A Guide to Driving in Mexico

Deciding to RV Mexico can be both exciting and intimidating. There is a lot to plan and figure out before you go, including what driving in Mexico is like and what is needed in order to drive your RV or vehicle into Mexico. While road conditions, driving practices, and specific requirements can vary, this guide to driving in Mexico should help you feel more prepared and have an idea of what to expect and need before you enter the country regardless if you’re driving a car, RV, motorhome, trailer, fifth wheel, or van.

As long as you have a valid drivers license, you can drive in Mexico. However, if you plan to drive your own vehicle (registered in the United States or Canada) you will need to first get Mexican liability insurance before you enter the country. While your current insurance provider will likely still provide collision coverage while in Mexico, their liability policy will not qualify under Mexico’s mandatory liability insurance law requirement. Call your current insurance provider to find out what they will and won’t cover for your vehicle before you enter.

Mexican vehicle insurance

In order to drive your US or Canadian vehicle in Mexico you must purchase a special liability policy from a Mexican insurance company. The minimum liability coverage requirements vary from state to state. For this reason most insurance companies suggest getting a policy with minimum of $300,000 in liability coverage in order to meet the country’s minimum requirement.

You can purchase full liability and collision coverage from a special Mexican insurance company, or basic liability coverage for one or more vehicle for a period of 6 months or 12 months at a time. We used Mexpro, and paid around $300 for our RV and scooter since our American insurance covered comprehensive and collision still. However there are other companies to compare quotes from including:

No matter who you purchase insurance from ask what their process is like for dealing with vehicle repairs and filing a claim. Some will allow the work to get done in the USA or Canada while others will require the work to be completed in Mexico. It’s also important to note that policy prices will vary depending on the length of time you plan to be there, as well as the regions or states you plan to visit. If you leave the country before your policy expires you may be entitled to a refund.

Vehicle Permits

If you plan to drive beyond the “free zone” which is about 16-22 miles from the border or drive outside of Baja you will need to get a temporary import permit (TIP) for your vehicle. Trailers are not considered a vehicle, but you do need to show proof of ownership when bringing it in or out of the country.

If you are entering Mexico with a tourist visa, your TIP will be attached to that permit, giving you a maximum of 180 days for vehicles, ATVs, motorcycles. An RV, trailer, or motorhome TIP is good for 10 years without needing any permit renewals.

You can obtain the permit at the border crossing, but you will have to present:

  • Proof of nationality (e.g. Passport or passport card)
  • Mexican visa or tourist card
  • Proof of ownership of the vehicle (such as title and possible permission from lender if vehicle is financed)
  • A valid driver’s license with photo

In addition to paying a refundable bond for the permit which can range from $200 USD to $400 USD. We brought our Class C RV and scooter into Mexico and paid $7,648 pesos for our scooter and $1,053 pesos for our RV in February of 2020.

You will get a sticker to place on your vehicle’s front window and once the permit is returned at Mexico’s Customs upon exit of the vehicles from the country, the bond is refunded. Tip: don’t try to remove the sticker yourself, have an official at Custom’s help you.

You can apply for the permit before you get to the border if there is not a Banjercito at the border crossing, however this should be done well in advance as the permit will be sent by mail and can take at least 2 weeks to arrive. The payment method (such as a car) must match the name of the permit holder.

It’s a good idea to keep your vehicle permit (with proof of payment), proof of Mexican liability insurance, a color copy of your drivers license and passport, as well as your tourist visa organized in a folder in your glove compartment or nearby. These items will be requested by officials, especially at Federal checkpoints in the event you get pulled over.

toll roads vs free roads

The primary method of transportation for RVers is the Mexican toll (cuota) road. There are toll roads throughout Mexico, especially from large city to large city. While they can be expensive, in most cases they are safer, newer, and have better road conditions.

Tolls are cash (effectivo) only, so it’s important to have ample amounts of pesos if taking the toll roads and cost for tolls will vary dramatically. Some tolls are as little as 40 – 100 pesos, while others are several hundred pesos. To help estimate the cost for driving the toll roads on a specific route, use the Secretary of Transportation’s tool to map out your drive. We always have at least $2,000 pesos on driving days to ensure we have more than enough to cover the tolls.

If you have a tow car, you will be charged by the number of axels for your camper or RV as well as your tow vehicle. Since our scooter was raised off the ground on the back of our RV with our Mototote, we only had to pay for the one vehicle.

The toll roads also include free assistance from the Green Angels, which is funded by part of the toll road costs. If you break down on the toll road during the day (they do not operate at night) they will come and bring you gas, help change a tire, or tow your vehicle if needed. The number to contact the Green Angels differs for each region, so if you need assistance look at your most recent toll receipt and call the number on the back of the receipt.

Additionally you can take the free (libre) roads. In many places the free road will be your only option. We have driven both free roads and toll roads, and have noticed toll roads have significantly better road conditions, and in general felt safer as they are patrolled.

Is driving in mexico safe?

In general, driving in Mexico is safe, however it’s a good idea that drivers stick to the main roads, especially in near the border or in areas with high crime. While it’s not super common, there are verified reports of people getting robbed at random road blocks on the highway.

