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Mexico Driving Guide 2020

Driving in Mexico is not so different to driving in the USA, as long as you have an International Driving Permit and an understanding of the basic rules.

Lisa Brown

January 21, 2020

INTRODUCTION

Mexico is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. By traveling to this area, you will be able to see their stunning natural landscapes, taste delicious foods, and immerse yourself in Mexican culture. These are just some of the reasons why 40 million tourists are expected to visit Mexico by the end of the year. It also helps that it shares a border with the U.S. Depending on how close you are, you can use your own car to explore this country.

By using a car to drive through Mexico, you will be able to get the best possible experience. Driving will allow you to explore more locations, so you can experience everything this spectacular country has to offer. However, many people might have reservations about driving themselves. Will you be able to read the road signs? What laws will you need to follow? Are the roads safe? Thankfully, learning how to find your way through Mexico isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Let’s look at everything you need to know when driving in Mexico. After this, you’ll be fully prepared to take a car and navigate through this exciting country.

Renting a car will allow you to explore not just the big cities but also those all-important towns, villages and landmarks in Mexico.

Do I Need an International Driving Permit to Drive in Mexico?

Before you drive a car in Mexico, you should make sure to have a valid driver’s license. If you don’t have one, you could face a fine. Driving in Mexico with s is permitted. So, for people coming from the United States, your license will still be valid. You should make sure to have this on you every time you get into the vehicle.

Who Needs an IDP?

However, if your license isn’t in English, the procedure is slightly more complicated. You will need to have both the original and an English translation. Thankfully, you will be able to overcome this by getting an International Driving Permit (IDP). This permit will translate your driver’s information into English, allowing you to drive and rent a car in Mexico. You must have this with you when you are behind the wheel and will have to present it to the police if you get stopped.

Who Can Apply For an IDP?

If you need to apply for an IDP, you can rest assured that this process will be relatively simple. However, there are a few boxes that you will need to check before you can apply for an IDP. First, you will have to be older than 18. You are also required to have held a full driver’s license for six months. If you meet these requirements, you will be able to apply for an IDP online.

Is Applying for an IDP Difficult?

When you’re preparing for a holiday, no-one wants to be thinking about filling out complicated forms. For this reason, the process of applying for an IDP has been made as easy as possible. You can complete the whole thing online, from the comfort of your home. When you are finished, the application will be assessed, and you will be able to collect the IDP.

For How Long Is an IDP Valid?

Before you leave for your trip, you may have to order an IDP. In most cases, you will be able to use the IDP for a year from the date when it was issued. After this time has elapsed, the license will expire. However, if you are a frequent traveler, you might be able to get an IDP that can last for two or three years. A longer lasting IDP will allow you to use it more frequently before you have to renew it.

Can I Get an IDP on Short Notice?

While it’s great to plan your holiday in advance, you might not be aware of the IDP requirements. Not having an IDP can create some problems when you arrive in Mexico. For example, it can put you in a situation where you require an IDP urgently. Thankfully, you will be able to fast-track the IDP service. Fast-tracking means that you can fill out the required forms, and get your IDP approved faster. Often, you will be able to have an electronic copy sent to you on the same day. Because of this quick service, you will be able to continue enjoying your holiday.

If you forget or make a last minute decision that you want to rent a car while you are in Mexico, it is possible to get an IDP through a premium fast track service, and it will be sent to you electronically in just a few hours.

Process of Renting a Car in Mexico

As long as you have your driver’s license, IDP, and payment card, you will find that the mechanics of renting a car in Mexico are practically identical to renting in the US. You will even see the same companies, especially if you rent a car from the airport. These include Avis, Hertz, Budget and all the rest.

Having a car will give you the flexibility to explore Mexico, stopping wherever you want. While some people might be able to drive their car across the border, others might need to rent one. Thankfully, there are multiple well-known chains from which to choose. For example, you might be able to get a vehicle from Hertz or Thrifty. There are a few things for you to consider to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

1. Collecting the Car

When you arrive at the car rental company, you will have to show some relevant documents before you can rent the vehicle. For example, you will be required to provide your driver’s license and, if necessary, your IDP. You will also need to have a current credit card so that you can pay for the deposit on the vehicle.

2. Age Restrictions

You might be wondering what is the driving age in Mexico. The legal driving age in Mexico is 18 years. However, there is a strict age restriction that you will have to meet before you are allowed to rent a car in Mexico. Driving age in Mexico to rent a car is 25 years before you are allowed behind the wheel of a vehicle. Your driver’s license will be used to help verify your age.

