playa and road

The Honest Truth About Renting a Car in Mexico in 2023

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Undecided about whether you should rent a car in Mexico or not? Let me help you! As a Mexican resident for the past 12 years, I want to share some useful advice on renting a car in Mexico, how to avoid getting scammed, how to choose the right car rental, and many practical tips on driving in Mexico.

I hope it will help you feel more comfortable and set off for your amazing road trip adventure around this beautiful country.

I am receiving many questions from readers that are concerned about renting a car in Mexico, for many different reasons, but most of all because they don’t feel comfortable driving in a foreign country that is also considered “dangerous”. I get it, and that is why I decided to write this post.

I have been living in Mexico for the past 12 years, and for most of that time, I used to drive around in my own car until I sold it to set off for my adventure around the world, but that’s another story.

I have traveled around the country (and I keep doing it right now as I am updating this post) and on many different occasions, I have been using rental cars

Having a car in Mexico is the best way to explore remote areas where local busses won’t get or, if they do, they have random schedules. I also love to have the freedom to move around at my own peace and stop where I want when I see something interesting.

Baja california Sur - An essential guide
On the way to La Ventana – it’s not related to the post but I love this picture 🙂 – these are the views you can have if you rent a car

If you are anything like me you know what I mean. During my 12 years in Mexico, except for the 5 years when I had my own car, I have used different Mexican car rental companies and I learn a few things about the way they may look scammy.

I have learned a lot of tricks and unwritten rules about car rental agencies but also about the police trying to bribe you ( I am afraid this is not a legend).

So I thought I would write this post and share my experience with you with the hope that you will feel more confident about renting a car in Mexico, but also for you to learn how not to “get scammed”.

And although I don’t have the power to guarantee you that it won’t happen to you, or to me, there are a few things that we should consider in order to limit the chances.

Car by the ocean at sunrise - Renting a car in Mexico

The general reputation of car rentals about using scammy practices might also put you off and let you opt for a car-free vacation. I believe most of the time it is true, unfortunately. And that’s why you should continue reading this post. 🙂

In this post, we will cover different topics, among which driving in different regions of the country, why you must get car rental insurance, and the type of insurance you have available, practical tips on driving in Mexico, the best rental car companies, where to find car rental deals, and much more.

At the end of the article, you will feel more confident about renting a car in Mexico and driving around this beautiful country.

If you know how to book and what to look for on a car rental websiteit will make your life easier when renting a car and spare you from headaches.

Some Spanish knowledge also could help, but most of the car rental companies speak English.

Although I recommend renting a car to explore a region I believe it’s not necessary when you visit major cities such as Mexico City or Guadalajara or Queretaro, where traffic is too high and you are much better off using UBER or taxis. It’s easier, cheaper.

In places like Tulum, Cancun, and the entire Yucatan Peninsula, renting a car is much cheaper than a taxi and I would say even safer nowadays.

But let’s go by steps and answer the most important questions about renting a car in Mexico.

Read also: Driving in Mexico: all you need to know

How much does it cost to rent a car in Mexico?

It’s very easy to find car rentals promoting daily costs as low as 6 USD per day. It seems crazy and it has the clear look of a good scam. And in fact, it is, in some way.

The thing is that rental price usually doesn’t include insurance coverage and other tax fees.

So it’s very important that when you make your reservation you read through all the clauses of the booking and make sure that what is included in the rental rates is very well detailed.

Car insurance is a whole different topic and I will talk about it later on in this post.

Keep reading because you need to know this. 

You can consider that a more realistic price which includes full insurance starts from 40USD per day for a basic car model.

Renting a car in Mexico – What are the best car rental companies?

In Mexico, you will find all the major international car rentals, such as BudgetAvisHertzSixt, and some local ones such as Mex car rental, which I used once, and I honestly found very good, with straightforward guidelines and clear rates.

However, I always recommend Discover Cars because they offer the chance to compare different car companies on one page so that you can select the best deal. They also offer full coverage for an extra 7 to 10 USD per day. for your own peace of mind. We’ll talk about car rental insurance later on in this post.

Renting a car online through a third-party site

As I was mentioning above, I use discover car rental, which has a very user-friendly site and shows different rates and car options from all the major car rental companies operating in Mexico.

Pros – It’s great to compare prices among different companies

Cons – although third-party companies are very useful anywhere else in the world, in Mexico, car companies tend to give priority to direct bookings and would not honor third-party insurance. (See below chapter on insurance) in their defense, discover car insurance is very cheap and you are sure they will refund what you have paid completely.

