From where to get a good deal on used vehicles to how to get new license plates, here’s what you need to know about buying a car in Mexico.
For a long time, I had no interest in buying a car in Mexico.
My husband (Taylor) & I were able to get around just fine living in Querétaro city center using a combination of taxis, Ubers, the second hand bikes we purchased from a pawn shop near Mercado La Cruz and our own two feet.
Mexico’s first class buses became my favorite method of intercity travel. In 2018, we rode buses all the way to Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and back!
In 2022, after toying with the idea for about a year, we got serious about buying a car in Mexico.
Our new apartment in Guadalajara came with two spots in the parking garage, and our current proximity to the coast makes road trips much more attractive.
One big reason that people decide to purchase their own vehicle is because they have pets. In Mexico, taxis, Ubers, buses and other forms of public transportation generally don’t allow animals.
If you’re thinking about buying a car in Mexico (for whatever reason), you’ve come to the right place.
After reading this post, you will know:
- What legal documents you need to show to buy a car in Mexico
- What to expect when buying a car in Mexico from a car dealership
- Whether or not you need a Mexican driver’s license
- Important information about car insurance
- Tips for navigating the registration process
Can a foreigner buy a car in Mexico?
Good news: Foreigners can buy cars in Mexico.
To legally register a vehicle under your own name, you need a CURP.
The CURP is your national identification number. The Mexican government assigns all Mexican citizens and residents a CURP number (think of it like a Social Security number).
Perhaps you’ve already worked this out, but in order to obtain a CURP number, you must be either a temporary resident or permanent resident of Mexico.
If you’re living in Mexico on the “tourist visa” (the standard 180-day stay for passport holders from the United States, Canada & these other countries), you cannot legally register a vehicle under your own name.
Do I need an RFC to buy a car in Mexico?
RFC stands for Registro Federal de Contribuyentes. SAT (the Mexican government’s equivalent of the IRS) issues every Mexican national and resident a unique registration number.
In recent years, the laws around who needs an RFC number and what you need it for have changed. Foreigners in Mexico on a tourist visa used to be able to buy a car, but now that you need an RFC, it’s impossible to do so legally unless you have residency in Mexico.
Today, you need an RFC to buy a car in Mexico. Your unique RFC number is printed right on the official factura that you get following the purchase of your new or used vehicle.
In order to get an RFC, you first must be either a temporary or permanent resident of Mexico. You take your resident card and CURP (national identification number) to a SAT office near you to apply for your RFC number.
Most people find that the hardest part of getting an RFC is making an appointment at the SAT office. Some locations are busier than others.
If you plan on buying a car in Mexico, make sure you don’t leave booking an appointment online with SAT until the last minute because you need an RFC to buy a car in Mexico.
- Thinking about buying a car in Mexico? The Mexico Residency Roadmap is a step-by-step guide that walks you through getting your resident visa and resident card. It’s helped hundreds of foreigners become temporary residents and permanent residents of Mexico!
Why We Decided to Buy a Used Car in Mexico
When we finally felt like it was the right time to buy a car in Mexico, we decided to look for a used vehicle in good condition.
The first reason we decided to buy a used car instead of a new car is that a new vehicle in Mexico is made even more expensive when you look at the financing options.
While car dealerships in Mexico do offer financing, it comes with very high interest rates for people who do not have an established credit history (you know, like foreigners who just moved to Mexico).
Hands down, paying in cash is the easiest way to buy a car in Mexico. With our $10,000 US budget (spoiler alert: we ended up spending a bit more), we knew that a used car was our best option.
Another reason we opted for a used vehicle is the fact that scratches and dings are common when driving in Mexico.
Just a couple months after buying our car, Taylor swiped the driver’s side on a tight turn out of a parking garage. We’d driven enough rental cars in Mexico to know that this kind of thing was bound to happen & we didn’t want to be freaking out when it did.
Here’s the rest of our used car wishlist:
- Smaller car
- Mexico is full of narrow streets and tight turns.
- Automatic transmission
- Neither of us know how to drive a manual transmission.
- Common make and model
- In case the car has a mechanical problem or other issue in the future, it will be easier & more affordable to find parts.
