Buying a car in Mexico! Viva le bureaucracy

Woohoo! We bought a car! Actually it is more like an SUV, a very pretty white 2000 Nissan Pathfinder which has been really well looked after. At the end of this post I write a “how to” on buying a car in Mexico and Playa del Carmen. Something which I think would have made this whole process a lot more stress free. Check it out if you’re planning on doing the same.

buying a car in Mexico


Sarah and I have been actively seeking out an SUV for the past month or so for the next stage of our adventure, even though the next stage is a good six months or more away, we decided that if we were going to buy a car anyway, we might as well have one while we are living in Playa del Carmen.

So I began searching out every bit of info I could find about a tourist buying a car in Mexico, which I soon learned has to be narrowed down to a tourist buying a car in Playa del Carmen because different states have different rules, some only slightly different, and some with seemingly no rhyme or reason. My first stop was Google of course, and Google’s veritable mountain of information ranging from useless to a little bit useful.

My searches online stated in no uncertain terms, from the keyboards of dozens of different typists, that unless you have an FM2 or FM3 (basically temporary or permanent residence) you could NOT buy a car in Mexico (Playa del Carmen). They stated that I either had to apply for one of these (which I would not be eligible for because of how much money you have to earn to get one), or you could ask a Mexican to register the car in his/her name and write a letter saying he gives you permission to drive it. Which if you know someone in Mexico you can trust is not such a big deal, until you want to take it out of the country (you can, but it makes a difficult process more difficult).

Deciding that I knew better, and having an acquaintance of Sarah’s suggest we should be able to do it no problem (directly contradicting everyone else), we headed down to the Mexican equivalent of the DMV (Recaudadora de rentas) to find out more. With a terrible lack of Spanish we proceeded to request information about buying a car. I think we got an answer to the question, and I think it was something like “All you need is a passport and contract from your apartment“. But it sounded more like “Blah di blah di blah blah passport.

Where to go if you buy a car in Mexico

Feeling confident in having heard exactly what I wanted to hear, we doubled our efforts in finding the perfect vehicle. After the first few it became evident that post purchase, vehicle care is not a Mexican priority. Most of the cars we saw (which comprised mainly of Jeeps, Fords and Nissans) had already had the living shit driven out of them and were more or less on their way out.

It also became quickly apparent that lying about a vehicle is also fairly common practice, regardless of it being a definite that you would be caught out in the lie. Almost every ad we saw said the car had “such and such kilometers” on it, most were either just plain wrong, or in miles, which pretty much doubles the distance they have traveled. I think it was after the jeep with 350 000km which used about 10 liters of water every 100km (or miles, who knows anymore) that we decided to take our price range up from $40 – $50 000 pesos to about $70 000 (about US$5,800).

Suddenly we found a few decent cars in our new price range, one in particular. The Nissan pathfinder was perfect. Not 4wd, but a lot of clearance, big tires and it looks like it can handle off-roading a bit. So we set about purchasing this bad boy for $68 000 pesos (US $5,600).

First it was off to a mechanic who said “All good just get a new ‘solanoid’ for about $2000 pesos installed.” (*You can buy the parts yourself at Mardam or Ancona and take them to the mechanic saving yourself a bit of cash. We are using SpeedAuto and they seem very good.) Then we had our friendly landlord have a look over the documents of the seller Eduardo just to make sure everything was there.

You need a lot of crap to sell a car in Mexico, and if you don’t have it all as a buyer you are in a lot of trouble.


We didn’t have it all. At least not exactly right (I’ll explain at the end everything you need). We didn’t have documentation showing the original sellers name. So we decided not to hand over the cash until we had tried exchanging it into our names. To Eduardo’s credit, even though this is not usually how things are done in Mexico (normally you buy it and then try and do the transfer yourself) he went along with it for our peace of mind.

It ends up the governmental side of things is nowadays pretty straight forward for a tourist, in fact it is ridiculously easy if you have all the paperwork from the seller. We went into the office and showed our documents, the guy behind the counter checked everything off and took our photocopies ( if you don’t make photocopies before hand they have a machine there, you will need photocopies of everything), he then sent us outside with a few documents and our ID.

A policeman told us to bring our car to one of the three parking bays directly in front of him. Not across the road, not four parkings down, directly in front of him. Except none were available because the staff had parked there so we would have to wait. Miraculously people moved and within ten minutes I was ‘body holding’ the space while Eduardo brought the car around. The cops checked the VIN number and our documents, signed something and sent us back inside.

