Problems with buying a car as a foreigner in Mexico | The Family Without Borders

The Family Without Borders

The Travelling family



Buying the car in Mexico – done!

Our new Car, bought in Mexico to drive to Panama: A Crysler Voyager 2001

To become a happy owner of the car in Mexico you must go through four steps: finding a proper car, checking if it is really a proper car, getting money to buy this car, registering the car. And each of those steps can be a fight – especially if you are a foreigner.

Wow a proper car looks like, depends of course on your needs. For our trip from Mexico to Panama the most important things were: that the car is in ok condition and hopefully we will not have too much problems in some strange time and place on the way (like we had during our first trip, around the Black Sea) and that it’s big enough to sleep in it. That the owner has all the documents was also a big deal (since we want to cross a few borders with it). The price was not so crazy important, because we want to sell the car at the end, in Panama.

Finding a car in Cancun (Mexico)

Ok, so you arrive to a new country and where to buy a car? We started to talk with friends, friends of friends, couch surfing users, taxi drivers, people in the shops. There were few places we checked in first days but mostly with almost new and looking very new cars. This is not what we need: to be visible from the first second. All of the people were sending us to the Sunday big car market, on the parking place of the stadium in Cancun (at the intersection of Kabah and Coba Avenues). And that’s how we got our first sun bath: walking in between dozens of cars.

Factbox: Buying a car in Mexico

If you consider buying a car in Mexico, you have to check that:
1. The car is not stolen (Online Portal for checking > )
2. That the tarjeta de circulation is still valid for the time you will be in Mexico.
3. That all the taxes are payed.
4. That the owner has the original bill of the car.

Make a contract with the owner. Take the keys, a copy of his ID, the original bill(s), the tarjeta de circulacion. Maybe Update: Go with the owner to a notary to confirm with a officially looking stamp:
1. the contract and
2. make a certificate of authority (span: el poder), saying you can drive/sell the car in Central America.

You will not be able (without the FM3) to register or insurance the car in Mexico as a foreigner.

Remember: Mexican ATMs don’t give you much money per day. We found out the trick that after getting the money from the cash machine you will be asked if you want to do another action. Like this you can withdrawal again. Important: also read this post about how to withdrawal money with your credit card abroad without extra costs. We lost a lot of money but not knowing this little tricks.

There are no photos from the market because we were too busy with watching cars, our kids (and not getting robbed at the same time) to take pictures. I liked the most some old shabby jeeps, but Tom was afraid about repairing them in every next village we want to drive through. All in all, we are responsible parents and the most important is that the car is safe.

Checking the car

Since we are not car experts (I mean Tom is not an expert, I can basically talk about colours of the cars), we were very happy to find Alejandro, who helped us with choosing, test drives, asking proper questions, checking online if the car is stolen or not, looking on this and that. Thanks to him we didn’t buy cars which looked very fine but had some serious problems. And the end the red Dodge Caravan (or Chrysler Voyager, I don’t know the difference / 3.8l, V6, 220hp) was the best of all. We could of course come back to the market next time and look for a perfect car but that would mean at least one more week in Cancun. The owner of our Dodge was a good, honest guy.

Mexico: Counting the money for our car.

Getting the money for the car

About games with withdrawing cash for buying a car I already told you in the previous post. The funny part is still to store the cash somewhere (for example in Mila’s car seat), to bargain a bit, to count the money twenty times.

Bying the car

To buy a car in Mexico you just need to have money. Signe a contract with the previous owner finally take from him the keys (plus: the original bill of the car, a copy of his passport, the tarjeta de circulacion). But to register a car in Mexico officially on your name – you need unfortunately more. The “Tarjeta de circulacion” is kind of passport of the car, which is made on the name of the owner. If you want to insurance the car, you need to have such a tarjeta. But having insurance in not obligatory in Mexico. So you can easily use the car with a tarjeta on the previous owner’s name (if it’s still valid). Getting fastly (it takes around 2 months) tarjeta on your name is almost impossible (ok, possible, for 1500 dollars), because for it you need to have so called FM3 form (which means you are in some way in Mexico: living, employed, etc).

We were thinking that going to notary to have a nice red stamp on our contract with a guy we bought a car from can maybe help us in the future but hurricane Rina changed our plans: nobody was working and we decided to risk. Let’s see, more news in this topic after crossing the first border.

Mexico: And after 20 kilometers the first stop in a Mexican car workshop.


So we have a car. After last year experience we already knew how we want to adapt it into our new home. Visiting some Home Depot shop, getting wooden boards (to be put on the closed seats, to make a big surface to become a bed), some boxes, packing everything and… starting finally!

But after saying goodbye to all new Cancunian friends, after doing big food shopping, after tanking, we drove for… 20 km and ended up in the first car workshop! Fortunately was nothing serious, fast, in the shadow, friendly and cheap. And then we arrived to San Angel, Maya village with 800 inhabitants. Our first harbor.


Our first book is out!

We have published our first book (for now just in Polish:) about our Central America Trip.
See, read and order here »


  • Posted November 30, 2011 at 18:52 | Permalink

    First of all let me congratulate your family for this big adventure! It let us thing that everything is possible, you just have to want it… it´s so nice to see an happy family like yours.

