To drive a vehicle into Mexico and beyond the border zone requires a temporary import permit. To obtain the permit, several items are necessary:
1) Proper identification (varies for U.S. and Canadian citizens, but a passport is the best option)
2) The vehicle's original title and registration
--If you do not own the vehicle outright, you will need a notarized letter giving you permission to drive the car to Mexico from the lienholder. In your vehicle is leased, you will need to show the rental agreement in the name of the person driving the vehicle.
4) A valid driver's license from your home country
5) Valid Mexican automobile insurance (and not the cheapest you can find)
A processing fee is necessary and must be submitted to a Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) branch located at a Mexican Customs (Aduanas) office at the port of entry or at a Mexican consulate in the U.S. Permits cannot be obtained in the Mexican interior.
Mexican law also requires that a bond be posted at a Banjercito (Mexican Army Bank) office to guarantee the export of the car from Mexico. For this purpose, a credit card (American Express, Visa or MasterCard) is required, and it must be in the name of the vehicle's driver. If you do not have credit card, a cash deposit of $200 to $400, depending on the make/model/year of the vehicle, will be required. In order to recover this bond or avoid credit card charges, travelers must go to any Mexican Customs office immediately prior to leaving Mexico.
Once in Mexico, there are few things to know:
1) Mexico has both toll (cuota) roads and free (libre) roads. Many free roads are not in good condition, with rough (often cobblestone) surfaces, potholes and ruts. They also may contain debris, rocks, people, small and large livestock (there are few fences along the roads) and have drop offs and no shoulders. A well-maintained, 4-wheel, high clearance vehicle can be a huge benefit on these roads.
2) Toll roads can be expensive, and although they may need some repair work, they are usually preferable to the free roads. Keep plenty of pesos on hand for the tolls, and keep all receipts. If your car suffers damage along the road, the toll price includes insurance (but damage must be reported at the next toll booth).
3) Because many Mexican roads are not in the best condition and can contain all kinds of obstacles, it is a good idea to drive below the speed limit. Most everyone, even the buses, will be driving faster than you, but that is okay!
4) Avoid driving at night. Few roads have any kind of lighting (except occasionally for burning pots of oil), and debris and animals can be hard to see. Some vehicles do not have working headlights.
5) Drive defensively. Drivers may not use their turn signal or may travel toward you in your lane or otherwise drive recklessly. Truck drivers are notorious for driving fast and taking up much of the road. Always keep an eye out, and yield to other drivers even if you technically have the right of way.
6) Avoid restrooms at gasoline stations on free roads - they rarely have supplies and usually are not as clean as one would hope. Restaurant restrooms are a better option. Toll road restrooms are usually clean and better maintained.
7) You may run into police road blocks as Mexican authorities work to stem the flow of drugs within the country. Machine gun totting officers may inspect your papers and your car. Be polite, follow instructions and you will be waved through (because you will not have any drugs or weapons with you).
8) Watch out for tricks to get you out of your car. Do not stop for broken down motorists. If debris in the road is preventing you from proceeding, do not get out of your car to inspect it. Instead, turn around and go back the way you came.
9) If you have an accident, the automobile insurance that you purchased will have the phone number of an attorney to call. If someone is injured or killed in the accident, you may end up in jail so have insurance. Most often, "he who hits, pays," no matter who is at fault in the accident.
10) Mexico operates a roadside assistance program called "Angeles Verdes" or "Green Angels." There is no charge for these roving mechanics (although parts and gasoline are not free), and they can be a lifesaver if your car breaks down.
11) If you are stopped for a traffic ticket, the culture of the bribe still exists in some places, but do not assume that the officer is expecting a payment. These situations have to be played by ear, and knowing some Spanish helps. The options are to go directly to a judge or to pay the fine on the spot. If you casually pay the fine right then and there with a bill larger than the fine amount and no change is forthcoming, the matter can be considered closed.
12) Some extra tips:
--On narrow, steep roads, the downhill traffic has the right of way over uphill traffic.
--When traveling behind a vehicle, a left turn signal by the vehicle ahead is often an invitation to pass. Use caution. If the driver behind you is flashing his left turn signal, it may mean he intends to pass you.
--Right turns on a red are usually not allowed.
--Left turns must be made on an arrow.
--If someone driving toward you flashes his lights, it usually means that there may be hazards ahead.
--Speed limit signs are posted in kilometers, but an easy conversion trick is to multiply the number posted by .60 to roughly calculate the speed limit (1 kph = 0.62 mph).
While driving in Mexico may seem intimidating, it really is not that different from driving the back roads and major highways of the U.S. or Canada. Use caution and common sense, be respectful, buy insurance, maintain your car and have a Mexico adventure!