Mexican Vehicle Law

Mexico Does


Vehicle Law

Dick and I were stopped at one of the many temporary check spots in Mexico. There are many of them.  They can appear overnight – anyplace. 

One of the law officials came over to our car smiling and said something in Spanish and removed our permit from our car and sort of gestured that we were to stay there and wait. 

He then walked over to another car with American license tag on it and talked for a while to the driver, soon, another official who spoke some English joined them.  The whole gist of it was, a young man (the North American driver) had somehow gotten his car half way down the country of Mexico without a permit.  He was turned around and warned that he would be escorted back to the border and he was to properly take care of business. 

The second law official, after just a short while came back to our car, handed us our permit, smiled and explained “Had to show him what he needed”.  Very polite.  We smiled, breathed a sign of relief, and drove away. 

That young man was very lucky!  The law reads he could have had his car confiscated. He would have been stuck in Mexico outback without a car or perhaps even put in jail for his offense. The moral of the story:  Don’t try to get away with any short cuts in Mexico – follow their laws to the T!  They usually don’t fool around.

To take your vehicle into Mexico beyond the border zone (20 to 30 kilometers past the border with the United States) your options are:

An “Only Sonora” permit or a Federal Permit.  Both permits cost the same. Motorists are required to show proof of U.S. citizenship, car title (or pink slip) and registration, and a valid driver’s license.

1)  “Only Sonora” means exactly that – the law says – do not travel to any other Mexican state other than Sonora,  nor past a specific Sonora corridor ending at Empalme, without a Federal Permit…very limited traveling, and is good for one entry only.

2)  The Federal Permit allows you to drive your car anyplace in Mexico and allows for multiple re-entries into Mexico.

3)  A permit is not required for travel to Rocky Point and other border cities, which are classified as “free-zones”, by law. 


You need a Tourist Card, secured from the Mexican consulate or Mexican Immigration at the border check point –(we did it at the border). You will need:

1)       Valid proof of citizenship (passport or birth certificate).

2)       An appropriate immigration form (tourist card)

·   Mexican Tourist Visa: Those who will travel into Mexico further than the Border Zone, or for more than 72 hours within the Border Zone, or,

·  Visa / FM3 For Temporary Resident: Those who will be living in Mexico. (Usually what retirees get.) Or,

·  Visa / FM3 For General Business: Applies to purchasing agents, importers and exporters who will attend board of directors meetings of Mexican companies, conduct business that requires notary certification, or institute any legal proceedings in court or:

· Visa / FM3 For Technicians & Engineers: Technicians or engineers who intend to repair or install machinery, or train personnel, or take tools or machinery to Mexico, or,

·  Student Visa Requirements: Foreign students who plan to study in Mexico.


·  The valid vehicle registration certificate, or document i.e. the original title that certifies the legal ownership of the vehicle.  It must be in the driver’s name.

· A valid driver’s license, issued outside Mexico. (U.S. or Canada are fine.)

·  An international credit card in the name of the driver of the car/vehicle, issued outside of Mexico (American Express, Mastercard or Visa).

· If it’s a leased/rented car – The contract which shows it is a leased/rented car in the name of the person importing the car.

· If you are making payments on your car, have in your possession a notarized letter of authorization issued by the lender.

· If the vehicle belongs to a company, present the document that certifies the employee works for the company.


Drive your vehicle to a Mexican customs office at the U.S./Mexico border.  At the border crossing, go through the Declarations Lane. Look for the “Modulo de Control Vehicular” where you will present your documents.

All documents and a credit card must be in the name of the owner, who must also be in the vehicle when crossing the border.  The process is easiest if you use a credit card to post the required “return guarantee” bond. If you do not have a credit card or a Visa/Mastercard check card – get one before traveling.

You will receive your temporary permit at the border facility by leaving the Guarantee Exit Deposit Fee (guarantee exit – take the car back out of Mexico,  deposit fee – Bond, which is based on the year and model of the vehicle).  From 1999 to present = $400.  1994 to 1998 = $300.  Earlier than 1994 = $200.  And when you exit Mexico, by law, this charge on your card is reversed.

You will pay the certification fee (processing fee), non-returnable at the border, with your international credit card and that will be equivalent to approximately $27.00US.
You’ll be issued your documents, that allow you to take your car into Mexico.  That completes the process for acquiring the certificate. Keep in mind the full process is not completed until you return the certificate upon exiting Mexico with the same car.


You can do this before crossing at some of the Mexican Consulates – It’s pretty easy at the border – in my book,  Retire In Luxury, I walk you through Dick and me entering Mexico.

TO RETURN THE CERTIFICATE:  Upon your departure from Mexico to the U.S., if the vehicle is not going to be driven back into Mexico, the permit for temporary importation must and will be cancelled at Customs. The original bond posted for the return guarantee will be returned to you at this time. That’s all there is to it. Follow these simple steps and you shouldn’t have any problems.

Law, Mexico Vehicle

Ice Truck

EXTRAS: The temporary authorization for the importation of vehicles is valid for any type of vehicle weighing under three-tons for periods up to six months (180 days). The temporarily imported vehicle may be driven across the border multiple times during the authorized period.Always carry the importation permit on your person when driving your car in Mexico…same with your passport.  Do not leave any documents in the vehicle!

