Renting a car in Mexico is a good way to get around the Latin American country. Opting to do so gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility than having to depend on public transport.
However, as with driving in any foreign country, there are a few things to know about renting a car in Mexico before you go ahead and pick up your Mexico car rental. It is also worth noting that hiring a car may or may not be the most appropriate option for you depending on your itinerary.
Renting a Car in Mexico
Renting a car in Mexico may or may not be the best option for you depending on your itinerary. If your trip is focused on a specific region of the country (i.e. the Yucatan), renting a car in Merida can help you to get to the cenotes, caves (grutas), and Pueblo Magicos that are not so easy to reach by bus.
Conversely, if you are trying to visit several Mexican states in a short period of time and you are going to be flying between them, it might work out easier to base yourself in each capital and take day trips out from there. Similarly, if you are basing yourself in Mexico city, it is better to depend on the local transport as navigating the chaotic roads can be nightmarish.
Renting a Car in Mexico Gives You More Freedom
Public transport in Mexico can leave a lot to be desired, even in the more touristic states such as the Yucatan and Quintana Roo. Getting around by bus can sometimes mean that you have to make multiple changes to get to your end destination.
Additionally, there are some charming small towns and villages in Mexico that become virtually inaccessible to you without a car. It may seem all well and good to rely on buses and colectivos (shared minivans) at first.
However, sometimes you will find that you are waiting around in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time, unsure as to whether your bus is going to show up or not. Similarly, you may find that there is little to no information online regarding the journey that you hope to make.
All of this can be very anxiety-inducing. Even fascinating historic Mayan ruins become places that you write off because it sometimes feels that it is not worth the stress, and potentially a 5-6 hour journey just to visit something for 30 minutes or so.
Is it Safe to Rent a Car in Mexico?
Safety is a lot of people’s main concern when traveling to Mexico, and the same rings true when looking into Mexico car rental companies. Generally yes, it is safe to rent a car in Mexico and drive here.
However, there are some caveats that come with that. A lot of them are common sense but worth reiterating.
For instance, you should not drive between cities at night and you should try to avoid driving alone at night in general if you are a solo female traveler. Stick to the main roads where you can and try to avoid rural backroads.
Check the US Government advisory boards’ advice for Mexico travel and the different states. Sometimes it may seem a little sternly worded and can lead people to feel unnecessarily apprehensive about visiting Mexico.
But unfortunately, the truth is that there absolutely are those states where you have to be more careful than others and those that you should try to avoid full stop. For instance, the road between Palenque and San Cristobal in Chiapas sees a lot of robberies and roadblocks by local thugs.
Border towns such as Tijuana are generally not all that safe, especially not at night, and the same is true of roads in Sinaloa and the Acapulco area. As a rule of thumb, you should map out the areas you are considering driving in Mexico and then do some research online and in travel forums to see how safe they are.
What Do I Need For Renting a Car in Mexico?
It is very easy to rent a car in Mexico provided that you have the necessary license and insurance. Driving licenses that use the Roman alphabet are accepted in Mexico.
Travel with your valid driving license
US, UK, Australian, New Zealand, and most European driving licenses are accepted here. If your license is written in another alphabet – e.g. Cyrillic or for instance, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean characters, you will need to get an International Driving Permit.
An IDP is both easy and affordable to obtain. However, the specific process that you need to follow to get one varies depending on which country your driving license was issued in. You can find more information here.
A valid credit/debit card needs to be on file
You will be asked to provide the details of your credit/debit card when you pick up your Mexico car rental. It is generally better to put your credit card on file as credit cards have more security and consumer protection than debit cards.
Depending on the specific Mexico car rental company you go with, a different amount of money may be held as a damage deposit. This is where it is important to use your credit card – because if you use a credit card, a temporary hold is placed on your card.
Meanwhile, if you use a debit card, the amount is removed and then later refunded. It is imperative that you read the small print to clarify the specific terms of the company that you are using. If you opt for full coverage, it is likely that you will not be charged a hold at all.
You should be between 21 and 75
Mexico, like a lot of countries, has age restrictions in place in terms of the minimum and maximum age you can be to rent a car. This may vary from company to company.
