Everything you need to know about renting a car in Mexico

Renting a car in Mexico: Helpful tips and mistakes to avoid

If you are planning a trip to Mexico, you probably thought about renting a car.

There’s a lot of conflicting information about renting a car in Mexico, but as someone who travelled this country quite a bit, I want to share my experience on renting a car in Mexico to help you plan your next adventure. 

Mexico is a huge country with many regional differences.

Every part of Mexico has its own unique towns, historic landmarks and diverse scenery ranging from mountains to jungles and deserts. One of the best ways to explore the country is by renting a car.

Renting a car in Mexico

Don’t let all the misleading and false information scare you away: Renting a car in Mexico is much easier than you think, but it does require knowing certain things, which is exactly what you are going to learn in this article 😊

While you might not need a car in a major metropolitan area like Mexico City, where you can get a tour, a rental car comes in handy in less urban regions like Quintana Roo, Yucatan or Chiapas with many Mayan ruins, beaches and natural sites not serviced by public transportation.

Here are a couple of questions to help you figure out whether you need to rent a car in Mexico:

  • Are you planning to visit a city or a resort area?
  • What kind of traveler are you? Do you like adventure or would rather stay in a comfort of your hotel?
  • How long are you going to travel?
  • What part of Mexico are you going to visit? Not all of Mexico is safe to travel by car. Keep that mind when planning your trip.

Answering these questions will help you to figure out whether renting a car for your Mexico trip makes sense or if you can get around by public transportation.

After numerous trips around Mexico by car and bus, I decided to put together this article to help you. This guide will go over the most common mistakes that tourists make while renting a car in Mexico, help you stay safe on the road, and make your trip more enjoyable.

PRO TIP: If you need more help planning a trip to Mexico, check my top tips on how to prepare for your trip and avoid mistakes. This is a helpful guide that covers all aspects of Mexico travel such as culture, safety, and gives you many practical insights that are not always obvious.

Get My 25 Tips On How To Stay Safe In Mexico (and avoid tourist scams)

    Why you should consider renting a car in Mexico

    Renting a car in Mexico will give you tons of freedom. 

    You will be able to travel at your own pace, stop wherever you want and explore many hidden gems that other tourists don’t get to see. For example, I rented a car Mexico numerous times and was able to explore dozens of cenotes, Mayan ruins and best pueblos magicos that are not always easily accessible by public transportation.

    Taking a guided tour is always an option, but you will still be limited as of to where you can go, and might miss out on the destinations that can only be reached by car. 

    Safety tips for renting a car in Mexico

    Is it safe to rent a car in Mexico?

    While it’s fair to have questions about safety if you have never rented a car in Mexico, keep in mind that there’s a lot of misinformation on the topic.

    Sadly, much of it is perpetuated by people who have never done it and have a fair share of unfounded bias. I’m here to tell you that renting a car in Mexico is safe, but it doesn’t mean that you can forget to follow common sense.

    To stay safe during your trip, get familiar with the region that you plan to visit. While tourism is a big industry in Mexico, some parts of the country are not recommended for travel due to crime, and it’s your job to do your homework before deciding where to go.

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

    Prices for rental cars in Mexico could vary depending on the season and destination, however, you should expect to pay an average of $40-45 per day for a rental car with full insurance coverage. You can find most major car rental companies in Mexico such as Hertz, Avis, Budget Car, and others.

    You could be charged extra if you don’t bring back a car with a full tank of gas

    Most car rental companies in Mexico will give you a car with at least half a tank of gas that you need to return with the same amount. Make sure to bring your car back with the specified amount of gas because you can be charged twice the amount of regular gas price if fail to do so!

    This happened to me once when my tank wasn’t full upon return and a car rental company wanted to charge me nearly 500 Pesos for just quarter of a liter of gas! I was running late for my flight but quickly drove to the nearby gas station to avoid extra charges.

    Find Your Rental Car

    What car rental company choose you choose?

    A good place to find a great deal on car rentals in Mexico is Discover Cars, a great website where you can find dozens of car rental companies that have offices in many parts of the country. They also help you to sort through hundreds of offers and find the cheapest and most reasonable rate.

    Another option is City Car Rental, a Mexican car rental company that offers competitive rates on cars in major tourist destinations. I’ve rented a car with them several times, and always had a great experience!

    Mexico car rental insurance: Everything you need to know

    One of the most often misunderstood topics is Mexico car rental insurance. Renting a car and buying a car rental insurance in Mexico can be very confusing, if you have never done it before.

    You are REQUIRED to have a car insurance while driving in Mexico.

    Most car rental companies in Mexico include a basic liability insurance coverage in the rental price, and if you want more coverage, you will need to pay extra.

