Renting a car in Mexico is easy, and you can do it even as a tourist. Although having a car in Mexico isn’t necessary, it can make your life easier without depending on taxis or other public transportation. You might want to have your own mode of transportation when you’re visiting Mexico, especially if you’re going to be scouting a city and its surrounding neighborhoods as a possible place you’d like to live in.
What If You Don’t Have A Mexican Driver’s License?
If you have a driver’s license from the U.S. or Canada area, renting a car in Mexico won’t be a problem. Canadian and U.S. driver’s licenses are recognized in Mexico.
There is a significant thing to note about this. Your driver’s license has to be valid, and the name on your reservation has to match your driver’s license exactly. You can drive in Mexico on an American or Canadian driver’s license for as long as it is valid and not expired. Otherwise, the car rental agency won’t let you rent the car. And there’s a reason for that, which I’ll explain later on.
Reserving Ahead Of Time
Sure, you can make a reservation online for a car, expect to pick it up, and be on your way. However, my experience has been that almost every time I have made a reservation ahead of time, it didn’t necessarily speed up the checkout process or guarantee my actual vehicle when I go pick it up. In fact, on two different occasions, I reserved a mid-sized vehicle, paid ahead of time, and was given a compact with no refund at the rental location.
You’re probably thinking, “But shopping online before arriving will help me find the best value” I’d normally agree with that. But that hasn’t been the case for me.
On both occasions, when I reserved ahead of time, I did shop around a lot. And I rented a car in Mexico that I thought was the best value, for a mid-sized car from two different companies both times. Both times they ran out of mid-sized vehicles. The only thing left on their fleet was a compact car. That means one of two things: they overbooked their mid-sized vehicles online, or they didn’t respect my reservation and booked them on the spot.
My suggestion: Reserve the most economical car online and expect to get at least that vehicle. When you get to the counter, you can always ask for an upgrade. Most rental agencies will likely disclose they cannot guarantee a specific vehicle level anyway, when you reserve online.
Renting A Car At An Airport
Renting a car in Mexico at the airport is probably the most convenient location to find several rental agencies and various models. And if you have a reservation ahead of time, at least you know you’ll get a car that day.
My only tip here is to make sure the rental car offices are open when your arrival gets in. I rented a car in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, on one occasion and made my reservation online ahead of time. The online portal allowed me to reserve until midnight. However, I decided to check with the rental car location and found it closed at 11 pm. My flight got in at 10:30 pm. I made it right on time because I had a carry-on bag and no checked-in luggage. But had I checked in a bag, I probably wouldn’t have made it to their counter on time before closing. And if I hadn’t checked ahead of time, I might have checked in my bag.
Not the end of the world since there are many taxis readily available at all airports throughout Mexico. But I would have lost some money on one day of car rental fees.
Renting A Car At A Hotel
Some hotels have special partnerships with rental agencies in Mexico. They offer some of the best rates for renting a car in Mexico if you are a guest at the hotel since they are getting a bulk of your business in a single location.
If you’re going to be in a single city for the duration of your trip, I think this is the very best option and best value. Not only do you get a low rate, but you also have the convenience of leaving the car at the hotel when you’re trip is over. Check prices online for both airports and hotel locations and see what the best deals are.
Another convenient thing this indicates is that the hotel has parking on site! A lot of hotels in Mexico don’t have parking on-site, and if you’re driving a rental you might want the extra security.
MANDATORY Liability Insurance
When you reserve a car online, you’ll most likely see a very low daily rate. And there’s a reason for that. Mexican liability insurance has most likely not been added to the daily amount. When you get to the counter to check out, don’t be surprised if your bill went from $20/day to $35/day.
And that’s just for insurance.
You can rent a car in Mexico with your U.S. or Canadian driver’s license, but you can’t drive in Mexico with car insurance that isn’t from Mexico. You HAVE TO buy temporary auto insurance in Mexico if you want to drive any car in Mexico. Your name on your driver’s license also has to match the rental contract’s name exactly (which will include your Mexican liability insurance). If, for whatever reason, you get into an accident and you do not have Mexican auto insurance, Mexican police can take you to jail to ensure you pay your fines. Trust me; you don’t want to go to a Mexican jail. Get Mexican liability insurance.