  • Posted September 23, 2012 at 23:58 | Permalink

    So I’m curious, it seems you did this recently and there are many cars that were made for the Mexican market that are either unique to that market (for example they made rear engined Beetles all the way to 2003) or are equipped differently (like the car I want, 1987-1989 Chevrolet Celebrity, in Mexico they all had the V6 engine and a 5-speed manual transmission, in those years the US market Celebrities were automatic only except for a select few hundred Eurosport coupe models, and I want the 4-door). I won’t have an FM2 or FM3 Visa. In all actuality I’d love to drive to the border crossing, walk in the Customs office, meet the seller at the counter with a Customs agent, and deal with the transaction in person. I’ve also heard some of the dealers in El Paso or Laredo or McAllen will go get you the car you want, import it, and waste six to eight weeks of your time and plenty of your money to get it titled in Texas for you. I’d like to avoid that. Any ideas on how to get a car brought over here?

  • Sandy
    Posted April 13, 2013 at 03:07 | Permalink

    Buying a car in Mexico was the worst mistake I ever made- I am now en route back to Mexico to try to sell it- I do not recommend anyone ever buy a car in mexico to sell in another country.

  • Posted September 23, 2013 at 19:59 | Permalink

    We are sort of in the exact same situation as you were (except for the kids, they might come later, we do have a dog though..). We are in Chetumal and wanted to buy a car today to drive around central america for the next year or so. We went with a mexican friend to ask the authorities what we needed to do to buy his car. But it wasn’t possible if we didn’t have the ffm3, so how did you guys get it done in the end? Any advice is welcome, we are also looking at other nearby countries to buy a car, like Belize or Guatemala? Thanks

    • Anna Alboth
      Posted September 23, 2013 at 20:17 | Permalink

      At the end, without having those stupid papers, we were able to cross to Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. But I know we were lucky, because other people at the same situation were not allowed to pass. We were smiling a lot ;) But they didn’t let us to El Salvador. The only paper we had was: “Miguel blablala sold a car to Thomas blablabla” ;) Still crazy we made it so far! ;) good luck!!!!

      • jannes
        Posted September 17, 2014 at 14:31 | Permalink

        im planning to visit friends in mexico. i wanted to buy a car over there and then make a trip up north all the way to canada. do u think thats possible without being a mexican? i would love to do that trip.. but im afraid of some bureaucratic barriers..
        greetings jannes

    • David
      Posted October 15, 2015 at 18:11 | Permalink

      October 2015 i just bought a VW in Quintana Roo,Canadian living in mexico for the winters,i am just going threw the ownership / insurance things this week and next,will keep everyone interested advised or threw this site how it works out,i hired a local to help with the purchase price,and the legal parts,he informed me it costs about 1,800.peso,s,i,ll see how it all works out and let everyone know,David

      • Basti
        Posted October 18, 2015 at 21:00 | Permalink

        hey david,
        would love to hear more from you about your experience with buying a car down there. I’m landing in Cancun mid-dezember and thinking about buying a car to travel through mexico and eventually south towards colombia if it’s possible…so if there’s news or tips you could share i would gladly hear them :) greetings from germany

  • Charlotte
    Posted January 16, 2016 at 03:15 | Permalink

    Thanks for your information Anna. My boyfriend and I are looking for a van right now in Merida to travel with down to Panama. You mentioned other people in the same situation having trouble entering borders was it because the Tarjeta wasn’t in their name or because the papers weren’t notarized?
    Did you guys write up the contract yourselves?
    Thanks very much,

    • Posted June 2, 2016 at 21:35 | Permalink

      Hi Charlotte,
      As the most recent comment I was hoping you might be able to help with how this all works. Did you. Manage to buy a vehicle in Mexico and get it across any borders? Me and my husband are heading to Mexico in the next month and are discussing buying a van to do the Central America journey, possibly into South America.
      I hope you managed it safely and can share your experience?

    • Posted June 22, 2016 at 07:44 | Permalink

      Hey Charlotte, we just wrote a handwritten contract and had a copy of the previous owners passport and all the car documents. The notary we visited refused to make the papers for us.
      In El Salvador they told us the it would have been fine to let us in if we would have had a kind of official letter of attorney by the previous owner that we can use the car for a trip to Central America. I guess something like this you can do at the notary office without problems.
      But I guess you still might get problems selling the car a the end in Panama.

      An pleeeaaase tell us about your experiences. Cheers / tom

  • Sara
    Posted June 14, 2016 at 03:17 | Permalink

    Can I ask what the price range was for the various cars you were looking at? I’m looking to buy a family car in mexico, nothing fancy, just reliable and I’m wondering how much money we’ll need. Thank you.

    • Posted June 22, 2016 at 07:36 | Permalink

      We spent about $5,000 for the car shown above and sold it at after half a year of the rocky roads of Central America for $3,500.
      The car was 10 years old. A this time most of the used cars brought from US ware 10 years old because than you obviously don’t have to pay taxes for the import.

  • David Sonshine
    Posted October 19, 2016 at 02:08 | Permalink

    This is great! I love your story. I’m thinking of buying a car in Mexico too. So it’s true I don’t need to be a resident?

    And I wonder, aside from the forms, if getting it into the US is that difficult. But I don’t know the rest of your story, so not sure if that’s part of it :)

    Thank you,

    • Graig
      Posted November 22, 2016 at 03:25 | Permalink

      Hello, did you manage to buy a car and get it registered to your name? Thinking about buying a car also and doing central America roadtrip.


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