Thursday, November 17th 2022

Taking A Car to Mexico Permanently: How to Import a Car to Mexico

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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American Expats in Mexico


Import A Car to Mexico

If you would like to permanently import your car to Mexico—and by that we mean getting your car registered with the Mexican government—it is different throughout the country. Yet, first a bit of advice. If you are considering importing a car to Mexico, you might just want to sell your car and purchase a new one once you are a resident. It can be quite difficult and costly to legalize your car in Mexico. Taking a car to Mexico permanently is not simple, and there is a strict criterion for nationalization. There is a very good chance that your beloved vehicle won’t meet these meticulous standards.

Mexico states that any vehicle in Mexico for more than 180 days must be legally imported and registered in the state of your residence. Mexico has full discretion over which vehicles it lets Americans and Canadians import. You are only allowed to import one car to Mexico a year—unless you are registered in the Importer’s Padron registry.

It is a fact that Mexican Customs (Aduana) does not allow permanent residents to drive a foreign plated car. This is hotly debated because the law is rarely enforced, however Mexican Federal Law states that after 180 of an “indefinite period”, it is illegal to drive an American plated car if you are a Mexican permanent resident. Though local police won’t enforce this issue, the federales will confiscate and impound the car.

What Types of Cars Are Allowed into Mexico?

Import A Car to Mexico
  • Only cars, vans, trucks, and SUV’s that are manufactured in North America are allowed to be registered in Mexico. The first digit of your vehicle identification number (VIN) begins with a 1 – 5, then you are made in North America.

  • When you import a car to Mexico, the model/year must be 8 years old or older. For example, this article is being updated in 2022. Therefore, to import the car to Mexico, it had to have been manufactured at least in 2014.

  • The person who wants to import a car to Mexico must be of legal age, and a legal resident of Mexico.

  • The car a person wishes to import cannot be restricted or prohibited in their home country.

  • The person who wants to import a car to Mexico must have all the proper documentation and a prior permit issued by the Ministry of Economy in Mexico.

  • The person who wants to import a car to Mexico must pay all the necessary taxes and fees.

What Types of Cars Are NOT Allowed into Mexico?

Import A Car to Mexico
  • If the vehicle a person wishes to import to Mexico has specific characteristics that restrict its use in their home country or in Mexico, then you cannot import it.

  • If the vehicle a person wishes to import to Mexico is an armored vehicle, sports vehicle, or luxury vehicle, then it likely cannot be imported (best to ask your customs agent (agente aduanal).

  • If the vehicle does not comply with the mechanical / environmental protection provisions as stipulated by local or federal regulations.

  • If the vehicle has been reported stolen, or has been associated with a crime in any criminal proceedings or criminal investigation, then it can’t be imported.

Import Tax & Duties (ARANCEL) Needed to Import a Car to Mexico

Import A Car to Mexico

There is a duty fee to import goods to Mexico. This varies from the age and location of the car, truck, van, or SUV.: If the car a person wishes to import to Mexico meets the given requirements, the owner will pay a preferential tariff of 10% of the general import tax in order to enter the country. In addition, the owner will pay a Value Added Tax (VAT) that is 16% of the value of the car. (Residents living along the border region—which is the Baja Peninsula and within 20 kilometers of the US border—pay half that, thus, 8%.) The tax on registering new cars, which sets a different rate depending on the value of the car. (Consult Article 3 of the ISAN Law. Click here for more information.) The tax on possession or use of the vehicle (ISTUV), which is made by the importers of the vehicle. Consult a customs agent or review the ISTUV Law.) A fee of 8:1000 must be paid. If that fee is less than $258.91 MXN, then you must pay this flat fee. (See Article 49 of Federal Law of Rights in Mexico.)

Paperwork Needed to Import a Car to Mexico

Import A Car to Mexico

To import a car to Mexico, you will need the following documents:

  • Title of ownership of the vehicle or a certificate of origin corresponding to the importer

  • Official Mexican Identification, such as an INE, passport, consular registration

  • Voter ID with a photo and name that matches the importer

  • Vehicle registration certificate

  • Professional certificate of the importer

  • Importer’s proof of address, which can be a payment receipt, like a water or electricity bill, at least 3 months old

  • Proof of filing issued by the municipality that corresponds to the residency at least 3 months old

  • Bank account statement at least 3 months old

  • Physical or digital photograph of the VIN number

  • Certificate of Pollutant or Gas Emissions processed in your home country

Basic Steps to Import a Car to Mexico

Import A Car to Mexico

Here is a basic outline of the steps needed to import a car to Mexico:

Step 1: Contact a custom agent (agente aduanal). They will walk you through the procedures. You will need to give them:

  • Your official ID
  • The vehicle title
  • If you’re importing more than one car a year to Mexico, you’ll need proof of the Importer's Padron registry.

Step 2: The customs agent will do the following:

  • Get a certificate ensuring the vehicle meets the physical-mechanical and environmental protection conditions

  • A Used Vehicle Background Provider Company will certify the vehicle

  • The customs agent will check the car’s VIN number

  • The agent will present the title deed to US Customs for export clearance (takes about 2 days)

  • The customs agent will prepare the import request and pay the corresponding taxes

Step 3: You must appear before the customs authority in person and present the vehicle with the petition at the corresponding customs office, make sure you receive the import request with all its attachments

Step 4: Register your vehicle at the Public Vehicle Registry

Hiring A Customs Agent (Agente Aduanal)

Import A Car to Mexico

Mexican law states that you have to hire a customs agent (agente aduanal) to facilitate importing a car to Mexico permanently. You must go to a customs agent when crossing the border, to get the import request and pay all fees and taxes. It is best to contact your agent a few weeks before you want to import your car to Mexico. Any other method of taking a car to Mexico permanently is illegal. These fees will vary between person and company.

*To contact an agente aduanal, click here. *For more information, click here. *For the Mexican government's FAQs document about importing a car to Mexico, click here.

The Chocolate Cars Decree

Import A Car to Mexico

An allusion to the word “chueco” (meaning “crooked” in Spanish), the Mexican government has released a decree concerning “coches chocolates” (“chocolate cars”).

The Mexican government recognizes that many expats continue to drive their cars illegally within the borders of the Mexican nation. As a way to try and legitimize those cars—as well as generate a modicum of revenue—the following states have been offering a “chocolate cars permit”. This means that for a fraction of the price that it would normally take ($2,500 MXN—about $125 USD), an expat can legally import their car in ten states in the union:

  • Baja California
  • Baja California Sur
  • Chihuahua
  • Coahuila
  • Durango
  • Michoacan
  • Nayarit
  • Nuevo Leon
  • Sonora
  • Tamaulipas

Last we knew, this program expired in November, 2022, however, this is the second time it’s expired and it could have easily been renewed. We recommend asking your customs agent about this program—assuming this agent operates in one of the states listed above.

(We highly recommend exploring this option first, because it’s a fraction of the price compared to the thousands of dollars that legally importing your car to Mexico would traditionally cost.)

*To learn more about this decree, click here.

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