Moving to Mexico: The One Thing that Many People Wish They Had Done Differently

Akumal Bay (Source: Q-Roo Paul)

We’ve received more than 5,000 emails from our readers, many of whom are fellow expats living in Mexico. The expats normally write me to share their personal experiences or ask for advice.

Those emails have definitely accelerated my learning curve when it comes to Mexico and they have also been the inspiration for many of my articles.

Here are two very interesting facts about those emails:

1. I’ve never corresponded with a single person who regretted their decision to move to Mexico.

2. Of the people who say they wish they had done something differently, more than 80% name the same thing.

So, what was that one thing? The majority wish that they had not brought their car to Mexico.

A Common Problem

Importing a vehicle into Mexico is not as simple as merely driving it across the border. Mexico has strict regulations when it comes to importing a vehicle, especially when it comes to importing one permanently.

Many expats from the United States or Canada begin their new lives with in Mexico with a temporary resident visa, which allows them to temporarily import their vehicle into Mexico for the duration of that visa.

Depending where you go in Mexico, you may be required to get a Temporary Import Permit (known commonly as a TIP). The TIP decal is attached to your windshield and it clearly shows the date the expiration. This makes it easy for the police at the checkpoints to see if your vehicle has been in Mexico too long.

For the next four years, they happily motor around Mexico with a car that still bears the tags from their former home.

This is where the headaches and legal problems begin for many of them.

You are only permitted to have a temporary resident visa for a maximum of four years, after which, you have to apply for a permanent resident visa — or leave. The problem is that Mexican law prohibits you from continuing to “temporarily import” a car once you get a permanent resident visa (Ley Aduanera, Art.106).

This leaves most expats with only two options: 1) remove their car from Mexico prior to obtaining the permanent resident visa, or 2) permanently import the vehicle, also known as nationalizing it.

The second option sounds great, right? Well, that one may not even be an option for you, depending on the age of the vehicle and where it was manufactured. I told you Mexico was strict when it came to permanently importing a vehicle.

By now, I think you can see why many expats say they would have done this one thing differently.

Let’s Wrap This Up

My first piece of advice for anyone who wants to permanently move to Mexico is to sell your old car and buy a car in Mexico. It will make your life so much simpler in the long run.

If you want to read more about importing a vehicle, check out 8 Things to Consider Before Taking Your Car to Mexico.

**Additional notes: 1) the import rules are different for RVs; 2) a temporary import permit (TIP) is nor required to drive in the baja peninsula, the free zone of Sonora or within 25 km of the border. 

Updated: August 20, 2017

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About the Author

Q-Roo Paul

Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years and retired at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He moved to Mexico with his wife six days later to enjoy a laid-back, Caribbean lifestyle on a tight budget.

In 2016, Paul started a blog to share information with other people who may be thinking of making the move to Mexico. The blog, Two Expats Living in Mexico (qroo.us), has been viewed over a million times and Paul’s articles appear in periodicals across Mexico.

40 Comments on "Moving to Mexico: The One Thing that Many People Wish They Had Done Differently"

  1. Michael Anderson | August 18, 2017 at 9:12 am | Reply

    Mucho Gracias for all your help Q-Roo Paul!!! I love all your emails too!!!
    Take care and be well always,

    Michael Anderson

  2. Three of us are taking possession of a home in Ajijic in November. I cannot tell you how valuable your posts have been. Thank you and keep giving great advice to those of us moving to Mexico.

  3. Gayle Collins | August 18, 2017 at 9:25 am | Reply

    Add my name to the list of expats who wish they’d never brought their US car to Mexico.
    Well done article.

  4. Whenever I see posts about cars, I think about what I learned last year- that cars built for use in Mexico are not manufactured with the same safety standards that cars built for use in the USA. Even if they are built at the same manufacturing site.

    It bothers me. Next time I rent, I want to find the safest Mexico built car to drive. I haven’t been able to find any good websites yet. Only have found the ones with the bad news.

