Reprinted from the blog Living Mexico. (The original post no longer exists.)
LEGALIZING A NON-MEXICAN VEHICLE IN MEXICO
So you’re here and you’ve decided to stay. One can only assume that by this point, you’re a permanent resident and do not want to part with your non-Mexican vehicle. If you drove your Canada or US vehicle across the border as a temporary import during the duration of your temporary resident years, you will have two choices when your status changes to permanent.
First you can sell it. You will need to return to the border to make the sale and can only do so to a non-Mexican buyer. Mexicans cannot legally buy (or even drive) non-Mexican vehicles for the same reason you, as a permanent resident, cannot keep it. Local residents must drive local vehicles.
Your second option is to legalize your non-Mexican vehicle. A lot of expats refer to this process as nationalizing, which is incorrect. The proper term is called legalizing and is something you can do if you do not want to sell your vehicle. [Anne‘s note July 2022: The U.S. Dept. of Commerce has published an info sheet here: Regulations for the Importation of Used Vehicles and Trucks into Mexico.]
Before you begin, it’s important to understand that not all vehicles from Canada or the United States can be imported and / or legalized into Mexico. In order to import a used car from the United States or Canada, the car must be a maximum of ten years old and manufactured in Canada, the United States or Mexico and must have a VIN number that begins with 1,2,3,4, or 5. If you pass these initial requirements, then you can likely import your vehicle.
Important Tips to Safely Legalizing Your Car in Mexico
First, it is important not to confuse temporary importation with definitive importation or legalization. For the definitive importation it is necessary to hire an authorized customs broker in Mexico. [Anne‘s note July 2022: To find a customs broker who can import your car, do a Google search for “importacion de autos agencia aduanal” and call or email for a price quote from several of them. You’ll need to provide the year, make and model of your car and its V.I.N. Note which agencies are most responsive (be sure to check your spam folder often for emails) and which ones employ English-speaking agents, and go with the one who makes you feel most comfortable.]
- According to the current decree, the definitive importation age of vehicles is 10 years. In addition to the age of the vehicle, you will have to verify that the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) begins with 1,2,3,4 or 5. This will indicate that it is a vehicle manufactured or assembled in one of the NAFTA countries (Mexico, USA and Canada) and therefore it is allowed to be imported.
Models exactly 10 years old have a rate preferential tariff of 10% and not 50% as applied to previous models.
- You have 15 business days to get your plates once you legalize your vehicle. It is illegal to be awarded Mexican plates from the US. That is fraud and the driver or owner can be punished with jail in Mexico for traveling with false license plates or traffic card.
- Once you’re done, you can head to your Mexico destination to finish the paperwork including plates. If a custom’s broker offers you plates at the border, be wary. It’s not legal.
Additional information as of July 2022
There is a program in place now to “regularize” the millions of illegally imported vehicles, some by expats who changed from temporary to permanent residency status without returning their car to the border and formally importing the car as required by law, and some by Mexicans who bought cars in the U.S. and then moved back to Mexico without completing the required importation process. The program allows car owners living in Mexico to legalize their vehicles for only $2,500 pesos.
But…the program doesn’t apply to every state—it’s mostly for northern states—and it may end at any time. Also, the vehicle in question must have been brought into Mexico before October 2021. Here’s a link to information on the program (in Spanish but you can copy and paste into a translation app if you need to).