Driving in Mexico

 

Items to Have in the Car with You

  • Current driver’s license (U.S. and Canadian driver’s licenses are valid in Mexico)
  • Automobile registration
  • Discover Baja Mexican Auto Insurance PURCHASE HERE
  • Have two copies of your Mexican Auto insurance – keep one in your vehicle and one on your person
  • Make copies of your registration and license to keep on your person
  • Cash for toll roads
  • Auto tool kit

 

Laws of the Mexican Road

As a general rule, do not do anything in Mexico that you would not do in the U.S. Traffic laws vary from state to state but typically, the following laws should be obeyed:

  •  You must have Mexican automobile insurance to legally drive in Mexico. You can get your Discover Baja insurance HERE
  • Always wear a seatbelt
  • Talking on your cell phone while driving is prohibited
  • All speed limits are posted in kilometers (I kilometer = .62 miles, 1 mile = 1.6 kilometers)
  • The left lane, or fast lane, is for passing only in many cases. You should return to driving in the right lane once you’ve passed another driver.
  • Pedestrians have the right of way in many areas
  • Drinking in your car is illegal as is driving under the influence

Be sure to check out our Road Conditions Page for updates before you go!

DB insider tips:

  • Roads and other automobiles in Baja are not as well maintained as in the U.S. Watch out for potholes, cows and other animals on the road. Other automobiles may have brake lights, blinkers and headlights that don’t work. Construction sites are often unmarked and may have equipment lying in the road.
  • We recommend only driving during daylight hours. Driving at night leaves you at risk to adverse conditions on the roads that you won’t be able to see such as potholes and cows who like to lie on the warm highway.
  • Use caution when passing other vehicles as roads can be narrow and winding. It can be frustrating being stuck behind semi-trailer trucks but it’s better to just slow down and enjoy the scenery if it’s not a safe area for passing. Mexican truck drivers have a tradition of putting on their left turn signal to let you know that it’s ok to pass. This is done as a courtesy and can be helpful as their view of the road ahead is much better than yours, but remember that you must still exercise caution when passing as there may be hazards that the truck driver didn’t see.

 

Mexican Road Signs

We have a chart of Mexican road signs that we’ve put together for your reference to familiarize yourself with signs that you may encounter while driving in Baja.

 

Emergency Roadside Assistance

The Green Angels (Angeles Verdes) are mobile mechanics who patrol the Mexican roads in green and white trucks and offer free roadside assistance (tips appreciated) to anyone who needs help.  They can offer assistance if you have an accident, get a flat tire, run out of gas or break down. They offer free labor, service and towing and have gas or parts available for a fee. They are also equipped to give tourists free information as they’re connected to the Ministry of Tourism. If you break down, pull over to the side of the road and lift up your hood to signal that you need some help.

The Green Angels generally operate from 8am to 8pm but operate 24 hours a day on major holidays and long weekends. You can reach the Green Angels directly by calling 664-623-3479. Or toll free at 1-800-990-3900 (Tijuana, Ensenada, & El Hongo toll roads) and 1-800-888-0911 (Tijuana, Tecate toll roads).

You can always dial 078 from any cell phone or TELMEX phone booth in Baja to reach the Tourist Assistance Hotline. They have bilingual staff who can assist you 24/7 with any travel questions or emergency needs. They can dispatch the Green Angels, fire department or police to assist you. 911 is the phone number for emergency services in Baja.

If you have insurance through Discover Baja, you have emergency roadside assistance. The number can be found at the bottom of your policy. This includes towing, plane tickets home, and medical evacuation if necessary.

 

Gas/PEMEX

PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos) is Mexico’s state-owned, petroleum company with stations around the country. For decades they have regulated and standardized the prices for gas, but they are currently in the process of deregulating the industry and opening it up to other companies. As of January 2017, gas stations are allowed to set their own prices and gas stations other than Pemex are allowed. For gas station locations and prices on the peninsula, visit Guia Pemex.

The PEMEX stations are generally full service (a few pesos for a tip are appreciated) and while many stations along the peninsula are now accepting credit cards, many still do not accept US credit cards so it’s best to be prepared to pay with cash if necessary. Make sure that the pump is zeroed out before the attendant starts to pump the gas for you. We recommend always paying for gas in Pesos as gas is sold in liters and doing the liter/gallon plus the peso/dollar conversion can get tricky.

