Buying or Selling a Used Car in Mexico

If you’re moving to Mexico and you’re in the market for a used car, chances are that you’ll be buying it directly from the owner. That’s because used car lots aren’t as prevalent here as they are back in the States.

The procedures and paperwork for buying or selling a used car are a little different from what people from the U.S. or Canada are probably familiar with, so I decided to dedicate an article to the topic.

This one is going to run a little longer than most of my articles. Sorry about that, folks. There’s a lot to cover.

Safety First

If you’re buying a used car from a stranger, you should be aware that there are plenty of frauds and scams out there. I suggest you read the following before meeting with anyone or sending them money:

7 Tips to Protect Yourself From Scams When Buying a Used Car in Mexico

Now that we have the safety part out of the way, let’s move on to the boring paperwork part of the process.

Paperwork

Head down to your local tag agency, called a recaudadora, with the following:

Factura

In the United States, each state issues vehicle titles to indicate the owner of a vehicle. It works very differently in Mexico where the proof of ownership is actually a special sales receipt (called a factura) issued by the dealership.

The vehicle facturas are printed on security paper that is very similar to the type used for vehicle titles in the States.

The seller transfers rights over to the buyer by signing the back of the factura and writing something like this:

Yo (sellers name) cedo la propiedad de este automóvil a (buyer’s name), como nuevo propietario de dicho vehículo.

(municipality), a 12 de febrero de 2019 — obviously change the date.

Signature

For the linguistically-challenged, here’s the translation for the first line: I (seller) concede the ownership of this vehicle to (buyer), as the new owner of said vehicle. 

Don’t take up too much space on the back of the factura because each time the vehicle is sold, you’ll have to repeat this step.

Tarjeta de circulación

This is a card similar to a registration in the States. This will be turned in with the old license plates by the seller.

Carta responsiva

You’ll need some type of sales agreement between the buyer and the seller. Some offices are stricter than others and may request something called a carta responsiva, a legal document that signs the vehicle over to the new owner. It is signed by the buyer, seller and two witnesses.

You MUST include copies of everyone’s official identification — including the witnesses. Make sure the signatures match the ones on the identification provided or the form might not be accepted.

You can download a PDF of one of these forms HERE.

Proof of payment of past registration fees and taxes

You’ll be required to show proof that all past taxes and fees have been paid. The last time I helped a neighbor transfer ownership of a vehicle, they asked for five years of records.

If you don’t have proof for a particular year, you may be required to pay the taxes for that year.

Proof of address

This one is for the buyer. The preferred proof of address in Mexico is the electric bill, also known as a CFE bill.

If someone else’s name is on it, they may ask you for something in writing from the person whose name appears on the the bill along with a copy of their identification.

Copies, copies and still more copies

Government offices in Mexico will not make copies for you, so make sure you bring copies (black and white) of every document and everyone’s identification. When copying the factura, the copy should be two-sided.

Tips to Make It All Go Smoothly

The buyer and the seller should go together

This is a big one. If a document needs to be redone or there are outstanding fines, fees or taxes on the vehicle, you can take care of those things fairly quickly if all of the parties are present.

Bring your own screwdriver

On one of our recent trips, borrowing a screwdriver to take off the old tags and put on the new ones turned out to be the most difficult part of the process. From now on, I always bring one along.

Bring the vehicle

Part of the registration process often includes a physical verification of the vehicle identification number. Unlike many jurisdictions in the States, they just don’t take your word for it down here.

Visa Considerations

I’m not talking about your credit card either — I’m referring to your immigration status.

Generally speaking, a non-citizen cannot register a vehicle unless they have either a temporary or permanent resident visa. This is a source of frustration for many Americans and Canadians that enter the country with just a tourist visa.

I used the term “generally speaking” above because the rules and procedures vary from state to state and even office to office. So, just be aware that there is a possibility that someone might ask you for some immigration paperwork when the time comes to put the car in your name.

Let’s Wrap This Up

The cost of transferring a vehicle into your name and getting tags for it can vary by jurisdiction. I’ve helped several of my fellow expats do it over the past couple months and it came out to about $3,800 pesos each time.