However, generally speaking, the minimum age for most Mexico car rental companies is 21 and the maximum age is 75. If you are under 25, you are likely to be charged a higher fare for being a young driver. This can be as much as $15-$20 USD per day.
Check and photograph your car before you drive it away
When you pick up your Mexico car rental, you will usually be asked to fill in a checklist that discusses the condition that your car was collected in. With the aid of the rental office worker, you will take a quick browse around the vehicle to make sure that everything appears to be in order.
It is in your own best interest to check the car thoroughly as you will be charged for any undocumented damages when you return it. Take photos of the car’s interior and exterior so that you have proof of what it looked like when you picked it up.
Your cell phone photos will be time-stamped so it is easy to prove precisely when they were taken. Unfortunately, car rental scams do happen occasionally so it is better to be safe than sorry. This is not exclusive to Mexico, you can have bad luck with rental companies anywhere in the world.
Understand insurance requirements
Car insurance is a prerequisite for renting a car in Mexico. At a minimum, you need personal liability insurance.
Full coverage is not essential but it is better to purchase this for your own peace of mind. There is, unfortunately, a lot of sketchiness that surrounds Mexican car insurance.
A lot of companies will pressure you into purchasing their insurance and tell you that you must buy it from them. If you have purchased insurance elsewhere, they may tell you that that is not valid/enough and that you must buy theirs.
In general, to save yourself stress and headaches, you should aim to purchase insurance from the Mexico car rental company that you rent the car from. Full insurance coverage usually means that there are zero deductibles.
However once again, it is imperative that you read the small print. Some things, like minor damages, tires, windows, keys, and windscreens are not covered by some companies under their full coverage.
If you purchase full coverage, you may not be required to pay a deposit, or you may be required to pay a small deposit of around $100 USD. Keep in mind that if you only opt for limited liability insurance, the deposit can be as high as $750 – $2000 depending on the company.
Go with a reputable Mexico car rental company
If you use comparison websites to search for a vehicle when renting a car in Mexico, you will find wild fluctuations in the prices listed. Obviously, you want to find a good, reliable vehicle for as economical a price as possible.
However, if something looks suspiciously cheap and too good to be true, it generally is. As a rule of thumb, you should stick to renting cars from reputable, international companies that operate around the globe.
If you filter on aggregate car rental platforms by price to show the lowest cost first, you will see rentals for as little as $6-$8 a day. This is far too low and such low prices do not include taxes, insurance, and fees.
Book at your peril. Just be prepared for an exorbitant increase in price when you arrive at the rental office.
Choosing your Mexican rental car
A number of well-known international rental companies operate in Mexico. For instance, Europcar, Avis, and Rent-a-Car.
From a total cost perspective, you can expect to pay $30-$40 a day for your rental. This includes insurance.
There are some horror stories when it comes to small, independent rental companies in some Mexican states and cities. If you are traveling somewhere in Mexico where options are limited, check past reviews online before you reserve anything.
Sometimes using a small rental company is unavoidable and often, the experience of using them can be completely fine. However, there are absolutely those companies that use a fleet of cars that appear as though they should have been taken to a junkyard and scrapped for parts 10+ years ago.
Unfortunately, some Mexico car rental companies do indeed have a history of incidents. For instance, someone rents a car, the car breaks down, the rental provider has to come and collect the tourist, and the car simply goes back into the store.
The customers of these companies are tourists and therefore they do not offer much repeat business. So, some companies try to get away with continually renting out the same defunct cars repeatedly. This is why it is important to check past reviews.
Think carefully about your pickup and drop off locations
One way rentals can be much more expensive than renting a car in Mexico where you are going to return your car to the original pick-up point. So, if you are planning an itinerary with the view to drive your rental car from one point to the other, be sure that you are informed about the cost of doing so.
Can you drive Mexico rental cars into the USA and vice versa?
Most Mexican car rental companies do not allow you to drive their vehicles into the USA. There may be exceptions, but this is certainly not commonplace.
If this is something you want to do, you can contact the rental company before arriving in Mexico and double-check. However, you are likely to be stopped at the Mexican border if you try to drive into the United States with a Mexican vehicle.
On the other hand, you can often drive US vehicles into Mexico. If you are going to be traveling in both countries, you are best advised to rent separate rental cars in each.
