Mexico: Our Experience Getting New License Plates

Pretty riveting title, isn’t it? I’m sure that more than a few readers have opted to skip over this article altogether. If you’re still reading these lines, I applaud your confidence that I will somehow make the story of picking up our license plates interesting – I’ll try not to disappoint you.

Tags for the Masses

Every three years, they change the design of the license plates and require everyone with a vehicle to get brand new tags. Yep, you read that correctly – everyone gets new tags in the same year.

Mexico has 31 states and each state is responsable for designing and issuing it’s own license plates. I live in the State of Quintana Roo and there are over 450,000 registered vehicles here. That’s a lot of license plates.

Issuing hundreds of thousands of license plates in one year creates several logistical problems and long lines are inevitable. The process this year was further complicated for two reasons: 1) the new license plates were late and didn’t arrive until March; and 2) the government offered discounts for paying prior to March 31.

The fact that the tags hadn’t arrived yet didn’t stop thousands of people from going to their local tag agencies to pay early. Many wanted to take advantage of the discount, knowing that they would have to come back on a future date to pick them up. People are very patient here in Mexico.

The newspaper published some pictures of the lines at some of the offices and they reminded me of a crowd waiting for Walmart to open on Black Friday. Needless to say, I have been dreading the day that I would have to pick mine up.

A Lucky Break

Over a week ago, the newspaper reported that the new tags were finally in and were being delivered to the various government offices around the state. I still hadn’t seen a single new plate during my travels, so I didn’t even bother to stop by our local office in Tulum.

Last Saturday, a childhood friend of mine flew in to visit me from Florida. He had never been to Mexico before so I was showing him around Akumal. After visiting some beach spots, I decided to show him the pueblo side and we headed to one of my favorite restaurants, Tequilaville.

When we pulled in, I noticed that there was a tent set up a few businesses down. I asked the owner of the restaurant what the tent was for and he replied that the government was issuing the new license plates. He told me that it was a one day event and that they were about to close.

WHAT?!!!

I ran down to investigate and I saw several of the staff members that I recognized from the tag agency in Tulum. There was no one in line and I went right up to the counter. I told her that I didn’t have any paperwork with me and asked what I needed to get my tags.

Since I had just purchased my car a few months before, she said that all I had to do was give her the temporary permit from the window along with a copy of my identification.

As she was talking to me, she was making copies on a printer/scanner on the desk. I asked if she could make a copy of my identification and she said no. By the way, that’s not an unusual response. It’s always your responsibility to bring copies of all of your documents, including your own identification.

I looked at my watch and I was down to 15 minutes until they closed. I asked if there was a place to make copies nearby and she just shrugged her shoulders.

There wasn’t enough time to go home so I started asking people walking by if there was a business that made copies. One man said that I could get copies at a store around the corner. I was still in this thing!

I quickly removed the temporary tag from my car and with the theme to Mission Impossible playing in my head, I ran – yes, I literally ran – down to the store with my identification in hand. After getting my copy, I ran back and arrived with only a few minutes to spare.

The woman I had spoken to earlier smiled at me and then took my documents. She entered the information into the computer and a few minutes later, I walked out victorious with my new tags and registration.

Time required to get new tags: 12 minutes

Let’s Wrap This Up

Most of my experiences at government offices in Mexico don’t require this level of cardiovascular fitness; however, it was still preferable to having to wait for hours at the main location. I hope I’m this lucky in three years.

About the Author

Q-Roo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) is a former lieutenant from the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. During his 25-year career, he received numerous commendations to include two of the agency's top honors: a Meritorious Service Medal and a Medal of Valor. In 2015, Paul retired and moved to Mexico with his wife. He now spends his days enjoying the Riviera Maya and blogging from the beach.

