Wednesday, November 21st 2018

Driving in Mexico with Foreign License Plates

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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Driving in Mexico City with foreign plates

Driving in Mexico with foreign plates can be concerning. You might wonder: Is there a standard legislation throughout all of Mexico? Does it vary from state to state? Can you drive in Mexico City with a foreign plated car? This article explores the ins and outs of driving in Mexico with foreign license plates.


In many cases, it is prohibited to drive in Mexico with foreign plates if you are a Mexican citizen. Mexico simply doesn’t want Mexican citizens to avoid government restrictions by importing American cars without the proper taxation and registration.

The expectation is that the car driven in Mexico will be registered in the same country as the driver’s license or International Driving Permit. In some cases, exceptions can be made—like a European tourist who rents a car in Texas and drives across the border. However, it is necessary to have all the proper paperwork ready for your trip to Mexico. To learn more about bringing a rental car across the border, click here.


Mexico City has a problem with pollution, and because of this it has instituted a system of vehicle circulation based around the day of the week. In Spanish, it is said that the car does not circulate (no circula). This system—called Hoy No Circula—is in effect in all 16 boroughs of Mexico City, as well as 18 municipalities in the surrounding State of Mexico.

Previously, low-emission vehicles were exempt from this vehicle circulation schedule, however as of spring 2016, all vehicles must abide by the rules. Each vehicle has a day when they are not allowed to circulate—and it is designated by the final number of their license plate. Then the registration sticker is color-coded to indicate what day of the week the car does not operate:

  • Monday: Yellow – Plates ending in 5 and 6
  • Tuesday: Pink – Plates ending in 7 and 8
  • Wednesday: Red – Plates ending in 3 and 4
  • Thursday: Green – Plates ending in 1 and 2
  • Friday: Blue – Plates ending in 9 and 0

*Vehicles are also barred from circulating one Saturday a month on an alternating basis.

Cars with foreign plates from the United States and Canada are exempt from the Hoy No Circula system, as are all cars that are smogged in Mexican states without an emissions testing reciprocity agreement—which are mostly the states surrounding Mexico City. All you require is a pase touristico. For more information on how to obtain one, click here.


If you are a Mexican citizen, you are not allowed to drive a car with foreign plates. This is to prevent citizens from importing vehicles without the proper taxation and registration. Barring only a few exceptions, when someone is a permanent resident of Mexico, they must own and operate a car registered in Mexico. Eventually, most permanent resident expats will have to import their car to Mexico. To learn more, click here. After importing a vehicle to Mexico, a permanent resident can register the vehicle in Mexico, and they will have to get a Mexican driver’s license.

*an International Driving Permit only applies for a short time in Mexico, and after that any permanent resident will require a Mexican driver’s license. To learn more, click here.


There are exceptions to the rule that Mexican citizens cannot drive a car with foreign plates in Mexico. If you are immediately related to a foreigner with a car with foreign plates in Mexico, then you can drive your family member’s vehicle. Spouses, siblings, parents, grandparents, children, and grandchildren can drive the car with foreign plates in Mexico as long as they have written permission from the owner of the vehicle. However, we do not recommend letting your family member who is a citizen drive your car with foreign plates in Mexico as their primary vehicle—this could cause other potential problems with regards to insurance in event of an accident. We discuss this more in the next section.


Getting tourism insurance is always a good idea. Be aware of what restrictions and exclusions a tourism insurance policy will have regarding coverage. For example, many Mexico tourist auto insurance policies will not work for those with a Mexican driver’s license. Policies often require that a non-Mexican and valid driver’s license be attached to the policy. Therefore, even though the Mexican government may allow Mexican citizens to drive cars with foreign plates, often times insurance policies that cover foreign cars in Mexico will not cover the car in case of an accident. Also, Mexican authorities will often confiscate and impound cars in Mexico with foreign plates when they are being driven by a Mexican citizen.


Tourist auto insurance in Mexico is a specific type of insurance that only works in another country than that of your current residence—especially if that residence is your nationality. Therefore, if you are a Mexican citizen, then tourism auto insurance is not a good fit for you. If you are a Mexican citizen, then you need a vehicle that is registered in Mexico, and an insurance policy from a company that operates in Mexico.

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