How to Permanently Import a Used Vehicle to Mexico

Readers often ask me how they can permanently import their foreign plated vehicle to Mexico. When I say “permanently import”, I’m talking about getting Mexican license plates for it.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll be referring to the process as nationalizing the vehicle. Hopefully, that will help to avoid any confusion between temporarily and permanently importing the vehicle.

Just to be very clear…my first piece of advice to anyone who is thinking of making Mexico their permanent home is to leave their old vehicle behind. There is a very strict criteria for nationalizing vehicles in Mexico and there is a good chance that your old car — the one that you love so much because the driver’s seat is perfectly formed to your backside — won’t even be eligible.

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to nationalizing vehicles because the requirements vary depending on geography. To keep this simple, I’m going to break the geographic regions down into two categories:

Designated Northern “Border Areas”

The requirements are more lenient and the import tax is lower if you’re a resident of one of the following locations AND the vehicle is going to remain in that part of Mexico. Proof of residency is required:

The northern border area which extends 20 KM into the interior of the country. The states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, and a portion of the state of Sonora.

Types of Vehicles:

Vehicles with capacity for up to 15 passengers (cars, SUV, pickup, van) manufactured in North America. The first digit of the vehicle identification number (VIN) indicates where the vehicle was manufactured, it must be 1,2,3,4, or 5.

Age of Vehicles:

5-10 years old

Fees/Taxes:

  • If the vehicle is 5-9 years old, there will be a 1% import tax (arancel) on the value. If the vehicle is 10 years old, there will be a 10% import tax on the value. If you have a certificate of origin (certificado de origen) the import tax is 0%.
  • 16% value added tax (IVA)
  • 0.8% derecho de trámite aduanal (DTA)
  • Agent’s fee (varies)

The Rest of Mexico

Outside of the designated border areas, the requirements get much stricter and the import tax goes up.

Types of Vehicles:

Vehicles with capacity for up to 15 passengers (cars, SUV, pickup, van) manufactured in North America. The first digit of the vehicle identification number (VIN) indicates where the vehicle was manufactured, it must be 1,2,3,4, or 5.

Age of Vehicles:

8-9 years old

Fees/Taxes:

  • If the vehicle is 8-9 years old, there will be a 10% import tax (arancel) on the value. If you have a certificate of origin (certificado de origen) the import tax is 0%.
  • 16% value added tax (IVA)
  • 0.8% derecho de trámite aduanal (DTA)
  • Agent’s fee (varies)

Getting it Done

This is not one of those types of tasks that you can do yourself. By law, you have to hire a custom’s agent (called an agente aduanal) to handle the whole process for you. You should contact the agent 7-15 days prior to the date that you want to import the vehicle.

Just to be very clear: the only way that you can legally nationalize your car is through an agente aduanal. If someone tells you that they have another way to get it done, make no mistake about it — it’s illegal and you risking more than just losing your car.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The purpose of this article is only to give you an idea if your vehicle would be eligible to be nationalized in Mexico. Since you can’t do it on your own anyway, I didn’t get into the paperwork involved or the details of the importation process. If you have questions related to those or any other part of the process, you should direct them to a licensed agente aduanal.

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About the Author

Q-Roo 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 for to maximize their retirement income. In 2016, they started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) sharing their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border. The blog has been viewed over two million times and the articles have been republished in numerous periodicals across Mexico.

43 Comments on "How to Permanently Import a Used Vehicle to Mexico"

  1. Diane McNair | March 9, 2018 at 8:36 am |

    Great article Paul, sounds like a very expensive headache to nationalize a car. If you don’t mind the segue, where would you suggest we ok to buy a car in the PDC area?

  2. Christian | March 9, 2018 at 8:47 am |

    Can the car be more than 10 years old?

    • Q-Roo Paul | March 9, 2018 at 11:05 am |

      No, unless it is considered a “classic car” which is 30 years old or older.

      One of the purposes of the law is to prevent people from bringing old vehicles to mexico and dumping them here.

  3. Carrol Wiley | March 9, 2018 at 9:04 am |

    Love all the information you have in your blog. Thanks for being here.

    • Q-Roo Paul | March 9, 2018 at 11:04 am |

      You’re welcome. Thanks for continuing to follow the blog. If no one read it, we would simply turn it off.

