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!

General Rule:  Mexican plated vehicles are allowed into the USA for 1 year.**

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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116 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!

      • Jason Morey says:

        I think that the link to CBP does not address US citizens drving their “foreign” plated car. this is what it states “Nonresidents/visitors may import a vehicle duty-free for personal use up to (1) one year if the vehicle is imported in conjunction with the owner’s arrival.” I don’t think US citizens are considered non residents or visitors? Anyone shed some new light on that?

      • yucalandia says:

        It’s been US law & policy for over 15 years that US citizens are allowed to drive Mexican-plated vehicles in the USA for up to one year.

      • mexicobonita says:

        Thanks for the update. Just wanted clarity

      • Jared westbrook says:

        Thank you yucalandia. I was just needing to know if the info was current with the govt admin changes u just responded yesterday. Thanks

      • yucalandia says:

        California has its own stricter regs…

  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.

      • Patrick Hasburgh says:

        Steve, I have a 2014 Mini Cooper Countryman, purchased in Guadalajara… is importing it to So. California an impossibility for a nightmare?

      • yucalandia says:

        Hi Patrick,
        There are few cars sold in Mexico that are manufactured to meet US DOT and US EPA standards.

        There is an official list of such vehicles at:

        but your’s does not appear to be on the list. Vehicles not on the list generally are very expensive to re-fit to meet US DOT & EPA standards.

        One Mini-site describes:
        “All regulations of Customs and other agencies are not covered in full, and they are subject to change. Before importing your vehicle, be sure to contact the Customs Attaché or Commercial Officer at your nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy, or the appropriate agency below (particularly DOT and EPA):
        Customs Service
        If you are outside the United States , contact the Customs Attaché or Commercial Officer at your nearest U.S. Consulate or Embassy.
        U.S. Customs Attaches Throughout the World
        U.S. Customs Officers in Foreign Countries
        Contact a U.S. Customs Port
        U.S. Customs Service
        Washington, DC 20229
        Telephone (202) 927-6724

        Department of Transportation (DOT)
        DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website
        Telephone: (202) 366-5313
        Fax: (202) 366-1024

        U.S. Department of Transportation
        National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
        Director of the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance (NEF-32)
        400 7th Street SW
        Washington, DC 20590

        Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
        EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality
        Telephone: 202-564-9240
        Faxback System: 202-564-9660
        Fax: (202) 565-2057
        U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
        Manufacturers Operations Division 6405-J
        Investigation/Imports Section
        401 M Street, S.W.
        Washington, D.C. 20460″

  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

  26. daniel says:

    Question, I have a chevy 1956 in mexico, with mexican plates. now I move back to US and I want to bring my truck back to US. do you know what I need?
    The chevy was american imported to mexico, I did buy the truck in mexico. I am US citizen.

  27. Mauricio Garcia says:

    Hello Yucalandia, first of all thank you for this useful web-page.
    I am a Mexican citizen and I am going to Work in San Antonio Texas under my L1 Visa
    I would like to bring with me my car which is a Mazda3 2015( Mexican plated car) my work visa is approved for 3 years so I would like to know up to how many years my car can be in US? And what documents do I need to show in the border to enter without problems?

    Thanks in advance for your support,

    Best regards,


  28. Howard says:

    Hi! Have read this beautiful two-year thread and can’t quite seem to get the answer I need. I bought a VW Tiguan 2015 at the “demo model sale” that the VW factory in Puebla has. It’s German made but doesn’t have the English-language emission sticker in the motor compartment. I’m moving back to New Hampshire after two year contract in Mexico. Apparently if I can get a letter from US VW that the vehicle is identical to a US EPA certified version, then I’m fine. Anyone have experience getting such a letter? Any other comments would be most welcome

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Howard,
      It you can prove that it meets US EPA emissions standards, you would also need to prove that it meets US DOT safety standards.

