how to buy a used car in mexico as a foreigner

how to buy a used car (and register it) in mexico as a foreigner

My first upteen years here were without a vehicle. I got around using public transport, which if you’ve ever done is well….”interesting”. Since there’s no actual schedule, utilizing public transportation involves a lot of standing around and waiting.

One reason I chose not to bring my own vehicle with me was because I knew ahead of time that once I became a permanent resident, I’d have to get rid of it. And getting rid of it meant a bit of a headache — selling it on the other side (either side) of the Mexican border.

Once you become a permanent resident, you can no longer drive your old non-Mexican vehicle, so if you’ve driven something down from Canada or the US or elsewhere, enjoy it while you can.

If you’re here reading this article, I’m guessing it’s safe to assume you are a (permanent) resident and are now looking to buy a Mexican car, so let’s get started.

Most asked question: Can you buy a used car in Mexico on a tourist visa? Technically yes, but you cannot register it in your name unless you are a legal permanent resident.

Most asked question: Can a nonresident buy a car in Mexico? Again, technically yes, but you cannot switch the registered name to your own.

The first thing you need know is that you can buy any vehicle at any time you want while in Mexico. You do not have to be a permanent resident to buy a car in your name, new or used. What you do need, however, is to be a permanent resident to register that vehicle in your name.

If you buy a vehicle and leave it registered to someone else, they are the legal owner, which means you have zero rights to the vehicle — aka, you’ve just bought someone else a car.

Rules have changed over the years and official Mexican documentation is now required to register and insure a vehicle.

You have found a vehicle you want to buy

That’s great, but don’t get too excited just yet. The first thing you need to ask the seller is to see the (very, very) original sales receipt for that vehicle. You then need to check the last name on the list on the back of the receipt against his or her identification. If it does not match, this means he/she is not the legal owner, which means you cannot register the vehicle in your name, which also means you cannot legally own the vehicle.

It also implies there’s a messy paper trail along the way that will involve years of unpaid taxes you won’t want any part of. To register a vehicle, all taxes must be paid and up to date. At this point, no matter how much you like the vehicle, you’ll have to walk away. Even if you’re willing to pay the outstanding taxes, the seller is not the legal owner (according to the paperwork).

What you’re looking for on the back of the original receipt is this: Cedo los derechos de la presente factura a (their full name). In Spanish, this says I assign the rights of this invoice to…

If their name does appear last on the back of the original factory sales receipt and it matches their identification, ask to see the circulation card or what is properly called the Tarjeta de Circulacion Vehicular. This will prove they have legally registered it in their name.

If all three are a match — their name on the back of the original receipt, their identification and their circulation card, you’re good to go.

Vehicle circulation card

Now you can head down to the vehicle registry office of your choice, which is better known as Sefiplan (Secretaría de Finanzas y Planeación) where I live. There, the both of you will be sent to a specific desk where someone will review the paperwork.

The first thing they’re going to fish for is the original factory sales receipt of the vehicle. This is not the same as the bill of sale from the last person who bought the vehicle, but the original factory receipt when the vehicle was first purchased new.

If you’re buying a used 2005 vehicle for example, then that factory receipt will be dated blah, blah, 2005. It MUST be the original. Nothing else, not even a beautiful perfect copy will be accepted. On the back will be the list of names and signatures of previous owners signing over their rights to the next person.

desk stop 1

The current registered owner, the person from whom you are buying the vehicle, will have to produce a bit of paperwork to satisfy questions from the desk person. This does not concern you. With a little luck, the desk person will quickly move on to you. From you they will want your original identification (INM card, passport) and a copy along with a recent CURP print out.

It’s best to just make a file of all these papers and hand them all over at once. Let them find what they’re looking for. Inside the file you should also have your latest bill (Telmex, water, CFE) in your name and a copy along with your personal identification (and a copy) along with your CURP. At this point, they’re more interested in your CURP because without a CURP, you cannot register the vehicle.

window (caja) stop 2

If all goes well, you will both be sent to a window where someone there will review the paperwork you just had okayed (from the desk person). They will ask for your paperwork, type feverishly to change the registered name of the vehicle into your name, then ask the owner if the plates are being sold with the vehicle.


If yes, plates are included, your fee will be around 600 peso to make the name change. The plate number will appear on the paperwork now registered to you. If the owner says no, you’ll need to pay for a new set of plates, which cost around 1,200 peso plus the 600 peso fee.

Once that is all paid, you’ll be handed a small receipt. Keep it (forever) as proof of payment for the next window as well as future requests.

Note: if your vehicle ever gets towed and sent to the police car pound, for example, you will need that receipt as proof of tax payment to them before they’ll release your vehicle, so keep it in a safe and accessible place just in case.

window (caja) stop 3

At the next window, the person will review your paid receipt and within a few minutes, hand you a small laminated card. That is now your very own Tarjeta de Circulacion Vehicular.

Congratulations, you now have a Mexican vehicle registered in your name, but you’re not done yet.

Getting the car inspected in the back bay

back bay for vehicle inspection

Now you both will be sent to the back of the building…outside. You will need to drive the vehicle into the back bay area where there will be uniformed officials and more windows (cajas). This is where your (new) vehicle will get the yay (or gawd forbid, nay) to hit the streets.

In my case, a lady suddenly appeared from the back office of the building where she opened the door of my vehicle and took a quick visual, wrote down the VIN and disappeared for quite some time. She eventually reappeared with a man who also quickly reviewed my vehicle.

Within a few moments, she came back from inside the building and placed a chipped permanent sticker on the top right portion of my windshield then sent me to the window (caja) where I had to produce my original passport (and a copy) along with my current address (Telmex phone bill) and sign several forms.

This step is relatively new and is where officials review vehicles for criminal activity or outstanding accidents. It’s like a criminal background check for your car. With a little luck, you and your newly stickered vehicle will be on your way in no time.

As a last note, on a non-busy day in the Sefiplan government office, the name change process, circulation card and vehicle inspection / chip process can take anywhere between one and two hours, so be prepared.