Posted February 20, 2014 by & filed under Auto Insurance, Border Crossing, Driving to Mexico, Living in Mexico.

Driving foreign plated vehicles is often prohibited

License platesMost countries have laws that prohibit their own nationals or citizens from driving foreign plated vehicles. Most often, the expectation is that a persons drivers license, and the license plates on their vehicle, should be from the same country. Of course, there will be some exceptions, for example, when someone rents a car while vacationing in a foreign country. However, when a person drives their own car across the border between the U.S. and Mexico, it is important to have the paperwork properly aligned, with the vehicle being registered and the driver being licensed in just one country.

Mexican nationals may run into trouble when driving foreign plated cars

Mexico is a country that also does not allow its own citizens to drive foreign plated vehicles. Save a few exceptions, when someone has permanent resident status in Mexico they cannot legally keep a non-Mexican plated vehicle inside Mexico. A lot of ex-pats who have resided in Mexico long enough to become permanent residents, have had to nationalize their vehicles by going through the process of importing them into Mexico. Once a vehicle is nationalized it can then get the required Mexican registration and license plates. Along with the Mexican vehicle registration, the driver also needs to obtain a Mexican drivers license.

It’s usually not a good idea to mix and match

Enhanced Drivers License MexicoMexican law does make an allowance when a foreign plated vehicle is brought into the country by its foreign owner. The law allows the vehicle owner’s immediate family members (spouse, parents, grandparents, siblings, children and grandchildren), even if they are not also foreigners, to drive the vehicle, as long as they have tacit permission from the vehicle’s owner. Although it may be legal to let them drive, there are still other considerations that could potentially cause problems.

Considerations and possible complications

Whenever someone takes a foreign plated vehicle into Mexico, they should also consider the vehicle’s tourist insurance and the restrictions or exclusions that the policy may have regarding coverage. Many Mexico tourist auto insurance policies require all drivers to have a valid non-Mexican driver’s license. So, even though the Mexican government may allow the exception to the rule, many insurers may still choose not to provide any coverage because of the potential complications that can arise. For example, the Mexican authorities typically will confiscate and impound any foreign plated vehicle that is found being driven by a Mexican national.

Mexico tourist auto insurance

Tourist auto insurance is designed for drivers and vehicles that are from another country. Thus, a Mexico tourist auto insurance policy is not a good fit for a Mexican driver. A Mexican licensed driver should also have a Mexican plated vehicle, and should arrange for a regular Mexican insurance policy to cover them in Mexico, not coverage that is specifically designed for tourists who are from elsewhere.

Be sure to carefully read all insurance application documentation, policy declarations, and the policy terms and conditions, to ensure you understand what things the policy will allow, along with what things the policy does not allow. If you don’t understand something, be sure to speak with a qualified agent who specializes in Mexico tourist insurance to get clarification about the policy.

Are you looking for a tourist auto policy?

If you are shopping for a Mexico Tourist Auto Insurance Policy, please visit the Mexico Insurance Professionals website at: If you have other questions or need assistance with getting a policy set up, you can call to speak with a Mexico insurance specialist agent at 888-467-4639.



35 Responses to “Driving Vehicles with Foreign License Plates”

  1. vera

    Hi 🙂 I am a legal US permanent resident with Mexican nationality. Is it legal for me to drive my Mexican plated car with my Mexican driver’s license? I can’t seem to find information anywhere.

      • walter van

        Hello I find myself in the similar situation as some folks here. In 2007 I drove my 1989 Ford LTD into Mexico with all my personal belongings. We stopped at the 36 km inspection station and paid the fee and received a permit to drive to Mazatlan. Five yrs later the Migra gave me a permanent resident card since I live here, have a family here all mexican nationals except for myself. Since the car is too old to nationalize and would never make it back to the US border. It is sitting in front of our house with California plates. So what do we do. It wont make it to the US, I cannot sell it…..What Can
        we do.
        Thank you