Pemex sells three different grades of gas: Magna (unleaded gasoline, 87 octane, green handle at the pump), Premium (unleaded gasoline, 93 octane, red handle at the pump), and Diesel (for Diesel engines, black handle at the pump).

 

Toll Roads

There are well-maintained toll roads located from Tijuana to Ensenada and from Tijuana to Mexicali. In Baja Sur, the new toll road connects Cabo San Lucas, San José del Cabo, and the SJD Los Cabos International Airport. You can pay the toll in either Pesos or U.S. Dollars but it must be one or the other (you can’t mix currencies) and you must pay in cash or with a IAVE pass (see below for more information).

There are tollbooths located at the following locations in Baja California (norte):

  • Playas de Tijuana ($32 pesos)
  • Rosarito ($32 pesos)
  • Ensenada/San Miguel ($34 pesos)
  • Tijuana (to Tecate)
  • Tecate (to Mexicali)

When you pay the toll for the toll road, you are automatically covered by the insurance provided by Caminos y Puentes Federales. Be sure to keep your receipt from the tollbooth as you will need it to file a claim. The insurance will cover you for the following in these two situations:

If you ARE at fault:

  • Damage to the road
  • Damage to other vehicles including medical payments for pedestrians and occupants of other vehicles
  • There is no deductible for driving a car, but there are deductibles if you’re driving a larger vehicle or a bus
  • The insurance WILL NOT cover damage to your vehicle if you’re at fault

If you are NOT at fault:

  • Damage to your vehicle
  • Towing expenses
  • Medical payments for occupants of your vehicle (including an ambulance to the nearest hospital if necessary)
  • The above will be covered as a result of landslides, objects in the asphalt, holes in the road and spillage on the road.
  • If there is damage to tires, lights or glass on your vehicle, the insurance will only cover repairs if the damage was due to loose pavement on the road due to maintenance of the road.

 

IAVE

If you’re a frequent traveler on the toll roads, you may want to consider getting an IAVE (Identificacion Automatics Vehicular – Automatic Vehicle Identification) pass. IAVE passholders enjoy shorter lines in dedicated lanes, automated payment and a discounted toll rate. The IAVE is a pre-paid transponder that you can attach to your windshield. The initial cost for the transponder and window sticker is approximately $60. You then prepay the tolls (at a 6% discount) on top of that amount.

There are two IAVE offices along the Tijuana –Ensenada toll road at Playas de Tijuana and Ensenada near the toll booths. Visit the IAVE website for more information.

 

Military Checkpoints

There are military checkpoints set up along Highway 1 in Baja. The men will be dressed in military garb and carrying automatic rifles. Don’t be frightened; they’re there to find contraband and drugs. As you approach the checkpoint, slow down & roll down your window. They might ask you a few questions about where you’re going and where you’ve been and may ask to do a routine check of the vehicle. It’s likely that they will not speak English so be prepared to hear phrases “Adonde va?” (“Where are you going?”) and “De donde viene?” (“Where are you coming from?”). Be courteous and cooperative and you’ll be on your way in no time.

 

Traffic Violations

If you are pulled over for a traffic violation in Tijuana, Ensenada, Rosarito or Mexicali, you are able to ask for a written ticket and may pay the fine from the U.S. Be sure to ask the police officer to write the fee amount on the ticket so you know how much to pay.

Unfortunately, there have been cases of tourists being targeted for traffic violations in cases where they’ve done nothing wrong. These authorities are hoping for a mordida (bribe). DO NOT PAY THEM A BRIBE. It is illegal to bribe a police officer in Mexico and you can be thrown in jail for doing so.

We’ve partnered with the Baja Secretary of Tourism to put together a document for you to print out and keep in your car while driving in Baja. The printout outlines procedures for you to follow and also doubles as a document that you can show to the officer (there’s a section in Spanish) to let them know that you’re aware of your rights and will be reporting any misconduct to the Board of Tourism. Make sure to follow the steps below.