Police check buying a car in Playa del Carmen

We were almost home free, and then tragedy struck. Apparently two numbers on our factura (the original invoice of the vehicle) didn’t match up by one digit, and because of this we were told to get a new one from the company that originally sold the car 13 years ago! Or in no uncertain terms, “No car for you!”

Because we had not yet handed any money over, Eduardo set about trying to organize it all for us so that he could make the sale. If we had had to do it ourselves I can guarantee you we would have been screwed (you have thirty days after purchase to register your car). Within a few days and a lot of phone calls, Eduardo found there was nothing wrong with the document. The guys at the office just didn’t put a zero in the right box on their system.

So we returned with Eduardo and finished off the paperwork. At the last point where we needed to pay, another issue popped up and we were told we would have to pay $5000 pesos because the Tenencia had not been paid in 2009 (it is a tax payment I will explain at the end). Eduardo kicked into gear, spoke to the manager of the place and somehow managed to get him to discount it to $3200 pesos (US$266.00), only $500 pesos more than we were originally quoted.

paying for our car in Mexico

bought a car with new plates in playa del carmen

We paid, got in another line, got given plates and a card registered in my name, and I walked out the door a proud fully licensed owner of a car in Mexico! Despite everything I read, it was ridiculously easy. The car was licensed to a different Mexican state and so there was an extra charge of $900 pesos and an extra step to get new plates, but still, all I needed was a passport and our apartment contract and hey presto, bought and registered!


Our first order of business was to head out and buy insurance, we had lucked on a place in Playa called Intercam who deals with money transfers, insurance and other bits and bobs. We bought a one year policy covering everything including 3rd party, medical, legal, theft and accident with a 5% deductible and high coverage for about US$400, Within thirty minutes we were fully insured and went to celebrate.

Car insurance in Mexico Intercam

There is a place just near the highway in Playa called La Floresta that does the worlds best shrimp Tacos (I cannot verify this by any means other than my own personal feelings). We don’t often go there because although six tacos stuffed with prawns only costs us about $110 pesos, the taxi ride there and back adds an additional $120, and although it is not a hell of a lot, paying $20 US for a $10 US meal grates me the wrong way. This time we got to drive our beautiful SUV onto the highway, drive for another two minutes in a delightful sprinkling of rain, park outside and waltz in to devour our delightful meals.

We then took a cruise along the backstreets of Playa del Carmen with enormous grins of absolute freedom painted upon our visages. Sarah drove for the first time in Mexico and loved it, and although someone had a minor bang up near us we made it all the way home in one peace. The purchase of a car in Mexico and all the stress it entails behind us.

Sarah driving in Mexico fully insured


Now the next stage of our travels has become that little bit more real. Despite this being the worst kept secret ever, I am happy to announce that we will be driving across Central and South America in our pretty new/old Nissan Pathfinder!

*Hold for applause or the sound that awe and jealousy makes.

Yep, in about six months from now Sarah and I will pack up the SUV (assuming we don’t break it by then) and cross the border into Belize. Then with no real plan other than adventure, we will work our way down and across the continent. For me I would like to drive across the Atacama Desert and see the galaxy through crystal clear skies, and then head down to the Southern most tip of South America, and just maybe catch a boat across to Antarctica (assuming it hasn’t melted by then).

So big things ahead, big plans and big dreams. Right now though, I think I might go get some more prawn tacos…


First off, as it currently stands as of July 2013 in Playa del Carmen a tourist can buy a car without needing anything more than a passport and a contract from your landlord (which really is not checked all that well, if your apartment owner will do a quick one up for you and sign it, you’re good to go).

I repeat, nothing more than a passport and rental contract is required to buy a car in Mexico (Playa), no matter what you read elsewhere, I know because I did it just last week..

The office you need to go to to get all your paperwork done is called “Recaudadora de Rentas” and is on the corner of 10th avenue and Calle 2 sur, south of Juarez. It is surprisingly not often very busy but prepare yourself to spend two or three hours there in a nice air conditioned office waiting in various lines. It is pretty stress free if you accept that things will be done in ‘Mexican time’.

When you walk in the door turn left and walk to the end, you will see a small cubicle that says Auto something or other (it was in Spanish). It helps if you can either speak the language or are with someone who can, without this things would have taken me a lot longer, especially with our specific complications.

They will take all your documents (which I will mention at the end of this schpeil) and assuming you have everything. send you off to grab a ticket at the little machine on the wall. Get your ticket, wait ten or twenty minutes depending on how busy they are. When your number beeps on the screen go to the designated window and hand your forms to the guy behind the desk. He will waft through them for a bit and then ask you for payment. For a license change and change of ownership you would pay about $1600 pesos including a handling fee.