      I would imagine that when~if you can get VW to issue an emissions certification, they should also get them to issue the DOT safety standard certification (?)

      Good Luck,

      • Howard says:

        Thanks, Steve, I will let this forum know if I was successful in getting the letter from VW America. By the way folks, the VW factory in Puebla has a yearly “demo model” sale around September 1. Just ask you local dealer when it is each year. All the demo models from around the country come back to Puebla, there were about 600 cars in the huge field off Via Volkswagen. The prices are really extraordinary. I bought my one-year old 2015 Tiguan in August 2016 for MXN270K and am about to sell it. From the car sites, I can get as much as . . . MXN270K for it!

  29. Pepe Abi says:

    Hi Steve, I´m a Mexican national and I´m getting a job in Michigan near Detroit area with a TN1 visa, therefore I plan to move with my car a Nissan Sentra 2015. Since it is possible to get my car into the USA and remain there for 365 days with my mexican plates, do you know if traveling outside the USA, let say to Canada instead of Mexico (since the Canadian boarder is closer to leave the USA), technically this will count as “leaving” the USA, and if I spend the weekend in Canada and return to the USA a couple of days after leaving, does this movement will reset the1 year reset time for the car to be allowed to stay for a second year in the USA with the mexican plates? Hopefully you can provide a word of wisdom about the legality and feasibility to do this and comply with both current laws and procedures, thanks.

  30. Mary says:

    Hi Yucalandia,
    I am very thankful I found your blog. My question is that if I need to register a new Mexican car in California? I am a permanent resident and planning to stay for a year in Bay area.

    Thank you very much!!!

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Mary,
      Our main article on cars in Mexico addresses this.**
      The USA has tougher safety standards and tougher pollution standards than Mexico, so cars SOLD in Mexico do not meet US standards. Was your car originally sold by a Mexican dealer?

      If so, it is usually too expensive to re-fit the car with US standard-level equipment.
      You can however take the Mexican sold vehicle into the USA for a year, driving on Mexican plates.

      **See this for details:

      Happy Trails,

      • sdibaja says:

        Steve my understanding is that California Law can supersede Federal Law…
        FAQ: “Did you know that California law permits only 20 days to complete the process of registering your vehicle without paying a penalty?”
        can we debunk this? thanks

      • yucalandia says:

        Wow, California really is *special*.

        Another official California govt. website offers these insights:
        How To: Register a Vehicle Imported From Another Country (Direct Import) (HTVR 9A)
        If the vehicle was not originally manufactured to meet CARB and EPA emission requirements and DOT FMVSS, the vehicle cannot be registered in California, unless the owner of the vehicle qualifies for one of the following exemptions. The vehicle was:

        ~ Obtained as part of divorce, dissolution, legal separation, or inheritance.

        ~ Purchased to replace a California-registered vehicle which was damaged, became inoperative beyond reasonable repair, or stolen while out of state.

        ~ Acquired while the owner was a resident of, or on active military duty in, another state or country where the vehicle was registered in their name for at least one year.

        ~ Manufactured with an engine displacement of less than 50 cubic centimeters.

  31. Bertha says:

    Steve, thank you so much for your time and kindness in answering our questions! I found it very useful !! I have one more question: I have a Mexican car, with Mexican plates and I have a Mexican driver’s license, does the 1 year permission to drive into USA a car bought and plated in Mexico apply also to California State? I will be studying (F1) at San Diego for 1 year, but I am a little confused about different (or extra) laws in California ?

    • yucalandia says:

      One part of California law permits only 20 days to complete the process of registering your vehicle without paying a penalty.

      Another part describes some exemptions…
      California really is *special*.

      Another official California govt. website offers these insights:
      “How To: Register a Vehicle Imported From Another Country (Direct Import) (HTVR 9A)”
      “If the vehicle was not originally manufactured to meet CARB and EPA emission requirements and DOT FMVSS, the vehicle cannot be registered in California, unless the owner of the vehicle qualifies for one of the following exemptions. The vehicle was:

      ~ Obtained as part of divorce, dissolution, legal separation, or inheritance.

