Back in the USA! … with my Mexican-plated car.

May 8, 2013
Good News !
With all the concerns over what to do with foreign-plated cars, we forgot to include descriptions of what to do with your Mexican-plated car if you want to go back to the USA.   The good news?  We have options!

While putzing around on a forum from a very different part of Mexico, ( I noticed that some gringos on that forum were in a lather over whether an American citizen can take their now-Mexican-plated-car back to the USA,   especially if they originally bought it in the USA and then permanently imported it into Mexico.   The process played out as follows for one savvy reader, a Yucalandia contributor.

US Customs (CBP) easily allows us to re-import our former US cars (after they have been  permanently imported into Mexico)**.  Note that  if you want to take that car back into Mexico later, you pay to re-import it into Mexico.    The Alternative (aka Option 2):  You can drive that Mexican-plated car in the USA for up to a year.

Option 2:
… A quick check of current CBP rules using Google describes how we can temporarily bring Mexican-plated cars into the USA for personal use for up to one year.

Continuing with the theme of issues over using a Mexican-plated car in the USA:  Other comments replied to say that the cops tend to hassle Americans driving Mexican-plated cars…

**A Yucalandia reader had a nice talk with a very knowledgeable and very helpful US Customs Agent and offered the following details:

Requirements to import a vehicle made for US sales and purchased new in the USA:

~ Complete EPA Form 3520-1 (found online)

~ Complete DOT Form HS-7 (found online)

~ Submit the completed forms to CBP as you enter the US side of the border crossing.

~ Wait for CBP agents to review your forms and inspect your car.

~ If approved,  (which is the common outcome),  then complete your part of US CBP Form 7501, and take Form 7501 and the car to that US State’s auto registration office.

The US Customs expert explained that the process at the border is easy and relatively fast, and it is free.   There are no import fees for a US citizen to import the same US vehicle they previously exported to Mexico.

Savvy travelers may have already guessed that the EPA and DOT forms basically document and certify that the owner has not tampered-with nor modified any of the US mandated special safety equipment or features of the car,   and that the owner has not tampered-with nor modified any of the US mandated pollution control equipment or features of the car.

Sidelights:   There was no waiting-on-hold,  the system directly routed me in to talk with an expert,   the call was free,   the US Govt. agent was very pleasant and very helpful,    and the whole call took under 5 minutes.

Happy Trails,
* * * *
Feel free to copy while giving proper attribution: YucaLandia/Surviving Yucatan.
© Steven M. Fry

Read-on MacDuff . . .

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60 Responses to Back in the USA! … with my Mexican-plated car.

  1. Fred says:

    Very few people actually export the car to Mexico. When you import at the border, the US title is returned and at least Texas doesnot care what you did in Mexico. You can keep 2 sets of plates and change after the 24 km ckeck point coming into Nuevo Laredo. Many people do.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Fred,
      Yes, you are correct: The US states we know of (Texas and Colorado) do not get any notification of us importing cars into Mexico. Aduana made a mess of our trailer importation – giving our paperwork to some Canadian named Jerry, and we got Jerry’s paperwork, and never completing the import of either trailer – since Jerry was long gone (leaving hours before without checking his paperwork). Since Aduana was unable to un-knot the mess, 3 years later, I went back to Colorado to get a new trailer title – and they were happy to give us both trailer title and replacement titles on our other vehicles permanently imported into Mexico. Similar inquiries at various Texas county DMVs show the same.

  2. Heather says:

    This specific article, “Back in the USA! with my Mexican-plated car.
    | Surviving Yucatan” was outstanding. I am impressing out a replica to show my close friends.
    Many thanks-Laurene

  3. Felipe says:

    Hi everyone, I will be relocate to florida, i have a mexican car with plates of guanajuato a State of mexico, i will be for 1 year in te US. i want to know if i can go with me car. is a corolla 2011 i am a mexican citizen, now my car insurance have coverage in US

  4. Thanks for your helpful site, have found a wealth of info over the years. Your article “Back in the U.S. with my Mexican plated car” did not quite answer my particular question. I have lived in Mexico for 21 yrs., currently in Cuernavaca. I’m a U.S. citizen, have my permanent resident card here in Mexico, needing to make a short 7 week trip traveling a circuit around the U.S. for several family and personal objectives. I have a valid Mexican and U.S. license. Do I understand from the above article that I can drive it around in the U.S. for up to a year? Car was purchased within Mexico. I am NOT re-importing it into the U.S.–just using it there for temporary travel over 7 weeks. I will be returning with this car to Mexico. Do police in different states with the U.S. have different laws regarding my driving a Mexican-plated vehicle? Thanks so much! Steve G.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Steve,
      Yes, your Mexican-plated car is legal to drive in all 48 continental United States for up to a year. Some gringos with only Mexican drivers licenses have reported that their former insurer’s (like Lewis & Lewis) are balking at issuing US insurance policies for their short trips back to the USA – especially when they have no US address. There are insurers at the border (when you enter the USA), and some Mexican insurance companies either have clauses permitting driving in the USA in their policies, or will extend you US coverage for an extra payment.
      Please come back and tell us how it works out for you,