  2. Bob Johnson

    I have a Mexico permanent residency, which I obtained about five years ago when I owned a condo in Mazatlan. Sold the condo a few years ago and haven’t been back since. Have a few personal items in storage there and want to drive my USA plated car to Mazatlan this fall to bring them back to the US. Is there a way for me to cross the border in my USA plated car and drive to Mazatlan and back without being in jeopardy since I’ve heard if you have a Mexico permanent residency you can’t drive USA plated car in Mexico. I read somewhere that if I come into Mexico under my US passport at immigration at the border, this will terminate my Mexico permanent residency status. I don’t want to break the law in Mexico or risk confiscation of my vehicle by the authorities. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      According to this article “Mexican law does make an allowance when a foreign plated vehicle is brought into the country by its foreign owner. ” However, your best bet is to contact the Mexican Consulate to be sure you are legally protected in the event you are pulled over in Mexico. Please also note that most Mexican auto insurance policies required a non-Mexican driver’s license to be valid. Best of luck to you and happy travels.

  3. Jeff Hill

    Recently a friend was driving with only the rear California plate, he ended up paying (Mordita) a bribe just so he could be on his way.

    Recently while driving my new truck on (The road 2000) from Rosarito to Otay Mesa I was stopped at the same Temporary / Permanent check point for not having (2) California license plates. The plates just havent arrived yet and I had the registration in the window, I was able to get out of a ticket by some fancy footwork and showing the officer my CHP Badge. He accepted it as a courtesy after a bit, but it wasn’t a fun situation.

    My California plates did come in, but since then I have decided to register the truck to my home in Arizona for tax reasons.

    Now for the question: There are some states that only require (1) Plate for the vehicle, and issue only one to be diplayed on the rear of the vehicle, and states like California that give you (2) plates that are required front and rear. So do you think Mexico knows our 1 or 2 plate rules (decide by each state?) I am due to drive back down there again, I wonder if they know Arizona only issues one plate and not two?

    Your thoughts? Thank you

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      We have always been told to ask the police to take you to the police station if there is some question about the legality of what you’ve been pulled over for. Unfortunately we have no knowledge about what the police know about the license plates, but maybe other visitors to our blog will have experience they can share.

      Mexpro offers MexVisit travel assistance with our insurance policies. It includes free bilingual legal assistance, which may be able to help.

  4. Michelle

    My future daughter in law lives between Mexico and Florida. She has a vehicle that has Mexico plates and ins, in the US. Can I drive her to and from the airport in this vehicle?

  5. Melody Scott

    Hi- I am a Canadian with a permanent resident card, a Mexican drivers license, and a Mexican plated and registered vehicle. There seems to be some confusion as to whether my friends who come down from Canada can drive my car, either in Mexico or into the US. Any thoughts on that? Is there insurance I can purchase to cover them? Thanks!

  6. Esteban

    Hi Roxanna! I am mexican citizen with a work visa in Atlanta (TN, renewed year to year). Can I drive to Mexico in my american car and stay for 1 to 2 weeks for my visa renewals? Is it possible for me to get a temporary permir for my car?

  7. joe

    I am an american citizen.
    My wife is a Mexican citizen. With a MX Drivers License.
    I have an American car registered in my name.
    We both have insurance on this vehicle in Mexico.
    Can my wife drive the car without me present?

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      Unfortunately, no one with a Mexican driver’s licensed is covered when driving a vehicle insured in Mexico with a Mexpro Mexico insurance policy. Please call our customer service department if you have further questions regarding this issue at 888-467-4639 (toll free). Thank you.

  8. Allan

    My wife and I are from Canada. We brought our vehicle to Mexico from Canada the vehicle is under my name. She can qualify to become a permanent resident. My question is, can she still drive a foreign plated vehicle once she becomes a permanent resident of Mexico?

  9. Joe McHenry

    We are considering purchasing a house on Cozumel Island. At first, we would use it twice a year and rent it out the rest. Eventually when we retire (in 4-5 years) we would be staying half the year on Cozumel, the other half back in the US. As for owning a car and leaving it on the island year round, would I be better buying/registering/plating a car there, or driving/shipping a car from the US that is registered/plated in the US? I’ve heard that if I do that, the vehicle has to be driven out of Mexico and re-entered every year?