Toll roads are generally considered a safer option and is the preferred method of travel when possible for this reason. Try to avoid taking unknown roads in more rural areas, especially side streets or dirt roads. Stick to the main highway and focus on getting from one location to the next in the fastest and safest possible manner.

Before we left to our next destination we would typically consult a Facebook group or iOverlander to see if there were any reports or things to know about the specific route we were planning to take like road closures, federal checkpoints, or reported crime.

It’s also a good idea to avoid driving at night because of potential hazards in the roads and poorly lit roadways.

what to expect driving in mexico

Mexican drivers are aggressive. While it may seem chaotic at first there is rhyme and reason to their method of driving, but it helps if you are a defensive driver. So far we have only seen one car accident in the entire country and we are driving a lot!

Big rigs, like a large class A, fifth wheel, or longer trailer can get around Mexico but not without ample planning. Most of Mexico is not made for larger vehicles, but it 100% can be done. Afterall large trailers and semi trucks are able to navigate the city, but in most cases the smaller your vehicle the easier it is to get around and the more places you can go.

Plan before you drive no matter where you are going, and always, always, always have a backup route. Google maps was our primary method of navigating through the country but we also asked for advice on routes from fellow travelers in Mexico in groups. There was several times Google Maps lead us astray and having maps downloaded offline and a backup route ensured we weren’t stuck without knowledge of where to go. 

travel with pesos

Have ample amounts of pesos on you, especially just after crossing the border. Depending on how far you plan to drive in a given day and what your specific set up is, you could need several hundreds if not thousands of pesos if driving on the toll roads. 

Watch out for topes

Topes are large speed bumps that are freqently found in small villages and towns throughout Mexico. Sometimes they are well identified, other times they are not. If you are getting close to a town keep an eye out for topes, it’s almost inevitable you’ll hit one going too fast which can cause damage to your vehicle.

use vehicle signals

Mexican drivers use their vehicle signals such as a blinker or flasher as a way to communicate with other drivers. For example, drivers may put their flashers on if they are stopping for a tope, toll booth, or if traffic is slowing ahead. Flashers can also let the driver behind you know if there are hazards in the road like a car on the side of the road, debris, or if there is a truck coming from the other direction.

Blinkers are used for turning, but also as an indicator for passing down the center lane. If you’re on a two way road or highway and you want to pass someone down the center lane, leave your left or right blinker on. If there is another vehicle in front of you, they will typically move to the side hugging the shoulder of the road and turn their left or right blinker on as an indication that it is safe to pass.

hug the side

As you can see from the vehicle signals, having a two lane road or highway become a three or four lane highway by passing in the center lanes if very common. For this reason, it’s a good idea to hug the side of the road as semis and other Mexican drivers will try and pass you no matter the size of the road.

traffic signs are often optional

While you will see traffic signs throughout the country, it seems adhering to traffic signals and signs is optional — at least based on our observation. To date we have not seen one Mexican driver actually stop at a stop sign. We always suggest abiding by the law, but also following what the locals do. Notice what other Mexican drivers are yeilding or stopping for and follow suit.

Road quality

Road quality will vary dramatically even on toll roads. There is a lot of pot holes and simply rough roads throughout the country. Toll roads are typically smoother and more pleasant to drive, but there were many toll roads that were just as bad if not worse than free roads we have driven.

Military checkpoints

Military checkpoints are very common. You will notice areas with Federal (Federales) vehicles or signs and people in uniform with vest and weapons. If you do get stopped at a checkpoint provide them with your documentation and answer any questions they may have. The Federales are working hard to minimize illegal activity and make these routine stops a part of their efforts to reduce cartel activity across the country.

Getting pulled over

Some of the smaller municipal cops are notorious for pulling over foreign vehicles (especially RV’s) looking for bribe. We did not personally have this experience, but know of people who have. If this happens, give them a copy of your drivers license, not your real one and if they demand payment for a ticket when you clearly did nothing wrong, ask to pay the ticket at the office. Most of the time this will deter them and they will let you go without payment. Avoid paying, bribing is illegal and as intimidating as it may be, if it’s a valid ticket they will take you to the station in order to pay.

Getting gas

Fuel is more expensive in Mexico than in the United States, comparable to gas prices in California. Gas stations are readily available both sprinkled throughout the tows or cities or alongside the toll road. When you get to a gas station an attendant will fill your tank for you. Tell them “llena” and specific the type of gas such as diesel or gasolina. Make sure they zero out the meter before they begin filling. Some gas station attendants will scam you into paying for more gas than you actually used by not clearing the tank meter before filling. It’s customary to tip the gas attendant $5 to $10 pesos, or more if desired. Most gas stations accept cash or card, however it’s a good idea to ask if they accept card before they begin filling. 

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Liz & Dennis

Liz & Dennis

ESRV Team

We’re two travel-loving, real estate investing, foodies exploring North America as full-time RV’ers. This blog is where we share our lessons learned, tips and tricks, and favorite places to eat, see, and RV across North America! We hope it helps you find your wanderlust, plan and prepare for RV life, and get out on the road!

 

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