  • If you are stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation, you should request a written citation from the officer. Traffic citations are written in both English and Spanish and will contain instruction on how to pay the fee. You can mail your fine to Mexico from the U.S.
  • Never attempt to bribe or give money to the officer. It is both corrupt for them to ask for money and illegal for you to bribe a police officer. You can be fined and thrown in jail.
  • In some cases, the officer will ask you to follow them to the police station. If you are being pulled over for a minor infraction, you are not required to go to the police station. Ask for the written citation and you can pay it by mail from the U.S.
  • If you feel like you’ve been fined unfairly, take note of the time, location, vehicle identification number and badge number of the officer. You can contact the State Secretary of Tourism 24/7 by dialing 078 while in Baja to report the information. If you’re a Discover Baja member, you can also email us at ask@discoverbaja.com with the above information and we will contact the Secretary of Tourism directly for you. The office of tourism will forward the complaint along to the officials in the area where the incident took place. The only way to stop misconduct is to report it.

To pay your citation, you can mail a check or money order to one of the following addresses:

Tijuana
H. Ayuntamiento de Tijuana
416 W San Ysidro Blvd Suite L No. 725
San Ysidro, CA 92143
Make the check or money order out to: H. Ayuntamiento de Tijuana
If you received a ticket in Tijuana and do not know the amount of the fine, you may call the police station at: 011-52-664-102-5477 or 011-52-664-902-3743 (for calls from the U.S.).

Rosarito
H. Ayuntamiento de Rosarito
P.O. Box 439060
San Diego, CA 92143-9060
Make check or money order out to: H. Ayuntamiento de Rosarito

Ensenada
Municipio de Ensenada
PMB 147 P.O. Box 189003
Coronado, CA 92178
Make check or money order out to: Municipio de Ensenada

Mexicali
H. Ayuntamiento de Mexicali
P.B. 6027
23 Paulin Avenue
Calexico, CA 92231-2646
Make check or money order out to: H. Ayuntamiento de Mexicali

The cost to mail a letter to the Mexico was $1.15 as of March 2014.

If you are on a toll road or if you are ticketed in another area of Baja, you will need to go to the police station in order to pay your fee.

 

Vehicle Permits

Temporary vehicle permits are not required if you are only driving in Baja or Puerto Peñasco on mainland. However, if you will be traveling in mainland Mexico, outside of Puerto Peñasco, you will need to obtain a temporary import permit for your vehicle. If you do not obtain this permit before bringing your car into mainland Mexico, there is a possibility that your vehicle may be impounded permanently.

Vehicle permits are $48 and are valid for six months. The permits are good for multiple entry so may take your car in and out of Mexico as many times as you want during the six month period. You must also pay a deposit which will be refunded after the six month period when you have returned your permit.

Deposit prices for vehicles:
$200 if vehicle is 2000 and older
$300 if vehicle is 2001-2006
$400 if vehicle is 2007 and newer

Motorhome and boat permits are valid for up to 10 years.

To obtain a vehicle permit, the owner of the vehicle must be present and you will need to have copies of the following information:

  • Current registration or vehicle title
  • Passport
  • Drivers License
  • FMM/Tourist Card (can be purchased through Discover Baja HERE)
  • Lease contract and lienholder letter (if necessary)
  • Cash or Visa/MC for the permit and deposit

It’s extremely important that you remember to return your vehicle permit to a Banjercito before your permit expires when you are leaving Mexico. You must bring your vehicle, vehicle permit and sticker with you in order to return.

You cannot obtain a vehicle permit at the San Ysidro border crossing. Tecate, Otay Mesa, Mexicali and Nogales at km 21 are the best places to get a permit.

You can also go online to Banjercito to get a temporary vehicle permit by mail (time permitting) or to pre-register online and save time when picking up at Banjercito later.

 

Accidents

If you are involved in an accident or if your vehicle is vandalized, you need to call the number at the bottom of your policy right away from Mexico. Have your policy in hand as you will need the policy number and other information when calling. See our accidents and claims page for more.

 

Maps

Click here for a map of Baja. Or we have a selection of Baja maps available in our office. Call us at 800-727-2252

 

Driving Directions

We’ve compiled step-by-step directions for directions to many places in Baja. See our Driving Directions Page for detailed directions you can print and take with you.

 

Mileage Chart

See here for a mileage chart between major Baja cities. We also have a Baja Peninsula Mileage Guide with a map of the peninsula showing miles between major cities.

 

Road Conditions

Our Road Conditions Page has updates on current road conditions. If you have any updates on road conditions, please email us at ask@discoverbaja.com

 

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