Clara posing for a photo while renting a car in Mexico

Renting a Car in Mexico in 2022 (A Complete “How to” Guide)

Renting a car in Mexico is one of the best ways to explore this beautiful country, and to see places that other tourists miss. But the Mexican car rental system can be tricky to navigate, and unfortunately there are a few common pitfalls and scams that you need to avoid. 

I’m a Mexico travel expert, having visited Mexico dozens of times. Driving around Mexico is one of my favorite ways to explore, but I know firsthand the pitfalls that come with that.

In this guide, I’ll break down everything you need to know about how to rent a car in Mexico. Here is what we’ll cover: 

Be sure to read the whole guide carefully before you rent! Ok, let’s dive in:

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. Thank you!

Best Car Rental Sites in Mexico 

Rental car inventory in Mexico is limited, particularly in tourist hotspots like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. In order to secure the best prices, and also to ensure availability if you’re traveling during high season, it’s best to book your rental car as far in advance as you can. 

Here are the Mexico car rental booking platforms I personally use and recommend (in order of my preference). 

Our Pick
Discover Cars

Discover Cars is a newer site, but it usually finds the cheapest fares for Mexico. I like that they allow you to easily compare agency reviews. Go for one with an 8/10 or higher!

Our Pick
Kayak

Kayak is one of the biggest names in car rentals, and I like them as well. Just be cautious of any “too good to be true” prices, as it probably doesn’t include the mandatory insurance.

Our Pick
RentalCars.com

Owned by Booking.com, RentalCars.com has solid rental car inventory in Mexico. When neither of the above sites work, this is where I check next.

⚠️ IMPORTANT: Please note that Mexico requires tourists to have Mexico-specific rental insurance. Unfortunately, most Mexican car rental companies do not clearly show these charges online in advance. The lack of transparency by these local agencies is an extremely annoying, but a reality of renting a car in Mexico these days.

To be safe, no matter what insurances you get when you reserve a car online, it’s always best to budget an additional $15-25 per day to pay the locally required insurance. Be prepared to pay this charge at the counter when you pick up the car at the car rental company.

It’s also always a good idea to check the reviews of the individual car rental companies. All three booking sites suggested above make this easy by clearly showing customer reviews for each agency. Personally, I would not rent from any car rental company with an average customer review score of less than 8 out of 10.

Remember: the cheapest car rental company is not always the best rental car company – especially in Mexico!

Do You Need a Rental Car in Mexico?

You do not need a rental car to travel to Mexico, although renting a car will afford you more freedom and the ability to explore beyond destinations serviced by Mexico’s public transportation, taxi, and tour network. 

In general, if you are only planning to visit one destination in Mexico (especially if it is a city), you can probably get by without a rental car. If you are planning to explore multiple destinations or take a Mexico road trip, it is advisable to rent a car.

Pros of Renting a Car in Mexico

The author with a rental car in El Cuyo
Me with a rental car in El Cuyo, a hidden gem that is hard to visit without a rental car
  • ❤️ Freedom – Renting a car opens up the ability to explore destinations, beaches, and towns not otherwise easily accessible.
  • ✨ Convenience – Mexico has a robust road network that is surprisingly easy to drive on. 
  • 💲 Cost – For families or groups, renting a car can often save money compared to using taxis, tours, and buses to get around.
  • 😷 Covid Safety – For travelers concerned about covid-19 safety, or just minimizing their chances of catching a positive test before returning to the US, renting a car is a more private way of getting around versus public transportation or taxis.

Cons of Renting a Car in Mexico

  • ❗ Frustrating Insurance Rules – Mexico requires all renters to purchase local insurance (i.e., your American car insurance will not cover you in Mexico). 
  • ⚠️ Scams – Rental car companies in Mexico are notorious for scams, such as charging damage fees for scratches or cleaning fees for even a little bit of sand in the car. Read the tips below for advice on preventing rental car scams in Mexico.

Is it Safe to Drive in Mexico?

It is generally safe to drive in Mexico. Mexico has a robust road network that is relatively well maintained, and driving in Mexico is not significantly different than driving in the United States. As with all driving, it is important to take proper precautions such as driving defensively, respecting speed limits, wearing a seat belt, and not driving while distracted. 

If you are reasonably comfortable driving in unfamiliar conditions in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere, you will likely also be comfortable driving in Mexico. This is especially true in the tourist areas of Mexico. In areas like Cancun, Tulum, Cabo San Lucas, Playa del Carmen, and San Miguel de Allende, there are many foreign drivers on the road.