      ~ Purchased to replace a California-registered vehicle which was damaged, became inoperative beyond reasonable repair, or stolen while out of state.

      ~ Acquired while the owner was a resident of, or on active military duty in, another state or country where the vehicle was registered in their name for at least one year.
      ~ Manufactured with an engine displacement of less than 50 cubic centimeters.”

      We’re looking forward to hearing first person experiences from someone who has brought a Mexican plated vehicle into California…

    • yucalandia says:

      Great question. Mmessy topic due to California being special.

      In theory, US Federal law allows you 1 year … but states are allowed to make their own rules that are at least as stringent as Federal law, as long as the state laws do not contravene Federal agreements between the USA & Mexico.

      That legal position then pushes us to read California rules & laws:

      What Is an Out-of-State (Nonresident) Vehicle?
      A vehicle last registered in another state or country.”


      Do I Need to Register My Vehicle?
      A vehicle must be registered in California if it is based in California or is primarily used on California highways (located or operated in this state for a greater amount of time than any other individual state during the registration period), even if registered to a nonresident owner (CVC §4000.4).”

      Since I understand the “registration period” is 1 year, then, if you operate the vehicle in California for more than 6 months during a 365 day period, then the vehicle is officially considered to be “based in California” … and then could be required to meet the “20 day” requirement:

      “When Do I Have to Pay Fees to Register My Nonresident Vehicle?
      Registration fees for your nonresident vehicle must be paid to DMV within 20 days of the date they become due. The date that registration fees become due varies. For date fees due, residency, and exemption information, see the How To: Determine Residency/When Are Fees Due on an Out-of-State Vehicles (HTVR 33) brochure.”

      So … Note that our interpretations of California DMV rules is just a starting point. Contact the California DMV for specific clarifications regarding your plans,

      Happy Trails,

  32. Bertha says:

    I appreciate your prompt answer. As I though, I certainly have to consider other options…Thank you !

    • sdibaja says:

      perhaps if you don’t “live in California” and are just “visiting frequently, for only a couple weeks at a time” … as in “I actually live in Tijuana mostly” you might be able to avoid a ticket (wink wink, nod nod if you know what I mean).
      as a former California resident, and knowing their phobia about Mexico that may just be asking for trouble.
      Keep your car in TJ, buy a beater in San Diego. Most cars are cheap there.
      good luck.

  33. James Carter says:

    Hey Steve, So I am mexican/american currently living in Mexico with a mexican car (Audi a4 2013), I have a home back in Texas and I got a job there, I would like to know If I can take my mexican registered audi and register it back in the US with texas plates. Thanks!

    • yucalandia says:

      Just for 1 year. Because it’s so costly & difficult to update many Mexican-sold cars to meet US EPA & DOT standards, it’s generally not worth it to try to import a Mexican-sold car into the USA.

  34. Daniel Moore says:

    Steve, any info on full-coverage insurance in the US on a Mexican-plated car? I have a new VW and would hate to only have liability coverage when in the US.


    • Howard Frederick says:

      We entered with a Mexican plated car. AAA was happy to insure even with a Mexican drivers license. They will even give a discount after six months when you get your American DL again.

