Legalizing Cars in Mexico: Exporting Cars to Mexico and Keeping Them There

An image showing a young couple driving a vintage car up a winding road as the sun goes down. The car is a white cabriolet with the roof pulled down

Many people want to import cars into Mexico but don’t know how. The laws for importing a vehicle into Mexico can be complicated and confusing if you’re not familiar with them. If you have any questions about the process of legalizing cars in Mexico or exporting vehicles to Mexico and keeping them there, this article is for you!

How to Bring a U.S. car to Mexico and Legalize It

The first step of the process of legalizing cars in Mexico is to decide what kind of residency status you’ll be on while you’re in Mexico.

There are three main types of residency statuses that we’re going to focus on in this article:

  • Forma Migratoria MĂșltiple
  • Residente Temporal
  • Residente Permanente

Visitor Permit

A visitor permit is just that — permission to enter the country and stay there for less than 180 days. Some countries don’t require a visa to enter Mexico as a tourist or visitor; however, for those from countries with a visa requirement, they’ll have to get an FMM or Forma Migratoria Multiple (otherwise known as a visitors permit).

Temporary Resident

A temporary resident in Mexico is a foreigner who wishes to reside in Mexico for more than 180 days but not longer than four years. A temporary resident visa is approved for one year, but you can then renew it three times. After the four years are up, and if the person wants to continue living in Mexico, the temporary resident must apply to be a permanent resident.

Permanent Resident

This image shows a lineup of people of different ethnicities standing in front of a large resident card graphic

The process for becoming a permanent resident is entirely different and a bit more formal. Suppose you want to live in Mexico indefinitely (over the four years granted for a temporary resident). In that case, you’re going to have to apply in person at the nearest Mexican Consular Office closest to where you live. There are several requirements to accomplishing this; for the most up-to-date steps, contact your local Mexican Consulate and get the latest from them.

The reason it’s essential to understand what kind of residency you will have while in Mexico is because that will determine how you go about legalizing your car in Mexico since there are different steps for each one.

Visitor Permit Process for Legalizing Your Car in Mexico

Suppose you’re traveling to Mexico on a Visitor Permit as a tourist or other visitor. In that case, you can legally import your car to Mexico for as long as your Visitor Permit is valid. So in most cases, that means that you can keep your vehicle in Mexico for up to 180 days. However, you are required to export your car out of Mexico before the permit expires. One thing to remember is that the visitor permits cannot be extended or even renewed beyond the maximum time of 180 days, so you’ll want to make sure you plan accordingly.

Temporary Resident Process for Legalizing Cars in Mexico

If you plan on not staying in Mexico indefinitely, you’ll want to go this route. The first step is getting an import permit before your vehicle arrives on Mexican soil. This document lets officials know that they should allow your car through and that you’ve followed all the appropriate regulations. This import document is called a TIP, or Temporary Import Permit, and it tells customs officials that your vehicle is legalized for the whole time you’re in Mexico. Your temporary resident permit also has to remain valid for the duration of your TIP.

Permanent Resident Process for Legalizing Cars in Mexico

One of the drawbacks of a permanent residency in importing your car is that you cannot bring your vehicle into Mexico using a TIP. The purpose of your permit doesn’t matter. As long as it’s a permanent residence permit, you’ll have to formally import your car. Most people would advise you to hire a specialist customs broker to import the vehicle for you. This is because the rules for importing cars formally into Mexico can be complicated and hard to understand.

However, if you don’t want to go that route, you can always do it yourself. Keep reading for some things to understand before you go this route.

What Cars Can Be Legalized in Mexico?

As of now (and this can always change based on new Mexican laws and regulations), only North American vehicles can be registered in Mexico, including the following vehicle types:

  • cars
  • vans
  • trucks
  • SUVs

If you’re not sure whether or not your car was manufactured in North America, then check the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). If it starts with a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, it was made in North America.

One thing to remember is that unless you are an official import company, you can only import one car into Mexico. So don’t try to import multiple vehicles, even if they are different types.

What Year Cars Can You Import to Mexico?

In addition to requirements on the types of vehicles Mexico allows you to import into its country, there are also requirements on the year the car was manufactured. However, this specific requirement is different depending on where you will be living in Mexico.

If you’re going to stay in the northern part of the country, you’re allowed to bring in your vehicle as long as it’s between 5 and 10 years old. Again, this requirement is specific to the following Mexican states:

  • Coahuila
  • Nuevo Leon
  • Tamaulipas
  • Chihuahua
  • Sonora
  • Baja California

If you’re planning on settling more to the south (beyond 20 km of the U.S-Mexican border, however, your vehicle has to be between 8 and 9 years old.

Can You Import a New Car to Mexico?

In the previous sections, I talked about some of the requirements to import a used car to Mexico. You can import a new vehicle to Mexico, but it will cost more (which I’ll discuss in the next section).

One thing to remember that for a car to be considered new, it has to meet the following requirements:

  • It has to be invoiced directly to the importer by a manufacturer or one of its dealers, which means that you can’t buy it from your cousin or friend.
  • It has to be either the current model year or the following year’s model. This means that in 2021, a car manufactured in either 2021 or 2022 would be considered a new car.
  • The odometer must have less than 621 miles or 1,000 kilometers. This is especially important to remember because going even one mile over this specified amount will change the category of your car from new to used.