  10. Connie

    My next door neighbor has Baja Plates on his pickup. My understanding was that you can only drive the vehicle with Mexican plates within the border limits of Mexico which is 20 miles radius.

  11. Jill Munro

    I live in Mexico for approximately five months of the year. I would like to buy a car in Mexico and leave it there when I return each year to Canada. I think the fm3 is no longer useful to do this. Do you know what paperwork I need? Permanent or? Thanks Jill Munro, Mazatlanjill@

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      Here is a checklist of all the documents and requirements for buying a car in Mexico:

      • Factura – the vehicle’s original bill of sale.
      • Tarjeta de circulación – the vehicle registration. The registration will expire 3 years after the printed date on the registration.
      • Tenencia – receipts proving vehicle tax has been paid. You should have one for each year with a sticker with a corresponding date affixed to vehicle’s front window.
      • Sellers ID – this is not always required, but it’s a good idea to have a copy of the seller’s legal identification handy.
      • Proof of Residency and Passport – you can purchase a vehicle on a tourist visa but must be able to provide either a lease from your landlord or a utility bill in your name.
      • Placas – licenses plates, which will need to be put in your name.


  12. Mario Martinez

    I am a American citizen living in Tijuana , I have a motor home registered 2015 can I drive if I insure it? It’s already in Tijuana.

  13. Miranda

    Hi. I am a US citizen and have two US plated cars in my name (although one belongs to my husband). My husband is a Mexican citizen. We plan to live temporarily in Tijuana, Mexico (about a year). My question is, can my husband drive “his” car that is in my name while we are in Mexico? He needs it to take the kids back and forth to school and for normal errands.

    • Roxanna Brock McDade

      Thank you for your question. Under the policies we offer, a Mexican licensed driver is not a covered driver. If he were to drive with one of our policies, and something were to happen, it is possible the underwriter would deny any filed claim from that occurrence. We hope this answers your question, and if not, please clarify and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

  14. Viviana

    I am a Us Citizen. I’ve lived in Mexico for about a year and my deseased aunt left me her mini van that she had brought from Denver Colorado down here… She Nationalized it when she came down here but we still have the original title and it was never stamped I’m wondering can I drive it back with my Colorado License and get new American plates again??

  15. Lisa

    I have recently moved to Mexico and am planning to buy a car locally.
    Do I need to have a Mexican liscence prior to purchase in order to have the title transfered?
    I have the understanding that one can simply trade in a current, US liscence for a Mexican one without taking any tests. Does that mean I forfit my right to legally drive in the US when visiting? Is it possible to be reissued a “lost” US license?

  16. Alberto Lankenau Vela

    I am from Mexico and just accepted a job offer in Miami, Florida. Can I drive my car there with mexican license plates and get an American drivers license and insurance and I should be fine? or i need to have american license plates

    • Roxanna McDade

      With a Mexican Plated Vehicle and a Mexican License you can drive to Florida. Insurance would be covered by a company like National Unity, whom we represent. However, it would be a short term solution; in order to qualify for a US tourist auto policy you have to be a resident of Mexico. So if you are planning to stay in Florida for a long period of time, at some point you will become ineligible for the program. Also if you were to get a American License you would become ineligible. At some point you will need to get both a US driver’s license and a US plated vehicle.

  17. Kelly

    If I have a vehicle on the Baja SUR with Canadian plates, is there any way that my Mexican girlfriend can legally drive it with her Mexican license. Is a written letter of permission acceptable. Is she allowed to drive if I am riding in the vehicle. Thank you.

    • Mike Mercer

      Unfortunately, the answer is no. Mexico law prohibits Mexican nationals from driving foreign plated vehicles. While Mexico does make some exceptions for immediate family members, they do not include any allowances for friends (or girlfriends). The letter of permission would only work if your girlfriend also had a non-Mexico drivers license.


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