Should you drive in Mexico?
Driving can give you a lot more freedom than other forms of transportation in Mexico, but it has some downsides as well. You have to find your way on roads that may be in dubious condition and have poor signage, you have to deal with other drivers who may make left turns from the right lane and vice versa and don't seem to know what a turn signal is, as well as a host of other hazards. If you're considering driving in the Yucatan Peninsula or Baja, you'll find it fairly easy to get around, whereas driving in other areas can be a lot more challenging. Read on for an overview of what you should be aware of if you choose to drive in Mexico, and some resources that may be useful.
Crossing the Border
If you'll be driving your own car across the border, you can drive within the border zone (roughly 20 km from the border) without doing any special paperwork, but if you intend to travel farther, you will need to do some paperwork before you cross. You will need to purchase Mexican car insurance (the insurance you have in the U.S. or Canada will not cover you), and you need a temporary import permit. You will have to post a bond either in cash or by leaving your credit card information, that will be returned to you when you leave the country with your car. Be aware that you must drive your car out of Mexico within the given time frame to get your money back, so plan accordingly. If you are caught driving in Mexico without your paperwork in order, you could face hefty fines and possibly having your vehicle confiscated, so in this case, do things by the book.
Drivers Licenses and Documents
A driver's license from the United States or Canada is valid for driving in Mexico, and you can rent a car in Mexico with your driver's license. You might consider getting an international driving permit, especially if you'll be driving in other countries besides Mexico. You should always have your driver's license on you when driving and it's a good idea to have your passport and tourist visa handy as well, just in case you get stopped by the authorities. As for your vehicle, you should have proof of your car insurance and registration and either your temporary import permit or rental agreement if it's a rental car.
Renting a Car
Renting a car in Mexico can be easier than driving your own car across the border, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, it's not as cheap as advertised. You will need to get all the insurance coverage, which adds substantially to the bottom line. Also, some people have had issues with rental agencies claiming they damaged the car, so be sure to inspect the car with the agency staff before leaving the lot. Find out more about renting a car in Mexico.
Rules of the Road
"The rules are there ain't no rules." That's a line from a movie that may come to mind when thinking about driving in Mexico. It's not completely true but you should certainly get into the mindset that driving in Mexico is "freestyle" and though there are some conventions that may be different from what you're used to, you should basically expect that other drivers may do anything at any time. Drive defensively! On a two-lane highway, if the car in front of you flashes their left turn signal, rather than indicating that they're planning to turn or change lanes, this could be a signal to you that it's safe to pass. Always proceed with caution.
Planning Your Route
It's essential to plan out your route before you start out. Use a handy driving distance calculator to find out how far it is between destinations, and check out the Mexican government's Point-to-Point Routes Tool for more specific information about which roads to take and how much you can expect to pay in tolls.
If you'll be driving in Mexico you will need to buy gas. It should be simple, right? Well, it's not too complicated, but there are a few details that are different from buying gas in other places. There are a few little details you should be aware of at the gas station. For example, you should always check that the meter marks zero before the attendant starts to pump. Here are some other helpful tips to know about buying gas in Mexico.
Encounters with the Police
There are some Mexican police who are friendly and helpful, however, there are some who are just looking to make some extra cash (their salaries are very low). Hopefully the police will leave you alone, but unfortunately, it sometimes seems that money-hungry police officers can smell out a gringo from a mile away. So if you do get stopped, you will need to know: what is a mordida, how to pay one, and why you shouldn't.
Topes and other bumps in the road
Road conditions vary enormously in Mexico! There are some highways that are in great condition with good signage and there are terrible roads full of potholes. Some are not paved at all and you may even come across some mountain roads where there have been landslides. You will undoubtedly come across numerous topes everywhere (some are not marked and seem to appear out of nowhere), as well as the occasional burro or other animals in the road. The main thing is to always be attentive and aware. It's also best to drive during daylight hours so you can better see what's ahead of you.
In case of emergency
In case you have an emergency while on the road, you should know how to contact the Green Angels. These helpful fellows offer roadside assistance on Mexico's federal toll highways. Click through for more information about who to contact in case of emergency.