Driving in Mexico: An excerpt from Living Abroad in Mexico
In Living Abroad in Mexico author Julie Doherty Meade identifies exactly what it takes to make the transition of residency within Mexico and properly practice and support their native culture. This handbook is packed with important information regarding working, learning, and everyday life in Mexico, while at the same time avoiding failure within your journey. Meade offers us incredible experiences of her own to learn upon through her texts along with helpful hints which she has learned along the way living there herself.
This chapter from Meade highlights driving in Mexico as a very attractive and rewarding experience; whether you are renting a car, buying a car, or simply bringing your own from home, there are many different opportunities to have yourself driving on the road just as you would here in the U.S. The author also elucidates the extensive road and highway systems within Mexico and provides very important details toward choosing the safest and more convenient paths of travel.
Meade’s interest in Mexican residential life began with her first Spanish tutor in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas that continued to grow dramatically especially after graduating from Stanford University. She lived in Mexico for almost ten years and enjoyed every second of her time teaching, writing, translating, designing graphics, and creating works of art. Currently Meade resides in Brooklyn, New York attempting to replicate Mexican recipes in her miniature kitchen within her apartment.
The country is ribboned with picturesque and well-maintained highways, which snake past scenic small towns, open fields, and waving cornfields. However, off-the-beaten-track drives can often be the most rewarding way to see the country, offering a glimpse of rural life and serene landscape.
During the past few decades, Mexico has invested heavily in its infrastructure. Generally, there are two types of highways in Mexico: high-speed toll roads, known as autopistas (highways), and lower-speed open roads, usually called carreteras or libramientos.
Generally, toll roads, or autopistas, are much faster, safer, and more efficient than free highways, though you won’t find a toll road to every destination in Mexico. If you are traveling long distances, bring cash. The cost of your toll includes road insurance, which will cover the cost of damage to your vehicle and medical bills.
You can get updated highway information at the government’s Caminos y Puentes Federales website (www.capufe.gob.mx), including toll costs for each highway and road conditions.
There are military checkpoints throughout the country, both on free and toll highways. Be polite and comply with instructions. In most cases, the military has no interest in involving foreigners in problems, and they will likely let you go with little hassle.
Renting a Car
Renting a car in Mexico is generally easy and inexpensive, though prices may be slightly higher than in the United States. You will usually get the best rates if you book in advance. In most cases, car rental companies require drivers to be older than 25 and have a valid license (it can be foreign, as long as it displays a photo of you). All drivers must be registered with the rental company.
Buying a Car
Foreign residents can purchase a car or truck with Mexican license plates in Mexico. If you want to avoid keeping up with your car registration or insurance at home, buying a car in Mexico can be an attractive option. On the flip side, you will pay higher insurance premiums on a Mexican-plated car, as well as taxes if the car is 10 years old or younger.
Bringing Your Own Car
Both tourists and visa-holding residents of Mexico are allowed to temporarily import a foreign-plated car to Mexico. Your vehicle is legal in Mexico for as long as your immigration paperwork is valid. One of the major obstacles to owning a foreign-plated car in Mexico is keeping up with registration and insurance at home in Canada or the United States. It is usually possible to arrange waivers of requirements that would necessitate your periodic return to the United States. You can maintain a permanent address with a friend or family member, or with a company, which will list your box as an apartment number if you prefer.
There are more than 40 designated border crossings between the United States and Mexico. You can apply for a car permit and immigration paperwork at any of these crossings.
All foreigners bringing a car into Mexico must request a temporary import permit from the customs office at the border. To get a permit, you must stop at the immigration and customs office at a border crossing to request immigration paperwork and a temporary import permit for your car. Once you have brought your car into Mexico, you and your spouse are legally allowed to drive it. If pulled over by transit cops, a foreign car without its owner will be seized and impounded.
Technically, you are not obligated to insure your car in Mexico; however, it is highly recommended and generally inexpensive to do so. If you have insurance you are less likely to be held by the police, as your financial responsibility for the accident is already assured. If you buy a car in Mexico, the cost of insurance is slightly higher.
A foreign driver’s license is valid in Mexico as long as it isn’t expired. However, if you don’t have a foreign license or prefer to have a valid form of Mexican ID, you can apply at the transit office. To get a driver’s license, you must be a legal resident of Mexico (a citizen, or holder of an FM2 or FM3). Generally, you will need to present a passport, visa paperwork, and proof of address in Mexico to apply for a license.
Highways and Freeways
There are often many trucks on the road, in addition to passenger buses. At the same time, ranchers will drive tractors or farm equipment onto highways at dangerously low speeds. With such a wide variety of traffic and few pullouts on Mexican highways, driving can occasionally feel like the Indy 500, with faster cars zipping around slower traffic. On all highways, a car will use the left turn signal to indicate its desire to pass. On two-lane autopistas with a wide shoulder, it is common practice for drivers to pull onto the shoulder and allow faster traffic to pass in the middle, riding along the dotted line between the two lanes. Traffic in the opposite direction will also pull onto the shoulder to allow a car to pass.
The most common advice for drivers in Mexico is to avoid driving at night. Most roads and highways do not have overhead lighting, so it can be harder to see potholes, animals in the road, or other cars without taillights. The speed limit on libres is usually 90 kilometers (about 55 miles) per hour, and the speed limit on autopistas is usually 110 kilometers (about 65 miles) per hour.
Choosing Safe Routes
In order to ensure your safety on the road, travel during the day. Whenever possible, choose to drive on a toll road rather than a free highway. Toll roads are well maintained, well lit, and patrolled by police. On most Mexican toll roads, the toll also includes insurance coverage while your on the highways.
As in any city, Mexico’s metropolises present their own obstacle course of cars, buses, pedestrians, and bicycles. Cities are often filled with narrow, one-way streets. Be sure to check the flow of traffic before making a turn, and don’t be surprised if you see people backing up a one-way street during a lull in traffic. Often, people will cross in front of the bus and then cross the street.
If you park illegally, transit cops will often remove your license plate. You must go to the local transit office to pay a fine and receive your license plate.
Hoy No Circula in Mexico City
Anyone planning to drive in the capital must be aware of the rules with regards to Hoy No Circula, a program designed to reduce automobile traffic. Certain cars are not permitted to drive in the capital or the adjoining state of Mexico on a designated day each week, depending on the final digit of their license plate. If you are pulled over driving on a day when your car is not permitted on the roads, your car will be impounded, and you will have to pay serious fines.
If you have an automobile accident in Mexico, stay on the scene and phone emergency services; you can reach the Green Angels emergency services by dialing 078. If the damage was more substantial or anyone was injured, the police will arrive to investigate. In the case that there is a fatality, all drivers may be jailed until fault is determined, and the guilty party will likely serve jail time. If you are at fault in an accident, having auto insurance will likely spare you extended time in custody (usually, guilty parties are held so they can be held responsible for the costs of the accident).
Interstate highways are patrolled by federales, or federal polices. Within cities, transit cops enforce traffic laws, not federal police. If you suspect a police officer is trying to ask for a bribe, you can either pay the fee if it doesn’t seem too exorbitant or insist on being given a ticket to pay at the transit office.
Elle Rahilly is an editorial assistant at GoNOMAD and a political science major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
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