3. Book in Advance

Mexico is a trendy travel destination, which means that the car company will have to rent out multiple vehicles at the same time. To ensure that you can get the car that you want, you might have to get in touch with the car company and select the model that you would like. However, if you are on a spur-of-the-moment vacation, you will still be able to get a car. However, it may not be your preferred choice.

4. Choose a Durable Vehicle

If you are cannot decide which car you should rent, you might want to go with the most durable option you can find. The road conditions can be very rough. For example, you might encounter fallen debris that is blocking the road. Alternatively, you will have to deal with speed bumps, also called Topes. We’ll talk more about those later. These kinds of obstacles can take a toll on the vehicle’s suspension. For this reason, you will want to choose a car that can put up with this kind of battering.

5. Getting Insurance

Having an insurance policy for your car is always a good idea, but when driving in Mexico, it’s essential. An insurance policy will ensure that you will be covered for any damage that you might sustain, helping reduce the amount that you will pay the rental company. Besides, if you are involved in an accident with another road user, the police will expect you to have insurance. If you don’t, they might hold you until you pay for the damages. Although most US insurance companies do not offer coverage for driving in Mexico with US insurance, some may offer limited coverage.

6. Returning the Car

After you’ve had a sensational holiday, you will have to return the car. When you do this, there are a few things which you should know. First, the rental car company will often do a thorough examination of the car. If there is any new damage to the vehicle, you will be billed to have it fixed.
For this reason, you might want to take pictures of existing damage. In some cases, you might also have to return the car with a full tank of gas. If you don’t do this, you might have to pay additional rental costs.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

What Side of the Road Do They Drive on in Mexico?

As far as the driving direction in Mexico is concerned, you need to stick to the right side of the road. The right side will be very familiar to people coming from the United States. Also, you should be able to find an automatic vehicle quickly enough. If you are coming in from a foreign country, you might struggle to get used to driving on the right side of the road. To make it easier, you should try to stick to quieter roads while you get acclimatized to the conditions.

Driving in Mexico Vs. Driving in the US: What’s The Difference?

Driving in Mexico with an American license is completely legal. Though the driving directions in Mexico might be in the same as the US, there are several key differences between driving in Mexico vs USA. While these might appear to pose significant challenges, you will quickly learn to acclimatize to this new way of driving

 

Watch out for Topes

Often, the first thing that you will notice is the different road conditions. Mexico tends to have rougher roads, which can be more challenging to navigate. The road conditions are different mostly because of the number of topes that can be found on the road. A Topes is a Spanish word for speedbump. While the topes will occasionally be marked, in most cases, you won’t know that one is coming up. Because of their prevalence, it is best to be aware of how you can get over them without damaging the vehicle. You will have to approach them slowly. If you go to fast, you will risk doing damage to your car, damaging the suspension. It is best to stay vigilant, not all topes are marked, and some can be very hard to spot.

Avoid Night Driving

For an American driving in Mexico, another hazard that you should be aware of when driving in Mexico is that most of the roads are poorly lit, especially at night. Poor lighting on the roadways can make it much harder to spot topes and other dangers. For this reason, you might want to avoid night driving unless necessary.

Livestock Might Be on the Road

As you are driving, you might want to keep your eyes open for any animal that has accidentally wandered onto the road. While this can be a very confusing sight for US citizens driving in Mexico, you should avoid becoming alarmed. Please slow down and wait for them to pass through.

More Street Vendors

You are more likely to experience street vendors. If stopped in traffic, they will be able to come up to your window and offer you refreshments. These tend to be very inexpensive and can be a great way of helping alleviate your boredom while you wait for the traffic to clear. We’ll discuss the driving laws in Mexico in more depth below.

Petrol Stations

There are multiple petrol stations sprinkled throughout Mexico. These can be very different from the ones that you are used to in the U.S. They are full-service, which means that an attendant will be able to fill up your car for you. You won’t have to tip unless they perform additional services, like cleaning the windscreen. If this happens, it’s customary to give them a few Peso for their time. You might also want to keep your eye on the petrol gauge. Make sure they’ve zeroed everything properly before they start filling up the tank. If they don’t, you might have to pay for the fuel purchased by the previous customer. Though fuel stations tend to be relatively easy to find, if you are heading into a more remote area, you may want to make sure you have a full tank before you leave. You might also want to map out service stations that fall along the route

