You might be interested in buying a car in Mexico if you are considering relocating here or if you spend half of your year in the country/have a second home here. Having access to your own vehicle can make your life a lot easier, especially if you live in a Mexican City like Cancun, Merida, or Tijuana, where the roads are very similar to those in the US and are not at all pedestrian-friendly.
I have been living in Merida with my Mexican partner for close to two years. When we first arrived, we had a “free” SUV to get around the Yucatan that was provided as part of my boyfriend’s employment package.
When he moved to another job without a car, we discovered just how much more awkward it is to try and get around in the Yucatan without one. A lot of information online paints buying a car in Mexico out to be some big, confusing, bureaucratic ordeal and the reality is that it really isn’t as difficult as people make out.
Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Car in Mexico
As a foreigner, you can buy a car in Mexico as long as you have a Mexican CURP number (essentially the local answer to a social security number) and an RFC (a Mexican tax number). The only way to obtain these numbers is to be a temporary or permanent resident of Mexico, meaning you cannot purchase a vehicle here in your name if you are in the country on a tourist visa.
Most foreigners will purchase new or second-hand cars from dealerships but using Facebook marketplace to buy from a private seller is also very popular among Mexicans. Obviously, you need to do your due diligence and use your common sense when meeting and trusting someone that you find online.
Should I buy a new or a second-hand vehicle?
Unless you have the funds to buy a new car outright, it is generally better to buy a second-hand car in Mexico as the financing options offered by dealerships often work out quite expensive. Many used cars are still relatively new and in excellent condition.
You also want to think about the practicalities of having a brand-new car. Do you have secure private parking in the place where you live?
What are you going to be using the car for? Here in the Yucatan, many of the rural roads that lead to remote ruins and archeological sites like Oxkintok, Ake, and the Mayan cities along the Puuc route are bumpy, jungle roads with overgrown trees where it is very easy to scratch your car.
In many parts of Mexico, people may drive a bit more chaotically compared to what you are used to so bumps and nicks are not unheard of. Grand theft auto can happen in places like Guadalajara, Puebla, and Northern Mexico so if your car isnt going to be locked away each night in a private driveway, perhaps you don’t want your new Jeep to be out on the street.
Are cars cheaper in Mexico?
People often see Mexico as this magical place where everything costs a fraction of the price it costs in the United States and elsewhere, and that it is somewhere where they can live like Kings for very little money. The reality is different on many fronts.
Many things like cars, furniture, and gas are often just as expensive in Mexico as they are in the United States, or even more so because they are imported. The high interest rates on most financing options available to foreigners make most vehicles slightly more expensive than in the US, Canada, or elsewhere, unless you are buying them in cash.
On average, you can expect to pay around 16% in vehicle tax on the purchase of a new car. Interest rates are often as high as 25% due to the perceived “risk” of lending in Mexico.
Local laws make it difficult for banks and dealerships to repossess a car if someone doesn’t keep up with the payments on them.
It is also worth noting that vehicle prices can vary substantially depending on where you are in the country too. For example, my partner and I were first looking at buying a pick-up truck, and the same, somewhat aged truck that we had found in Sinaloa (where my partner is from) was over 50,000 pesos more expensive in Merida.
That’s a difference of almost $3,000 and we believe it is due to the distance from the US border.
Searching for cars on Facebook
Depending on where you are from, it might sound kind of sketchy and strange to buy a car through Facebook Marketplace but the reality is that Mexicans buy everything through Facebook. (I even bought my house in Mexico after finding it on Facebook Marketplace!)
You can use Facebook to search for cars in your area and then send a message to the seller to arrange a viewing. The price is usually displayed on the listing.
Depending on where you are in Mexico, the seller is not likely to speak English so take a local friend with you if you are not conversational in Spanish. Inspect the car for any damage and ask them to show you the pink slips for the vehicle.
You can also request the seller take you for a quick spin around the neighborhood in their car or have them agree to take the car for a quick inspection at a mechanic if you have any concerns about it running properly, etc. It is also important to check to make sure that the car has not been reported stolen.
You can easily do this by downloading an app on your phone called “ChecAuto MX” and entering the car’s license plate or vehicle identification number (número de serie/NIV).
Trust your gut if something seems iffy about the car or the seller. As peculiar as it may sound, buying a car through Facebook Marketplace is actually one of the fastest options because you can easily transfer or pay cash to the seller then and there and drive off with the car the same day.
Negotiating on the price of a vehicle for sale
The sales price on vehicle advertisements is usually inflated because sellers always expect people to haggle it down. If a car is listed for 35,000 pesos, for example, you can offer 30,000 or 28,000, and chances are, you will meet the seller somewhere in the middle.
If you see a couple of similar cars that look like what you are searching for and you have several options, it is worth waiting a couple of days and not making an immediate offer. My partner and I were set on buying an old-fashioned Volkswagen Beetle (“Bochito”) and all of the sellers that we met with, contacted us in the days after the viewing offering us lower and lower prices because they were eager to sell the vehicle.
Expat Mexico Facebook Groups
There are expat Facebook groups for virtually every city in Mexico and they are usually great sources of information. You can post in one of these groups to say that you are looking for a vehicle to buy, and chances are there will be someone who knows someone who is selling a suitable car.
Buying a car from a dealership
Another popular way to buy a car in Mexico is to do so via a showroom or a car dealership, known locally as “tianguis de carros”. You will find various branded showrooms across Mexico such as Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, Mazda, and Mercedes Benz as well as independent dealerships.
If you want to browse vehicles online before you head out, two of the largest and most reputable used car websites in Mexico are SoloAutos.mx and MercadoLibre.com.mx
There are some distinct differences between buying a car from a dealership in Mexico compared to doing so in the US. For one thing, the price is not negotiable in most dealerships and for another, the salespeople are often not well informed about the features and characteristics of each type of car, so it is important to do your own independent research before arriving.
