Frauds to Avoid When Obtaining Mexican License Plates for an Imported Vehicle

Whenever a reader from the United States or Canada asks me for advice about moving to Mexico, I always start with the the most paramount piece of advice in my opinion: Don’t bring your vehicle.

The reason is simple. When it comes to permanently importing vehicles, Mexico is much stricter than their neighbors to the north.

Many foreigners bring their vehicle down with the intention of getting Mexican tags for it, only to discover that their vehicle is ineligible. Depending on their particular circumstances, their only option may be to remove the vehicle from Mexico by a particular date.

Some of them share their plight with others via social media and that’s when they’re contacted by a kind soul offering a simple solution.

The police often refer to these kind souls as criminals, fraudsters and/or counterfeiters. For the purpose of this post, I’ll be using fraudster.

Common Frauds

Fraudsters usually find their customers through word-of-mouth or social media sites like Facebook. In some cases, the fraudsters will even use an official-sounding business name to give the whole illegal transaction some appearance of legitimacy:

Here are some of the most common frauds involving vehicles:

Sale of Counterfeit Plates: The counterfeit plates normally come with a counterfeit registration (tarjeta de circulación).

In June of this year, one such operation was shut down in the state of Chihuahua . The counterfeiters were selling counterfeit plates via the Internet for $2,500 pesos.

Sale of Counterfeit/Fraudulent Documents: These documents provide a false background for the vehicle and are used to unlawfully register the vehicle with the local authorities and obtain real tags.

An example of this would be a fraudulent factura showing that the vehicle was purchased through a dealership in Mexico. These are printed on security paper and are the equivalent of a car title.

Corrupt Officials: Corruption is a problem in Mexico and some officials will provide you with license plates, licenses and supporting documentation for a fee. The information will even be entered into the official database.

Make no mistake, this one is still 100% illegal. If the corrupt official is ever caught, a check of their files and past computer entries will lead right back to their former customers.

Permanently Importing a Vehicle…Legally

By law, you must contract the services of a licensed agente aduanal (customs agent) to handle the process. To avoid frauds, you should deal directly with the agente aduanal yourself and never go through a third party.

Let’s Wrap This Up

These types of frauds are well known to the police in Mexico and it’s not unusual to see articles in the newspapers about people being arrested and vehicles being seized as a result.

The latest story that I read comes from the state of Coahuila. On September 21, the newspaper Vanguardia reported that the state prosecutor’s office (La Fiscalía General de Estado) was actively investigating a ring selling counterfeit tags and their former customers.

According to the article, they had already identified 10 vehicles with counterfeit tags and that the majority of the vehicles are owned by Americans. My guess is that the authorities have found even more vehicles by now.

As a former law enforcement officer, my advice is to avoid getting involved in these types of illegal activities because they can have serious consequences that include, but are not limited to, your incarceration and/or deportation. I don’t care how much you love your old car, it just isn’t worth the risk.

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico ( to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

18 Comments on "Frauds to Avoid When Obtaining Mexican License Plates for an Imported Vehicle"

  1. Susan Fornoff | October 4, 2017 at 11:50 am |

    Good information. I do have to say it is not easy to import a Mexican vehicle into the United States, either.

  2. Really good post. When we tried to “regularize” our vehicle after we became permanent residents it was a frustrating learning curve and I wish someone had warned us in advance. To make maters worse… we had a Canadian Car which registers KM not miles, so we had to drive it all the way back to Canada because no dealer in the USA wanted it.
    A second point about fraudulent plates, which should be obvious, is that if your plates are not legal then your insurance is void.

  3. Hi there, though we are a few years from retirement which is why we are following your blog, we will be vacationing in Playa Del Carmen and Akumal in November. We are hearing more and more about tainted alcohol. Can you tell us what you are hearing at your end? We really enjoy the blog and great job on the Spanish lessons.
    Thank you very much.
    Gene and Karen (Hamilton, Ontario)

    • You shouldn’t worry about the stories of adulterated or “tainted” alcohol in Mexico. The news stories brought special attention to the matter and government inspections of resorts and bars is at an all time high in the Riviera Maya.

      It’s important to note that the sale of adulterated alcohol is big business throughout the world — especially in Europe. In 2016, Interpol seized 260,000 gallons of it during an operation.

      Canada isn’t immune to the problem either. In Montreal, police shut down a ring that was selling adulterated wine. They would buy cheap wine, add food coloring and other ingredients, and then resell it as more expensive wine. They seized 89,000 liters of it.

      The stories about Mexico and adulterated alcohol began when a reporter was trying to explain some guests feeling ill or losing consciousness after consuming drinks while on vacation. There was no proof that adulterated alcohol was to blame but that didn’t stop the story from going viral.