When you drive in Mexico, it’s essential that you follow the local road rules. Obeying the laws will ensure that you don’t get into any trouble with the local authorities. It will also prevent you from causing any accidents with local drivers.
Don’t Drink and Drive
Many people love the chance to try some authentic Mexican Tequila in one of the unique restaurants that this country has to offer. However, you should make sure not to get behind the wheel when you are intoxicated. Alcohol can impair your judgment, making you more likely to get into an accident. You will also face strict penalties from the authorities. In Mexico, you can have a maximum blood alcohol limit of 008% (6). Going over this limit could expose you to a range of penalties. In some cases, you might even get sent to jail until you sober up.
Signaling Procedure
In the U.S., when a driver puts on their turn signal, it means that they are preparing to turn around the corner. However, in Mexico, this act takes on a different meaning. Drivers use their signals to let you know that you are clear to go around them (7). However, before you pass, you should double-check that there are no turn-offs up ahead, which will help you avoid a potential accident.
Use the Shoulder
When driving in Mexico, you will have to get comfortable using the shoulder of the road. When you notice a car driving in your lane as it overtakes a slower vehicle, it’s expected that you will pull onto the shoulder of the road to let them pass. You will also be able to drive on the side of the roadway as you overtake another vehicle. Though this can be a little uncomfortable at first, the more you pass like this, the easier it will become.
Dealing with Construction
Multiple roads in Mexico are under construction. When you encounter one of these roads, you will have to make sure that you drive safely. Often, this means slowing down as you go across uneven ground. Moreover, sometimes, a construction worker won’t wear a uniform. But they will carry orange flags.
For this reason, if you see someone waving an orange flag on the side of the road, it’s a standard procedure for you to stop in front of him (8). As you do this, put on your hazard lights to make sure that you let your fellow drivers know what is happening. Because of how common this is, it’s essential that you carry a map. This map will make it easier for you to navigate your way around these roadblocks.
Military Checkpoints
As you drive along the road, you might notice a military roadblock has been established. In most cases, this is designed to allow the military to detect illegal immigrants. When you come to one of these checkpoints, you will have to stop the car. The soldiers are often very friendly and will instruct you what to do.
In some cases, you might have to unlock your doors, and allow them to search your vehicle. You will also have to be prepared to show your passport. In these cases, it can help to have a basic understanding of Spanish. Understanding Spanish will allow you to know what the soldiers are asking, so you can comply with their instructions.
You Must Wear a Seatbelt
When you drive in Mexico, it is mandatory to wear a seatbelt if you are driving the vehicle. If you are a passenger in the car, you don’t have to use the seatbelts (9). However, it is still advisable that you put it on. The belts will help protect you and any other people in the vehicle from getting injured in an accident.
You Can Only Use a Hand-Free Phone
When you drive in Mexico, you will be able to use a hands-free phone (10). If you are found holding your mobile phone while driving, you could face penalties.
If You Break Down, Call the Green Angels
If you get into trouble, you might want to get in contact with the Green Angels. These are traveling mechanics who will come to the roadside and help you fix up your car (11). They won’t charge for their service, but you will need to pay for any parts that you need. You might also want to give them a tip. You should be aware that they only work during the day. These hours mean that if you get into trouble at your night, you might have to wait until the morning before they will be able to provide you with assistance.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

What Are the Most Important Road Rules When Driving In Mexico?

When you drive in Mexico, it’s essential that you follow the local road rules. Obeying the laws will ensure that you don’t get into any trouble with the local authorities. It will also prevent you from causing any accidents with local drivers.

Don’t Drink and Drive

Many people love the chance to try some authentic Mexican Tequila in one of the unique restaurants that this country has to offer. However, you should make sure not to get behind the wheel when you are intoxicated. Alcohol can impair your judgment, making you more likely to get into an accident. You will also face strict penalties from the authorities. In Mexico, you can have a maximum blood alcohol limit of 008%. Going over this limit could expose you to a range of penalties. In some cases, you might even get sent to jail until you sober up.

Signaling Procedure

In the U.S., when a driver puts on their turn signal, it means that they are preparing to turn around the corner. However, in Mexico, this act takes on a different meaning. Drivers use their signals to let you know that you are clear to go around them. However, before you pass, you should double-check that there are no turn-offs up ahead, which will help you avoid a potential accident.

Use the Shoulder

When driving in Mexico, you will have to get comfortable using the shoulder of the road. When you notice a car driving in your lane as it overtakes a slower vehicle, it’s expected that you will pull onto the shoulder of the road to let them pass. You will also be able to drive on the side of the roadway as you overtake another vehicle. Though this can be a little uncomfortable at first, the more you pass like this, the easier it will become.

Dealing with Construction

Multiple roads in Mexico are under construction. When you encounter one of these roads, you will have to make sure that you drive safely. Often, this means slowing down as you go across uneven ground. Moreover, sometimes, a construction worker won’t wear a uniform. But they will carry orange flags.

