I’ve been living in Mexico for over 3 years. I’ve rented a car numerous times in the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico City, so I feel like I’m a qualified person to tell you what’s the best rental car company in the area, and whether renting a car in Mexico is manageable.
I’ve had readers asking me numerous times if they should rent a car in Cancun or not. Some were even simply saying no to a car rental, as they were too afraid to drive in a foreign country. Why?
Because of articles like this one on NYT that tell you it’s way too dangerous to do this. Some even went that far and said to hire a driver, as ‘taking the risk of driving yourself amid all that corruption is a bad choice’. Let me clear your doubts here.
Renting a car in Mexico: What Do You Need to Know
Is it safe to rent a car in Mexico?
Renting a car anywhere in the world comes with a bit of risk. It’s important to drive with caution and be prepared for different traffic regulations, as it’s a foreign country. Speed limits are clearly marked and road signs are easy to follow.
Many travelers are afraid of being stopped by a corrupted police, but while you can get stopped, especially in the Yucatan Peninsula, it’s just like any other control. No, you won’t get kidnapped and carjacking isn’t common – these are some things uninformed people tend to say without having an actual knowledge.
Also, places like Playa del Carmen or Tulum are extremely safe. Don’t panic if you get stopped by the police as random patrols are fairly common in the area. They can ask you a few questions, such as where are you going and where are you coming from, and let you go. Unless you’re obviously speeding, talking on the phone, or breaking some other rules.
Renting a Car in Mexico Online & Hidden Costs
If you look online you’ll likely be impressed with the rental car rates in Mexico: $6 a day, $8 a day, and even less than $20 a day for an SUV. It seems perfect. But…
The problem is booking online. Once you walk to the counter to pick up your car, you’ll suddenly be bombed with an additional cost of compulsory insurance, service fees, and other things.
Many major online travel booking sites will deceive you when it comes to Mexican Liability Insurance. I saw quotes such as ‘car rentals in Mexico form$5/day’ everywhere.
READ MORE: Road Trip in Yucatan Peninsula
Many times I had a car booked for $5 online that came up to $200 upon arrival. Why?
Because ALL car rental companies in Mexico require you to purchase basic Personal Liability Insurance, which is, at it’s cheapest, about $20 per day. While there is a way out of it, there are a few things you need to know.
Don’t even bother booking an insurance online from Orbitz, RentalCars.com or another website. While their insurance works in other countries, it doesn’t in Mexico. Mexico also does not accept liability coverage from credit card insurance. There’s no problem as long as nothing happens, but if you get a flat tire or get into an accident, then you’ll be looking at a lot of additional payments.
I was once facing a lot of additional payments after someone made a dent in my car standing in a parking lot in Chichen Itza. It obviously wasn’t my fault, but there was nothing I could do about it, since the person who did it appeared to have left the scene before I got back to the car.
But don’t be discouraged. Issues with online websites are unavoidable, no matter where you are in the world. I actually recently experienced an issue at Boston Airport as my husband and I booked a car on RentalCars.com. As we were visiting Poland at the time, their website switched to Polish site making us pay in PLN – it didn’t give us any other option unless we had a VPN.
We didn’t think much of it, until we arrived in Boston, only to find out that was required to have a Polish driver’s license as we booked the car from Poland. The provider said that they’re not responsible for the content of RentalCars.com and we’ll need to pay almost double to drive the car in the US with the US driver’s license. Ridiculous, I know. But I’m telling you this story to let you know that the problem isn’t just in Mexico, but with websites offering car rentals.
What happens if you decline insurance?
If you choose to decline the additional insurance that, you’ll stumble upon another issue. Most companies to decline all additional insurances this is a $2,500 USD or more (or the equivalent in Mexican Pesos). While for some Americans it’s not an issue, many Europeans don’t have such option on their credit cards.
Is it better to book offline upon arrival?
In my experience, it all depends on the person renting you a car. Quite often I was being offered a better rate, including an additional insurance, when I just walked in than if I booked online. However, you want to avoid not having a car when landing in Mexico during high seasons like during Christmas and Easter week.
Else Do You Need to Know?
Renting a car in Mexico is much the same as renting in the United States, and you’ll find most of the major players — Hertz, Avis, Alamo, Budget, Thrifty, etc. Make sure to read the fine print.
Rental agencies at airports will be way more expensive than renting from an off-site agency and tend to charge more fees.
Most cars have an automatic transmission unless it’s a dune buggy or jeep.
Unlike in the US, the second driver fee should be included in your rental price already.
You need a credit card to rent a car.
You don’t need an international driver’s license to rent a car in Mexico.
Check all the dents and take pictures of them before leaving the agency. Some agencies tend to make money on dents that have been there before
COMMON CAR SCAMS IN MEXICO:
Be careful when you’re filling your car at the gas station. Unlike in the US, you won’t get out of your car in Mexico as they have workers filling your car for you. You’ll also pay them instead of the machine, so have cash with you. What should you pay attention you?
Make sure that you check the gas meter before the attendant starts filling your tank. Some attendants tend to not reset the meter, making you pay more than you’re getting. Since this scam has become well known, many honest attendants will point at zeros to you before they start pumping.
Another thing to avoid is to make sure which bills are you handing to your attendant. People tend to swap bills, claiming you gave them let’s say 50 Pesos note instead of 500 Pesos note, so make sure to pay attention. If this happens to you, be firm and tell them NO. Most people will handle you back your charge after you make a scene.
Recommended rental car companies in Mexico:
Playa del Carmen – Hertz (10th Av) & MEX Rent A Car (5th Av)
Cozumel – HTL Rentals
Cancun – Enterprise & America Car Rental
DON’T FORGET ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE
Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to Mexico. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance. Get it before your trip to skip unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!
Why rent a car in Mexico?
While there are many options for group tours everywhere and buses, that will take you to see all the main sights, there are also many places you can’t see without a car. Having a vehicle can you give freedom to explore as and when you want to, and avoid crowds during peak hours.
See my sample itinerary for a 2-week road trip around Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
Any questions? Don’t be afraid to ask me anything in the comments below!