    However, even full coverage sometimes excludes certain things which you would have to cover out of pocket in the event of damage. Keep reading to learn more about types of Mexico car insurance.

    Types of Mexico car rental insurance

    Not all car insurance in Mexico is created equal.

    There are several types of car insurance and prices can vary greatly depending on what they cover. Keep in mind that car rental insurance in Mexico normally covers ONLY things related to car, and doesn’t cover your hospital visits and hospital stays in case of an accident.

    Consider buying additional insurance for your trip that will protect you in case you need medical attention while on the road. I always recommend World Nomads, one of the leading insurance providers that offers a variety of plans.

    Full coverage

    Full coverage is the most expensive type of insurance that has zero deductible.

    It’s a perfect option if you are renting a car in Mexico for the first time and want to protect yourself, if something happens. This type of coverage comes with zero deductible, so you are covered 100 percent and don’t have to pay anything out of pocket if your car gets damaged, stolen or totaled.

    Basic coverage

    Basic coverage is often included in the price of a car rental in Mexico, and covers only minimal damage. It doesn’t cover you if a car is stolen or totaled. It also excludes certain types of damage, and typically covers you only up to a specific amount that is specified in the contract.

    If you purchase basic coverage, a car rental company typically puts a hold on your credit card that can range widely depending on the duration of your rental. The hold is reserved when you return your car with no damages.

    Always ask your agent what’s included in the basic coverage before signing papers. 

    Credit card insurance

    Some U.S. credit card companies offer car insurance for car rentals in Mexico.

    However, it’s NOT a guarantee that a car rental company in Mexico will accept this type of insurance. If you use a car insurance from your credit car company, you could still be liable for any damages that occur during your rental term, and you would need to cover them out of pocket before filing for a refund.

    Always ask your credit car company about what’s covered, if you decide to use this option. 

    PRO TIP: It’s better to purchase your car insurance along with your car rental to make things easier. No matter what type of car insurance get, ask your agent what’s included and what’s not, as different car companies have different rules.

    Renting a car in Cancun

    Renting a car in Cancun

    When it comes to renting a car in Mexico, one of the most common questions is, “Do I need to rent a car in Cancun?”

    Under normal circumstances, my answer would be yes, but everyone travels differently, so I will say that whether you need to rent a car in Cancun or not depends on your plans.

    Renting a car in Cancun is a good idea, because it will give you a much greater freedom and opportunity to explore the region at your own pace without having to rely on tours.

    If you want to relax and maybe visit a few historic sites, then you don’t need a car rental. You can get a transportation from Cancun Airport to your hotel and get a tour or pay for taxi when you need to go out. If you decide to get a guided tour of some of the most popular places to visit in the Yucatan Peninsula, I recommend Get Your Guide, that offers tours of cenotes, Mayan ruins and charming colonial cities.

    A quick a note on taxis in Cancun:

    At the time of writing this article, there is no Uber in Cancun, but there are tons of taxis, and you will have no problem hailing a cab when you are ready to go. Always make sure to negotiate the price before you begin the ride.

    Best things to do in Mexico

    Renting a car in Mexico City

    Most people who look for car rentals in Mexico, are typically visiting the country’s coastal areas. While renting a car in Cancun is a great idea, as it will give you the freedom to explore the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico City is different.

    It is the largest city in Mexico with over 9 million people and traffic here can be notoriously bad. Many people don’t recommend renting a car in Mexico City because the traffic is too chaotic and drivers tend to be aggressive.

    Planning a visit to Mexico City? Check my 5 day itinerary for Mexico City to enjoy the best of this place!

    Renting a car in Mexico City could be a good idea (provided you know how to drive here), because you will be able to visit a lot of places in Central Mexico within 1-2 hours of driving without having to rely on buses.

    If you are visiting Mexico City for the first time, do not drive alone, as getting used to things will take some time. You can rent a car in Mexico City airport or around major tourist areas in the city.

    Renting a car in Baja California

    Baja California Peninsula is home to the states of Baja California and Baja California Sur. It is one of the most diverse parts of Mexico with landscapes ranging from mountains to deserts to some of the best beaches in the country.

    Baja California borders the state of California, although most travelers arrive here via Cabo San Lucas, a tourist hub in Baja California Sur known for its gold-sand beaches and the big party scene. I recommend you rent a car in Cabo San Lucas upon arrival to explore this vast region and enjoy its scenery.

    Renting a car in Mexico directly from a car rental company

    As a popular tourist destination, Mexico has many major car rental companies such as Enterprise, Alamo, Avis and others. If you are a newbie traveler, and don’t have a lot of experience with renting cars in Mexico this is the best option, because it will allow you to ask all the questions and clarify everything on the spot when you arrive to pick up your car.