For this reason, if you see someone waving an orange flag on the side of the road, it’s a standard procedure for you to stop in front of him (8). As you do this, put on your hazard lights to make sure that you let your fellow drivers know what is happening. Because of how common this is, it’s essential that you carry a map. This map will make it easier for you to navigate your way around these roadblocks.

Military Checkpoints

As you drive along the road, you might notice a military roadblock has been established. In most cases, this is designed to allow the military to detect illegal immigrants. When you come to one of these checkpoints, you will have to stop the car. The soldiers are often very friendly and will instruct you what to do.

In some cases, you might have to unlock your doors, and allow them to search your vehicle. You will also have to be prepared to show your passport. In these cases, it can help to have a basic understanding of Spanish. Understanding Spanish will allow you to know what the soldiers are asking, so you can comply with their instructions.

You Must Wear a Seat belt

When you drive in Mexico, it is mandatory to wear a seat belt if you are driving the vehicle. If you are a passenger in the car, you don’t have to use the seat belts. However, it is still advisable that you put it on. The belts will help protect you and any other people in the vehicle from getting injured in an accident.

You Can Only Use a Hand-Free Phone

When you drive in Mexico, you will be able to use a hands-free phone. If you are found holding your mobile phone while driving, you could face penalties.

If You Break Down, Call the Green Angels

If you get into trouble, you might want to get in contact with the Green Angels. These are traveling mechanics who will come to the roadside and help you fix up your car. They won’t charge for their service, but you will need to pay for any parts that you need. You might also want to give them a tip. You should be aware that they only work during the day. These hours mean that if you get into trouble at your night, you might have to wait until the morning before they will be able to provide you with assistance.

Are the Driving Signs in Mexico Easy to Understand?

When driving in a foreign country, it’s essential that you understand what the road signs mean. Knowing this will ensure that you don’t miss important information and risk putting yourself in harm’s way. The good news is that most of the signs are similar to the ones used in America. While they might use Spanish, instead of English letters, you will recognize the red octagonal Stop signs and the triangular Give Way notices.

However, there are a few signs with which you might not be as familiar. For example, when you see a black arrow, in a red circle, this means that you are only able to turn in that direction. Likewise, you might come across a square sign with the white letter E on a blue background. This sign means that you can park in this area. Also, you should be aware that most Mexicans will speak Spanish. Because this is the primary language, it will be used on signs around the city. You might want to learn some basic phrases to help you identify the meaning of any unfamiliar signs. In addition, you should take some time before the trip to go over common road signs. By doing this, you can ensure that you won’t encounter any problems on your travels.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

What Are the Speed Limits in Mexico?

When you drive in Mexico, you will notice the speed limits posted along the side of the road. The style is very similar to the one used in the U.S. so that you won’t get confused. You should always make sure to stay below the posted limits, to avoid getting in trouble with the police. Also, remember that these figures are in kilometers, not miles. In some cases, though, you might not see a sign. In this case, the kind of road you are on will help you determine the speed limit.

Highways

When you travel on this type of road, you will be able to achieve the fastest speeds. Generally, you will go to a maximum of 110 km/hr (14). Because of these high speeds, you will be able to get your destination faster.

 

Built-Up Areas

When you approach a built-up area, such as a town, the speed limit drops to 40km/hr. At these times, you will be wary of unexpected events, like someone jumping out in front of the car.

Around Schools, Hospitals, or Pedestrian Zones

These areas are often the most highly populated parts of the city. For this reason, you should take great care when driving through these sections. To make sure that no-one gets injured, you will have to make sure that you decrease your speed to 20km/hr.

Are Mexicans Dangerous Drivers?

Like any country around the world, you are likely to encounter some poor drivers in Mexico. If you do, there are some things that you can do to make sure that you are safe.

 


Drive Defensively

It’s essential that you learn how to drive defensively. As you travel along, if you notice a driver acting erratically, you should make sure to keep them in front of you. With the unpredictable driver in front of you, it will ensure that you can see everything that they are doing and react accordingly. If you get the chance, and they are driving slow enough, you can overtake them and put some distance between the two of you.

 


Call 911 for Assistance

If you do get into a confrontation on the road, you will need to know how to call Mexican authorities to ask for help. Like in the U.S., the emergency number is 911. Calling this number will put you in touch with the Mexican authorities, who will be able to make sure that someone comes to your area promptly. If you are a U.S. citizen, you might want to contact the embassy and ask for their assistance. In this case, you have a few different numbers that you will be able to call. If you are in Mexico City, call 5080-2000, if you are somewhere else in the country, call 01-55-5080-2000. It would be best to write these numbers down before you leave, and keep them with your phone during the trip. Once you’ve called for help, hold tight until the relevant authorities arrive to sort out the situation.

