Buying and Registering a New Car in Mexico

It’s Holy Week and the beaches are packed with both foreign and domestic tourists. It’s one of the few times of the year that I avoid the beaches and dedicate myself to some alternative activity.

Yesterday’s activity was helping our new expat neighbors buy and register a new car. They’re from the United States and have lived in Mexico for less than a month.

One of the advantages of moving to a tight-knit expat community like ours, is that there is always someone willing to help you get things done and learn about your new home. Several of our neighbors helped us when we first arrived and we’re merely carrying on the tradition.

Since the car buying experience is a little different here in Mexico, I thought it would make an interesting article.

Car Purchase

In some ways, buying a new car in Mexico is much easier than it is in the United States because the prices are non-negotiable. In fact, the price you see is the exact price that you pay. It already includes sales tax, commissions and fees – but not license plates. I’ll address getting those later in the article.

Since there is no negotiation, car buying consists of choosing the model, the color and the package. The salesperson then requests copies of the buyer’s identification (passport) and proof of residence (electric or water bill).

We translated for the neighbors during this process because no one at the dealership spoke English. It’s also important to note that all of the paperwork will be in Spanish, as well as the vehicle’s manual.

Paying for the vehicle

You can finance a vehicle, although I don’t know any expats who have chosen that option. The normal way to pay for a new car is through a bank transfer. Some dealerships will allow you to pay for the car using a credit card.

If you’re wiring money from your bank back home, this process can take several days. In the case of our neighbors, the foreign wire transfer too exactly seven (7) calendar days to go through. As soon as it did, they were able to obtain their new vehicle.

Registering

The task of registering your new vehicle falls on you.

Car dealers often tell their customers that they can drive for 30 days either without a tag or with just the invoice for the vehicle taped in the window. Although this is commonly done, the supervisor at the tag agency told me that there is no legal basis for the practice and that the driver can still be fined by the police.

The supervisor explained that when you buy a new car, you have to take it immediately to the tag agency to obtain the license plates. If you are unable to do that for some reason, you are required to go to the local police department to have a temporary permit issued.

For the purposes of this article, I’m using terms like police department and tag agency to avoid confusing the readers. Here in Quintana Roo, the agency that issues license plates is la Secretaría de Finanzas y Planeación (Sefiplan). See what I mean? Referring to it as the tag agency is much simpler.

Paperwork and copies

Government agencies do not make copies in Mexico and it’s always your responsibility to bring your own. That includes copies of your identification. To save time and money, ask the car dealer to make extra copies for you.

You’re going to need copies of the following documents: the factura (similar to a car title), your passport, and proof of address (e.g. electric bill).

Some offices will also request proof of legal status, such as a temporary or permanent resident card. We were asked for our resident cards and CURP (Mexican population code similar to a social security number) when registering a car in Playa del Carmen.

Getting it done

When you bring your new vehicle to the tag agency, they will visually inspect the vehicle identification number (VIN) and compare it with the one listed on the factura. You then present your paperwork to the cashier and pay the registration fees.

After that, you’ll wait around for what seems like an eternity for your number to be called. Then when it finally is, you’ll be issued your new license plates and registration card (tarjeta de circulación). The registration process took us about 2.5 hours to complete. Patience is not only a virtue in Mexico – it’s a necessity.

By the way, no one spoke English at the tag agency either.

Let’s Wrap This Up

There are three lessons to be learned from this experience: 1) Spanish is a necessary language in Mexico (that’s a no-brainer), 2) always carry copies of all your documents, and 3) it’s helpful to befriend some more experienced expats to show you the ropes.

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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.

28 Comments on "Buying and Registering a New Car in Mexico"

  1. For those buying a used car, in addition to the above, make sure the previous owner(s) have signed the rights of car over to you on the back of the factura and that you have a copy of the ID of ALL previous owners. Also, you will need receipts (and copies) that all tenencia fees have been paid for as long as the car has been owned.