      Being a former law enforcement officer, the first question that I asked myself was how hundreds of other guests could have consumed alcoholic beverages without suffering the same effects.

      In conclusion, don’t worry too much about those stories. We stay at all-inclusive resorts all the time and we’ve never had any issues or witnessed any — unless you consider tourists drinking “way too much” an issue.

      Thanks for following the blog and enjoy your vacation.

    • Hey Gene, just saw your question. We are from Townsend, Ontario. South of Hamilton and will also moving to Mexico in 2 years. Would love to get in touch with you. Here is my e-mail address Hope to hear from you!

  4. Javier Macías | October 4, 2017 at 12:48 pm |

    Great article!!
    Plus ironically (unbelievably) the transit police seems to be very bad/limited at reinforcing the law when it comes to driving well and safely (reinforcing the transit / driving laws), but very strict and efficient when it comes to making sure a car has all its documents right. I wouldn’t like to say this but this is true because many policemen and most citizens will try to negotiate “another way to fix the problem”, which in these cases are very larger sums of $$$$.
    In the central states of the valley of Mexico, there are severe laws about restricting circulation of cars that come from other mexican states depending on their last license plate’s digit, since everyday, 2 digits (hypotetically 1/5 of all cars) are not allowed to drive in Mexico city from 5 am to 11 pm, unless they are certified every 6 months as emission friendly. That plus the fact that all the cars entering or driving within Mexico city with license plates from some 6-7 central states must be certificated every 6 months as emission friendly too, and that cars from all other states need some kind of 5-7 day permit once entering Mexico to drive in it without restrictions, make Mexico city and its nearby toll highways (which also have restrictions) a mess and a great deal for the police to stop people who ignore all of the mentioned laws (which by the way are very messy too). (This could be another article for you, for the people who live in Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende and nearby areas).
    There’s also routinary (supposedly random) car inspections at the toll booths where good and corrupt policemen work hardly to find out possibly irregular situations but some others to make out one… Sometimes you’re so nervous you just can’t think or are not experimented enough, you end up scamed.
    Finally, although theoricallly you can’t get stopped just for no reason, it is well known that the police might more likely stop you if you’re driving a car (most often a truck or a SUV) that clearly was once an american car; just to make sure like you mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with its documents, otherwise, the police will go.- Bingo!!
    Like you said, best advice would be not taking their car to Mexico, plus I’ve heard importing taxes for cars are usually so high that make it almost the same buying a car in Mexico.

  5. Michael Cadue | October 4, 2017 at 2:59 pm |

    I have a paper in my car,in Mexico that says in both English and Spanish, that only an Adriana agent can check your papers, for your car
    Your opinion please. I copied the paper from an Aduana website.

    • They are the only ones who can verify your papers for nationalizing the vehicle, if that’s what you’re referring to.

  6. Reidar Hansen | October 4, 2017 at 3:31 pm |

    We have been in Q.R, for just over 2 years. We have our 3 year temporary residency and want to live here.My wife is in a wheelchair and we have a 2012 converted ramp van which is necessary for her transportation. Will we be able to nationalize the van? If not, what are our options?

    • You’ll have to check with a licensed customs agent (agente aduanal). Perhaps there is some way they can help you since you have a special circumstance.

  7. Connie Berryhill | October 4, 2017 at 4:17 pm |

    I love your newsletter. Each article is full of valuable information for people like me that are in the preliminary phase of planning. Many thanks.

  8. Rachel Stewart | October 5, 2017 at 6:27 am |

    Thanks for the overview. I will need a broker in the future The weblinks in the article on first glance appear to be for people who are brokers, not those of us who need a broker. Am I missing something?

    • The links in the article are the ones that the Mexican government always gives because the sites contain general information about the function of the agentes aduanales and the person you do select will be a member of those organizations.

  9. Juan Blacutt | October 6, 2017 at 8:56 am |

    It is also worth mentioning that there are several car makers (American and Japanese) that have assembly plants in Mexico. They put out a comparable version of cars for the Mexican market which are a whole lot cheaper than those for the U.S. market. I had imported two cars back in 2011-12 and when it came time for a new car I looked into Nissan-Mexico. I was able to buy a 2017 Nissan Versa sedan fully equipped for about $12K. I priced the same car in the U.S. and came a bit over $20K.

  10. I have 3 friends who are Permanente and who brought their cars with them years ago. Their cars now have plates issued in The District (Mexico City) and I’m curious as to how that happened. One said they knew a “guy” who did it for them. Seems iffy to me and I worry about their insurance coverage should something nasty happen on the road. We bought a Mexican vehicle and are pretty comfortable in the knowledge that we will have few problems if pulled over. Have you heard of this before?

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