Best Car Rental Deals w/ Free Cancellation, Compare & Save! | Discover Cars

Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!

Make a booking directly with the rental company

Most rental car companies offer their own deals on a given date. So, if you have time to do some research you can check directly on each car rental website and see if there is some promotional rate, but always make sure to check what the rate includes because some rental price offers are honey traps.

That is in fact what we normally call scams, but they are actually not.

Everything is always written in the fine print. The problem is that we never read it.

Pros – You can find great deals

Cons – It requires a lot of time to do the search.

Road Sign of a cenote near tulum in a cloudy day

Direct booking – Walk-in

It can be more convenient to find the best deals if you just show up at the car rental office (just not at the airport). However, you might want to avoid doing it for the Easter Holidays or Christmas, where you don’t want to run the risk to find yourself without a car and have your itinerary plans completely spoiled.

Pros – You can get great deals

Cons – You run the risk to end up without a car or spend more in high season.

What’s the cheapest car rental company in Mexico?

I recommend using Discover Cars as they compare different car rentals and show you the cheapest. Usually, the cheapest car rental is America Car rentals which you can book through the same site.

They also offer you the opportunity to purchase the full insurance but keep in mind that if you choose that option you purchase the insurance with discover Cars and not with the rental company.

Best Car Rental Deals w/ Free Cancellation, Compare & Save! | Discover Cars

Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!

What’s the best rental car company?

I don’t believe there is one absolute best rental car company. it all depends on the best deal of the moment. I usually alternate between Mex Car Rental and America Car rental because they are the ones that most often come out in my Discover Cars rental research.

One-way rentals

There are local agencies for the major car rentals in the major cities. However, keep in mind that dropping off the car at a different location is expensive.

On the other hand, even though renting a car at the airport is usually more expensive, renting a car in Cancun airport or Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta Airports is usually not more expensive than renting it in any other local agency of the city.

white car rental on a road in Yucatan Mexico

Do I need Mexican car insurrance when renting a car in Mexico?

You DO need Mexican Car Insurance if you are renting a car in Mexico or at least the CDW, just because some car rentals won’t rent you if you don’t purchase the basic car insurance with them, which is normally included in the rent.

Full insurance is always optional but it’s definitely recommended for your peace of mind. With the full insurance, if anything happens you don’t have to pay a cent.

However, as I will explain in more detail further on, you will need to be very specific on what is included in the “full insurance” when you purchase it.

Most of the time, although it says “zero deductible” you still have tires, window screens, and “minor damages” excluded, which doesn’t really make sense.

So make sure you always ask what is not included in the “Full Insurance”.

What is the deductible (deducible in Mexico)?

Understanding what is a deductible is easier with an example. If your contract says that you have a 500 Usd deductible, it means that if you damage the car for 600 USD, you will still have to pay 500 USD and the insurance will cover the difference (100 USD)

This is why I always insist to pay for insurance that includes 0 deductible. That would mean that whatever damage you make you won’t pay a dime!

Baja California road trip

What kind of insurance do I need when renting a car in Mexico?

Now, this is a hot topic that requires attention.

I have been talking to several car rentals and tried different kinds of car insurance myself, and now I understand how it works.

This is what you need to know:

  • First of all, I would suggest you should purchase full coverage with zero deductible, which means that if you damage the car for whatever reason you don’t have to pay a dime for it (normally windows and tires, and losing the keys are not covered). You will know if there is zero deductible (see above) because the deposit you would be required to leave by credit card is minimum.
  • Usually debit cards are not accepted as a deposit, because they rental companies don’t actually take you any money, they just make an “authorization” which means they block an amount on your card which they will use in case of any fault. They cannot do that on debit cards. That’s why they are not accepted. But you can pay by debit card, by all means. All major credit cards are usually accepted
  • If you buy the basic insurance you will need to leave a deposit that goes from 700 to 1500 USD depending on the amount of the deductible.
  • It’s always more convenient to purchase the full package car rental + full coverage directly with the car rental company instead of the third party.
on the road to Santiago
On the road to Santiago – Baja California cow crossing sign Photo © Isabella Biava
  • The insurance purchased with the third party company has nothing to do with car rental, it’s never FULL coverage and you would need to anticipate the payment for the damages first.
  • The credit card insurance (if you are from the United States) is not accepted in Mexico, which means that if you don’t purchase the insurance with your rental car company you, will still have to pay for the damage from your pocket and then claim a refund with your credit card company. I would suggest you make sure you check with your credit card company if they cover your rental in Mexico.
  • Actually, for some Mexico car rentals, the basic car rental insurance is mandatory. And if you don’t accept it they would refuse to rent you the car.
  • The CDW (collision damage waiver) is an insurrance that you have fully included with 0 deductible if you purchase the full coverage. Otherwise it’s offered by the rental companies as an additional insurrance that covers damages to the car in case of an accident but not injuries. It normally comes with a deductible.
cross roads in a small town in Yucatan

A few things to keep in mind on Mexican car insurance

Most car rental companies will tell you that they have full insurance and then you realize that they either have a deductible or some parts of the car are not included.

