexico.

Export the car by sea – In some circumstances, export of your car on a sea vessel might be a viable option. You’ll need a customs broker to help you with the process. As a rule of thumb, shipping fees to the US range from $1,000-$1,500, which might be worth it if your vehicle is particularly valuable.

‘Safe Return’ Procedure: If your vehicle is currently “illegal” (or will become illegal when you switch from Residente Temporal to Residente Permanente), and you want to take the car out of the country, you can apply for a “Retorno Seguro” permit from SAT, which gives you five days to drive the car out of the country (to the USA or to Belize).

Defined ‘Free Zone’ rules for Sonora, the Baja California peninsula, and the state of Quintana Roo

Sonora Free ZoneSonora: There is no need to apply for a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) if you plan to use your vehicle within the State of Sonora’s “Free Zone” which includes the popular cities of Agua Prieta, Bahia de Kino, Caborca, Guaymas, Hermosillo, Magdalena, Nogales, Puerto Peñasco, San Carlos, and Santa Ana (green area on map, click/tap here for full size version). If you plan to travel outside of the Free Zone and remain within the state you can get a “Sonora Only” permit.  If you intend to drive the vehicle beyond the free zone / Sonora state you will need to apply for a TIP.

Baja Peninsula: Foreign-plated vehicles driven into the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur do not require a Temporary Import Permit (TIP).  However, your US or Canadian car plates must be valid and any stickers must be kept current while the vehicle is on the Baja peninsula. If you take your car from La Paz to the Mexican mainland (by ferry) you will become subject to the car import rules described above.

Qunitana Roo: If you’re driving from Belize into Mexico and remain within the state boundary of Quintana Roo, you do not need to obtain Temporary Import Permit (TIP). However, if you plan to drive anywhere outside of the state, it’s important to have a valid TIP to avoid problems and possible confiscation of your vehicle.

Entry and exit ports

When your foreign-plated vehicle has a TIP, you don’t necessarily have to exit Mexico through the same port that you entered.  For example, you can import the car at the US border and export it through Belize, or you could enter through Nogales and exit through Laredo, etc.

Lost, stolen, or abandoned foreign-plated vehicles

If you abandon your foreign-plated car in Mexico, you’ll have to pay Aduana (Mexican Customs) 40% tax on the car’s value. This rule was brought-in some while ago to discourage foreigners from abandoning or selling their foreign-plated cars and telling Mexican Customs they were lost or stolen.

There is an established process in place that prevents someone who has legitimately had their vehicle stolen (or suffered total loss of the vehicle in an accident) from having to pay the fee. Proper documentation will be required to get the TIP cancelled, so a police report has to be filed, plus special forms have to be filed with the Mexican Customs office, and the hired services of a Mexican Notary Public will be needed to formalize all the paperwork to cancel the TIP of a stolen car.  While the authorities cannot prevent you from leaving if you don’t pay the tax, failure to do so will forfeit your rights to import any other foreign-plated vehicle to Mexico in future.

Donating your vehicle to Mexican Customs

If you want to dispose of your car, there is a procedure whereby you can “donate” it to Mexican Customs; you can find more information about that here on the Mexican SAT web site.

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