If you’re heading to Mexico for a prolonged period and you plan on driving during your stay, you will need a Mexican driver’s license to ensure you are adequately insured and complying with Mexican laws.
Driving abroad can be a challenge for even the most seasoned motorist. In common with most countries, Mexico allows tourists to use their national driving license during their holiday in the country. If, however, you plan on making Mexico your home for an extended period, you will need to get a Mexican driver’s license to be properly insured and avoid inviting unnecessary risk.
There are several important documents that you will need before putting in an application, each of which helps to establish your identity and your living arrangement. This is the first stage of getting your driver’s license in Mexico – it helps if you speak Spanish, however, it is not essential.
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Once you have your details in order, head to your nearest Secretaría de Movilidad office (Transportation Secretary’s office) to submit an application, this costs between 600 and circa 1,000 pesos (USD $28 to USD $47), depending on the Mexican state you’re residing in.
If you have a foreign drivers’ license, you’re in luck because you won’t need to take a written exam or practical test. You will be asked to take an eye examination and state whether you need refresher classes to drive or have any medical problems that may impede your ability to drive safely on Mexican streets. Such things as diabetes or allergies must be mentioned although they alone will not be a reason for denying you a license.
Normally during the eye test, you will be asked to cover one eye and read a row of letters that are placed in front of you. Some are pronounced differently from the English language, but foreigners are usually excused from mispronunciation.
If you do not have a foreign license, you will be asked to attend classes and take a test to establish your aptitude to drive in Mexico. The classes will be in basic Spanish so limited knowledge of the language is helpful. The actual driving test is relatively simple and should not be a problem as long as you have reached a sufficient level of proficiency.
It should only take a few minutes once everything is completed for the authorities to process your application. With your Mexico driving license, you can then hit the road but take care. Driving in Mexico can be a challenge, especially in crowded urban places like Mexico City.
The legal driving age in Mexico is 18, and like most other countries, it is compulsory to wear a seat belt. You should not drive under the influence of drink or drugs – the alcohol blood limit is 0.08%, and only use hands-free mobile systems.
Similar to the US, people drive on the right-hand side and overtake on the left in Mexico but remember to check your mirror frequently to stay abreast of what is going on around you. A slow-moving vehicle may move to the side to allow you to pass, and you should likewise do the same if called for.
The speed limit is 40 km/hour in urban areas and 80 km/hour on the open road. At night, take extra care as some roads are not well lit, while potholes are also a problem on many roads. Speed bumps are regularly placed as you enter towns and cities, and you should slow as soon as you see any sign.
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Car rentals are only available for those 21 years and older who have had a license for at least 2 years. There may be a surcharge, depending on the rental company, if you are under 25. Some companies may be reluctant to rent a vehicle to anyone 75 and over. It is unusual to be asked for an international driving license. Your national license will be quite sufficient, or of course your Mexican driving license.
If you plan on renting a car online, make sure to check for hidden costs as you may be asked to cough up additional fees on arrival to collect the car – compulsory additional insurance and service fees typically. As a non-Spanish-speaking tourist, you are more likely to face these “extras.”
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The best way to travel distances in Mexico is to use the toll highways. The downside is you need to pay cash to use them, but they are the best-maintained roads in the country, generally dual carriageways. They are used to link cities, cross major bridges, or as bypasses.
You will not be able to pass through the cashless lanes to access them without the necessary tag as proof of payment which is made at booths along the way. Free roads tend to be less well-maintained, and single lane. Keep in mind that owing to toll highways often being bypasses, you might miss some of the places you want to see unless you use free roads.