American Car rental os one of them. I have to be honest they are the cheapest but the scummiest if you don’t know their tricks.

First of all, what they call full insurance doesn’t include tires, windows, and, the weirdest one, “minor damage to the body parts” now how do you define minor damage? of course they decide. That is not exactly good and clear practice.

When I insisted that I wanted ABSOLUTELY everything included they added that they have extra insurance that covers absolutely everything unless you get a fine or you don’t respect the basic street code, but that’s fair.

However, there is also a trick, the insurance will cover you for anything, if and only if you report the damage to a specific number that they give you and report the sinister. Otherwise, you get charged for it.

Here you go, that is why I always say that you need to pay attention to every single detail when you rent a car.

Do I need mexican insurance if I am crossing the Mexican border with my own vehicle?

Driving Your American Registered Vehicle in Mexico requires you to purchase Mexican driving insurance because US car insurance is not valid here.

You should get to one of the dedicated agencies to facilitate the process of getting Mexican car insurance. Bajabound is one of them. Click on the link to get a quote.


Do I need a Mexican driving licence if I am renting a car in Mexico ?

No, you don’t need a Mexican driving license to drive in Mexico or when renting a car in Mexico. It’s not even necessary to purchase an international driving license. Any American, Canadian, or your own country-issued driving license is accepted.

Do I need a credit card when renting a car in Mexico

Yes, you do! You won’t be able to rent a car in Mexico without a credit card, I am afraid. You can pay the rental by debit card for sure, but the Car Rental Company will require to swipe your credit card to hold a specific amount as a deposit ( the amount which vary by car and company).

So if you don’t have a credit card you won’t be able to rent a car in Mexico.

Hidden fees of renting a car in Mexico on line.

What is sometimes perceived as a scam, is actually misinformation on our end. We just don’t read the fine print! Who does that, right? So what we usually call scam, it’s actually hidden fees that we may have to pay.

When you book online you will normally find absurd rental rates such as 8 USD per day car rental or 15USD for a luxury car price that will get outrageously inflated when you actually go to the rental office and pick up your fabulous deal.

The thing is that those third-party companies get a commission from their sale but not from the taxes and additional fees, and that’s why they are added to your final bill directly in the car rental office, as they are totally up to the rental company. It should normally appear in the rental clauses in small letters when you book.

That’s why I never get tired to repeat that you MUST read very well all that is included in the price you are paying.

Being informed is a great way not to get “scammed”.

Tulum Beach hotel aerial view

Is renting a car in Mexico safe?

As I mentioned before, if you are vacationing in the Yucatan peninsula, I find it safer to have your own car rather than moving around with taxis, besides being more practical.

In general, renting a car in Mexico is safe, depending on the location. Keep reading if you want to learn about each of the most common destinations in Mexico where renting a car is recommended.

There are a few tricks you should learn about though, especially about the Mexican Roads and Gas stations.

If you are in the Yucatan Peninsula I really feel much safer by driving my own car than getting a taxi, especially in Cancun and Tulum.

Driving in Mexico – rules for the best practice

When it comes to driving in Mexico the first rule is to respect the speed limit and all the basics such as wearing a seat belt and not using your phone while driving.

The stories that you hear about the police stopping you with any excuse to try to bribe are not a myth.

Therefore avoid offering them excuses to stop you.

I have been stopped quite a few times and never given them a dime as I don’t like to support this unethical practice.

Sometimes they let me go with a verbal warning, in other cases, I just paid the fine.

The best places where renting a car in Mexico is recommended

Renting a car in Cancun

The majority of the times when I have rented a car in Mexico it was in Cancun.

Whether it’s worth it or not, it depends on the kind of vacation you want to have. If you are staying in one of the Cancun all-inclusive resorts and you want to enjoy the beach and do some tours, you don’t really need a car.

However, if you like to explore, get to learn about Cancun archeological sites and the Cenotes near Cancun or explore Yucatan, you will definitely need a car.

