How to import your car to Mexico

Any person who is a legal resident may import and car and any car that is in Mexico for ‘an indefinate period” must be imported. Aduana defines an “indefinate period” as that of more than 180 days. It is in fact according to Mexican Customs (Aduana) illegal for a permanent resident of Mexico to drive a foreign plated car.

This has been debated by many people and I’ve been told it is not true however if you ask the Federales de Camino or Aduana they will in fact tell you it is Mexico Federal law. Since it is a Federal law many of the local police in different cities may tell it is okay to drive a U.S. plated car as long as they hold a U.S. license. Yes in fact as far as THEY are concerned it is legal but it is not according to the Federal authorities and they are the ones that could confiscate your vehicle. It has already happened repeatedly at the Cabo San Lucas airport and I spoke to the U.S. consulates office who explained that lawyers are trying to recover almost 50 vehicles at this time.

While the Federal authorities have not recently been looking as much for these violations an American friend allowed his Mexican girlfriend to drive his American plated car to the Cabo airport just a week ago and the Federales de Caminos almost confiscated the car.

So for whatever reason you may want or need to import a vehicle these are the steps that you must make in order to properly import, register and insure your foreign vehicle from the United States or Canada. First you must use a customs broker or freight forwarder to complete these steps and be sure when you contact them that you receive an estimate of the total costs to do so, which will require you providing the VIN (Vehicle Id number) make, model and year of manufacture. There is also a change in importing cars into the Frontera of Baja concerning the vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Now only NAFTA ( Mexican, American and Canadian) built cars may be imported. The way to know whether your car was a NAFTA built car is the VIN begins with a number of 1,2,3,4 or 5. In the past there were exceptions made for Fronterra plates but now all cars imported to Mexico must be NFTA built with the oldest being 2006 and the newest 2011.

The costs to import should include all charges the bulk of which is the 16% IVA (Sales tax) based on vehicle value and then the broker’s fees and a few government fees. Confirm with the broker that this is the total costs with no extra charges later so that you know exactly what they will want for payment and in many cases cash is what they will require, so confirm the method of payment as well. They will also let you know if there is any problem with importing your vehicle at this time. Not all vehicles can be imported into Mexico. Your car for example must be at least 5 years old and not over 10 years old (2006-2011) for Baja and Baja California Sur.

Jeep (Photo: Baja Insider)

The next step is to have your vehicle cleared by U.S. customs if it is coming from the U.S. and this can take up to a week to complete. You may wait at the border while this step is being done or you may send your original title to the freight forwarder so that they can do this before you arrive with your car. My vehicle was recently purchased and not registered in my name so I also provided a copy of the Bill of Sale but since the title had been signed over it was not necessary.

It is the American side that requires up to a week to be sure the car is not stolen and is prepared to be properly exported. With some of the recent changes in Mexico it seems to be taking longer to import than when I last did it. I suggest you ask whatever broker/forwarder you are planning on using as to how long they estimate the importation to take.

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