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driving in mexico: 7 golden guidelines

As you make your final preparations for your Mexican road trip, brush up on the rules of the road. From strict laws to unspoken (but necessary) customs, these guidelines can help you master driving Mexico.

7 guidelines for driving in Mexico

1. Get your permit (if you're driving outside the Border Zone)

The Border Zone, also called the Free Trade Zone, extends 20–30 kilometers south of the border. If you're driving beyond this area, you'll need to obtain a temporary import permit (good for 6 months) from a customs office. To get this permit, you'll need:

  • Your drivers license
  • Car registration
  • Proof of identification (passport or birth certificate)
  • A major credit card in your name
  • The leasing contract (if you're leasing the car)
  • An immigration form (aka "tourist card")

You'll need to post a bond in exchange for the permit. This can be posted using your credit card and will be refunded when you cancel the permit at the border.

Once you have your permit in hand, you're ready to drive through Mexico.

2. Assume nothing

As a U.S. driver, you're accustomed to roads packed with signs, strict right-of-way laws, and traffic signals. But traffic regulations aren't always enforced in Mexico, which leads some drivers to ignore them altogether. Don't take another driver's behavior for granted — make sure you're clear before driving through an intersection.

3. Stick to the toll roads (aka cuotas)

The U.S. State Department recommends driving on toll roads for increased safety and better road conditions. So if you have a choice between a cuota and a libre (or "free road"), opt for the toll.

4. Be aware of different road elements

Road conditions in Mexico can be jarring for first-time drivers. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Topes. These Mexican speed bumps can sneak up on you. They're not always marked with yellow paint and there may not be warning signs, which can make them nearly invisible to the untrained tourist's eye.
  • Potholes. Many Mexican roads aren't government-regulated, and abnormally large potholes have been an issue for years. Some are big enough to fit half a car or trap a small bus.
  • Left-hand highway exits. Instead of using exit ramps and overpasses to get to the opposite side of the freeway, Mexico often uses the returno system. These are "pause" areas in which you can safely make your U-turn just past your intended exit.

5. Really, truly, seriously avoid drinking and driving

Mexico requires all drivers to maintain car insurance, but that coverage can be declared invalid if a driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Avoid the tequila until you can safely hang up your keys.

6. Stay alert for thieves

If you own multiple cars, drive your least flashy model in Mexico to draw less attention. Keep your car doors locked and your windows up. And if you're driving through dense traffic, make sure you maintain enough distance between vehicles to escape a dangerous situation.

7. Drive during daylight

sun

Be they carjackers or car-sized potholes you just can't see, driving at night in Mexico can be dangerous. And because of the hairpin turns and narrow shoulders, the State Department cites single-car rollovers as a common occurrence among U.S. motorists in Mexico. Driving in the daylight is easier and safer.

In case of trouble …

In case you do have an accident or encounter danger on the roads, you can contact Mexico's version of 911 at 066. If you're on a toll road, you can contact the roadside assistance group Green Angels at 078.

For a complete rundown of driving in Mexico, visit the State Department's website for Mexico travel tips.

What if I'm renting?

If you're renting a car in Mexico, you're better off renting it after you cross the border (whether by land, air, or sea). Some rental companies on the U.S. side restrict or prohibit renters from driving into Mexico, and any rental insurance you bought in the U.S. would likely not extend across the border.

International car insurance through Esurance

Thought Esurance only had your back stateside? Guess again! If you're Baja-bound, you can set up Mexican car insurance through our partner, the International Insurance Group, Inc.

Grab your free international car insurance quote and get the liability, legal, and medical protection you need to take on Mexico's tierra with confidence.

Related links

Car insurance for driving in Mexico
Learn the insurance regulations of driving in Mexico, whether you have a rental car or your own.

Driving abroad
Heading beyond Mexico? Get some pointers on driving and car insurance abroad.

Do you need rental car insurance?
Esurance tackles the myth that rental cars always need rental insurance.

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