View of the author in the backroads of the Yucatan Peninsula while driving
Me driving along the backroads of the Yucatan peninsula (Clara took the photo – don’t worry!)

In larger highly populated Mexican cities such as Mexico City and Puebla, driving can be a bit chaotic at times. Less experienced foreign drivers may feel less comfortable driving in these environments. Fortunately, Uber and taxis are widely available in most cities (notably, however, Uber is not available in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum!).

It’s always best to be prepared. So be sure to read the tips section below to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to drive safely in Mexico.

👉 Read Next: Is Playa del Carmen Safe Right Now?

Rental Car Requirements for Mexico

The author with his partner taking a photo inside a rental car
My partner Clara and exploring the sites of Cozumel (where a rental car is really helpful!)

The following requirements generally apply when renting a car in Mexico: 

  • 🧑 A valid driver’s license – A United States driver’s license works just fine. Note that neither an International Driver’s License nor a Mexican driver’s license is usually required to drive in Mexico (the exception is that an International Driving Permit is required for licenses issued in non-Roman alphabet, such as Japanese licenses). 
  • 🎫 Mexican liability insurance – Mexico requires all drivers to carry third party liability insurance issued by a Mexican car insurance company. Your policy from your home country will not suffice in Mexico.
  • 🔞 Driver is of age – The driving age in Mexico is 18. However, most Mexican car rental companies require drivers to be 25 years old, although some will rent to younger drivers for an additional charge.
  • 💳 A credit card in driver’s name – Expect the rental car company to collect this as an assurance, and to potentially place a (large) deposit on the card if you are not purchasing collision insurance directly from them (for example, if you are trying to use your credit card insurance for CDW protection). A debit card is usually not accepted.
  • ✈️ Passport – Most rental agencies will also photocopy your passport at the rental car counter. You may sometimes be asked to show it at police checkpoints on the road. 

Always be sure to carefully read the terms and conditions of the contract for your specific car rental agency, as additional requirements may apply. Remember that you are a guest in Mexico and are responsible for learning and complying with all local laws and regulations. 

How Much do Rental Cars Cost in Mexico?

The average daily rental cost for a compact car in Mexico is between $30 and $60 per day, based upon sample searches I performed across several popular Mexican destinations and three booking sites. This is consistent with my own personal experience renting a car in Mexico.


Of course, your actual rental price will vary based on many factors. These include when you visit Mexico, the age of the driver, the type of car you are renting, what add-ons you are selecting (e.g., one-way drop off), etc.

👉 Compare Mexico rental car prices for your dates now by comparing these 3 booking sites: 

Be sure to double-check agency reviews when booking, as some car rental places advertise low prices but then tack on hidden fees later. Note that this is especially a problem at the Cancun Airport rental agencies.

What to Know About Car Rental Insurance in Mexico

The author with his partner taking a photo while on a road trip along the Gulf of Mexico
Clara and I on a recent rental car road trip along the Gulf of Mexico

Navigating insurance is one of the most challenging parts of renting a car in Mexico. In this section, I’ll break down the most important types of insurance that come into play for rental cars in Mexico.

But, first, an important disclaimer: Your mileage may vary. I am not a licensed insurance agent. None of this is insurance advice. This is purely informational content based on my personal experience. Do your own research, carefully read all terms and conditions, and consult with a licensed professional if necessary.

👉 Read Next: What to Pack for a Trip to Mexico

Local Third Party Liability Insurance is ALWAYS Mandatory in Mexico

By law, all drivers in Mexico are required to carry third party liability insurance (TPL insurance, sometimes called personal liability insurance) issued by a Mexican auto insurance company. Your insurance from back home will not cut it. 

Honestly, this law is a little curious. I’ve rented cars in dozens of countries, but Mexico is the only one I’ve seen that flat out refuses to accept insurance from abroad. 

In my many years traveling Mexico, I’ve heard a few different explanations for this law. The more cynical take is that it was written by the Mexican car rental companies for their own benefit. Another possible explanation is that the Mexican court system has a tendency to summarily assign responsibility to foreigners in cases of accidents, so it helps ensure fast and swift payment of court judgments in those cases. 

Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that you always need personal liability insurance coverage issued by a Mexican car insurance company. Unfortunately, this is often not well disclosed when booking a car rental online, so my best advice is to just to always expect to pay it at the counter (it typically runs between $15 and $25 per day). 

