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.
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.
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.