Also, keep in mind the following:

  • In Cancun there’s no UBER and taxis are outrageously expensive
  • Renting a car in the Cancun airport rental office or in the city has the same rate
  • You can rent in the city office and drop off the car at the airport, usually with zero drop off fees.
  • Driving in Cancun traffic can be stressful especially because Cancun city plan has makes no sense. Make sure you get a local SIM card and use google and you’ll be fine.

You can check out some rates through Discover Car Rental and see what deal you can get.

Cancun Punta Nizuc aerial view
Cancun aerial view

Renting a car in Tulum

Tulum is one of the most popular towns in Mexico to visit, a Pueblo Magico famous for its hipster vibes and the spectacular 16-mile beach, the luxury beach hotels, and much more.

You can really book a beach hotel in Tulum and never get out and still have a blast. Or, you can wear your traveler hat and explore the infinite amount of things to do in Tulum, visit some of Tulum Cenotes, the Sian Ka’an biosphere, the Tulum Mayan ruins, get over to Coba and visit the spectacular Coba Cenotes, check out the beaches of the Riviera Maya or the floating river in Muyil.

To do all of that, you will definitely need a car and renting a car in Tulum is very easy. Most of the car rentals are located on the main road to Boca Paila (aka Tulum Beach Road).

However, if you think you will make good use of the car for your entire stay, you can still rent it from the Cancun Airport so that you can take full advantage of your rental and don’t have to book a transfer.

Also keep in mind that the majority of the hotels (especially the luxury ones, have a private car park for your to leave your rental car)

road to miguel colorado - driving in Mexico
Road in Campeche

Renting a car in Playa del Carmen

The same thing you have just read about Tulum also applies to Playa del Carmen. In this busy touristy town is very easy to walk around and get to the beach or anywhere in the “Centro” (aka Down Town) on foot.

However, if you want to explore its surroundings, such as the spectacular Cenotes of the Riviera Maya or the amazing Akumal beach or Xpu-ha, I would recommend renting a car.

Again, you can either book it from day one when you arrive at Cancun Airport or just rent it for a few days during your stay, in one of the Car Rentals in the town center.

Also for Playa del Carmen, I would recommend checking out Discover Cars site to find out which one gives you the best deal.

IMPORTANT FACT – When you do that, keep in mind that if the best deal on Discover car is with America Car Rental it doesn’t mean that on the company site you will get the same deal. I have just tried that here in Merida from where I am updating this post right now and the Discover Cars site was beating all other companies’ sites with the best prices.

Also, when you compare, keep in mind that the fare that comes out on the Rental Company website is always without insurance included. So mare a realistic comparison with full insurance you should add 10 to 20 USD per day.

Playa del Carmen
Playa Del Carmen

Renting a car in Merida

Merida is a spectacular city to explore with so many places to visit, museums, restaurants, and cafes, and you can easily get around on UBER or DIDI apps, or regular taxis. Or you can even rent a bike and beat the unbearable summer heat.

However, if you use Merida as a base to explore all the amazing things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula you should consider renting a car. It’s indeed the best way to visit all the incredible cenotes near Merida, the Mayan Ruins, and the magical Yucatan Haciendas.

All the major Car rentals in Merida are located at the airport which is basically in the city at a 20 minutes Uber drive from Merida Centro. There are also a few in the city center if you prefer.

Also for Merida, I would suggest you check out Discover Cars, first. I recently found an amazing deal with Mex Car Rental through their site, a much better rate than the company site itself.

Renting a car in Valladolid

Unfortunately, as I am writing this, there is no car rental in Valladolid. So the closest car rentals you can find will be either in Tulum or Merida. Something you will want to keep in mind before planning your trip to Mexico.

Renting a car in Mexico City

Mexico city is crazy to drive around, as any big city. That is easy to imagine. Also, you can easily move around with Uber and have less of a headache.

Mexico City Traffic
Mexico City traffic

However, if you love to explore the surrounding towns and attractions you may want to rent a car from the airport and enjoy a road trip to places such as the Huasteca Potosina or Las Grutas de Tolantongo, Taxco, or the Sierra Gorda in Queretaro to name a few.

Keep in mind that it is also easy to visit those places by bus as well if you feel overwhelmed at the idea of writing in that area.

Renting a car in La Paz

Baja california Sur - An essential guide
Playa Palandra during Sunset

My road trip in Baja California was one of the most incredible experiences about driving in Mexico. It was really magical and I invite you to do the same. You can rent your car either in La Paz or Los Cabos depending on where you are landing.