But remember that there are other kinds of car insurance that come into play too … 

👉 Read Next: 33 Best Things to Do in Mexico City

Collision Insurance (CDW / LDW) is Usually Required Too

Besides third-party insurance, there’s this separate car rental insurance called Collision Damage Waiver (“CDW”) insurance. It’s also sometimes called Loss Damage Waiver (“LDW”) insurance. 

CDW is additional insurance that is supposed to protect against theft or damage to the rental vehicle itself (while basic insurance only protects against liability to third parties). 

While not required by law, CDW protection generally is in fact required by most car companies to rent in Mexico.

You can usually get CDW insurance in several ways: 

  • 🚗 Directly from the car rental agency – this is usually the most expensive, but also most convenient option because it’s the only one that will not require a large deposit.
  • 💻 From a third party booking site – For example, Discover Cars sells a product called “Full Coverage” which they say protects against damage or theft to the car.
  • 💳 From your credit card company – Some credit cards offers CDW protection if you use their card to pay for the rental (just be sure to double check the specific terms, including whether coverage applies in Mexico, with your credit card company).
  • ✈️ From your travel insurance provider – depending on your Mexico travel insurance policy, you might have this coverage already (be sure to double-check your specific policy!).

Again, remember that the latter three options may be cheaper, but often result in the rental agency requiring a large deposit or hold on your credit card (perhaps as high as $1,500 USD).

Additional Insurances

Many car rental agencies will try to sell you on a variety of other protections and insurances in addition to liability and collision assurances.

These may include additional insurances that bring down your deductible in the event of a claim. Or they may include upsells like roadside assistance. 

Ultimately, when renting a car in Mexico, each traveler needs to carefully assess what protections are right for their individual circumstances. 

👉 Read Next: My Guide to Travel Insurance in Mexico

13 Tips & Things to Know Before Renting in Mexico

The author posing for a photo while on the rental car and a beach in Cozumel on his background

TIP #1 – Check Rental Agency Reviews Before Booking

No matter whether you’re using Discover Cars, RentalCars.com, or Kayak to book your rental car, it’s important to remember that these booking sites are just portals (like Expedia is for hotels or Skyscanner is for flights). These sites make it easy to find the cheapest rental price, but they are not who you are renting from.

Your actual rental contract will be with a rental car agency on the ground in Mexico, so it’s really important to check the customer reviews for the specific agency you are renting from. 

Be careful – there are a lot of less than honest agencies in Mexico (perhaps more than another other country I’ve seen)! In particular, I personally stay away from Mex Rent a Car, as I’ve had a bad experience with them in the past. 

One thing I like about Discover Cars is that they make it easy to see customer reviews for each agency. Here’s an example: 

View of one of the rental car info on Discover Cars site

Personally, my advice is to never rent from a Mexico car agency that scores less than 8 out of 10 in average customer reviews.

TIP #2 – Carefully Read The Terms and Conditions

Renting a car in Mexico does carry some significant risks with it. In order to avoid scams or surprises down the line, you should always carefully read all terms and conditions before booking your car. 

Similarly, you should be sure to actually read the fine print on anything they make you sign at the car rental counter (any reputable agency will give you everything in English). 

TIP #3 – Check Your Rental for Damage & Take Photos

A photo while inspecting a rental car in Tulum
Me inspecting a recent car rental in Tulum

When you get your rental car, you will be given the opportunity to point out any damage on the vehicle so that it can be recorded and not held against you when you return the car. Be sure to point out every single scratch, dent, or issue you see! 

Additionally, it is a good idea to take photos of the vehicle in case there is a dispute down the line. 

Pro Tip: You should also carefully note the fuel levels, as agencies are known to charge ridiculous sums for fuel upon the return of the car rentals.

TIP #4 – Police Checkpoints are Common on Mexican Roads

View of a policeman on a checkpoint in Mexico
(photo: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock)

In many parts of Mexico, police checkpoints are a common sign. I have found them to be particularly prevalent on the back roads connecting the various “pueblos magicos” in the Yucatan peninsula. At one point on a recent road trip from El Cuyo to Valladolid, Clara and I passed through 4 police checkpoints in just one hour!

Slow down when approaching a checkpoint and stop is requested. Sometimes an officer will check your passport to ensure your immigration status, and ask a few questions about where you are going. 

Although rare, it is possible an officer may try to extract a bribe. It has never happened to me (it probably helps that I speak Spanish), but I have heard stories from friends of Mexican police officers refusing to let tourists go until they pay a supposed “fine.” 

TIP #5 – You Do Not Pump Your Own Gas in Mexico

View of a gasoline station in Mexico before night time
(photo: LukeandKarla.Travel / Shutterstock)

If you’re from New Jersey, you’ll feel right at home at Mexican gas stations. Everyone else might be surprised to learn that all Mexican gas stations are full service. 

