Readers often ask me whether or not they should take their car with them when they move to Mexico. Although I normally recommend against it, I do recognize that it might be the best option for some people.
To assist people in their decision making process, I’ve created a list of eight things to consider before packing up the car with all your belongings and heading across the border.
If you plan to drive beyond the 25 Km “free zone” which is located along the border, you will have to get a Temporary Import Permit (commonly called a TIP).
Exceptions: You do not need a TIP to bring your vehicle anywhere in the Mexican states of Baja California or Baja California Sur.
In the Mexican state of Sonora, you do not need a TIP to enter the “free zone” (shown in green on the map below)
2. Car Insurance
Check your car insurance policy before coming to see if it covers you in Mexico. In most cases, you will have to get a supplemental policy that provides coverage in Mexico.
3. Lien Status
If your car is not paid off, you will need to get permission from the lien holder before removing it from the country. Failure to do so may result in a breach of contract or even a criminal charge – depending on jurisdiction.
In order to get a TIP, you may be asked to provide written authorization from the lien holder to remove it from the country .
4. Renewal Procedures (TIP)
The Temporary Import Permit can only be obtained and renewed at a border location. This requirement can become a real pain if you are far from a land border.
In case you were wondering, if you do not renew the TIP and continue to drive around, the car can be seized by the authorities. We know an expats who lost their cars that way.
5. Visa Status
When deciding whether or not to bring your car, it is important to consider which visa you plan on entering with.
Tourist card (FMM) – The TIP expires when your visa does. That means that you will have to plan a road trip to the border every six months.
Special Note: If you only have a tourist card, you may have difficulty buying and registering a car in Mexico.
Temporary Resident Visa – You can obtain a TIP that expires when your visa does. This is the best option if you want to hang onto your foreign plated car for a little while. However, after four years you will have to change to a Permanent Resident Visa (see below).
Permanent Resident Visa – You are not permitted to get a TIP. Your only option is to either nationalize the vehicle (see Section 6) or sell it. This is an important consideration when determining which visa is best for you.
6. Vehicle Requirements for Permanent Importation
Although it is possible to permanently import (nationalize) a vehicle and get Mexican tags on it, it is sometimes easier said than done. Mexico has very requirements regarding the vehicle itself and many vehicles will not qualify.
For example, only a vehicle that was manufactured in North America can be permanently imported. There are also restrictions on the age of the vehicle.
To further complicate things, the Mexican government has a history of suspending or limiting imports of this nature.
If you are pondering this option, my advice would be to contact a customs broker (agente aduanal) to determine the following: 1) if the vehicle is eligible to be nationalized and 2) the total costs involved.
7. Theft of the Vehicle (TIP)
If you have a Temporary Import Permit and the vehicle is stolen in Mexico, you may be required to pay a tax to the Mexican government equal to 40% of the value of the vehicle.
Mexico created this requirement to discourage people from dumping cars in Mexico and later reporting them stolen.
8. Vehicle Warranty
Even if your car is still under warranty in the U.S. and Canada, that may not cover you when you take it to a dealership in Mexico. I have spoken to several expats who had to pay out of pocket for repairs that would have been covered by their warranty if they had been in the U.S.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Immigrating to a new country is more difficult than simply packing up your things and moving to a new house across town. There are legal hoops to jump through and the choices that you make before immigrating will have a huge impact on how easy and stress-free your transition will be.
That’s why I always recommend that, if possible, people sell their car back home and buy one once they arrive in Mexico. It just makes life much easier and you can help out the local economy in the process.
By the way, the car in the main photo was my wife’s ¨pride and joy¨. She hated to part with it but she knew it was necessary to our move to Mexico as simple as possible.