- Something commonplace is less likely to stand out and be a more obvious target for a break in or theft.
Where to Buy a Car in Mexico
Most Mexicans buy their cars second hand so the used car market in Mexico is vast.
The best way to start your search to buy a used car in Mexico is simply asking around. As with finding an apartment to rent in Mexico, word of mouth is a popular strategy for buying and selling.
Even if you don’t speak much Spanish, you can lean into Mexico’s word-of-mouth culture and ask in expat Facebook groups if anyone is selling a used vehicle in good condition.
Facebook Marketplace as well as websites like Segundamano and MercadoLibre are also good options for finding individual sellers.
How to Safely Buy a Car in Mexico
First, no matter your relationship to the private seller, be firm about getting the car checked out by a trusted mechanic. If you don’t know one, ask for recommendations in expat Facebook groups.
Next, ask to see the seller’s identification and check it against the car registration. You want to make sure the person selling you the car actually owns the car.
Along with the seller’s ID, check that the VIN number in the car is the same as the VIN number on the original factura. The Mexican treasury website lets you check the authenticity of the factura.
VIN numbers that don’t match up or a fake factura could mean that the vehicle was stolen. You can double check that everything is above board using this handy website.
One of the main reasons we decided to buy from a car dealership is because we were concerned about unknowingly purchasing a stolen vehicle. Had I known about these websites prior to buying a car in Mexico I would have felt much more comfortable purchasing from a private seller.
Before you hand over any money, make sure the previous owner provides proof of tenencia. In order to register the vehicle under your name, you must be able to show that all taxes have been paid on the vehicle.
What to Expect from Car Dealerships in Mexico
Another option is to check out used car dealerships. When Taylor got serious about buying a car in Mexico, he searched the inventory at Kavak (there’s a location at the Midtown Jalisco mall in Guadalajara).
When it comes to used car dealerships, the biggest difference between buying a car in Mexico and buying a car in the United States is that the prices are nonnegotiable.
Don’t walk into a car dealership in Mexico (used or new) and expect to haggle with the car salesmen. The sticker price is what you’re going to pay–not a peso less.
In our experience, the people working at Kavak aren’t really salespeople at all. In addition to not having any negotiation power, they weren’t knowledgeable about the vehicles so you need to do your homework ahead of time.
Another thing that really shocked me about buying a car in Mexico is that test drives work a little differently.
Instead of letting you take the used vehicle you’re interested in for a spin, Kavak has you purchase the car (yup, without ever driving it). Then, you have seven days to test it out & if you’re not satisfied, you can return the car with no questions asked.
Note: This post is largely based on our experience buying a car from Kavak and registering it in the state of Jalisco. Your experience may differ based on where you buy the car and the particular state in which you register it.
Our True (Almost) Horror Story of Buying a Car in Mexico
In November 2022, we purchased a 2015 Nissan Sentra from Kavak.
As is Kavak’s policy, we weren’t able to test drive the car prior to purchasing it, but the Kavak employee guaranteed us that we’d be able to return the car if we weren’t satisfied with it for whatever reason.
After filling out the necessary paperwork and paying with a US credit card, we scheduled the car delivery for the following week.
Kavak doesn’t let you drive the car right off the lot. The rep told us that it would first go to a mechanic to make sure everything was in good condition.
When it was finally delivered, it arrived on a flatbed truck.
As you can probably imagine, we were very excited to test drive the car. But, when we went to drive out of our parking garage, the car couldn’t even make it up the ramp that leads to the street.
We immediately contacted the Kavak rep we’d been working with, and the next day, another flatbed truck arrived to take the car away. A few days later, we learned that there was an issue with the transmission.
Kavak said they were going to fix the issue and return the car to us. But, we told them we no longer wanted it.
There wasn’t much push back from Kavak about the return itself, and that’s likely because we agreed to purchase a different car from them.
However, Kavak’s policy required that the return be fully processed in their system (I still don’t understand wtf this means) before we moved forward with the exchange.
Even though we had paid in full for the first car, they wouldn’t put that money toward a different vehicle until the return was “processed.”
They told us that it would take up to 14 business days to process the return so we could then put it toward a different car.