  5. Love your info about Yucatán!! We adore Playa del Carmen! We are moving there in Oct—-3 generations of us! Thanks for all the information you give, quite valuable. Evelyn, Jennifer and Lexi

  6. I bet the second thing that many expats wish they had done differently is move to Mexico sooner! 🙂

  7. A pal of mine moved to Mexico City and he said he regretted even buying a car there due to the way people drive there – – worse than Chicago, is what he told us.

  8. Thank you Paul for all your valuable information that you blog to all of us. We just purchased our plane tickets for December, have sold our home and are going to rent a condo in Bahia for a year to see how we like living there and make our decision on whether we want to build on our lot in Tankah. Selling our cars here to.

  9. I must be in the 20% who looked the importation rules and said, “there’s no way this can actually work.” Perfectly good car dealers in Playa. I just celebrated the first anniversary of owning my Mexican-purchased Ford Escape. Buying in Playa was extremely easy.

  10. Thank you for your articles. Considering a permanent move to this area very soon, so all of the advice is very helpful. Also due to the industry I am in, this information is very helpful for me to pass along to my clients and ease their fears about Mexico in general.

  11. Do you know if it’s possible for someone with a temporary visa who has driven down to sell the car to another NOB person going back to the US who can then sell it there?

    • I’ve heard of people selling cars to other expats. The one problem might be getting the car back to the U.S.

      If there is a TIP, it will clearly say who the person is that registered for the temporary permit. According to SAT, the vehicle can only be operated by either the importer or their spouse, siblings, descendants or ascendants. If the person you sold it to is driving alone and gets checked, the vehicle might be seized.

      We had a neighbor lose her vehicle because she had an expired TIP and it was checked during a road trip to visit friends. That just proves that there are cops out there who look for such things.

  12. Hi, Jill. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it because you have some unique rules in your state regarding the importation of vehicles. Most expats find out about this when they obtain their Temporary Import Permit (TIP) or are denied one because they already have a permanent resident visa. Since your state doesn’t require that document to temporarily import a vehicle, you are unaware of it.

    Under federal law (Ley Aduanera Artíulo 106), only foreigners with a visitor’s visa or temporary visa are permitted to temporarily import a vehicle into Mexico. That’s why people have problems when they change to a permanent visa.

    Since your area does not require the extra requirement of obtaining a TIP, it’s easier for people to get away with it there. Unless you pass through a checkpoint where they are specifically looking for vehicles of this type (which they do occasionally) and you stay in that part of Mexico, you are not likely to have a problem.

    Since it’s easier for people to roll around with foreign tags in your area, many people do it perpetually and the government loses a lot of money in taxes. To combat that, they conduct operations in your state (usually at police checkpoints) to check foreign-plated cars to see if they have been imported illegally etc.

    These vehicles are frequently called carros ‘chocolates’ and you can google the term along with the name of your state to learn more. If you read your local papers, you’ll likely see it mentioned from time to time.

    http://www.elvigia.net/general/2016/6/6/autos-placas-extranjeras-pueden-acreedores-multas-pesos-238645.html

  13. Hi Paul, When someone buys a car in Mexico and goes back North for the summer, what options exist to store the car until one returns the following winter?

    • Most of the people that I know just put a car cover over it and ask their full-time friends to look after it.

  14. We bought a used car here in Playa, 2005 Honda civic it’s a bit of work and you have to be sure all the paper work is in order or it just won’t work, you’ll have to go back and forth so the one thing I would say it triple check all paper work! We had no problems as we new all the paper work that was needed.
    Your blog has help us out several times and we love it 🙂 You have also answered my emails promptly when I had a few questions and wanted to say thank you!

  15. That for sure wraps it up for me. I’ve been on the fence leaning towards selling our vehicle before moving to Mexico. Now I’m sure thats how to proceed.
    Thanks once again Paul, the information you share with us is invaluable.