      • stevegriswell says:

        Great, thanks so much for your prompt reply. I will check with my Mexican car insurance agent. Have a great day!

  5. Maggie Goode says:

    Just for clarification. I am US Citizen who imported an USA purchased and plated car to Mexico. We now want to drive same car (now Mexican plated), back to USA, where we intend to stay for 3 months and then drive back to Mexico. Are we legal and do we have to do anything at the border, when we enter the USA?

  6. Randy says:

    We have had our car here with Hawaii plates the whole time, we were getting the FMM stickers for a few years, but the staff at Banjercito at the Belize border said as long as we did not leave Qroo we did not have to keep coming down every six months. The car has been here 4 years, we now want to return to the states with the car, we were thinking to re-register the car in Hawaii initially to have valid registration to enter the US again. My question is will just the registration suffice to bring the car through US customs again? Thanks, Randy

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Randy,
      Yes, since Q.Roo is an official Free Zone, then foreign plated cars can be driven legally as long as they have current US or Canadian registration. Your car is currently not legal to drive because you allowed the Hawaiian registration to lapse. As such, police could permanently confiscate your car at any point. Not saying that will happen, but we know 2 foreigners in Q.Roo who had their foreign plated vehicles permanently confiscated. (Hint: Stay away from Federal police and stay away from the Cancun airport.)

      In the meantime: To keep driving within Q.Roo legally, you need a valid US license plate and registration – or get a fresh Temporary Import permit at the Belize border.

      When you plan to return to USA, (with no TIP – just US plates) you would then get a free Retorno Seguro 5 day permit to drive the car across and out of Mexico. SAT/Hacienda issues those permits. You apply, and 2-4 days later they give you a 5 day permit. See our main article on cars and driving in Mexico for details on this at: What to Do If Your Car Becomes “Illegal” – The Retorno Seguro Program / Permit

      When you reach the Texas border, if you have renewed the Hawaiian plates, then you just drive on in. If you still have expired Hawaiian plates, then you would get temporary Texas registration (and insurance) at the Texas border.

      All good?

  7. bobbybrown says:

    this is all too DRACONIAN for me—I must be getting old–HA—-what I would do is is fly and rent a car in the states ( renting is cheap nowadays)—-no fuss ; no muss—HA

  8. Britt says:

    I’m a bit confused. I have a 2014 VW Vento that I bought in Mexico. I’m a us citizen and Mexican temp resident. You mentioned we can only take Mexican cars into the US for one year. I want to move back to the states and take my car with me permanently. I would get it registered in whatever state I move to. Is this impossible? Or can you tell me where to look to find out?

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Britt,
      It’s not impossible, but it may be difficult and can be costly.

      Mexican cars are not always built to US DOT standards – and are not built to US EPA standards. This means that cars built specifically for the Mexican market may require substantial safety upgrades and substantial pollution control upgrades to pass the EPA/DOT inspections.

      Check out US DOT’s website before you make a run at this,

      • yucalandia says:

        US manufactured vehicles VINs start with a 1, 4, or 5. Canadian = 2, Mexican = 3.

        If we check out the EPA’s rules on imports, it turns out that because Mexico has different emissions standards than the USA, the US-manufactured vehicles SOLD in Mexico do not necessarily have US-EPA approved emissions equipment – but it may qualify for import into the USA.

        See EPA’s official document on this, “Auto Imports Fact Sheet” and jump to page 35:

        Note that the EPA cautions that not all US-manufactured vehicles meet US EPA standards:
        For a vehicle to be eligible for importation under this section, it must have an EPA emissions label in English language in the engine compartment …

        … or it must be accompanied by a letter from EPA or the US representative of the original equipment manufacturer that states that the vehicle was either manufactured to be a a US certified version or identical in all material respects to a US version.

        Does the Mexican-sold vehicle have either the US EPA sticker in English, or have the official EPA letter?

        Happy Trails,

  9. Ricardo says:

    Hi my wife just baught a 08 acord in mexico that was american with its original american title from north carolina then we legalized the car under her name. she just got her permanent residence and we want to drive this car back home to ND is that possible and how if it is?

