Bringing Your Vehicle with Foreign Plates to Mexico


This guide provides an overview of the regulations and essential points to consider when importing a vehicle with foreign plates into Mexico.

Navigating the Border:

Mexico enforces specific regulations and requires permits for the importation of vehicles with foreign plates. This guide outlines the legal requirements to keep your vehicle in Mexico.

Overview of Vehicle Import Regulations in Mexico:

Here’s a brief rundown of the current regulations. For a comprehensive explanation, refer to our detailed article on import permits.

– Vehicles with foreign plates may enter Mexico without an import permit if they stay within the 25km border zone or any designated Free Zone.

– To drive beyond the 25km border zone or outside Free Zones, visitors and temporary residents must secure a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) linked to their vehicle. The vehicle must exit Mexico before the TIP’s expiration.

– Vehicles within designated Free Zones near the borders can remain in Mexico indefinitely, as long as they are legally registered in their country of origin.

– Permanent residents are ineligible for a TIP and cannot import a foreign-plated vehicle into Mexico, except within Free Zones where a TIP is unnecessary.

Securing a Temporary Import Permit (TIP):

To drive past the 25km border zone or outside Free Zones, you must obtain a TIP before entering Mexico. TIPs are not issued within Mexico or at internal checkpoints.

Free Zones include the entire Baja California peninsula, a specified region in Sonora, and the state of Quintana Roo. Driving outside these zones without a TIP may lead to vehicle confiscation.

Temporary Import Permits:

For more information on TIPs for foreign-plated vehicles, visit the Banjercito website.

For Visitors with FMM (Visitor Permit):

Tourists with a visitor permit can import their vehicle using a TIP, valid for up to 180 days and non-renewable. Failure to export the vehicle before the TIP expires results in deposit forfeiture and potential vehicle confiscation.

For Temporary Residents:

Temporary residents, with or without work rights, can import their vehicle with a TIP, expiring alongside their residency card. If using a temporary residency sticker, the TIP lasts 30 days, requiring a customs office visit upon receiving your residency card.

Departing Mexico Without Your Vehicle:

Your vehicle remains legal in Mexico as long as the TIP is valid, regardless of whether it’s linked to a visitor or temporary resident permit. TIPs are non-renewable and expire, rendering the vehicle illegal and subject to confiscation.

For Permanent Residents:

Permanent residents cannot obtain a TIP but may drive a foreign-plated vehicle within Free Zones. To drive outside these zones, permanent importation (Mexican registration) is necessary, often requiring a Customs Broker due to complex regulations.

Permanent Residents with Foreign-Plated Vehicles:

Permanent residents cannot maintain a foreign-plated vehicle outside Free Zones. Options include:

– Permanently exporting the vehicle.

– Exporting and re-importing with a Customs Broker.

– Selling to a temporary resident after export.

– Exporting via sea vessel.

Safe Return’ Procedure:

For “illegal” vehicles or status changes from temporary to permanent residency, apply for a “Retorno Seguro” permit from SAT, allowing five days to export the vehicle.

Free Zone Regulations for Sonora, Baja California, and Quintana Roo:

In Sonora’s Free Zone, no TIP is required. For travel outside this zone within Sonora, a “Sonora Only” permit is needed. Beyond Sonora, a TIP is mandatory.

Guidelines for Foreign-Plated Vehicles in Baja Peninsula and Quintana Roo:

Baja Peninsula:

  • No Temporary Import Permit (TIP) is needed for foreign-plated vehicles in Baja California and Baja California Sur.
  • Ensure your US or Canadian license plates and any associated stickers are valid throughout your stay.
  • Transferring your vehicle from La Paz to the mainland via ferry subjects it to the standard import regulations.

Quintana Roo:

  • Driving within Quintana Roo’s state limits from Belize doesn’t require a TIP.
  • A valid TIP is crucial if you plan to drive outside the state boundaries to prevent vehicle confiscation.

Port of Entry and Exit:

  • With a TIP, exiting Mexico doesn’t have to be through the same port of entry. For instance, you might enter via the US border and exit through Belize, or enter through Nogales and leave via Laredo.

In Case of Loss, Theft, or Abandonment:

  • Abandoning a foreign-plated vehicle incurs a 40% tax on the car’s value by Aduana (Mexican Customs).
  • A structured process exists for those whose vehicles are stolen or totaled, involving police reports, customs forms, and notarization to cancel the TIP without the tax penalty.
  • Neglecting to pay the tax forfeits future rights to import foreign-plated vehicles into Mexico.

Vehicle Donation to Mexican Customs:

  • There’s an option to “donate” your vehicle to Mexican Customs. Further details are available on the Mexican SAT website.

Source: Mexperience