If you have a Mexican license, you cannot legally operate a US registered vehicle, whether it is registered to you or not. If you have a US license, you are only allowed to operate a Mexican plated vehicle registered to a car rental company. If you hold a FM2 immigration document, any vehicle registered to you should be plated in Mexico and you should hold a Mexican driver license. This is not required of FM3 or tourist card visitors, as only FM2 is considered a ‘permanent resident’.
Getting a Mexican Drivers License
The get a driver’s license, you must visit Transito (Transit Police), where the process is simple and can take less than one hour. I found that by walking in the door and looking confused, I had an English speaking assistant walk me through the process.
What paperwork do you need to bring with you to get your license? If you have a current foreign license, you do not need to take a written examination. This is important, as, if you do not have a valid license, you must take a written exam and, unlike the US, it only comes in one flavor – español. You also need a comprobante, which is a water or electric bill, less than two months old, mailed to the address you wish to register to. It must match the address on your immigration documents or, if you are a citizen, your voter card. You must therefore, also present your current immigration papers. Two photocopies of these three documents (if you have done any business with the Mexican government you will find this is standard) are required. Cost of the license is $ 432 pesos and is valid for 3 years.
Importing Your Vehicle
The first step in registering your vehicle in Mexico if it is of foreign origin is the importation. The importation duty is based on 24% of the wholesale value of the vehicle to be imported. The car must be at least five years old and not more than 20 years old. The former is to protect the Mexican car dealers and the latter to prevent US junk cars from ending up in Mexico. The car must be in the US or there is an additional fee that can be an additional 50% of the fee. A handling charge for the custom’s agent handling the transaction is additional to the importation duty, and you should shop around for it. Some custom’s agents are no more than agents for other agents and the fee will vary as much as 100%.
Once you have selected a custom’s agent, you will deliver your car to it, and it will handle the process with customs. The custom’s process takes anywhere from 4-10 days, depending on when you deliver it and custom’s workload.
You are required to present the original car title, your Mexican driver’s license and a current US registration. Customs also wants your car completely empty so there is no question of valuables disappearing while in their possession. One key piece of information of which I was not informed in advance was that you receive your imported car in a parking lot in Tijuana after the transaction. I then had to drive back across the border to pick up the items I had purchased in California before driving south.
The cost for importing my 2000 Honda CRV was a tax amount of $ 6,800 pesos or $ 511 USD (this transaction occurred prior to the peso devaluation two months ago). The agent fees were $ 350 to the processing agent and $ 350 to the agent’s agent. With a little time to shop around this can be trimmed significantly. You should receive a new two page green Mexican ‘title’ and a factura - the tax deduction document in Mexico - indicating the import fee paid. If you have a business in Mexico, provide your RFC number to the importer so the factura for the taxable amount is issued with your information on it. While in transit, post a copy of the green title in the interior upper left corner of the rear window; this is valid for 15 days.
Getting Mexican License Plates
This process was a little more time consuming than the driver’s license. Again, you need the originals and two copies of both sides of your Mexican driver’s license, the import fee factura, the green title, and a comprobante. The Transito’s fee is based on the net value of your vehicle, and for my Civic it amounted to $ 390 pesos. For this, you receive a sexy little 2”x3” sticker for your interior upper right windshield.
The vehicle must then be inspected to see that the VIN number being registered matches the paperwork. They also check your Mexican license to be sure you don’t have any outstanding infractions, wants or warrants. Once this is verified, you will pay for the license plates, which came out to $ 754 pesos.
You then present this small mountain of paperwork to the final window, where they hand you a small plastic card with a claim number and ask you to return later in the day. In your absence, all this information is entered into the system, and when you return your temporary plates and another little sticker for the upper right of your windshield will be ready. You will have to return on a different date to pick up your permanent plates.
The whole process took about 3 1/2 hours and cost $ 1,144 pesos or about $ 85. Even though your vehicle will be registered in Baja, it is NOT nationalized, and if you wish to drive to the mainland, you are required to pay additional fees which can be for a short-term trip or for a year. The car is now legal in Baja, you can sell it and the fees you paid may be recoupable in the resale value of the car. It will also help you avoid the infraction known as DWG – Driving While Gringo.