  35. Oz says:

    Hi Steve and anyone reading this. My situation is a bit different.I have read every entry above and no one’s is similar. Here it goes, I lent/gave my American car to a friend going to Mexico, I was soon to follow HER. Things changed and I am no longer going. The car has been in Mexico over a year and since she is not coming back any time soon I need to go get my car. I got a duplicate title in FL. in my attempts to have the car shipped back. She “says” she can’t find the original with my name on it!! when she crossed the border she had a notarized letter from my authorizing her to take my car across the border. Now my car is abandoned at her old address, she no longer lives there but I have access to it and I have a set off keys (spare). I am smarter than I realized!!! Anyway, here in lies the dilema, I don’t have anything prove to customs that the car was originally brought from the US. She has no documentation from the import/crossing. So whenI get to the border do I show them my current (will renew) FL. registration/plates and title and goon my Mary way? or will they want see my catalytic converter etc. It does not have any of that as it is a heavily modified 2005 Chevy Silverado with exhaust system and lift kit. It was legal in the US and apparently legal to cross into Mexico, but not sure it will be legal to return. I guess the questions is: do I sail through customs because I have US plates and title in my name or will the friendly folks at CBP want to re-engineer the truck at the crossing? Sorry for the long winded story!!

    OH yes one more thing, I see people/cars crossing the border in San Diego/Tijuana as if they had special permission. They don’t have stop/inspection for them. Are those people with US plates or special permits or what? Id hate to get all the way to the border only to have to walk across without my truck.

    • yucalandia says:

      Most Americans drive back into the USA with their US plated cars with no hassles at all.

      You have a valid title, and valid registration(?). I thought Florida required emissions testing before issuing registration??

      If no valid current Florida registration, you will likely have to get a 30 day temporary permit from Texas. … click the “30 Day Permit” tab.

      Also have to get liability insurance “that meets the Texas minimum liability limits of $30,000/$60,000/$25,000. Insurance is not required for trailers and semitrailers. An insurance company authorized to write insurance in Texas must provide the coverage” if you are getting a Texas temporary registration.

      Happy Trials,

  36. Oz says:

    Thanks against answer your question above, NO!, FL. does not have/require emissions of any kind. Hasn’t for at least 20 years!!So again thank you. Yes I have a title and will renew my plates which bring with me before heading backing the US. I will also have insurance when I cross the border.
    Thanks I feel confident, fingers crossed!!Oh by the way I found out why those people were moving fast past the longline of cars. They were either Known travelers with a special US Customs pass called FAST pass to SENTRY card holders.they go the front of the line. Both of those are for frequent border crossers and you have to go through a process which includes background checks and other looking into. I will be doing this and anyone with couple if weeks advance notice should the same. I understand it gets you through the checkpoint way ahead of the long line of casual crossers, which can take upwards of 2-3 hours. Just google “SENTRY or FAST pass border crossing” and all is explained there for your readers.

  37. Cathy says:

    We have a car that we bought in the USA and took to Mexico immediately. My husband drove it for a while but on realizing that the car wasn’t registered anywhere, we registered it in Mexico through a ‘coyote’ (lawyer/fixer). We drove the car to the USA and are now here with Mexican plates, a US title, but no US registration in his name. I want to register the car, but what would the steps be in our situation?
    Any insight would be very helpful.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Cathy,
      Contact your state’s DMV and find out their requirements for getting a state title in either his name or your name. (Many US states require that the vehicle owner apply for the title – or that the vehicle’s owner sign over a POA to the applicant giving permission for you to apply for the title in their name.)

      Once you have a valid current state title in his name or your name, then register the vehicle with the state (which might mean another POA, depending on the state),

      If he is available to file for the title & registration in his name … GREAT!

      Happy Trails,

    • Javier says:

      estoy en la misma situacion, como te ha ido? yo pretendo manejar en eua con las placas mexicanas, habra problema? igual tengo un auto americano con placas mexicanas (coyote)

      • yucalandia says:

        ¿Seguiste la ley de los EE. UU. (desde 2013), que debe presentar una solicitud formal ante la Aduana de los EE. UU. para que se cancele el título de los EE. UU., con una retención del vehículo de 72 horas por parte de la Aduana de los EE. UU. mientras verifican que no fue robado?

        Si no cumplió con la ley de los EE. UU. (desde 2013), que debe presentar formalmente ante la Aduana de los EE. UU. para que se cancele el título de los EE. UU., entonces legalmente está bien conducir el vehículo de regreso a los EE. todavía válido.

