Update on US Customs Law on Permanently Importing Cars to Mexico

May 5, 2014 ~ Update on US CBP Car Export Requirements ~
In the arcane world of US government law and even more dense regulations, some laws and rules go un-noticed and un-enforced for years.

There is a glaring example of this in the years of Americans (and Mexicans) importing used cars and used pickups into Mexico. We’re all pretty much aware of the Mexican requirements for importing one-car-a-year into Mexico, but how many of us pay attention to the other half of the equation: Formally Exporting the vehicle from the USA ?

US law is pretty clear on this:     We must formally register the exporting of our cars/pickups with Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) BEFORE we can legally import them into Mexico. See:

19 CFR 192.2 – “Requirements for Exportation
(a) Basic requirements. A person attempting to export a used self-propelled vehicle shall present to Customs, at the port of exportation, both the vehicle and the required documentation describing the vehicle, which includes the Vehicle Identification Number or, if the vehicle does not have a Vehicle Identification Number, the product identification number.

Exportation of a vehicle will be permitted only upon compliance with these requirements, …”

Failure to comply with this US Export law is a felony….

Sure, some people can point to the CBP website that has squishy language about the requirement for export,   but websites are not law, especially when the website info is directly contradicted by laws and regulations published in the US CFR.

Reality: (sometimes reality ~ enforcement of the law ~ is different from the law)

There are people who offer a service for gringo’s illegal TIP cars – taking them (legally) back up to the border to either legalize them or sell them NOB.    These people have reported talking with CBP supervisors as CBP techs tear through the cars.  Their consistent internet reports say that CBP/Homeland Security does require us to formally export our used cars (using CBP services at the border) before doing a permanent import into Mexico.

We offer this report, because hundreds of used car are now successfully formally exported everyday at the border –  mostly by Mexicans –  so,  know that the USA is now enforcing the law.    Find a licensed Customs broker on the US side of the border who does this frequently (or contact a Mexican broker before you travel),   and they make it all easy ~ and legal. ~

~ Notice that a few un-licensed “facilitators”, are mistakenly telling their Canadian and US clients that “you don’t have to do that” ~ (export the car) ~  skipping half the export/import requirements ~ which allows the “facilitators” to charge lower fees by providing only half the required services. ~

The consequences of a future felony conviction (if the vehicle is worth more than $1,000), hardly seems worth the few hundred $$ saved now.   (???)

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As always, Yucalandia authors present material that is only for informational and entertainment purposes only. All important fiscal, financial, tax, immigration, Customs/Aduana matters should be discussed with an appropriate expert.
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Readers who want more details on Importing a Car or Truck into Mexico, and the Mexican and US rules and procedures can find lots o’ details at our main article:  Importing & Driving a Car in Mexico .

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

Read-on MacDuff . . .

This entry was posted in Driving in Mexico Posts, Living in Mexico - Posts. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Update on US Customs Law on Permanently Importing Cars to Mexico

  1. MeridaGOround says:

    From the president on down, we’re all felons some of the time. Selective enforcement is part of our new two-tier justice system, well-described by Matt Taibbi in his new book, THE DIVIDE: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.

    Here’s a quote from the intro, describing a scam discovered by an employee of HSBC, used to get accounts for drug cartels: “What deserves a bigger punishment – someone with a college education who knowingly helps a gangster or a terrorist open a bank account? Or a high school dropout who falls asleep on the F-train? [¶] The new America says it’s the latter. It’s come around to that point of view at the end of a long evolutionary process, in which the rule of law has slowly been replaced by giant idiosyncratic bureaucracies that are designed to criminalize failure, poverty, and weakness, on the one hand, and to immunize strength, wealth, and success, on the other.”

  2. Mike Savage says:

    I wonder if a car that is already in another country qualifies as an export if in fact it has been out of the country for a number of years and if it left the country without the expectation of exportation and has not returned to the country of origin and by law, the other country determines it has to now be nationalized. Is it legally the same to say nationalization is importation. Exportation, one would think, occurs at the border not after it left the country. These cars left the country legally and without the expectation of importation. Someone will probably get a private ruling or something but I don’t know from whom. It seems unlikely to ever surface unless one were to try to repatriate the vehicle to the US. Interesting topic, like everyone’s initial impression that fideicomiso’s were foreign trusts requiring filing with the US Treasury but later ruled that a house is house an not a trust as long as it is used like your own house and not a business. Doubtful that the US government wants to be bothered with tracking down the people who had one car in Mexico and got stuck with the problem by the Mexican government. Probably takes a year or two to get sorted out.

    • yucalandia says:

      I agree that Homeland Security will likely not attempt to track down long-past old moldy imports of used cars into Mexico, unless they wanted to make an example of someone, to put the fear of God into the rest of us. (???) – as an oft-used IRS tactic, where they publicly fry a few poor souls, to encourage future “compliance” by the rest of us. ???

      Don’t worry, be happy.