My Big Takeaway About Buying a Car in Mexico
When you’re dealing with big companies in Mexico, the best thing you can do is stay on them. Don’t let your case slip to the bottom of the pile.
Unfortunately, the Kavak associate we’d been working with from the start seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth which complicated things.
Without one go-to person, Taylor was explaining our situation time and again to rep after rep. Sometimes, we’d go days without hearing anything, and I’ll freely admit that there were times when I was convinced we’d been scammed.
When we asked for updates, multiple people told us that the return was being processed only to later find out that the processing of our return had never actually started. The whole situation was very frustrating to say the least…
In all, it took more than three weeks for Kavak to process the return. With the money finally back from the first car, we went to Kavak again and purchased a 2018 Nissan Sentra which was delivered via flatbed truck later that same week.
In the end, Kavak put the money we had paid for the first car toward the second car. Taylor used his US credit card to cover the difference.
All this being said, would we buy a car from Kavak again? To be honest, probably not.
Even though it all worked out in the end, one of the main reasons we went with Kavak is that we thought the process would be smoother than buying a car from a private seller.
Our case was likely an outlier, but outlier cases like ours show a company’s true professionalism. If I had it all to do over again, I might have opted for lower prices from private sellers.
Is it cheaper to buy a car in Mexico?
While many things are cheaper in Mexico, buying a car isn’t one of them.
As I mentioned earlier, high interest rates make financing very expensive. Foreigners with little or no credit history should expect interest rates from 10% all the way up to 25%.
For the most part, used cars in Mexico are priced similarly to used cars in the United States.
We purchased our 2018 Nissan Sentra for $245,000 MXN which at the current exchange rate comes out to around $13,500 US. According to the odometer reading, the car had 75,000 kilometers on it (approx. 46,000 miles).
On the Kelley Blue Book website, the same make and model with approximately the same mileage goes for around the same price.
Buying a car in Mexico from a used car dealership like Kavak will cost more than buying a car from an individual seller.
Do you need a Mexican driver’s license when buying a car in Mexico?
Foreign driver’s licenses are valid in Mexico, so you don’t need a Mexican driver’s license when buying a car in Mexico.
In fact, during the whole process of buying and registering our car, Taylor only remembers one person (he doesn’t remember exactly who) asking to see his driver’s license. It doesn’t seem to be a top priority.
However, official Mexican law states you must have a Mexican driver’s license when you own a Mexican state-registered vehicle. This doesn’t appear to be a hard and fast rule as many people get away without having one, but I’m just letting you know what’s officially on the books.
In order to get a Mexican driver’s license, you may be required to pass a written test as well as a driving test.
- Are you living in Querétaro or La Paz? Host Relocation can help you get a Mexico driver’s license. Send a message to Ivonne Pavaan via WhatsApp (+52 442 364 9402) & use the code “Alex5” for a special reader discount.
Getting Temporary Mexican Plates
Just like in the United States, you can’t drive a car in Mexico without license plates.
While you’re waiting for your vehicle validation appointment at the Centro de Validación Vehicular, you will need to get temporary Mexican plates.
At the Secretaria de Transporte, you will ask for permiso para circular sin placas (permission to drive without plates).
The person at the desk will ask you how many days you need the permission (30 days is the maximum). The cost is $36 MXN per day.
In the month that we were driving with our temporary plates (it’s actually just a piece of paper that you stick in your back window), the police stopped us on three different occasions to check our paperwork.
Driving without plates, especially in a state with a big police presence like Jalisco, will mean getting pulled over…possibly a lot. If police interactions make you uncomfortable, you might want to avoid driving as much as possible until you have your new license plates.
Vehicle Registration Process for Getting Mexican Plates
One of the main selling points of the 2015 Nissan Sentra that we’d originally picked out was that it already had Mexican plates.
If you buy a used car in Mexico that already has license plates, it’s simply a matter of going to the Secretaria de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana (SSP) to switch the registration from the previous owner to your name.
Unfortunately, the 2018 Nissan Sentra we ended up buying didn’t come with license plates. The registration process for getting new license plates in Mexico is much more complicated.
Before we dive into our experience getting Mexican plates, I want to make it clear that the registration process for vehicles varies from state to state. Kavak told us that the registration process in Jalisco is notoriously strict.