    Rick

  16. We love your blog Paul, thank you. Just moved to the Yucatan about a month ago. Did our research, found our cars would not be eligible to import, and sold them. We just completed the process to buy a new car in Merida. It took several trips to the dealership to complete the registration, as they insisted my husband leave his permanent resident card with them and he did not feel comfortable doing this. So they told us of an alternative option which was to go to the federal prison building to get a “no penales” form completed. Once there we did not have all the forms we needed (one being his birth certificate translated by an authorized person into spanish!) so back we went to the dealership. This time we agreed to leave his green card. Next day off we go to the registration building to spend the day in a long line until our turn, but we did get it done and received our registration and our plates. Even with this lengthy process we would do it again rather than have the hassle of dealing with an imported car. And we are learning the valuable lesson of patience to live here. Nothing gets done immediately, there is always a “come back tomorrow” step involved. This is a small price to pay to live like we do here in this lovely country.

  17. We have permanent residency visas for Mexico. We bought a truck and a motorcycle in Mexico and imported one of our motorcycles we owned in the U.S. because my husband really wanted that bike in Mexico. It has been nice to have it in Mexico, but I can attest to the fact that it was a pain to import it, even with the help of “professionals,” took longer at the border on both sides than was anticipated, and was expensive. We chose to do that, but people should be aware that it is not an easy or cheap process. Then when nationalized, it has to be plated in your state. Another huge hassle. As always, your article provides valuable information.

  18. My “one thing” guess would have been learned Spanish. Interesting article, Paul. Thanks!

  19. Donna Norstadt | August 21, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Reply

    Sidneymeltrick. I purchased a US plated vehicle from a person who had driven it down to Mexico and when he got his permanent visa it had to go. I was on my temporary visa. He went and had the TIP removed in Chetumal. After I purchased and registered it in my state in the US. I went to Chetumal and got my TIP. This was good as long as my temporary resident visa was good=1 year. Before it expired I returned to Chetumal, got the TIP off the vehicle and got my refund. I now have a 3 yr temporary visa. I plan on trying to sell it to another expat in the same situation or getting another TIP and driving it back. To the US. Anyone interested in a 2006 Volvo XC90 with 135,000 miles? I have already purchased a Mexican plated vehicle.

  20. I’ll be moving to Mazatlan in the next few years … my plan is to dispose of my car and walk/use public transportation. If I have need to drive, I’ll rent a car for a few days. Things would likely be different were I moving somewhere without decent public transportation.

  21. What about motorbikes?

  22. I’m one of the many who brought a car down ( from Canada) and enjoyed 4 blissful years. Then became Permanente’ and tried to nationalize my car. Paid almost 1000 dollars to a reputable agent along with many others in Manzanillo. Needless to say, it was a scam and good bye money. So ended up driving the car back to Canada ( 6 days). A Perfect end to the story… the transmission went at the Canadian/ USA border. The repair would have been more than the car was worth. Gave it to a charity. Then went back south and bought a car in Mexico.

  23. Hey Paul, The one thing we wish we had done differently is we should have come sooner. We have loved Merida for years and now that we are finally residents to this amazing city. We sold almost everything including all three of our cars (broke my heart to left my Porsche’ go) but knowing that importing rules – it just didn’t seem to make any sense. We are shopping for a new car now and assume it shouldn’t be a problem to find one, there are dozens of dealers in the city… including a Porsche and Mercedes dealer, so there seems to be some good choices.

  24. Enjoyed this post, Q-Roo. Arrived in Ajijic, Jalisco in April 2017 from Highland Village near the SPCA in Lakeland. Thanks for your many years of service keeping us safe. Good luck to you in your Mexican adventure!

    • Thanks! I’m very familiar with where you are from in Lakeland. Enjoy Ajijic! I’m sure we will get over that way someday.

  25. Please confirm if you can that the conditions of having a US registered car in Baja sur are different. I believe that because we are not required to have a TIP It doesn’t seem to matter if we have a temporary or permanent green card here to continue to keep our US registered car here. I have neighbors that have lived down here for many years and are still driving US cars.

    • Bill, that area does not require a TIP at all, that is mentioned in the article, so many foreigners keep their foreign plated car permanently. However, that state does conduct enforcement operations to locate cars that have been permanently imported and never “nationalized”. They do seize vehicles etc because it costs them a lot in lost tax revenue. Luckily for most foreigners, the targets of this enforcement are primarily Mexicans.

  26. So, you could drive in with all your stuff, rent a place then go back to the states and sell it before the tip expired, right?

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