Edited by James Glover, Nov.1st, 2015
I have updated this article to reflect the changes in importation of cars into Baja California and Baja California Sur, Mexico. It is now required that the vehicle be no older than a 2006 and no newer than a 2011 and be a NAFTA vehicle. More on the requirements, methods and reasons to import in this article.
The importing of a vehicle by a foreigner (U.S. and Canada) is not really that difficult and has become more necessary with some of the immigration law changes in here in Mexico. 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 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.
We recommend using the ACV Import company as I personally used them in October of 2013 and they handle it very professionally and quickly. 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.
The next step after forwarding your title is to take everything out of your car. Leave nothing but the spare tire and jack. Everything else must be out of the car or the brokers and authorities will refuse to do the job. That means if you are traveling south and have a car full of stuff you will have to arrange to leave it in the U.S. till the car arrives on the Tijuana side and then you will have to cross back into the U.S. to pick up your goods. The car being empty is really for your protection while it can be a hassle no one wants to be responsible for your personal goods. You may also of course leave your goods on the Mexican side of the border and then cross back just to import the empty vehicle.
You should now prepare copies of your Mexican driver license or a Government issued Photo ID (Valid US License is accepted) which is required. When you leave your vehicle the broker should photograph the entire care inside and out. This is for your protection so that you and the brokers are sure if there has been any damage done to your car while it is in their hands.
Leave a copy of Drivers license and make your payment and be sure to get a receipt or factura if needed and be sure to remove your U.S. or Canadian plates before you leave your car. Once notified you may go pick up your car on the Mexican side. The folks at ACV offered to deliver mine to me at my hotel and in most cases will help get your car to you if need be. It is my recommendation to get a bid for your insurance before you import your car. Once you have your car imported you will need to fax or email copies of the Hojas de Pedimiento de Importacion (Green Sheets) to the insurance broker and your payment to activate your Mexican insurance. We recommend West Coast Insurance agents as we actually insure our Mexican plated vehicles with them and have been satisfied with their price, coverage and service.
The final import papers or Pedimiento de Importacion will either be green for Fronterra or White sheets for National plated vehicles. The majority of what you will pay is for the I.V.A. (Sales tax) and it will be based on the value of the import set by the customs agents many times using the U.S. “Blue Book” values. The difference between Fronterra plates used to be partly the taxation but they will require 16% IVA for either but the national plates will cost more and are for use in all of Mexico. Now that the taxes, years and VIN have to be the same as the Mexico Mainland there is little difference between Fronterra and National plates except for the application fees. The Fronterra plates are only for Baja California and Baja California Sur and will be treated as foreign plates if you go to mainland Mexico. This means a bond is required just as if you had U.S. plates and therefore the National plates do have greater value at resale.
You will get your original title back and it will be stamped with the date of export and is therefore no longer valid in the U.S. and the vehicle would have to go through the process of being exported if you want U.S. plates again. It is legal to drive Mexican plated vehicles in the U.S. and there is tourist insurance from Mexican carriers for those that want to take their vehicles back to U.S. for a trip. My Mexican plated insurance that I purchased from West Coast Insurance agents is a Qualitas Insurance policy that already has extended liability (only)coverage for the U.S.
Once you have the car imported you want to go to the area you live in Mexico to register it not at the border unless you live there. In order to legally drive your vehicle without plates from the border you should go to the Transito and obtain a temporary 30 day permit. If this is not easily feasible you may copy your Hojas de Pedimiento and put the first page in the back window for the police to see. I drove my car south to Cabo with no problems and then obtained a 30 day permit at Tranisto in Cabo till I had time to get my Baja plates. The following week I registered the car in one day once I paid the fees (tenencia) at Secrataria de Finanzas del Gobierno de Estado. These Tenencia fees are not that much and depend on the age and type of car I then returned to the Transito office to finish the inspection, registration and obtained my plates. You will need to have a comprabante (Bill from your Mexican residence to prove your address) copies of your driver’s license, your immigration documents (tourist card, temp. or permanent resident card) the importation papers (green sheets) and factura (Invoice from importer) that you will be given when you pick your car up
You may only import one vehicle a year without having to become a dealer. If you want to put the car in your business name then have copies of your corporation (persona morale) or papers from Hacienda for your sole proprietorship (persona fisica).
It is not that daunting of a process and once you have done it and like a lot of things it is much easier the second time. If you have further questions you may email me or speak directly with a freight forwarder like ACV Imports. Happy and safe driving and be sure to look at our most current Bajainsider Road Report before driving long distances in Baja.