Returning your rental car
When you return your Mexican rental car, it is expected that you return it in the same condition that you found it in. This is where taking photos when you first pick up the vehicle comes in handy.
If there is any debate about anything, you have photographic, time-stamped proof. You should take photos once more when you drop the vehicle off. That way you have covered yourself if you should be unfortunate enough to deal with a shady rental office.
Driving in Mexico – What to Expect?
Driving in Mexico is not as intimidating as it may sound. The roads here are generally very well built and maintained.
Mexicans drive on the right-hand side of the road – just like in the USA and much of the world. You may see people speeding or driving chaotically from time to time just like anywhere.
Just be aware of your surroundings and focused on your own driving.
Respect the speed limits
Provided that you respect the speed limits and local laws, you will be fine when renting a car in Mexico. Speed limits in Mexico are measured in km/h.
The maximum speed limit on a Mexican highway is 110 Km/h. On main roads, the limit is up to 70 Km/h.
The speed limit in built-up areas (vías locales) is up to 40 Km/h. In pedestrian zones and close to schools and hospitals, it is 20 km/h.
Speeding in Mexico comes with fines of between $50 – $150 and an unnecessary headache that is best avoided. Not to mention, the police here are often corrupt and will request bribes should they catch you doing anything wrong (more on that below).
Look out for speed bumps (topes) while you are renting a car in Mexico too. You will find them on a lot of main roads and they are never signposted.
Respect the local road rules
Mexican road rules are not so different from those anywhere else in the world. Speeding is an offense, as is driving under the influence, using a phone while driving, and driving without wearing a seat belt.
Just be sure to respect all of the local rules when renting a car in Mexico. Sometimes you will see police cars stationed along the highway or driving along main roads.
Stick to driving along toll roads
A lot of the major roads in Mexico are toll roads (autopistas/carreteras de cuota). These run between a lot of major cities, towns, and tourist attractions in each state.
Sometimes you will have an alternative free road that you can take (carreteras libres). Although tolls can be frustrating and can add up, taking the toll roads is preferable.
These roads are generally better maintained and most people opt to use them. Toll roads can be distinguished from non-paying roads as they have the letter D next to the road number.
Always carry plenty of small notes and change in Mexican pesos just in case you should pass a toll. You are more likely to be a victim of crime along a free road so it is better to be safe than sorry.
Download an offline map
Be sure to download an offline map before your trip to Mexico. Maps Me is a good option.
In some parts of the country, you will find that you are without any signal or phone service whatsoever, even if you have a Mexican sim card. There is nothing worse than driving down an isolated road to a Mayan ruin, realizing there is zero signal in the area, and panicking about how you are going to remember driving back again!
Police and border checkpoints do exist
When you cross state lines in Mexico, you will usually pass through a police checkpoint. Sometimes, police stop cars at random to check what is inside and check the identification of the people in the car.
Statistically, you only have a small chance of being stopped but it may happen. So, always make sure that you carry your FMM tourist visa with you when traveling in Mexico and ideally, your passport, or at least a photocopy of your passport.
Sometimes police do ask for bribes
Unfortunately, a lot of the police in Mexico are corrupt and it is not uncommon for them to ask for bribes should you get into an incident. This is relatively rare but not unheard of.
Drive carefully and try not to give them a reason to stop or bribe you. The police will ask for money in exchange for not giving you a ticket or a fine for speeding, not watching where you were going, etc.
Unfortunately, sometimes, it is not unheard of for police to stop you for no reason and make something up on the spot. Of course, you can refuse to pay them and argue back. They may just let you off with a warning or they may insist that you pay them a fine.
Visiting gas stations in Mexico
Gas stations in Mexico are full service. In other words, when you pull up to the pump, you tell an assistant what you need and they will fill your car for you.
Often, as one person fills your car, another will wipe your windshield and clean your windows. Tipping in Mexico is important and the same is true when interacting with gas station staff.
It is important to be aware of the various scams that you could become a victim of in Mexico. Sometimes, some gas station workers will give you less gas than what you paid for.
Always check the meter before they fill up the tank.
Do you have any additional questions about renting a car in Mexico or planning a trip to Mexico in general? I live in Merida and I am always happy to assist with any questions or queries that you may have.
Feel free to drop me a comment below and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP. Safe travels! Hasta Luego! Melissa xo