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Ricardo,
      If it is a Mexican-plated car, you take the car to the border and simply drive the car around America for up to a year on your Mexican plates (getting insurance coverage for the USA – though they only allow liability coverage on Mexican plated cars). If you want to keep the car in the USA, turn in the NC title to ND to get a ND title and registration.

      If it is an American-plated car, with a valid Temporary Import Permit, you simply enter the USA and get registered there.

      If it is an American-plated car, with an expired Temporary Import Permit, you get a 5 day Retorno Seguro permit to drive to the border, enter the USA and get registered there/drive to the border:

      Happy Trails,

      • Colette Cashmore says:


        I am a Canadian citizen and a Permanent resident of Mexico, I live in Baja California Sur. I need to make a 4 month trip to the Us and Canada. Where can I buy insurance coverage for the U.S. and Canada for my Mexican registered pickup, do I need to get it through a US company or through a Mexican company?

      • yucalandia says:

        Lewis & Lewis used to be regularly recommended (e.g. a good reputation).
        Some Mexican insurance companies can add a rider to our Mexican policies to offer liability coverage while in the USA.


        Talk with your agent + Lewis & Lewis,

  10. Christian says:

    Hi Steve,

    Perhaps you can help me out with some advice too!?

    I am american citizen but have always lived abroad, currently I am resident in Germany. Because I would like to get to know the USA a bit better, I decided to borrow my mothers camper van registered and plated in Germany and shipped it all the way from Germany to Canada. Especially because it does 30 mpg.

    Currently I am in Canada in the van (introduced into Canada without any problems) and suddenly I had this dought if I could drive the van across the boarder and in the US?

    Can I, as US citizen, with german drivers license, and german residenz, drive my mothers camper van registered in Germany across to the US? I have a written permission from her stating that I can drive the vehicle at free will, and even cross the boarder.

    Your help would be greatly appreciated!


  11. Christian says:

    Hi Steve,

    I know that my German drivers license is recognized and accepted for sure. The only doubt is if I, being an american citizen, can drive and cross over to the US in a car plated and registered in Germany? I would suppose that the rules would be the same, i.e for any foreign registered andor plated car, be it in Mexico, Canad, Germany or elsewhere? What are your thoughts on this?


  12. Pingback: Q Plated Car Insurance | Great Car Insurance Compare

  13. deb krejci says:

    Can I drive a mexican plated car that my Mexican freind owns out of Mexico? Into the USA? Or into Southern Countries such as Nicaragua and Costa Rica? I want to buy a Mexican plated car myself, but don’t plan on staying here that long, so not sure it would be worth it for the road trip(s) I have planned. I am already in Mexico, and do not want to go to the USA to buy a car for the trip(s). Friend said I could borrow/rent his. Sounds like a good idea to me, but don’t want border agents thinking I stole it! LOL. And I may be traveling alone…oh joy.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Deb,
      You would definitely want to carry a Carta de Poder (Power of Attorney) letter authorizing you to drive the car – wherever. The USA allows us to have a Mexican plated vehicle inside the USA for up to 365 days.

      Check with insurance companies to find out if he has to file for insurance coverage, or if you can apply, sign and pay.

      I have no idea what rules Nicaragua or Costa Rica have.

  14. Lorena says:

    Hi! I’m planning to study in the USA (around 4 years) and I would like to bring my mexican car with me (Mini Cooper). Is it possible? Or what would you recommend? The car is brand new and I would not like to sell it.

    Thank you for your attention!

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Lorena,
      Really, you can only bring the Mexican-plated car into the USA under one of 3 plans/schemes/systems:
      1. We can bring in a Mexican-plated car for up to 1 year (365 days), and then take it back to Mexico (and return to start the process/1-yr-cycle again?)

      2. If the MiniCooper (or any other US-sold car) was originally purchased in the USA, then legally-exported from the USA, and legally imported into Mexico, and IF that car has not had its US DOT compliant safety systems modified nor had its US EPA compliant emissions systems modified while in Mexico, THEN that US-purchased car can be easily re-imported back into the USA.
      3. The Mexican-plated/Mexican-sold car might be able to be upgraded or modified to meet both US EPA and US DOT standards (often an expensive $$ process), then the Mexican-plated car can be imported permanently into the USA. (This is unlikely, because most Mexican-sold cars are very expensive to modify/upgrade to meet DOT & EPA standards => “grey-market” cars.)