A vehicle, temporarily imported by the owner, may be driven in Mexico by the spouse or adult children, as long as they have the same immigration status. Other persons may drive the vehicle as long as the owner is in the vehicle.  Again, in my book, Retire In Luxury,  I sincerely suggest you do not allow others to drive your vehicle.  If someone were to be stopped while driving your car, and there were ANY drugs found – you are responsible too!  Mexican jails are food for nightmares!

The car permit which you got at the border is valid so long as your FM3 is valid — with renewals for as long as you wish.

Within 10 days of renewing your FM3 or if you convert from FMT to FM3, you must notify customs to continue your registration.  You do not have to go back to the border, you can do it by mail or in person if you live near one of the 42 cities that have an Aduana (Customs) office.  There is no fee.  You will not be given a new sticker or registration papers, so be sure to keep a copy of the letter in your car attached to the copy of the registration form that you should always have in your car.  Do NOT carry the original in your car.  You will need that paper if anything happens to your car.

A traveler can take his or her luggage and additional items up to $50.00 per person or $250.00 for a family of five, never exceeding US$1,000.00 in total, when travelling by road. If you exceed that limit, make the necessary arrangements at the Mexican Customs Office.  (I think everyone has more than $50 worth of clothing…just don’t take 6 computers, two refrigerators, etc.  Take normal luggage and supplies for your trip – and declare it.

Mexican Vehicle Law article by Barbie.

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13 Responses to Mexican Vehicle Law

  1. W.J. Bear Valonis

    November 21, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I want to bring my 1967 Harley Davidson motorcycle on a trailer behind my 97 Chevy pickup to Mazatlan. Can this be done? Thanks Barbie for an informative site.I’m counting down to April 18th 2010 !

  2. Barbie


    November 21, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Bear, you’ve got me on this one :) Maybe better call the Mexican Consulate on this one…I vote yes, but that probably doesn’t count :) You may be able to count that as one vehicle per person??
    The way I understand it:
    a) A temporary import is only possible for one vehicle at a time. [Except a motor home towing a car or pickup can both be registered by the same person.]

    b) The maximum load capacity for a temporary vehicle import is 3.5 tons, not including the weight of the vehicle.

    c) You may tow with your vehicle one to three motorcycles, beach cars or dune buggies, or four-wheel motorcycles or ATVs, equivalent to the number of people traveling inside the vehicle. You must be able to provide proof of ownership for the vehicles being transported and they must be returned along with the towing or transporting vehicle.

  3. W.J. Bear Valonis

    November 23, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Thank you for your quick response. Looks like section ‘C’ in your explanation will cover my situation. Now I have to find a rental casita with a garage!………Bear

    Go for it, Bear! Barbie

  4. Pingback: Mexico Retirement Blog » Blog Archive » Can You Take Your Car To Mexico?

  5. margaret

    March 2, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I want to have my car shipped back to usa. If only my name is on title can my husband get my bill of laden and take it to customs with out me there

  6. Barbie

    March 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I replied saying I would go with your husband. Logically, you don’t want just anyone able to bring a vehicle with a title – not in their name – and ship it out of the country – any country.

  7. Nancy H

    April 18, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Is there a way I can DE-register myself from the temporary vehicule importation permit / my FM3 without driving it back to the border… I don’t believe it will make it & I have actually lost all documentation for the vehicule.

    Sunny in Mazatlán

  8. Barbie


    April 18, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Shoot Nancy, You surely knew the rules – and – – – well, I have no idea. Sorry. Maybe start at the Consulate – it seems I did hear that you can renew through the mail – but since you don’t have the original papers – I really don’t know – think you have a real problem.

  9. Sean

    April 26, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Is there a way I can DE-register myself from the temporary vehicule importation permit / my FM3 without driving it back to the border… I don’t believe it will make it & I have actually lost all documentation for the vehicule.

    Sunny in Mazatlán

  10. Neil

    May 13, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    I entered Mexico on an FMT and got a Temporary Import Permit, both valid for 180 days. During those 180 days can I fly to Canada for a couple of weeks and return leaving my car here in Mexico?

    The car permit has the folio number of my FMT on it, I’m worried that the FMT will be retained if I fly out and any new one issued when I come back will have a number that doesn’t match the car permit.

    Any idea what the rules are for this situation?

    Many thanks

  11. Barbie


    May 13, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I believe you can – as long as it’s within those 180 days. But, I’d check for sure through your local Consulate. Barbie

  12. Barbie

    February 20, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Still trying to learn this program – sorry – Barbie.

  13. Barbie -thanks to a reader

    February 20, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    A lot of you may already know this, but I just discovered something new and very helpful for those who have your vehicle in Mexico on a permit. I went to the local Aduana (customs) in Queretaro to inquire about extending my permit there as opposed to going back to the border. I discovered more than expected. The first answer is yes! I was told you don’t have to drive to the border, and any Aduana can renew your permit. That saves 24 hours of driving for me. In addition, I was told they can match my permit length to my Visa length, so instead of 6 months, it now expires in one year. That applies for an FM3 or FM2. Of course, I can not speak for all Aduana locations, I only went to Queretaro.

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