In my experience, whenever I have rented a car in Mexico, I am rarely asked if I want to add on the liability insurance. They just add it to my itemized contract. Especially if I show my foreign driver’s license, but if you live in Mexico, and your Mexican auto insurance covers this liability when you’re driving in a rental vehicle, you can choose to opt-out. Talk to your Mexico insurance company before assuming this is covered.
When you pick up your car, your rental contract will have the details of the insurance policy and other contact information. Keep this contract with you at all times. It can be very handy in case you lock your keys in the car, and can’t access a glove box.
You can also expect to pay additional fees for comprehensive insurance plans covering windshield cracks, total losses, and theft. These add ons can quickly make your once-low daily rate double or triple. Many people opt to waive the total loss insurance offered at the rental agency because your credit card might cover you in this case. I would only caution you to make sure your credit card covers car rental theft, blown tires, and other damages to rental vehicles internationally. If they do cover you, you’ll have to opt-out of the rental car’s CDW/LDW insurance. Otherwise, your credit card will not cover you. Talk to your credit card about this.
When picking up your car, you can also add additional drivers to your rental contract as long as they are over 18 years of age and have a valid driver’s license. The rental agency will most likely charge you a certain amount for the extra driver and an additional fee if the driver is under 25.
Sometimes roadside assistance isn’t included in your contract. Make sure to ask before taking off. I once left my rental car keys inside the vehicle, locked it, and then realized my mistake! Luckily, I had bought the total insurance package, and roadside assistance was included. It saved me from a moment of panic and an extra amount to hire a locksmith. Roadside assistance usually covers blown tires, locked car keys, fuel assistance, and other helpful mechanic services. It’s worth the peace of mind when you’re driving in a foreign country.
Fuel charges are typical in all rental car agencies in Mexico if you return a car with less fuel than when you picked it up. The fuel rates at the rental agency will most likely be higher than fueling up on your own. But sometimes you don’t have time, and that’s okay. Just make sure you know the fuel rate ahead of time to avoid a surprise.
And finally, you might want to ask about any toll roads and how those are charged. For example, in Mexico City, there are express lanes on the inter-city highways that have an additional cost. Because these are expressways, they generally don’t have a toll booth. People usually have a sticker called a “tag pase” that withdraws the amount from their account peruse. Your rental car might not have this tag, and the fees could be double for non-tag holders. Ask your rental agency about toll roads in the city, and how those are charged.
Renting A Car in Mexico In Different Locations
You might be doing a road trip through different parts of Mexico, and need the flexibility of having your own car to stop anywhere you’d like. But can you rent in one location and drop it off in a different one?
The short answer is yes.
However, if your trip is only 1 or 2 weeks long, the fees are HIGH. Just to give you an example:
Mexcar is a popular low-rate car rental agency in Mexico. If you pick up a car in Mexico City and drop it off in Cancun, their flat monthly rate is $750-$900 USD. It doesn’t matter if you’re renting the car for a week or 4 weeks. The price is the same. But if you’re renting it for a month, then I think $800 dollars isn’t that crazy. Considering you’ll have full flexibility on where you can stop and when you can leave a place. It’s up to your budget and priorities.
Public transportation in Mexico is everywhere! It’s usually cheap, and there are several options to get you from point A to point B. For example, most coach buses are comfortable, air-conditioned, have wifi on board, and bathrooms. Most of them are a fraction of the cost of renting a car.
However, driving your own car gives you the freedom and flexibility to be on your own time and in your own space. Particularly if you are worried about social distancing during this pandemic, having your own vehicle can give you an extra amount of space. I really enjoy driving in Mexico and having the ability to go anywhere I’d like.
Renting a car in Mexico can give you that same freedom!