 


Be Careful of Roadside Vendors

As you drive around Mexico, you might notice that there is a range of roadside vendors. These will allow you to purchase a variety of unique toys and gifts. You might also see that sometimes children will place a rope across the road. Before they lower the rope, you will have to pay them money. If you encounter this kind of situation, you have a few options. You can either slow down and give them a few coins to let you through. Or you can go straight through. If they see that you aren’t going to pay, they will drop the rope. While roadside vendors can be much fun, remember that you are under no obligation to stop for them. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t get out of the car.

Can I Drive Between Mexico and the United States?

On your holiday, you might want to visit the U.S. Because the two countries share a border, it can be a great way to see more iconic locations on your trip. You will be allowed to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. However, when you are doing this, there are several procedures that you should follow. By doing so, you will be able to cross without incident.

U.S. Citizens

If you are a U.S. citizen, you will find the border much more accessible. To cross, you will have to move into the Ready Lane, which is designed to allow you to improve your processing time. When you arrive at the front of the line, you should present your passport to a scanner. The scanner will scan the RFID chip in your passport. Once you’ve been accepted, you will be able to move through to talk to the customs agents. Then, you will have to answer any questions that they have before they allow you into the country.

Non-U.S. Citizens

If you are not from the U.S., you will still be able to cross into the country on a temporary visa. To make sure that you don’t have any issues, you might want to make sure that you have all the relevant documents available. For example, you will have to present your passport. You will also need to fill out a temporary visa. The temporary visa will outline the length of your stay. If you overstay your visa, you will run into problems with the American authorities. Furthermore, you might have to have your vehicle searched and answer questions about your trip. If you don’t agree to their conditions, the U.S. authorities have the right to refuse you entry to the country, so it’s vital to comply with all their requests. If you plan on driving in Mexico with a foreign license, make sure that you are allowed to do that.

What Happens During a Police Stop in Mexico?

Even if you try to follow the driving rules in Mexico, you might still get stopped by the Mexican police. Though getting stopped by the police is never a fun experience, you have nothing about which to be worried. Most Mexican officials are very friendly and will be happy to clarify any issues that you need to address. When you get pulled over by the police, there are a few tips that you should have in mind.


Stay Calm

If you get pulled over, it’s essential to remain calm. There might be several reasons why the police want to talk to you. You should be aware that they will speak to you in Spanish. If you don’t know what they are saying, you can try using a translation app on your phone. While this might take a little longer, it will ensure that you both understand each other.


Don’t Try to Bribe the Police

Though it should go without saying, you should never try to bribe your way out a problem. If you try this with most police officers, you will only increase the amount of trouble in which you will experience. However, there are a few cases where the police might pressure you to give them money. If this occurs, you should make sure to request to speak with the Jefe, which is the head of the police station. Once you make that demand, they will make sure to stick to the rules. You may also want to make sure to get their name and badge number if you suspect them of illegal behavior. You will be able to report them later.

Request to Pay Fines at the Police Station

If you have to pay a fine, you should request to do it at the police station, which will ensure that you don’t hand over any money unnecessarily. It will also let you know that the fine has been dealt with properly. Once at the station, you will be able to feel more confident in handing over your money.

Make Sure that All Your Documents Are Correct

If you do get stopped by the police, you will have to make sure that you present all the correct documents. Showing your papers can mean letting them see your passport and showing them your driver’s license or IDP.

If You Get Arrested

If you have broken a significant law, you may find that the Mexican police have arrested you. Being arrested can be a very stressful situation. However, you should make sure to keep calm. If you find yourself in this unlikely situation, you should make sure that you know your rights. As in the U.S., you don’t have to answer any questions that you might feel could incriminate you. You also will have to request a lawyer right. Having a lawyer will allow you to get a better understanding of what you are being charged. In most cases, they will be able to help you clear up any potential misunderstandings.

Get Your International Driver's Permit in 2 hours

An IDP is a legal requirement to drive or rent a car in several foreign countries. It is also a United Nations regulated travel document for your safety and ease of travel.

Mexico- A Unique Cultural Experience

From the delicious foods to the stunning beaches, there are multiple reasons why you might want to visit Mexico on your next holiday. To make sure that you experience everything that this stunning country has to offer, you should make sure that you rent a car. Hopefully, by following these tips, you will be able to make sure that you don’t run into any significant problems, so you can enjoy exploring this beautiful part of the world.

Don’t believe everything you see in the movies. Italian drivers might have a few bad habits, but aggression is definitely not one of them, so drive with a smile on your face and enjoy the open road.

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