Driving Legally in Mexico

EDITOR NOTE: The police aren't the most intimidating thing in Mexico, it's the speed bumps and potholes. Many, many pesos have been spent repairing hydraulic leaks after scraping bottom over an unmarked or mile-high high speed bump in the middle of the road. Even worse, hitting a deceptive rain-filled pothole in the dark of night after an intense rainy season and not realizing it will take out your oil pan. Proceed with caution and be thankful cars are cheap to fix here.

A driver's license from most foreign countries is accepted in Mexico. If your license expires and you are living in Mexico as a resident, you'll find that getting a Mexican driver's license is fast and easy. Simply go to the nearest Transportation Secretary office (Secretaría de Movilidad in Spanish) with your passport, resident card, proof of residency, and cash to pay the fee, which costs between 600 and 1,000 pesos (USD $28 to USD $47), depending on the state. There are currently no driving tests in Mexico.

The first thing you will notice about driving in Mexico may be the speed bumps, called topes. They are everywhere, from small-town roads to major thoroughfares, and are often poorly marked. Watch out for them, especially at night, because hitting one hard can give your car a flat tire.

Another consideration is parking. Although street parking is common (even in no-parking zones), it's much safer to use a parking lot. They are easy to find and usually inexpensive at around 15 pesos an hour. Valet parking is also commonly the norm at restaurants and clubs.

Many roads in Mexico have confusing signs, especially in big cities. It's a good idea to download a navigation program like Waze to help you get around, or at least carry a map. If you get lost, don't be afraid to ask for directions, as Mexicans are generally friendly and happy to help.

Road rules are a little different in Mexico, and many drivers are extremely aggressive. It's a good idea to take it slow and watch out for people running red lights and stop signs.

There are two types of highways in Mexico: tolled and free. Toll highways are usually in good condition and safe for passage both during the day and nighttime. Although they can be expensive, insurance is included in the toll, so if you break down, a mechanic will come and help you for free. Make sure to bring plenty of cash for tolls, or if you are planning on doing a lot of driving you can get a small tag to pay the tolls electronically, at a Sanborn restaurant and online. You can calculate the price of the tolls for your proposed trip on this website.

Free highways, on the other hand, are often badly maintained and indirect. They may pass through small towns that have no street signs, so you'll have to ask directions to get back on track. Also, they are unsafe in many parts of Mexico, including the state of Michoacan and Guerrero and areas near the northern border. Always take toll highways if you can, and if you must absolutely take a free highway, try to get some advice about its current condition and avoid driving at night.

Driving in cities can also be confusing and they often have heavy traffic. Before you drive into a major Mexican city, check your route carefully. Mexico City, in particular, is easy to get lost in. If at all possible, avoid driving around Mexico City - take the metro or other public modes of transportation instead. Here is more information about travelling in Mexico.

All the major car rental companies are in Mexico, many with booths at major airports. You can find good deals on rental cars on travel websites like expedia.com, but be aware that the car insurance they offer is not valid in Mexico. You will have to pay more for the insurance once you pick up the car. So, a good idea is to go directly to car rental company websites and confirm that the insurance they offer will cover you in Mexico.

You can drive your car into Mexico from the U.S., but you will have to buy a $US 29.70 ( tax) temporary import permit. These are readily available at the border, or you can purchase them at Banjercito.

You should also buy insurance that will cover you while in Mexico. You can buy insurance outside most border crossings. Here is a sample insurance company.

Until 2017, all Mexican petrol stations were owned by the same government agency, Pemex, and prices were uniform across the country. Now Mexico has opened up to competing gas stations, although prices remain similar between them.

You don't pump your own gas in Mexico; an attendant does that. Make sure to check that the numbers on the gas pump are at $0.00 before they start pumping the gas. A common scam is to overcharge customers by already having money on the machine. Also, be sure to give the attendant a small tip, usually around five or ten pesos.

Originally Published on: Expat

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