      Happy Trails,

      • sdibaja says:

        In addition to what Steve just said: some states require registration if you live there, I believe California gives you only 15 days! Check the state law for “out of state” regulations. Students and Military probably have exemptions. Just One person complaining could really ruin your day.

      • Lorena says:

        Thank you!! I appreciate it a lot!

      • Lorena says:

        Thank you very much! Just one more question: So it is possible to enter USA again with the car after the year has passed? I mean, I could do that 4 times?

      • yucalandia says:

        Hi Lorena,
        Possibly(?) We haven’t run into this issue before.

  15. Pablo says:

    Hello, i have a question maybe you can help. Is it possible to import a pick up that have epa/dot requirements, but that year of model was no longer sold in the U.S? It s a 2012 lincoln mark lt. U.S made and sold theme here from 2006-2008 and stopped due to not selling much. But mexico keeps on making them till now.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Pablo,
      In theory, yes.

      It would be surprising to me that a vehicle manufactured exclusively for sale on the Mexican marker to be fully US EPA and US DOT compliant. People have been bringing in grey-market cars for years, making after-marker additions of the extra safety features and extra pollution control features required by the USA – but it can be expensive and time consuming.

      Best of luck,

  16. Ivette says:

    Yucalandia hi i want to ask something i came from mexico with my seat leon st 2016 when we pass the border the us patrol told us that we can keep our mexican car in usa because we have an L1 my husband and me L2 visa and just because we have that kind of visa and is for 5 years we can keep our car in Usa for 5 years does somebody happened the same we are not sure and we don’t want to broke some laws keeping our car for five years without coming to mexico every year. Does somebody know if is true and we can keep the car for five years and not coming every year to mexico? We have our mexican plates from estado de mexico and we will register the car in pennsylvania where we will be living any advise will be great thank you so much have a nice day

  17. Julie says:

    Hi, so we recently passed a truck from mexico to the united states, so right now we are with the Durango, Mexico plates and we want to register the truck here. The owner of the truck is my dad so do we have o register it here with him present? and do you really need citizenship or a residency card to do so? Can i just register it without him being present?Also, we failed to bring it up at the border and they told us it is required to do so, is that true?

    • yucalandia says:

      You need to follow a whole other procedure.

      Based on what you wrote, the vehicle has Mexican plates. That means it can only stay in the USA for a year.

      If the truck was originally sold in the US market, and was later imported into Mexico, then you can go back to the border to a CBP station and have it re-certified for US emissions and US safety equipment/standards.

      If the truck was originally sold by a Mexican auto dealership, then it is very very difficult and very $$$ to convert a Mexican truck to meet US standards.

  18. Paul G. says:

    If I am reading correctly (or “reading between the lines”) several of the above, related postings, then when I “import” into Mexico my U.S. made and purchased and DOT/EPA compliant Toyota pick-up truck (because I have become a residente permanente),

    (A) that I necessarily have to “export” it from the USA, but

    (B) when I get fully through both the “exporting” and the “importing” processes, that I will have had returned to me, and will have in my hands, my Arizona vehicle registration, my Arizona title, and my Arizona license plates, and

    (C) as far as the State of Arizona is concerned, not being a party to any of this, I still have an “Arizona” vehicle,

    (D) thereby allowing me, when I am back in the U.S., to drive, and be insured, within the U.S. based on a currently valid Arizona vehicle registration (subject to only, maybe, perhaps CBP’s one-year limitation).

    Would anybody be able to comment whether I have correctly stated reality?

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Paul,
      Those assumptions are mostly correct.

      The CBP stamps the titles as “cancelled” or something like that. (because Mexico requires that the US title be visibly cancelled)

      If you were to show the AZ title to someone, they would note the ‘cancelled’ status.

      You do have 3 other options:
      ~ order a duplicate AZ title
      ~ simply drive the mexican plated vehicle into the USA for no more than 365 consecutive days, and take it back to Mexico to ‘start the clock’ again. You can insure the vehicle in the USA for all liability risks, just not ‘collision’,
      ~ You can easily re-import the US-sold US-equipped vehicle back into the USA if you want the vehicle back in the USA. (but that re-importation back to a USA title and registration… then effectively cancels your prior_Mexican importation) …

      Happy Trails,

      • Paul G. says:

        Steve, thank you for the information and insights. I’m just trying to figure out what will be the easiest way to go back and forth across the border with my soon-to-be Mexican plated vehicle. Planning ahead. The knowledge of those who have gone before certainly helps. Thanks.