Mexican tianguis de carros tend to stock fewer models of cars than US dealerships so you have fewer options to choose from.
What paperwork is required to buy a car?
When you buy a car from a dealership, you need to show your passport, proof that you are in Mexico legally (your temporary/permanent residence visa or the entrance stamp in your passport if you are waiting to obtain this), your RFC, and a proof of address in Mexico. (Can be a rental contract, house purchase deeds, utility bill, etc).
The dealership will provide you with a factura (invoice) that acts as your title deed for the vehicle and a tarjeta de circulacion (registration card). The factura should contain the same VIN number as that which is displayed on the car dashboard.
You then need to head to your local SEMOVI registration office with the same documents outlined above to register the transfer of ownership in person. If you purchased the vehicle from a private seller, the local government office might require the previous owner to attend the appointment with you along with the original factura.
You will also need to pay a small registration cost fee of between 1000 and 2000 MXN. (Circa $50 – $100 USD).
Taxes and paperwork on a used car
When you purchase a second-hand car from a dealership or a private seller, you need to check that the automotive taxes (tenencia) are all up to date. The seller should be able to provide you with receipts but if they don’t, you will be liable for paying all of the back taxes on the vehicle.
(So suffice to say, checking this is pretty important!) The Tenencia is paid at the start of the year so if you buy your vehicle late in the year, you know that the next tax bill is due in the following January.
It is so important to keep all of your car paperwork safe. If the car is relatively old, the original pink slips might be a raggedy, worn piece of paper with dozens of names and signatures scrawled on it, reflecting all of the past owners of the car. (As was the case with our VW bochito)
Keep the originals in a plastic wallet in the glove compartment and then make photocopies of everything.
Obtaining new license plates
Purchasing a car that already has license plates can make everything a lot easier so keep this in mind during your car search.
If your vehicle does not come with license plates, the process to obtain these varies from state to state, with Mexico City and Jalisco being notoriously strict. You need to apply for a validacion vehicular (validation of the vehicle) which is basically an inspection to make sure that all of your paperwork is correct and in order, and that the vehicle is legal and roadworthy.
This should only take a couple of weeks, but perhaps slightly longer over the Christmas period or Semana Santa.
You cannot drive a vehicle in Mexico without plates, but you can obtain permission to drive without (“permiso para circular sin placas“) from the Centro de Validación Vehicular.
This costs 36 pesos per day and simply requires you to stick a placard in the back of your vehicle until you obtain your new plates. An unfortunate side effect of this is the fact that the police are more likely to stop you and ask you to check your papers.
Here in the Yucatan, the police are pretty friendly and pleasant to deal with but we had bad experiences with corrupt police in Sinaloa, and Campeche states so it’s up to you if you feel comfortable driving with temporary plates, depending on where in Mexico you are based.
FAQs About Buying a Car in Mexico
Do you have any further questions or concerns about buying a car in Mexico? I have answered various miscellaneous questions that you may have about the process below.
Do I need a Mexican driver’s license to drive in Mexico?
International driving licenses are accepted in Mexico and you don’t need a Mexican license as a foreigner. If your license is not in the Latin alphabet (i.e. this one) and for example, it is in Japanese, Korean, or other characters, you will need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to act as its translation.
If you don’t currently have a driving license in any form, you can obtain a Mexican driving license as a foreigner provided that you have a tourist visa, or temporary or permanent residency.
Do I need an RFC to buy a car in Mexico?
You need both an RFC and a CURP in order to be able to purchase a car in Mexico. If you purchase from an official dealer, you will most likely be asked for one or both of these when you buy the car.
Can I buy a car in Mexico and then bring it to the United States?
You may not be able to bring your new Mexican vehicle into the United States. To do so, the vehicle must meet US safety and emissions standards, and many vehicles that are manufactured and sold in Mexico do not.
There is a list of vehicles that do meet the standards here, but this is a couple of years old so there may be additional vehicles that are currently not on the list that can be imported into the US. (I will do some research and then add the details here accordingly).
Do I need auto insurance in Mexico?
Yes. While at one point, it was not imperative for vehicle owners to have auto insurance in Mexico, for the last 3-4 years it has been.
There are numerous insurance providers in Mexico and the policies and prices can vary substantially between each one so it is worth shopping around and obtaining a couple of quotes.
Qualitas is one of the best, and the one that my Mexican partner has always used. GNP and HDI are two other popular choices.
Zurich Insurance Group operates here too, which can be reassuring to know if you are searching for a familiar name.
Do I need to buy a car to live comfortably in Mexico?
Only you can weigh up the pros and cons to determine whether buying a car in Mexico is worth it for you. If you planning on doing a lot of traveling and road trips around the country, buying a car might make sense.
In the part of Merida where we live, it is a nightmare to get around without a car, buses do not run to all the places I need to go or on logical routes, and taking Ubers and taxis everywhere can quickly add up.
If I lived in the historic center of Merida, it would be much easier to do everything on foot. If you think that you are going to stay local to your house most of the time and only do day trips occasionally, you might find that you don’t need a car and you can just rent a car in Mexico on the occasions that you do decide to go on an adventure.
Final thoughts on buying a car in Mexico
Although there may be a few quirks and differences compared to what you are used to in your own country, buying a car in Mexico is a relatively straightforward process. As with many things in Mexico, you just need to have a little patience and the right attitude.
As I mentioned, I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan for the last few years. I am always happy to chat and help out with anything that you may need so please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment below, or connect on social media.
Safe travels and enjoy Mexico!
Buen Viaje! Melissa xo