Obviously, if you are not intending to explore Baja California Sur, and just want to bask in the sun on a beach in your luxury hotel, you won’t need a car. Either in La Paz or in Los Cabos you can use a Uber to get to different beaches in the surroundings, restaurants, and nearby places.

However, I really felt much more comfortable when I had my own car so I could get to Todos Santos, Playa Balandra, and all the other amazing beaches in La Paz.

Baja California

Renting a car in Oaxaca

The best way to explore the Oaxaca Mexico coast is definitely by car as public transportation there is really useless.

There is a spectacularly scenic road that connects Oaxaca City with the Oaxaca coast but it’s not for the faint of the heart, because it’s narrow and very winding, totally unrecommended during rainy seasons.

You can either rent a car in Oaxaca City and drive all the way to the coast or fly to Huatulco and get a car from the airport so you avoid winding roads if you don’t feel comfortable with driving in the mountains.

Merida road
Merida City Center

Scam to avoid on the road after renting a car

Also, sometimes they will tell you they cannot accept credit cards because the system is down.

I am not sure whether it is true or not, but it is advisable to have some cash with you, always.

  • When you stop for gas, always ask by the quantity (20L or 40L) and not by the amount of money, otherwise, you will get less gas. (I am not sure why, but so I was told by a local friend)
  • Also, it has been a habit to scam distracted drivers that pay by 500 MXN note by telling them it was a 200MXN so they won’t give you any change. Make sure you know well how much money you are handing out and if they try to cheat, do not be afraid to speak your mind. They usually tend to give up if they see you are firm and confident. I know it sounds crazy but it happened to a couple of friends of mine.
  • The other thing you must do is to check the gas meter and make sure it’s on zero because some dishonest gas stations tend to reset the number and give you less gas than what you have paid for. Since it has now become a very well-known issue, many gas operators would show you first that the gas meter is on zero, before start filling your tank.
driving around the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico - off the beaten path road lined with tropical jungle

Driving in Mexico: practical tips

Toll roads ( cuota)

There are toll roads in Mexico as well. In the Yucatan peninsula, there is only one that takes you from Cancun to Merida. But it’s much more fun to drive on regular roads as you pass through small towns and villages.

Speed bumps

If you don’t take the toll roads be careful to speed bumps (so-called topes). They are not marked and most of the time they are really high. If you drive fast over them you can damage the car.

Road Signs

Pay attention to road signs and respect them ( read more to know why)

Speed bumps

Driving Licence

You don’t need an international driver’s license to drive in Mexico. A valid driver’s license from your country is enough as long as it’s written in Latin Alphabet, meaning if it’s Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic ( to name a few) it wouldn’t be accepted. In this case, you will need to apply for an international driving permit.

Police corruption is not a myth

A rental vehicle is normally on a target for the police especially from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, for some reason, so make sure you don’t give them a reason to stop you.

Keep some Mexican money with you

Take some Mexican Pesos with you to pay for the gas. Sometimes cards are not accepted because (they say) they have no signal or the POS is broken.

Watch out for potholes

Road conditions are not always the best unless you drive on toll roads. You will find a lot potholes, especially on secondary roads. So be careful.

What kind of car can I find in Mexico car rentals?

You can find mainly rental cars with automatic transmission although sometimes if you select the cheapest car it may be manual.

Use google map to find your way around

Buy a Mexican phone sim card and use google map to find your way around

Opt for full insurance coverage

Full car rental insurance is usually the best option. Discover Cars offer that at a very reasonable price.

Ask for deals, you never know

Not necessarily smaller cars have better rates. Always ask the car rental company if they have any deals for bigger cars. Sometimes they do.

Remember to tip the gas station workers

Keep in mind that the gas station staff sometimes doesn’t even get paid or a very low wage, so giving them a tip is a common practice. I usually give them 20 pesos, although normally they get from 10 to 20.

if you have an accident immediatly contact the car rental company

If anything happens immediately contact customer care. The car rental company should have given you a 24/7 phone number (one more reason to buy the local sim card)

You can get travel insurance that includes the car rental insurance as well

World Nomads Travel Insurance covers your rental car insurance if you purchase the Explorer Plan which is the most inclusive.

Travel Insurance from World Nomads. Get a quote.

Travel insurance from World Nomads is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travelers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage, and a range of adventure sports and activities. Read the policy details to ensure that it's right for you.

And that’s the end of my guide on renting a car in Mexico. I hope it was helpful. Happy driving!

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