  19. Alberto says:

    Hello Paul,
    Im an American citizen and currently reside here in Jalisco Mexico. I recently purchased a 2016 FORD F-150 here in Mexico and want to drive back to Las Vegas NV for a month. I don’t have a Mexican drivers license but i still have my valid Nevada drivers license. Will I have a problem entering and driving in the US in a MEXICAN plated truck with a Nevada drivers license?

  20. Rafael says:

    Hi I live in USA and want to buy a Mexican truck and bring it into USA and my question is how I can do to put USA plates on that truck is a 2009 chevy truck

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Rafael,
      Many people say it’s not worth it to attempt this, unless the vehicle was originally sold in the USA for use in the USA.

      The Mexican versions of almost all vehicles have different (cheaper) emissions-controls systems and different safety systems that do NOT meet US EPA nor US DOT standards – and it’s very very expensive to change the pollution-controls & US DOT standards.

      All the best,

  21. Javier says:

    Hello, I am a Mexican citizen and I have my car with Mexican plates. I will move to Michigan for two years with a working visa and I would like to take my car there with the Mexican plates. Is there a way I can do that.
    Thanks a lot

    • yucalandia says:

      Just for 1 year.

      Beyond that detail, we don’t know the rules on re-entry for another year.

      Could you exit temporarily to Canada, and come back into the USA ‘reset’ and gain another year?

      • Javier says:

        Thanks for the answer.
        About that if I can go to Canada and be back, Do you have a contact that can tell me.

        Thanks again for your help

      • sdibaja says:

        I know nothing about Michigan, you should check a bit with them. The State may be rather restrictive.
        Example: for out of state vehicles California only allows something like 15 or 30 days before you need to register locally… motor homes get around that if they keep moving, I think. all it takes is a complaint from a busy body, or a mexiphobic cop.
        I suppose you could drive up, garage your car, then purchase a clunker for your visit.
        Michigan also does some sort of annual safety checking, perhaps they are rather anal over there.
        Let us know what works out for you, I may take a working vacation back East too.

      • yucalandia says:

        I understand that Federal law (1 year) takes precedent, so the 30 day state rules don’t apply for Mexican plated vehicles,

        …. but I am no expert on California law…

        The 30 day and 60 day state’s rules apply to American titled / plated cars.

  22. Kawa A. Omar says:

    I have mexican plated Vehicles BMW 2014 im USA citizen i want to change to USA plated how i can i do that ?

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Kawa,
      Unless your BMW was sold when new by an American dealer in America, it’s very difficult and very expensive to convert a Mexican (non US car) into one that complies with US DOT and US EPA standards.

      Best of luck,

  23. Eduardo Ramz says:

    I have a question, I’m a us citizen and bought a Mexican vehicle while working in Monterrey, Mexico. I still have Mexican license plates on the truck but want to know what happens if I bring it back to the US. How long do I have to get US plates or if its even necessary since I keep going back and forth about once every two months or three months would there be a problem? In past cases when I cross the border, The officials say I can only have the vehicle in the US for up 30 days with Mexican license plates. is that necessarily true or can anyone help me? I move back and forth between Texas and Monterrey, Mexico.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Eduardo,
      You can drive the vehicle in the USA for up to a year on the Mexican plates.

      Then the vehicle has to go back to Mexico.

      The only way to keep it continuously in the USA would be to permanently import it … but that’s difficult to do for Mexican-original-purchased vehicles … because the vehicle must meet US DOT & US EPA standards. Vehicles originally sold in the USA (but permanently imported into Mexico) are easily re-imported back into the USA because they meet US standards.

      Typically, it costs a lot of $$ to try to convert a Mexican vehicle to meet US standards – so almost no one does this.

      With your regular trips back into Mexico w/the truck, it should ‘re-set’ your 1 year clock for having the vehicle in the USA.

      Hope this helps,

  24. Luis Felipe Martinez says:

    Hello Mr. Fry, I’m an american citizen living in Miami, I’ve always want it to have a brand new Land Rover Defender. So, I want it to know if i can go to Mexico buy a new or slightly used one, register the car in Mexico and bring it to Miami, use it for less than a year then bring back to Mexico for a week or 2, and then again bring it back to USA and so on, is that possible for me to do it while not being a resident in Mexico, just a tourist?

    • yucalandia says:

      seems ok … but note that insurance companies only give liability coverage for Mexican cars in the US.

      With no other coverage, the vehicle could be a total loss if you got into an accident.

  25. Ernesto says:

    I’m still quite confused on the process of registering a car in th U.S. My situation is how to re-import a vehicle that was iniatially bought in the U.S (Arizona) and registered in Mexico for personal use, back into the U.S permentnetly

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