    Although they have much of this in their computer system (when working) it is YOUR responsibility to provide all of these things. Don’t expect them to just “look it up” to verify the previous fees have been paid, etc.

  2. How did the price of the car compare to buying the same car in the US? Also, it would be interesting for you to write a blog on who can bring a car across the border, and what the rules and restrictions are on that. Thanks for another interesting post.

    • Hi Helen, the dollar is strong so the prices are very good for Americans. They don’t sell this particular model in the United States. I did write a post about temporarily bringing a car across the border and I’m working on one related to nationalizing the vehicle. There are very strict rules for that.

  3. Great info. Thank you

  4. Thanks for this very helpful article. I’d also know what to do about buying a used car and registering it in Mexico.
    Steven Cohen, San Miguel de Allende

  5. Do you need to have the Curp or can you just use your Temp residence card? If we need the Curp where do we get it and do you know the cost? Some people say you don’t need it but one dealer (used) wouldn’t sell to me unless I had it.
    Thanks you’ve always been big help for info for us 🙂

    • We had a temporary resident card and they wouldn’t let us do it in Playa del Carmen until we had a CURP. We wnt back to immigration and they had us fill out another form to have that issued. It took a couple of days. In Tulum, they never asked for any immigration documents whatsoever. It just depends where you go.

  6. Nancy Rairdan | April 13, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Reply

    Hi Paul, is the CURP the same as our Permanent Resident Visa card? Sorry, I’m confused.
    Nancy:)

    • No, it’s an alphanumeric code they issue each resident alien and citizen. One you get the permanent resident card, you fill out another requestat immigration to be issued your CURP.

  7. Bernard Farmer | April 13, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Reply

    How timely a blog article! Do you know if Nissan of Tulum will take a credit card?

  8. Hi Paul, great info. One question, compared to registration fees in the US, was it less expensive or similar in cost?

    • Normally, it is similar in cost but they sometimes charge an extra tax called a tenencia. That extra tax is based on the value of the vehicle and it is waved by many states — Quintana Roo is one of them. Unfortunately, they often charge it the first time you register a car anyway. So, the car in the picture cost $427 USD to register due to the tax. Next year, it will cost about $17 USD.

  9. Rick & Flower Plourde | April 13, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Reply

    Hi Paul,
    Great article since we will be moving to Mexico later in the year and undecided about buying there or bringing a vehicle with us. We are looking forward to learning about the used car process as well.
    Thank you for all the helpful information.

    Your future neighbors Rick & Flower

  10. Good article. My experience buying a new car was easy and pleasant. We found the car we wanted, talked to the sales lady and told her it would be a cash transaction. In that case, she informed us we would receive a 6,000 pesos price reduction. Good news! She also told us people buying with cash (or bank transfer but not credit card) should as if there was a discount for cash. Our dealer obtained a transport permit so we could move the car from Cancun to Isla Mujeres and avoid paying twice to do a new registration. We learned that although the plates are state issued the circulation permit is done by municipality. I found that a little strange since in the state I moved from one could go to any vehicle registration office throughout the state. All in all, we really enjoyed the process and have become friends with the car sales person. No hassles, no pressure no hidden costs.

    • Yes, some car manufactures offer two prices: cash and credit. Chevy does that, Nissan does not. Great story, Bob. Thanks for sharing.

  11. My hubby just bought a new work truck in Jalisco and this was pretty much his experience. Thanks for such a clear explanation!

  12. I have bought a new car here in Playa del Carmen. Before the sale was closed I requested that the salesman do all of the leg work getting it road ready. Two days later we picked up the car and had to do nothing. Use it as a purchasing tool because as mentioned they will not dicker on the price.

  13. Bradford Arnsparger (Brad) | April 14, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Reply

    Boom! Again… You “ran the wheels off” of this topic too Paul “r-r-r.” Kudos. Nice job.

  14. Another awesome and most useful article! Thanks Paul!

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