If the car doesn’t meet the three requirements above, it will be considered a used car, which will also change the requirements and cost of importing your car.

How Much Does it Cost to Legalize an American Car in Mexico?

One of the biggest questions you probably have is the cost of legalizing cars in Mexico. The first cost that you’ll have to worry about when legalizing a vehicle as a permanent resident is the cost of hiring a customs broker. Different brokers will cost different amounts of money, so it’s probably a good idea to shop around and find one that fits your budget while still doing everything you need to get done.

According to Mexican law, anyone who wants to import a car must hire a broker to facilitate the process. That means that you can’t do it on your own.

In addition to the broker fees, you’ll also pay import dues.

If your vehicle is between 5 and 9 years old, you’ll have to pay a 1 percent tax on the vehicle’s value. However, if your vehicle is ten years old, you’ll have to pay a 10% tax on the vehicle’s value. In addition to the import tax, you’ll also have to pay the following fees:

  • 16% value-added tax (VAT)
  • 0.8% customs processing fee (DTA)

So, let’s say that you import a 5-year old car that the Mexican authorities deem is worth $20,000. You’ll have to pay at least the following amounts:

  • $200 import tax
  • $3,2000 VAT
  • $160 DTA
  • Custom broker fees (which vary)

Remember that these numbers can change at any time, so it’s best to contact a customs broker a few weeks before you plan on exporting your car to Mexico, so you have the most current amounts.

Related: Safest Place to Live in Mexico

What Type of Documentation Will Be Needed to Export Your Car to Mexico

To export your car to Mexico, you’ll need to be meticulous about gathering all the required documentation.

First off, you’ll need the title of the vehicle. Not only does the title need to be clean, but it also needs to be in favor of the importer.

Next, you’ll need to provide proper proof of emissions testing. This is usually in the form of an emissions certificate that has been officially presented to you by the state where you had the emissions test done. You’ll also need to be able to verify the certificate online. One thing to remember is that you’ll still need an emissions certificate even if the state in the U.S. where you’re coming from doesn’t require one.

You’ll also need the proper documentation that correctly pertains to the residency status you’re applying to when moving to Mexico. If you’re moving there permanently, you’ll need your permanent visa permit in your passport. In addition, you’ll likely need an official paper given to you by the National Immigration Institute that outlines your status while in Mexico.

Finally, you’ll need your vehicle registration documentation so that the customs broker can ensure that everything is legal regarding the vehicle.

Can I Use Someone Other than a Broker?

I want to reiterate the importance of using a broker if you plan on legalizing cars in Mexico. You must use a customs broker to import a vehicle for you. If someone says that they can do it for you for cheaper or save you time and are not a licensed customs broker, they are breaking the law.

While that can have severe consequences for them if they get caught, it can also be detrimental to you because you could risk losing your car. So always use a licensed professional.

Related: Amazon Deliveries in Mexico

Moving to Mexico by Car

An illustration of the United States of America with a large handheld stamp bearing the Mexican poised above it. On the map are the words Mexico Tariff

If you plan on moving to Mexico by car, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to make the transition smoother.


Suppose you have a warranty on your car while in the U.S. Remember that the warranty might not transfer to a dealership in Mexico. You might have to pay out of pocket for repairs in Mexico that a dealership would have covered if the car were in the U.S. or Canada. Double-check with your warranty company before working to legalize your vehicle in Mexico so that you don’t meet up with any surprises.


If your car has a TIP, and the vehicle gets stolen while in Mexico, be careful. You could be on the hook for 40% of the value of the car, which you’d have to pay to the Mexican authorities. The Mexican government instituted this law to prevent people from taking their vehicles to Mexico and purposely abandoning them in the country before going back home.

Lien Status

If you want to take a car to Mexico that you haven’t yet paid off, you’ll need to get authorization from the lien holder (like the bank or loan company) before taking it across the border. This authorization will allow you to export your car across the border; however, be aware that not all banks will authorize you to do this. It would be best to either pay off your loan first, or if you’re going to buy a new car, talk to the loan company first to make sure it is willing to work with you on this.

Car Insurance

Not all car insurance companies or policies are created equal. This fact is especially true when exporting your car from one country to another. In the case of shipping your vehicle to Mexico, you’ll need to check with your current car insurance company to see if it covers your car while in Mexico. While they might cover it while your vehicle is temporarily in Mexico, it’s improbable that the insurance company will cover any damages to your car once you officially legalize your vehicle in Mexico and get Mexican license plates.

Can I Give My Car to Someone in Mexico?

While you can give your car to anyone you want in Mexico, that doesn’t mean that you should. If you have imported your vehicle under a TIP, it will still have foreign plates, and a Mexican national is not allowed to drive a car with foreign plates. So legally, you shouldn’t do it.

In addition, as I mentioned previously, if you leave your vehicle with someone else and try to cross the border back into the United States, the Mexican government can accuse you of trying to dump the car and charge you 40% of the value of your vehicle.


As you can see, legalizing a car in Mexico is not an easy process. But if you follow the regulations and use this guide as your map, it’s possible to get there! Just make sure that when you’re at each step of the way- from buying a vehicle or registering one with the government -you read all of the information available so that nothing slips through the cracks. For more help on how to legalize your car in Mexico, contact us today!

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