      • Mike Savage says:

        I think generally the US Government only makes examples of people when there is widespread non compliance and the potential for revenue loss, such as the pursuit of well known figures by the IRS. The potential gain to the US treasury in this case seems miniscule or even negative. However if they were able to catch someone using the method of tips to importation to Mexico on a large scale avoiding US payments or in someway exporting stolen or salvaged titled vehicles then I have no doubt they would prosecute. Also for a politically active person in any party I think that there is the likelihood that breaking any rule, questionable or not would put you at high risk of a meaningless, probably unsuccessful, prosecution.

      • yucalandia says:

        Good good points,

  3. Dave in Ont says:

    Steve, as a Canuck, I have no idea if the Canadian government has any rules like the ones you just posted about. All I know is that even if there were such a requirement I sure won’t be rushing to contact our government to tell them that the 18 year old car I drove down (legally) 6 years ago has now been nationalized into Mexico!!! In my mind I did nothing wrong. It was and is my car and I can do whatever I wish with it to make it legal in the country of IT’S and my residence. There is way too much government bureaucracy in this world anymore, especially when one government starts telling it’s citizens what they can and can’t do in another country to make them legal in that other country.

  4. Jacobo says:

    •Shipments with a value over $2,500 USD going to Mexico from the U.S. will also need a completed U.S. shipper’s export declaration. The link below “explains” how to complete the form and it most cases you will need a US Customs Broker. This information is required for statistical purposes. It ALSO includes household items as well if they are over the limit. If you return the goods to the US you have to declare them as American goods returned, which is another whole can of worms. And, some of the goods you purchase in the US are NOT American goods, like made in China. Then you have to show you purchased the goods in the US. Having fun yet? The rules and regulations make the IRS Code look like the McGuffey Reader. And, even if you get the correct forms and make a mistake, you liable for criminal prosecution.

    As many have stated in the past, and, I worked for a US Customs Broker, my father, for 15 years and have lived in Mexico for 25 years, you are insane to import anything but the absolute non-available in Mexico goods. This is especially true of AUTOMOBILES.


    Paper work for American Goods Returned:


    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Jacobo,
      If you check out the rules for household goods imports for Residente Permanente and Residente Temporal, allowing Americans to bring in ~ duty-free and tax-free ~ truck and trailer-loads of household goods, you would know that that it’s NOT “insane to import anything but the absolute non-available in Mexico goods” The insane thing would be to abandon your household goods in the USA and buy all new things in Mexico.

      Reality: There is NO limit on the total $ of used personal household goods that a foreign Residente can drive in with, under the Menaje de Casa rules.

      Since we can legally drive in with an entire household of used personal goods ~ Tax-Free & Duty Free ~ why tell people that they must use a licensed Customs Broker?

      I would guess that the Aduana rules and INM rules have changed so significantly since you used to work with your father (10 years ago), that your advice is generally no longer applicable.

      e.g. As of Jan. 1, 2014, foreigner are no longer legally required to use a licensed Customs Broker to import a car into Mexico. Customs Brokers provide valuable services to those who want to pay for that service, but the laws have changed dramatically, allowing most Americans and Canadians to do their own imports, without a Broker.

      Thanks for the trip down memory-lane, of past eras, when Customs Brokers were required.

  5. Barbara says:


    Sent from my iPad


  6. Dianne says:

    I live in Mexico. The VIP sticker was removed from my car during a recent short trip to Texas. On my return, I was told that I no longer had legal status to obtain another VIP, because I was not a tourist and my residente temporal application was still in process. I now have a valid residente temporal card, and want to re-import my car, which is with me in Mexico and illegal. Is there a solution?

    • yucalandia says:

      Hi Dianne,
      You take the car to a border, and get another TIP. Get a free 5 day Retorno Seguro permit from Hacienda/SAT to drive the car legally:See the subsection on the SAT/Hacienda (Aduana) Retorno Seguro program: https://yucalandia.com/driving-in-mexico-issues-fun/importing-driving-a-car-in-mexico/#What%20to%20Do%20If%20Your%20Car%20Becomes%20Illegal

      It describes how to get a 5 business day (1 week) free permit to drive to the border, legally to get your permit. Realize that your insurance company can deny paying any claims because your car is being driven illegally. This means that not only can the police confiscate your car permanently, but if you get in an accident, you could be personally liable for $5 million pesos per person – with no insurance protection. If a Mexican family of 4 was killed in an accident with you, you would be liable for $20 million pesos – $1.5 million US dollars – for driving an illegal vehicle.

      Safe travels, and please,
      correct this serious problem soon,

  7. marcie cavanagh says:

    Hi Steve, do you know if Mexico is regularizing US plated cars? I have a 2013 Subaru not made in Japan.

    • yucalandia says:

      8-9 model years old, NAFTA mfg vehicles … gotta use a customs broker … the US CBP requires waiting 72 hrs at the border to check if the vehicle is stolen, before they will cancel the US title.

      Customs brokers can sometimes speed up the 72 hr hold-wait. (getting it performed before you get there).

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