    Renting a car in Mexico from a third party company

    Renting a car in Mexico through a third party platform is a popular option, and is available on websites like expedia.com or kayak.com where you can browse hundreds of offers.

    A major downside of booking your car in Mexico through third-party platform is that car insurance purchased through them is typically not honored by car rental companies, which could be a problem when you arrive at the office to pick up your vehicle. 

    Take some time to do your research and book directly with a car rental company to save the hassle. When I did my online research ahead of my trip to Cancun, I found City Car Rental under 10 minutes from Cancun airport that offers great rates on many cars. 

    Renting a car in Mexico on a spot

    If time is short, you can just walk into an office of a car rental company.

    If you go this route, don’t expect a great deal, as you will probably have to choose from whatever is available, but the upside is you will save a lot of time on online research.

    PRO TIP: Use this option only as a last resort. Book your car ahead of your trip instead walking into a car rental company, because it will save you quite a bit of money. This is especially tru during big holidays like New Year’s Eve, Easter and Christmas. Not only you will not have much to choose from, but you could also end up paying a much higher price for whatever is left. 

    I booked my car in Mexico on the spot several times during the high season, and prices were always much higher than advertised online.

    Car rental tips for Mexico

    Renting a car in Mexico: top tips to save money and avoid scams

    Although renting a car in Mexico sounds like a straightforward task, there are a few things to know before you walk into a car rental office. Here are some basic steps that will allow you to skip mistakes and stay safe while traveling in Mexico.

    1. Watch out for super low rates

    If you find suspiciously low rates while looking for a car rental in Mexico, it should raise a flag. 

    For example, you might see something like $5-8 per day.

    Sounds absurd, right? It is, so don’t fall for it. 

    What happens is that third part companies who advertise these “deals” often hide various fees, mandatory insurance and everything in between. Their goal is “to get you” and when you show up at the office present a much higher bill that could be up to triple the daily rate that you are seeing. 

    Not everyone knows it, but you can find all the information about what’s included in your rate in your agreement before making a payment. Read your contact carefully to understand what’s included in the rate you are about to pay. 

    2. Do your research on car insurance

    Car insurance is mandatory in Mexico.

    The minimum you need is a personal liability insurance covering up to a certain amount of money, in case your vehicle is damaged. However, do NOT let car rental companies in Mexico to pressure you into buying one (especially if the price seems to be abnormally high), because they aren’t allowed to do that. 

    The worst thing they can do is deny you renting a car from them.

    If a price is reasonable, it might be a good idea to get your insurance directly from your car rental company. A car insurance could help you to avoid having to pay for damages – but make sure to clarify what is covered and what is not.

    3. Research car rental prices ahead of booking your car

    The cost of a Mexican car insurance varies by company, but you should expect to pay between $20-25 per day for a basic liability and about $40-45 per day for full coverage. 

     A standard U.S. insurance is not valid in Mexico, and if you are coming to Mexico from the United States, you could also have an option to get insurance through your credit card company. 

    As I said above, some credit card companies in the United States offer insurance for its customers. In many cases, this insurance doesn’t cover any damages, which means you will have to pay for them out of pocket and file a claim with your credit card company. 

    Since a full reimbursement is not a guarantee, it’s a good idea not to rely on your insurance through a credit card company, and get a Mexican car insurance through your car rental company.

    4. Check your car for existing damages before leaving

    You found a great deal, arrived to a car rental office and signed all the papers. Now you are in a parking lot, ready to get in a car and leave for a grand adventure.

    Stop here and take a few minutes to inspect your car. 

    Unfortunately, there have been cases of car rental companies trying to scam people by charging them money for damages that have already been there.

    Carefully go over your rental car and take picture of all the scratches, bumps, dings, and any other damages that have already been there so you would have a proof in case any questions arise when you return your vehicle.

    Tips for driving in Mexico

    After you rented a car, it’s time to get on the road. You might want to know that driving in Mexico is pretty straightforward but it does come with a few caveats. 

    1. Watch out for speed bumps (topes in Spanish)

    Speed bumps are common in many parts of Mexico especially around pedestrian crossings and bus stations.

    Some of these speed bumps are very tall, and can damage your vehicle if you hit them at full speed. There are typically road signs warning you about speed bumps ahead, but always make sure to slow down when you drive around cities and towns in Mexico. 

    2. Don’t pump your own gas

    Mexican gas stations have attendants who put gas in your car when you get to the pump. Make sure to specify the amount of gas that you need and clarify the price before they begin doing it.

    Also, many of the people who work at gas stations make only minimum wage, so you could also leave a little tip before leaving. 