In order to get new license plates in Jalisco, car owners must submit their vehicle for validacion vehicular (vehicle validation). Essentially, it’s an inspection of the paperwork associated with the vehicle followed by an inspection of the vehicle itself.
The government office where you do the validacion vehicular is aptly named the Centro de Validación Vehicular. Near Guadalajara, there are locations in Tonala and Tesistán.
You will need to present the following documents:
- Original factura (title deed from the sale showing ownership)
- Temporary resident or permanent resident card
- Proof of address (electric bill or other type of utility bill with your name and address)
- Certificacion de tenencias (Receipt showing the auto registration is paid up)
- CURP number
You can see the full list for Jalisco here.
The Truth About Registering a Car in Mexico
While the website seems pretty straightforward in listing out the documents required, the reality was much different. Taylor had to jump through several hoops to meet previously unstated requirements such as a proof of address with a QR code.
In the end, we ended up hiring a facilitator to register the vehicle on our behalf. The $3,000 MXN fee was worth it as Taylor was spending entire days at the registration office and missing work.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living in Mexico, there’s always a middle man. Even if you speak Spanish and have a decent understanding of what it is you need to do, DIYers often face resistance.
The fact of the matter is if you want to register your vehicle in a timely fashion you should find a facilitator to help you do so.
We were struggling to get an appointment before our temporary plates expired–neither of the two locations in Guadalajara had openings. Then, as soon as we started working with a facilitator, the Centro de Validacion Vehicular magically was able to squeeze us in after hours.
This special after hours appointment required Taylor to give not only the car but also his passport to the facilitator. So, it’s vital that you are working with someone you trust.
Taylor said he wouldn’t recommend that any foreigner try to navigate this process on their own. In fact, it’s the norm for Mexicans to also pay a facilitator just to avoid the headache.
Some car dealerships offer vehicle registration for an additional fee. Apparently, Kavak did this up until just a few years ago (lucky us).
You finally have Mexican plates. What’s next?
When you get your Mexican plates, you will also receive a tarjeta de circulación. This card grants you permission to drive essentially. The information on it identities the vehicle and its owner.
At the start of every year, you will need to pay the vehicular tax (tenencia). You should keep a copy of the payment voucher in your glove box along with the tarjeta de circulacion and proof of car insurance.
Is car insurance expensive in Mexico?
Compared to the United States, car insurance in Mexico is very affordable.
Our Mexican car insurance is with a company called Atlas. For our 2018 Nissan Sentra, we pay around $9,000 MXN (approx. $500 US) annually for coverage.
If you’re looking to purchase car insurance in Mexico, our broker is Santiago Fernandez of CAE Insurance. Santiago is based in Mexico City, but he helps clients all over the country.
Santiago speaks great English & he also helped us get our health insurance with Grupo Nacional Provincial. You can get in touch with him via email or send him a message on WhatsApp:
- +52 55 2955 3284
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Final Thoughts on Buying a Car in Mexico
Buying a car in a different county can feel intimidating, especially if you don’t speak the language.
Hopefully, with the information and tips in this post, you feel more confident about buying a car in Mexico.
In our experience, the most difficult part was the registration process. If you need to get new license plates for your vehicle, your best bet is enlisting the help of a facilitator to help you.
Some car dealerships will offer this service for an additional fee. Otherwise, you can ask them for a recommendation (we found our facilitator through Kavak). The next best option is to ask in Facebook expat groups.
The most important thing is to take the time to find a facilitator that you trust since you will be handing over your car for the vehicle validation as well as legal documents like your passport.
If you have any questions or would like to share your own experience buying a car in Mexico, please feel free to do so in the comments below.
Ben and Hannah says
Very comprehensive review, thank you!
I could have done with this a year ago. We also bought a car from Kavak, but in Querétaro. It went smoother than your experience (the car itself has been perfect) but we also experienced the same delays with people. At least registering a car in Querétaro is easier than Jalisco!
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
All the delays really make you question if you did the right thing! But, I’m glad to hear it all worked out for you, Ben & Hannah!
Alex | Backpacking Brunette recently posted…Buying a Car in Mexico (Everything You Need to Know)