For you folks that you have trouble doing the conversion without taking your shoes off, that’s around $200 USD.

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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 to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences, as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

22 Comments on "Buying or Selling a Used Car in Mexico"

  1. My wife is at a police facility right now, trying to get plates for a car that her son bought, that was sold by a used car dealer. This first stop in licensing is to check to see if the car is stolen. The building has no real parking lot, so people are double-parking next to the fast lane on the highway near Puerto Vallarta. Scary! It’s becoming an adventure as well, as she just told me two men left with police officers, after one of them was told to collect his things from “their” car.

    This car has all of it’s paperwork, we believe, but you never can tell. If they arrest my wife, I’ll let you know! (She does speak fluent Spanish, thank God!

  2. The best and safest way to buy a used car in Mexico is from one of the many new-car dealerships that have a “pre-owned” lot on site. Often they come with a limited warranty. Purchasing from an individual is a real roll of the dice. I would never do that unless the seller was a personal friend, and even then …

    This ain’t Topeka, Toto.

  3. Great information.

  4. Fred Ouellette | February 12, 2019 at 1:27 pm | Reply

    Great infirmation: How about bringing a vehicle into Mexico registered in Ohio.

  5. YAAY! Everything is working out so far! She’s NOT under arrest, LOL! My wife’s son’s car is not hot, but the license plates have to be obtained somewhere else. Also, she found out that the used car dealers usually take care of the plate hassle for the customer, but the newbie salesman at this dealership, didn’t know about that service, so now we have to do it. Just as well – I didn’t know you needed a screwdriver!

    Thanks for another timely article, Paul!

    • I’m glad no one went to jail…lol. If I were you, I would go back to the car lot and have them take care of getting your plates.

  6. Thanks for the great advice.
    Probably better to buy brand new, to avoid the hassles and have a new car warranty…

    • That’s was the best option for us too. The problem is that most new car dealers in this area won’t take a trade-in, so you may have to sell it yourself down the road (no pun intended). That’s when you’ll need to refer to this article…lol.

      One of our neighbors had a car less than a year and wanted a bigger one. None of the new car dealers would take it as a trade-in. The standard answer was, “We don’t do that.” But in Spanish, of course.

  7. Is it possible to drive your own car when moving to Mexico and just license it there?

  8. Maybe I missed it in the article but the name of the registration office is Recaudadora.

  9. I will throw in my 2 cents as I export vehicles to Mexico (Sonora/Sinaloa) for retail sale.

    Safety: I always have my representative meet a potential buyer at an active public location normally hosting armed security (i.e. my bank parking lot – or the Mercado where municipal police and/or private security stroll around). I always have any $ exchanges transacted at my bank.

    Paperwork: Most serious buyers will want to independently have the factura, pedimento if applicable, etc. audited at the local tax office before any purchase transaction. I dispense a copy to the buyer of needed documents and let them authenticate on their own. DO NOT hesitate to insist upon such documentation.

    Quality control; unfortunately, there are no AutoChecks, Carfaxes, US DOT title searches in Mexico. I personally think it is imperative to pay for a thorough inspection of the mechanics & body appraisal of the vehicle. Mexico is full of very competent seasoned mechanics.

    U.S. import; If you have reason to think (dashboard in English, MPH, VIN begins with 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5), or the vehicle is advertised as a U.S. import, run a vehicle condition report from the U.S. even if it is outdated or turns up blank. It could provide a slew of valuable info.

    DO NOT continue any further dealings with seller if a pedimento and factura are not readily available to inspect and verify. WALK AWAY if seller puts forward any nonsense and/or offers other incentives to compensate (i.e. license plates, U.S. title to vehicle, etc.)

  10. We own a vacation home there but live in the USA, eventually would like to buy a car there because we spend a lot in car rental. Do you know if owning a house there but not being resident will allow us to buy one?
    Thanks

    • Owning a house means that you won’t have any trouble with the “proof of address” part of the process; however, it won’t help you if the particular government office you’re dealing with is particularly strict and asks for a resident card.

      Before running out and buying a car, you should ask some expats in that area if they were able to register a vehicle there without a resident card.

  11. what about new cars? will the dealer help with it?

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