27 Comments on "Mexico: Our Experience Getting New License Plates"

  1. We had no problem getting our new plates in Tulum. We paid online in January to get the discount and when the plates were available we went in took our number and started to wait. Wait time was about 2-3 hours so we went to Mateos and had lunch. When we got back to the office we were only 4 numbers out and we waited 15 minutes and walked out with our new plates.

    • You timed your lunch well. Of course 2-3 hours to wait would have killed me. I’m not used to that. Wait time at the DMV where I used to live never exceeded 30 minutes. I should work on my patience…lol.

  2. Linda Gosslin | March 23, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Reply

    Great story, and so typical. We’ve lived here 18 years and still stumble into serendipitous solutions like that. This year we discovered that an employee where we live will do all the dirty work for us for a small fee. What a blessing!

    • I was considering doing that too. I paid other people to change over utilities into my name etc because I absolutely hate lines.

  3. Tom Cruise personified. Way to go, Paul! Deb and Joe : )

  4. Here on Isla, also in Q.Roo the car plates came in finally but motor scooter plates still not here. The new car plates are plain and ugly.

  5. Replace “reasonable” with responsible.

  6. I learned about how you had to be responsible for your own copies in Mexico when trying to get library cards for my kids. I thought I could just bring in all the forms needed and they would make the copies for me, NOPE! I made the copies from my condo and return a few days later to try to get the cards processed. The librarian asked me when I wanted to come back to pick up the cards. She gave me 2 options, I could pick them up Saturday or Monday which were about 3-5 days from then. So, in the end it took me 3 trips to the library and a full week to get our cards. Patience is a virtue.

  7. Hi Paul, how about the opposite problem. Taking a Mexican car out of Mexico to the states or Canada. What are the legalitys there? By the way, I like your wife’s choice in cars. The Dodge Challenger is a real head turner. Thanks, Neil.

  8. Took me 6 minutes to get my plates in Progreso. Similar times for friends.

  9. That was riveting! Good work!

  10. Now I know why the transito office was packed when I went to get my drivers licence the other day! One kind gentleman in the crowd( calling it a line would be very misleading) suggested I come back in April! Thanks for letting me know the “why”.

  11. I stood in line in Chetumal half the day and no plates. The system could really use some improvement. Next time I will pay the guy to do it for me.

  12. Quick question Paul, for those of us that have paid the renewal fee online and have the receipt in our vehicle what do you think the forgiveness level will be if we try to avoid the lines in Tulum and wait until April to pick up the plates?

  13. Well. . . .for those that skipped this one because they thought it would be boring really missed out!!! You had me on the edge of my seat through the entire read. I love awesome opportunities like you had here. Thanks for the info and great humor.
    Nancy 🙂

  14. An amazing story. I’m glad the Mission Impossible turned into Mission Possible!
    The whole process probably varies from state to state and even town to town. We had special circumstances in Jalisco because of importing a motorcycle, but I would like to share two takeaways from our two more recent years in Michoacán:
    1. Do NOT let the need for transferring plates from one state to another occur during the process of everyone else in your state getting new plates. There were no Mission Impossible scenarios–only lots of patience.
    2. Pay “efectivo.” If for some reason the credit/debit card transaction does not appear to complete and you pay cash, you may find several days later, that the connection was reestablished and therefore you paid twice. In Mexico the merchant does not fix the problem. You have to appeal directly to the bank (read several trips to the big city). More patience!

  15. We live in Puerto Morelos. So far I’ve made 3 trips to Cancun to get a ‘cambio de propiedad’, still without success. First day arrived at 8am, way too late, second time was a Monday, told that they don’t do cambios on Mondays, third time (today) I arrived at 6:10am and was told the 100 fichas that they pass out each day for changes had been exhausted at 5:30am (the office doesn’t open until 7:30, but someone is outside passing out fichas). I was advised to come at 9 or 10pm and still in line all night! What??!!! Can I go to Isla or Tulum to make a change of ownership? I will also need plates. Really appreciate any advice. It really tempts one to forgo the process completely and drive illegally….

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