He will then give you back your stuff and your receipt and send you to a cubicle in the corner near the one where you handed your papers over. They will check it and hand you a little piece of laminated paper which says the car is registered in your name (and if you had to change plates as well then the plates too). Walk out, attach the new plates and sticker, and drive your new car off into the sunset.

Well done, you just bought a car in Mexico!


The Factura- the original sales receipt with writing on the back from every owner handing it over to the next. Without this document you are screwed and better off looking for another car. If it is not signed by every previous owner don’t fret too much. They seem happy with anyone writing that the car is handed over and don’t check that side of things too thoroughly. But you must have the FACTURA.

Tax receipts – there was a tax in place called the Tenencia, and if the seller does not have the receipts for these payments being made, you will be responsible for paying them and can add up to thousand more pesos in the sale. If he/she says they paid it does not matter. Without the physical receipt you are responsible for paying it.

*the tenencia is no longer in effect but should have been paid in the past to avoid you paying. You still need to check that the regular tax has been paid or you are responsible for paying it.

Proof of previous sale – Although this doesn’t seem essential, it is helpful to have proof that the car was sold to the person selling it to you (for your piece of mind too). Usually this comes in the form of a written and signed letter or a printed form filled in and signed which is an agreement between your seller and the previous one. For me I wanted to see this, otherwise how do you know the car is not stolen without going down to the office?

Your documents – Just a passport and a rental contract. Easy.

Money – Depending on whether you need to change the plates or not, to be safe take from $1000 pesos to $2000 pesos.

mexican pesos


And that’s it. Assuming all the documents are correct and proper, all the VIN numbers, names, license plates and registration match up (check to make sure the correct names and details are on all the forms). And as long as the seller has ID which matches the forms (don’t forget to check). You have everything you need to buy a car.

If there is anything else you are not sure of let me know and I will help you out. The most important thing? Don’t stress, it’ll all work out as long as you check everything. Happy driving in Mexico!

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Buying a car in Mexico! Viva le bureaucracy — 28 Comments

  1. So exited for your next adventure!! I truly think that having your own wheels on any trip just makes it, the freedom is like nothing else and to do it on such a wild and beautiful continent is going to be phenomenal. Pretty please try and make it to Antarctica, it’s really high up on my travel to do list and would love to read about your experience. So exciting!!!
    Maddie recently posted…Sukhumvit Soi 38 street food OlympicsMy Profile

  2. Wow prawn tacos!! Sorry, obviously I actually mean wow road trip!!

    This is so cool, ages ago I broached the subject of of road tripping around South America with Kel, she looked at me like I was mental but now seems to be warming in too it after this post. I mentioned cycling the length of Chile today, I got the same mental look… Maybe if you do it first she will come round :-)
    Rob recently posted…The Marshmallow test – delayed gratificationMy Profile

    • It always seems less balmy when you hear about someone else doing it right. Can I still call it a bicycle if it has an engine? Riding the length of Chile at altitude would hurt, it would be a great adventure, but a very short of breath one.

  3. So excited for your next adventure. Seriously, it is going to be amazing!!! And these are wonderful tips about buying a car in Mexico. Seriously, having your own wheels changes EVERYTHING. I think it’s the way to go when traveling (if possible). Love love love.

  4. Oh wow, brave indeed. I would not drive in Mexico. (I hate driving in LA, too. sooo….that’s probably just me hating driving). Can’t wait to read your adventures. =)

  5. Thanks for the info about buying a car. We are trying to go through this process right now and it is really scary. People just want to sign a paper, take your money and the rest is up to you! Do you mind telling me about how you managed to get all the cash? We are in the process of doing through bank machines but because of daily limits and the cash is all in small bills this is frustrating, not to mention risky having all that cash on me. Suggestions?

    • Hi Donna, no worries, it can be a bit scary having to sign and that be it, you can probably talk anyone who is trying to sell you a car into waiting until you get it checked for legitamacy at the office, mainly because they all really want to sell.

      With regards to money, we have a travel card which does not charge us for withdrawals (only ATM fee of 26 pesos at HSBC atm’s) so we basically would go to the ATM, draw the maximum which I think is 6-7000 pesos per transaction 3 times a day, and then shove it in our safe where we lived. This was the only way to get the money which didn’t involve starting up a new account in Mexico, but it worked, and as long as you are staying somewhere safe and have ensured that the car is legit before you give the guy the money, you will be fine. I hae never heard of someone getting robbed on the main drag in Playa during the day, so you could do your transaction then.