  4. What exactly is the certificate of origin?

  5. Joan Dumas | March 9, 2018 at 10:54 am |

    Thank you for this information. Are there any restrictions on bringing a Japanese made vechile back and forth over the boarder if you plan to remain on a 6 month tourist visa? My husband and I spend many months in Central Mexico. Thank you!

  6. Thanks for the info. My wife and I are a few years away from moving to Mexico, but the topics on this Blog have been very helpful. We are still making a decision of what area south of the border will we live. I plan on 3-4 more visits to various areas. A month ago I went to San Miguel de Allende and the surrounding area for a week and then flew to Puerto Vallarta for a week. I know that I don’t want to live at either place though I will definitely go back to San Miguel. PV is too crowded and has too many American stores, restaurants ,etc… Out next visit might be to the La Paz area.
    Thanks again

  7. Hello Paul,

    I seem to recall prior articles on both temporarily importing a vehicle into MX and buying a used vehicle. Could you post up links to those related articles here. THanks.

  8. Tried to take the Harley shoirtster home I bought in Cancun but that didnt work. It had to be left behind.

  9. Beverly and Rene Patterson | March 9, 2018 at 11:58 am |

    We became permanent citizens last summer and bought a really nice used SUV from a new car dealership in Cancun. It took all the worry out of the process re legit owner or not. They had all the history paperwork available, helped us with insurance and a 30 day sticker til we could get it registered. Almost like buying a car in Canada, except for the Spanish! Love, love your blog. Really helpful. Retirees in Puerto Adventures.

  10. Dana Kerby | March 9, 2018 at 1:05 pm |

    Thanks for the article. I live in Baja California (Norte) and am Residente Permanente. I imported my 2011 Honda CRV when it became eligible. It cost about $1500 US to accomplish this. But because I live here and only go across the border every couple of months, I only get insurance for the time I’m in the US, not the $800 dl a year when it was licensed in Arizona. And another perk; I just renewed my “placas”, and with my INAPAM card (old age card) and my Mexican drivers license, it cost me less than $60 dl. for the smog test and the renewal. My Mexican full time full coverage insurance is about $300 a year. When I go to the US, the insurance is about $10 a day.
    I really enjoy your blog.

    • Q-Roo Paul | March 9, 2018 at 3:03 pm |

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Dana. It’s helpful for people to get an idea of the total costs involved. Thanks for sharing the tip about using the INAPAM card too 🙂

    • Dana, you may want to check your Mexican insurance papers, coverage in the US may be included. I too live in BC and all my policies for our Mexican plated cars include coverage in the US. I’ve used General Seguros, ABA Seguros and Qualitas. One of the first two I mentioned (I don’t recall which) limits the US coverage to 28 consecutive days each time you cross the border so you’d want to avoid that company if you plan on staying more than 28 days on one of you trips north. Otherwise the US coverage is for the same amount of time as the Mexican coverage.

  11. Latta F Little | March 9, 2018 at 1:12 pm |

    Have an exotic from England. 1st letter of VIN is S. I can’t have?

  12. Good info here. Thanks!

  13. Lyndon Turner | March 9, 2018 at 9:11 pm |

    Are motorcycles treated differently? I am moving permanently to Cozumel. I would like to bring my 1999 Yamaha Roadstar. I will enter under a temporary tourist visa but plan to apply for Mexican citizenship. I had hoped to permanently register my motorcycle then.

    • Q-Roo Paul | March 10, 2018 at 1:10 am |

      I’m working on an article dedicated to motorcycles right now. I’m just waiting on some information from a few agentes aduanales.

  14. This was very interesting to know ! Thank you

  15. Robert Christian | March 10, 2018 at 1:31 pm |

    Is the process the same for motorcycles?

    • Q-Roo Paul | March 11, 2018 at 3:34 am |

      I’m working on a separate article related to motorcycles. It should be out this month.

  16. John and wife Ari | March 10, 2018 at 9:04 pm |

    Nice to see people actually want to be on the right side of driving a properly licensed vehicle!!! Most, almost, all here in BCS, Baja do not want to be legal and get South Dakota plates. Most bitch about the roads and how bad they are but don’t want to cough up the 200 pesos a year to keep their car licensed.

    Nice work on the blog!