        Sin embargo, eso significa que sus placas mexicanas son totalmente ilegales y si la policía en los EE. UU. lo detiene o tiene un accidente en los EE. UU., lo multarán por no tener placas válidas o registro del vehículo.

        Esto significa que para conducir legalmente en los EE. UU., debe hacer que su estado le envíe nuevas placas actuales… O DETÉNGASE EN TEXAS y obtenga placas temporales de 30 días en Texas.

        Después de obtener las etiquetas temporales legales en Texas, conduzca hasta su estado original y restablezca el registro válido y las etiquetas válidas.

        Saludos, Steve

  38. Kristina says:

    Hi came across this site when googling and hoping someone had info… my father recently passed away in Mexico. He was a Mexican citizen and had a vehicle Mexican plated vehicle. I am a US citizen, living in the US (CA)… wondering how difficult it would be to bring his truck here to the states especially since he was the registered owner. I have his death certificate but not sure what else I would need.

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Kristina,
      If the vehicle was originally purchased in the USA, equipped with US safety equipment & US emissions standard equipment, then you could bring it into the USA.

      If the vehicle was originally sold~purchased in Mexico, then it takes a ton of work to try to bring the vehicle up to US safety & emissions standards => NOT worth it.

      So, I’d assume that it was originally purchased from a Mexican dealer, which means your best bet is to walk away from it: Sell it in Mexico & take the cash.

      Happy Trails,

  39. Greg says:

    Hello, I stumbled upon your blog and I hope that after all this time you still check it. I’ve been looking for an answer, but can’t seem to find it. I hope you can help.
    I am a US citizen and currently live in Arizona, I am planning to buy a 1981 Chevy truck from someone in Mexico. This truck comes with a Texas title from the 1980’s. It seems as the truck was exported to Mexico a long time ago, It has had many owners throughout the years.
    The person I am planning to buy the truck from has it registered under his name in Mexico, but the Texas title is still under someone else’s name. My question is how would I be able to get it back across the border if I can’t show proof of ownership.
    I thought of registering it in Mexico under my name to make it easier, but I am not a Mexican citizen.

    • yucalandia says:

      If it has a Texas title, it was never legally permanently imported into Mexico.

      Part of the legal importation to Mexico, USA’s CBP has to cancel the old title … and Aduana issues a replacement document, called a Pedimento.

      Without the Pedimento … it’s not a legit Mexican vehicle.

      Without a legit Texas title – signed over by the Texas owner listed on the title – then it’s not legal for you to buy in the USA. … So many sleazy things done at the border, it may be hard to un-ball this one.

      Maybe it’s best just to find a legit truck. 😉

      • Greg says:

        Yes, it still has a Texas title. But it was taken to Mexico in the 1980’s, did they do pedimientos at this time? The vehicle is registered in Mexico under the current owners name (not the one on Texas title). Is it possible to post some pictures somewhere to get your input of all the documents that the owner has?

      • yucalandia says:

        If it has a Texas title, then you would either have to get the Texas owner to agree to sell it to you … or possibly file for a ‘salvage title’ ???

        It’s better to just buy a legitimate vehicle. ???

  40. Jeff says:

    Hi Yucalandia,

    what happens if someone leaves their mexican plated car in the US past the 1 year deadline? say someone just decided to abandon it and go back or just got a job i USA and stayed and never took the vehicle out? what happens?

    also, what if a mexican citizen or resident drives his mexican plated car to the US and it is totaled? not worth bringing back/hauling to mexico? do you tell customs about it? do you document it? similar scenario what if it gets stolen?

  41. Jeff says:

    also, this may be helpful for your readers. Source is the link below for more details

    Re-Importing A Previously Exported Vehicle:

    A vehicle taken from the United States for non-commercial, private use may be returned duty free by proving to CBP that it was previously owned and registered in the United States. This proof may be a state-issued registration card for the automobile or a bill of sale for the car from a U.S. dealer. Repairs or accessories acquired abroad for your vehicle must be declared on your return and may be subject to duty.