    PRO TIP: Pay close attention to how much money you are giving to a gas pump attendant to make sure you get the right amount of change. Gas pump scam is one of the most common petty scams in Mexico, and if you are not paying attention, you could easily get ripped off.

    That’s when speaking Spanish could be hugely beneficial, in case you need to ask a question and clarify things. Check my tips for your Mexico trip that will make your trip safer and help you to avoid rip offs.

    3. Be prepared to stop at check points

    Military check points are not uncommon in Mexico, even around the country’s tourist corridors. Be prepared to stop and open your vehicle for inspection, if you are asked to do so. As a tourist, you will most likely be asked a few simple questions, unless you manage to draw some suspicion.

    4. Learn some Spanish

    Knowing some basic Spanish can be a game changer when it comes to traveling Mexico by car.

    It will help you communicate at gas stations, restaurants, tour agencies and everywhere else. The further away you go from a tourist zone, the fewer people will speak English, so having some Spanish skills could be a huge relief.

    Last thing you want is to be stuck without knowing how to say something frantically trying to translate a simple phrase on your phone. There are good apps like Duolingo, Babbel and Fluencia, that can help you to pick up some Spanish ahead of your trip. 

    5. Always carry cash

    From tipping gas station attendants to giving a few coins to people who might come up to your car to wash windows while you are sitting in traffic, carrying cash is a good idea while you are driving around Mexico. Also, the street vendors who sell drinks and snacks on the side of the road accept only cash. 

    6. Mexico uses kilometers not miles

    In case you are coming to Mexico from the US, you might want to know that Mexico uses kilometers, not miles. One mile equals to about 1.6 kilometers, but when it comes to driving, your best bet is to just follow the posted speed limit to avoid the trouble. 

    7. Use toll roads

    Toll roads might be not the cheapest option (you will need to have cash in your car to pay for them), but they are the best option if you are traveling between major cities and want to get around quickly. They are also considered safer for traveling than smaller secondary roads and better for your car, as they have fewer potholes. 

    8. Be ready to pay a bribe … or not

    If you have done a little bit of research on renting a car in Mexico, you probably read about instances of Mexican police asking motorists for money in exchange for getting out of a ticket.

    As a rule, I say don’t cave in, if they say that you will get a fine unless you give them money. You can just take a ticket and pay it later.This however, depends on a situation (and what they stopped you for), so my advice is to follow your instincts and do what looks to be the best way to skip the trouble. 

    9. Follow the rules

    Your best bet to avoid trouble is to follow the rules. Wear a seat belt, respect the signs, follow a posted speed limit and put down your phone. This will help to avoid any unwanted attention and not get pulled over by police in first place.

    10. Drive during the day

    Depending on what region of Mexico you plan to visit, you might want to limit your driving to day time. Some parts of Mexico are considered less safe than others, and you should check the most up-to-date information before planning your trip. 

    If you are traveling to Mexico from the United States, check information on the U.S State Department ahead of your visit.

    Final thoughts on renting a car in Mexico

    Renting a car in Mexico is a perfect option if you want to explore some of the most beautiful areas of the country such as Yucatan, Chiapas or even Baja California and get off the beaten tourist track. That however doesn’t mean that you can skip a basic research and forget about common sense.

    Whether you decide to rent a car in Mexico through a third-party or an individual car rental company, don’t forget to do a proper research, read reviews and make sure to get a good car insurance in Mexico.

    PRO TIP: Get your insurance from the same company where you are going to rent a car, and pick up your car after landing at the airport or in the city that you are visiting. This will make the entire process of renting a car more smooth and easier.

    I hope this article was able to clarify things for you, and make it easier to rent a car in Mexico on your next trip. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

    Happy exploring!

    More resources for your trip to Mexico

    Renting a car is only a small part of planning your trip to Mexico. Whether you need to book a hotel, organize a tour or book a flight while in the country, consider using some of my suggested services.

    Agoda.com – a great website for budget accommodations in all of Mexico.

    WorldNomads – Great service for insurance coverage that will keep you safe on the road.

    Safety Wing – Excellent insurance plan for long-term travelers that offers competitive rates is you are planning to stay on the road several weeks in a row.

    GetYourGuide.com – Thinking about booking a tour while in Puerto Escondido? Get Your Guide is my favorite platform that offers awesome tours and top-notch guides in many destinations across Mexico

    DiscoverCars.com – There’s nothing like exploring the incredible Oaxaca Coast on your own. Consider renting a car at Discover Cars if you want more freedom exploring this part of Mexico 

    CheapoAir.com – One of the best platforms for saving money on flights within Mexico and beyond 

    Booking.com – a popular website with tons and tons of options for accommodations of all sorts. 

    Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. At no cost to you, I might earn a small commission if you make a purchase through the links in this article.