Mexican plated car? Pay your annual road tax. (Here’s what happened when I forgot.)

Read this if you plan to (1) buy a new or used car in Mexico or (2) import your vehicle (thereby making it necessary to give up your U.S. or other foreign license plates and register for Mexican plates in the state where you will be living). You must pay annual tax called “tenencia” or “refrendo.”

Just as in most U.S. states, Mexican states require payment of an annual road tax called tenencia or refrendo. You can pay at any bank or online, and instead of applying stickers (“tabs”) to your plates, you keep the receipt in your glove compartment in case you are required to produce it.

Everyone pays in May (in Guanajuato state, at least, but I believe it is all 31 states). The tax is not prorated, and the amount of the tax depends on the model year of the vehicle. So if you register a car in May or June, you get an entire year of tenencia* for free, essentially, because you don’t have to pay it again until May of the following year. Register your car in December and you’ll owe tenencia in 5 months. Register the car in May, and you’ll owe the same amount for tenencia, but in 12 months.

This is only if you have Mexican plates, by the way (not for a temporary import permit or TIP on a foreign-plated car, and not for cars with UCD plates, as those are listed in a different registry).

* In the state of Guanajuato, the tax is called a refrendo rather than a tenencia. The difference is that a refrendo is a tax for the right to have license plates on your car and a tenencia is a right to use the roads. I don’t know how each is calculated, but anecdotes from Mexican friends indicate the amount is the same.

To register your vehicle for the first time, i.e. when you don’t yet have Mexican plates (or have purchased a used car and need to re-register the car under your ownership), you must go to the local motor vehicle registration office. After that, you can pay the annual tenencia or refrendo online or at any of the following banks (again, this is Guanajuato, and the banks may differ regionally): Banamex, Banbajío, Banorte, Banregio, BBVA Bancomer, Credomatic, HSBC, Santander, or Scotiabank.

How to pay online

In the state of Guanajuato (including San Miguel de Allende, León, Celaya), go to http://refrendo.guanajuato.gob.mx. In other states, search “tenencia [state name]” to find your state’s registry. (Note: Apple’s Safari browser doesn’t work. You need to use Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer except v.11, or Google Chrome.)

On the home page, insert your license number where it says “Número de Placa” (use letters and numerals only, no dashes). Then hit “Siguente” (Next). You’ll see this symbol: siguiente

Now you will be looking at what you owe for the year, plus any penalties if you’re late. I was late by 4 years because I didn’t know about the tenencia until recently! My vehicle is a 2002 Ford Explorer (more than 10 years old, so the tax isn’t much, but of course the late payment fees show up. Here is what I had to pay in May 2017, including penalties. Mind you, the formula is anything but clear (see more below the graphic).

Screen Shot 2017-07-22 at 5.52.43 PM

While the tenencia ought to decrease every year since it is based on the year of a vehicle whose value is decreasing, it actually increases the tax is tied to annual cost-of-living increases in the minimum wage—just one more way the Mexican government has to keep workers from getting ahead. In 2017 the daily minimum wage is $80.04 pesos (currently, in July about $4.53 per day); in 2016 the daily minimum wage was $73.04 pesos (about $4 per day). When wages increase, the government figures the people can pay more for the use of a car, so the refrendo goes up.

I’m not sure what the ”Actualization“ number is, but I had to pay it. The word actualización means “update” so who knows. Recargos are late payment fees. Apparently I didn’t have multas, which means fines. In any case, had I paid on time, in May of each year that I’ve had a Mexican-plated car in San Miguel, my total over four years would have been $1,645 pesos (average $411.25 pesos per year) or about $90 USD ($22.50 USD per year).

As it is, I ended up paying a total of $2,193 pesos, or $124.23 USD at today’s exchange rate. (Had I paid six months ago, I would have saved about $15 USD because the dollar was stronger against the peso. But who’s counting?)

Once you see the total amount due (“Total a Pagar”), which is rounded up (“Ajuste por Redondeo”) from the actual amount (“Sub Total”), you hit the Pay button (“Realiza tu pago ahora”).

In the state of Guanajuato, the form gives you the option to contribute an amount of your choosing to the Red Cross (Cruz Roja) or the local fire department (Bomberos), and will recalculate the total if you do so. Otherwise click the button for one single payment, or six months interest-free payment available with certain Mexican bank credit cards.

I made payment using my Mexican BanCoppel credit card, which is not on that list. It took several clicks on the “Realiza tu pago” button before it took me to a page where I could put in my card information. Enter your debit or credit card information, being certain to type your name (titular means account-holder) exactly as it appears on the card. Enter all the usual data, without hyphens, including expiration date and the 3-digit security code on the back of the card.

You also MUST enter a telephone number and it has to be a Mexican number. I have a land line, so I used that, but I could have entered my cell number, too (again, without hyphens).

When you’re finished, click the very small line at the bottom right that says “Realizar Pago.” That will give you a confirmation page and when you have checked everything (very important to do that, as you will be blamed for any errors and almost certainly not get a refund if you screw up). Then click “Autorizo el Pago” (again, small type at the bottom). To print a receipt, click “Imprimir Comprobante.”

How to pay in cash at the bank

You will need to bring: tarjeta de circulación (the laminated card they give you when you receive your Mexican license plates; it must be kept in the vehicle and has your license plate number on it); and your passport, driver’s license, or other photo I.D. Make sure to get a receipt that is a printed page, not just one of those curly cash register receipts. That’s it—you’re done!

Remember, none of this applies unless your vehicle has Mexican plates. As long as you’re staying on top of your taxes, remember you must get an emissions checkup every six months, which also comes with a fee, and heavy penalties if you’re late. 

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