    In some countries, it will be difficult or impossible to obtain unleaded fuel for your vehicle. If the vehicle is driven using leaded gasoline, it will be necessary for you to replace the catalyst and oxygen sensor upon its return to the U.S. To avoid the expense of replacing these parts you may obtain authorization from EPA to remove the catalyst and oxygen sensor before the vehicle is shipped overseas. The EPA telephone number for these authorizations is (202) 564-2418. When the vehicle returns to the U.S., the original catalyst and oxygen sensor will need to be reinstalled. However, you may now reenter your U.S. version vehicle into the U.S. without bond, upon your assurance that you will have the reinstallation performed.


    The following vehicles need not conform to emission or safety requirements but may NOT be sold in the U.S. and may require EPA and DOT declarations:

    Those imported by nonresidents for personal use not exceeding one year. The vehicle must be exported at the end of that year – there are no exceptions or extensions.
    Those belonging to members of foreign armed forces, foreign diplomatic personnel, or other individuals who come within the class of persons for whom free entry has been authorized by the Department of State in accordance with international law.
    Those temporarily imported for testing, demonstration, or competition, provided they are not licensed for use, or driven on public roads. These vehicles may be operated on public roads or highways provided the operations are an integral part of the test. Parties responsible for such vehicles must submit proper documents – forms EPA 3520-1 and DOT HS-7 – to CBP at the time entry is made. Also, applicable written approvals from these agencies must be obtained in advance and presented to CBP along with these forms. Remember, the cost to return vehicles that have been refused prior approval can be very high and must be borne by the vehicle owner(s).

    Driver’s Plates and Permits:

    Imported cars should bear the International Registration Marker. The International Driving Permit, issued in five languages, is a valuable asset. Consult an international automobile federation or your local automobile club about these documents.

    U.S. residents importing a new or used car should consult the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in their state of residence about temporary license plates and what documentation their DMV would require from CBP.
    Nationals of Central and South American countries that have ratified the Inter-American Convention of 1943 may drive their cars in the U.S. for touring purposes for one year or for the period of the validity of the documents, whichever is shorter, without U.S. license plates or U.S. driver’s permits, provided the car carries the International Registration Marker and registration card, and the driver has the International Driving Permit.
    Motorists visiting the United States as tourists from countries that have ratified the Convention on International Road Traffic of 1949 may drive in the U.S. for one year with their own national license plates (registration tags) on their own national license plates (registration tags) on their cars and with their own personal drivers’ licenses.
    Motorists from Canada and Mexico are permitted to tour in the U.S. without U.S. license plates or U.S. driver’s permits, under agreements between the United States and these countries.
    Motorists from a country not a party to any of the above agreements must secure a driving permit in the U.S. after taking an examination.
    Foreign nationals employed in the U.S. may use their foreign license tags from the port of entry to their destination in the U.S.

  42. Robert says:

    I am a Canadian citizen who owns a car purchased new in Mexico and plated in Mexico. Can I enter the USA and drive with it in the USA for upto one year without paying import duties?

    • yucalandia says:

      Notice that many Mexican insurance policies have limits restricting coverage in the USA, and require special riders added to give insurance coverage in the USA.

      Happy Trails,

  43. Miguel says:

    No questions here, just want to thank you for all the great information provided, Reading these questions found all my answers. I appreciate your time and effort. Regards


    hello, i have a RAV4 2020 with insurance paid for 5 years, it have mexican plates, and i have planned goes to work to US and use my car, is that possible?

  45. Geoff says:

    I’m an American citizen and permanent resident of Mexico with a Mexican-plated car. I have American and Mexican licenses. My Mexican insurance covers me in the US. Do I need to do anything special at the border or can I drive right over the border and into the US?

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