    • Good post! It’s not only “Americans”. Here in Ensenada there’s a large percentage of cars that don’t have current registration and many belong to middle or upper class nationals. And you’re right, many of them are the first to bitch about the roads but don’t see the irony in the fact that because they and many of their countrymen don’t pay their part the government doesn’t have the money for road works.

  17. We bought a new car hear … want to upgrade do they do trade-ins here in playa ?
    We are residents here …

    • We have been told by a few new car dealerships that they will only take a trade-in under two years old.

  18. How long do we have to register a newly bought used car after the purchase? Basically, I want to buy a car in Playa while still in U.S. so I think that part can be done, but how about registering it while not there? I’m coming in 2 months but found a car I like and would like to not lose it 🙂

    I have a Mex corp. through which I bought my condo, so I would probably register it to the company name as well, I assume… Thanks for all you do, BTW. I love reading your blogs and Spanish lessons are great too!

  19. My fiance and I purchased a used car in the U.S. and we will be moving to La Floresta in July…I can get a certificate of origin from the original dealer but it will be a copy, is this good enough to eliminate the import tax? I don’t think that the original can be given out, even though you own the car.

  20. Cars have to be 8-9 years old to permanent import (get mex plates) or asling as the vin starts with 1,2,3,4,5?

    • Q-Roo Paul | May 28, 2018 at 6:34 am |

      It depends where you are planning on living. For the majority of Mexico, 8-9 years old AND a VIN beginning with 1,2,3,4 or 5.

  21. Lyle Renner | May 31, 2018 at 2:21 pm |

    I was led to believe a car can be temporarily imported and the paperwork can be surrendered at the Belize/Mexico border and the vehicle can be used in Q.Roo state as it is a free zone,butcannot leave the state.There was also some mention of NOT going onto federal property(ie.international airport property)

    • Q-Roo Paul | June 2, 2018 at 9:39 am |

      Hi Lyle,

      I have been hearing expats talk about this since we arrived but I would not recommend doing it. Here’s why:

      The belief that a temporary import permit is not required in Quintana Roo comes strictly from the fact that the state of Quintana Roo is designated as a border region (región fronteriza) by SAT for the purposes of many import laws and the accompanying taxes. Here is the definition that I am referring to:

      Región fronteriza
      Los estados de Baja California, Baja California Sur, Quintana Roo y la región parcial de Sonora; la franja fronteriza sur colindante con Guatemala y los municipios de Caborca, Sonora, Comitán de Domínguez, Chiapas, y Salina Cruz, Oaxaca.

      The problem is that when it comes to the temporary and permanent importation of cars to Mexico, all of the supporting documentation, laws and regulations make a very clear distinction that the “special terms” — meaning no need for a TIP — only apply to the franja o región fronteriza norte del país (northern border strip and region).

      A few months ago, a friend of ours was driving on 307 through Playa del Carmen when he was stopped by a federal police officer. The officer was threatening to two his car for having an expired TIP sticker.

      My friend called his lawyer who spoke to the officer — to no avail, at least at first — and the lawyer followed it up by sending a document to my friend’s phone citing a law that says that it is not necessary to get separate permission from SAT to extend the TIP once you have received permission from INM to remain in the country beyond the date of the tip.

      On a related note, there is a requirement to notify SAT; however, the purpose is only to notify them of INM’s action and ensure you don’t lose your deposit on the TIP.

      Long story short, the officer let him go ONLY because he did have a TIP and a valid temporary resident card. If he did not have a TIP at all, the car would have been seized.

      I hope this was some help.

      Paul

  22. Awesome information, really it’s work for me… great dear thanks for the sharing beautiful and fantastic blog..

  23. Hi Paul,

    Great info. and blog.

    Is there any number of car dealers you would recommend in the Q. Roo area ?

    2nd question if I may, is it true Q. Roo does not have ‘tenencias’ obligations as does the Yucatan state?

    Thank you!

    • Q-Roo Paul | June 6, 2018 at 9:25 am |

      We don’t have a specific recommendation; however, we have found that it’s easier if you use a dealer in the same municipality where you live. That way they can assist with registering the car without having to rely on using an address that isn’t yours located in their municipality (more common than you would think).

      Quintana Roo has been waiving the tenencia for several years now. We never know if that will continue until the governor announces it.

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