Just pull up, tell the attendant how many liters of gas you want (or say “llenado” for “full”), and then pay him directly. Expect that you may have to pay in cash, and add a few pesos as a tip.

TIP #6 – Have Cash Ready for Toll Roads

View of road signs on a highway in Mexico

Mexico has a number of toll roads, usually marked by the sign “CUOTA.” If taking a toll road, be prepared to have enough cash for the toll (which, in my experience, is often more than you might think. Alternatively, use Google Maps to route around toll roads. 

👉 Read Next: 18 Best Hotels in Puerto Vallarta

TIP #7 – Mexico Drives on the Right

Mexico drives on the right side of the road (same as the United States).

TIP #8 – Speed Limits Change Quickly

Like most countries, speed limits in Mexico are denoted in kilometers per hour, so drivers coming from the US will need to adjust.

The other thing to note is that Mexico has a wide range of speed limits – typically between 40 and 110 km/hour. You can quickly find yourself moving between one speed limit zone to another without realizing it. So be sure to pay attention to road signs!

TIP #9 – Topes (Speedbumps) Are Everywhere

View of a speedbump sign in Mexico
If you see one of these signs, slow down asap or risk ruining your rental’s undercarriage!

Mexico is fond of its speedbumps, usually marked by a sign reading “Tope.” 

Many speedbumps in Mexico can be hard to see from a distance, particularly on side streets and back roads. Many are also carry a surprisingly “kick” even when they seem small. So it is best to drive slowly and carefully when passing through any town or area where you might find topes. 

TIP #10 – Animals Are Frequent on Roads

View of goats along a road in Mexico

In addition to speedbumps, you also have to keep an eye out for random animals on the road in Mexico. From dogs to cows to roosters to goats to iguanas, I’ve seen it all cross in front of me while driving around Mexico. Well, actually, I’ve yet to be lucky enough to see a jaguar – but they do exist!

TIP #11 – Get a Physical Copy of Your Paperwork

On last tip to avoid hidden costs: when returning your car to the agency, be sure to ask for a full print out of your final contract. Check it to make sure there are no hidden costs or surprises that you’ll find on your credit card bill later!

📚 Related Reading: 22 Tips & Things to Know Before Going to Mexico

TIP #12 – It Helps to Know Spanish

Because issues are so common during the rental process in Mexico, it is really is helpful (though not entirely necessary) to know a little Spanish. Here is a good list of common Spanish phrases associated with driving.

👉 Read Next: Renting a Car in Puerto Rico

TIP #13 – Learn Mexico’s Road Signs

Lastly, before you go, it’s helpful to spend a few minutes studying up on Mexico’s road signs. Remember, ignorance of the law is not going to be an accepted excuse if you find yourself talking to the Mexican police!

FAQ About Mexico Car Rentals

Can you rent a car in Mexico with a US license?

A US license is accepted for renting a car in Mexico. Note that the driving age in Mexico is 18, and all drivers are required to carry locally provided liability insurance.

Do I need an international drivers license to rent a car in Mexico?

An International Drivers Permit (IDP) is not required to rent a car in Mexico, unless your license is printed in a non-Roman alphabet (for example, Japanese).

Is driving in Mexico hard? 

Driving in Mexico is relatively easy for experienced drivers. Though there are some quirks to renting a car in Mexico that you should study, in general, the roads are in good condition and the rules of the road are similar to the United States.

***

That’s it for this guide to renting a car in Mexico! I hope it’s answered all the questions you have about car rentals in Mexico. 

But before you go, be sure to bookmark all my free Mexico travel guides to help you plan your trip!

3 Comments

  1. I wish I had read this BEFORE i got hammered with extra charges in the Baja a few years ago.
    as we are now headed back to Mexico I wanted a refresher course in TPL and CDW in mexico.
    I now feel up to speed.

  2. Just a comment about DiscoverCars.
    DiscoverCar charged me an $87 fee. I got to the MEX airport late (bus from Oaxaca). SIXT took me to their lot and didn’t have my car and tried to upsell me for $30 more a day. I didn’t take it. DiscoverCars refused to return my $87 because I didn’t get there within an hour of pickup time. (Note: it took me over an hour to find SIXT. DiscoverCars didn’t tell me at which entrance, only told me the terminal number. The terminal is 2 kilometers long, nobody seemed to know where it was and SIXT was the only one without a sign, so I walked past it 2 or 3 times looking up for the sign.)

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