Can I drive in Mexico?

Typical street scene Guadalajara
Typical street scene Guadalajara
Downtown Guadalajara
Downtown Guadalajara
Notice the horizontal traffic signal. The green light will begin to blink right before it turns.
Notice the horizontal traffic signal. The green light will begin to blink right before it turns.
Typical side street in medium town. Watch out for one ways! Notice that cars park on both sides of the street, making them even narrower.
Typical side street in medium town. Watch out for one ways! Notice that cars park on both sides of the street, making them even narrower.
Mountain top driving, lots of curves, lots of cows. lots of slow trucks. Use caution!
Mountain top driving, lots of curves, lots of cows. lots of slow trucks. Use caution!

Can you rent a car and drive in Mexico on your next vacation? Can you take your car over the border and drive it during your visit? Sure! But first, read this information.

Before you go, ascertain that your U.S. driver's license is valid (the one issued by your state that you drive with now). This is because it is also valid and accepted for operating a car in Mexico. So, make sure you bring it with you. They will ask for it at the rental car counter.

Another important item dealt with at the rental counter or at the border is the question of insurance. Your current U.S. auto insurance does not cover your own car nor a rental car in Mexico. You will need to purchase the appropriate insurance either through the rental agency, or through an insurance store (often located at the border and in many large/tourist towns).

Alternatively, some major credit cards will cover your insurance in Mexico, but be sure to check before you leave.

Most driving laws in Mexico are similar to the U.S. There may be some slight changes from year to year, so it is best to do a thorough internet search or call your travel agency directly before arriving in Mexico.

Don't know much Spanish? That's ok- lucky for you the road signs are mostly graphics and easy to read. However, any travel book worth it's list price will provide you a few of the phrases used in traffic signs. For example, a sign reading TOPE should be paid attention to. Within a couple hundred meters after this particular word, you will encounter a "speed bump" likely to rip your muffler off if you are going over 5 miles per hour! Other signs are not nearly as common as this particular warning, especially off of the main highways.

Now, onto some warnings.

  • You may come up on a military checkpoint. That's ok, these are not designed to catch legitimate tourists, but rather organized crime and drug criminals. You will most likely be waved through (I have never been stopped by one of these as a tourist), but if you are not, answer any questions to the best of your ability.
  • If you feel or think that a police officer is trying to secure a bribe from you, ask for a ticket, or ask for directions in writing. Officers will often balk at a written paper trail, which suddenly makes your limited Spanish an asset!
  • Consider only driving during the day, depending on the safety of the area you are in.
  • Watch out for wondering cows!
  • You may want to take along a Mexican friend or family member for your first foray into city driving. Citizen drivers can sometimes be a bit more relaxed about laws, traffic lights, and even lane boundaries! I have found that most people become accustomed to the pace of driving in Guadalajara, Morelia, or other large Mexican cities by the end of the first day.

Last, but not least: enjoy the exhilaration!

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