      Let me know if you need any more info. recently posted…Sometimes you need a breakMy Profile

      • Thanks for the quick reply! I don’t really want to open an account so I guess I will keep going to the atms unfortunately I set a low atm limit because I was living here. “thunk” (against my head :-) ) already have had my credit card used fraudently so had to cut that up. The only place I had used it was, at car rentals, Costco, and Walmart once. Thankfully my CC company thought it was a little odd me wanting to pay for four spanish peoples airfare and also thankfully I have other credit cards. Not everyone does. I worried it might seem a bit odd paying in cash and small bills at that, but sounds like you did too. Thanks again and happy traveling.

  6. Your description is reasonably complete as far as it goes. Unfortunately there are sections of Mexico that require you (or at least say they do!) to have that nasty residency permit (formerly called FM3) in order to complete the transaction. I’ve had a house in Los Cabos for 10 years and imported a ’90 Bronco II back in 2003 – all legal with few requirements then. Each year I spend about 3 months there and diligently go to what we call the “Cop Shop” to get my registration decal that goes on the windshield–a process that previously only required me to show my passport and a few ownership documents. Two years ago I was told I needed a Mexican drivers license (which I managed to get through “connections”). Last year when I went to renew I was told I now needed an FM3 in order to do this. I was desperate at the time (I wouldn’t have been able to drive my car during my stay) so I again used my connections ($$’s – if you know what I mean) in order to satisfy this for 2013. I don’t like doing business this way, but I’m frustrated at the prospect of having to go through the FM3 process when I only spend a few months/year there just to be able to drive my perfectly legal, Mexican-plated car which I’ve been doing for 10 years!!

    • Hi Gerry, thanks for the heads up mate. If there is one thing which you can rely on in Mexico, it is for things to be extremely unreliable. I am sorry to hear you are having so much trouble sorting it out where you are, but to be honest it doesn’t surprise me. From what I have heard with regards to other people and there legal tribulations, a lot of the time it really does come down to “who you know” and how much you are willing to “know them”.

      In fact a lot of the time these people tend to rather just deal with any issues on the spot than go through the whole rigmarole of governemtn offices. It is an unfortunate price to pay for living in an otherwise amazing place I think. recently posted…EXTREME WEIGHT LOSS!!!My Profile

  7. Gracias for taking the time to describe the process. We recently acquired a place in a small town outside of Playa and visit every couple of months. Rental are expensive and sometimes pathetic!

    Where did you search for a used vehicle? Dealers, craigslist? How do I find the sellers?

    • Hi mate, we ended up getting our car from I looked every day and eventually the right one popped up. Also a lot of cars driving around will have dollar signs and phone numbers on the windows. We also walked around the parking lots at Mega, Walmart and the local store between the two ( they often have a row where cars for sale will park). Lastly there seems to be a thing developing at Centro Maya parking lot and I have seen a lot of cars for sale there.

      Happy hunting mate, having our own wheels in Playa has made this place one of the best on our travels. recently posted…How the hell is 2014 going to compete?My Profile

  8. Pingback: Just registered a car...does anyone else have to go back in January for new plates? - Playa del Carmen, Mexico forum

  9. Pingback: Buying a used car in Mexico | México: Live it, Love it

  10. I’m going through a similar yet completely different situation. I was living in Mexico (City) with my wife, a MX citizen. We have a car, a CR-V, that we want ot bring with us when we move back to NJ. I have all the US stuff straightened out (if you can believe that) but the title has to be transferred into my name. I’m just a tourist still, despite our marriage and our son (the immigration dept said 5-10 business days, it’s been over a year now) and have been told on numerous occasions that I need an FM2 or 3 to file for the title. You say you were able to do it without one?

    • Hi Terry, sorry for the late reply.
      Apparently different states in Mexico can have different rules, which could be the problem for you. However!
      We were also told before buying our car that we would have to have an fm2 or fm3. Then suddenly someone else told us that that was not true all we needed was proof of where we lived (tenancy agreement).
      So we actually went down to the car place (“Recaudadora de Rentas”) and asked them what they needed from us, and hey presto, they said only the tenancy and passport with tourist visa stamp.

      If you haven’t gone down there I would give that a go as the laws change constantly.
      Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions.
      Cheers recently posted…Rainy day in Puerto Morelos, or ParawaitingMy Profile

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