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Renting a Car in Mexico: Things to Know & How to Avoid Hidden Costs

Renting a Car in Mexico: Things to Know & How to Avoid Hidden Costs

I’ve been living in Mexico for over 4 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 car rental in Mexico, as they were too afraid to drive in a foreign country.

Why? Because of many articles that tell you it’s way too dangerous to do this. It is not. Let me clear your doubts here: it’s safe and particularly safe if you’re renting a car in Cancun area.

Renting a Car in Mexican Yucatan Peninsula

Cancun car rental

Is it Safe to Rent a Car in Mexico?

Renting a car anywhere in the world comes with a bit of risk, even in your home country. 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 corrupted police, but while you can get stopped, especially in the Yucatan Peninsula where Cancun is located, 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 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.


Driving in Riviera Maya

There are a few things to know about when driving in the area.

  1. Pedestrians don’t have the right of the way.
  2. Don’t wait too long to enter the highway, everyone will honk at you (see photos above)
  3. Prepare to shake your head immediately at intersections, unless you want your window cleaned and have a few coins to guys these guys.
  4. It’s really not as crazy as it may seem at first 😉
Cleaning windows at intersections, quick shows or selling nuts and candies is fairly common. Prepare to give a few coins for the service.

Renting a Car in Mexico Online & Hidden Costs

If you look online you’ll likely be impressed with the rental car rates in Cancun: $10 a day, $15 a day, and even less than $25 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, but it’s not technically their fault.

It’s up to the actual rental agency to decide what they’re going to do and frankly if you look like a tourist and don’t speak Spanish there’s a big chance you’ll be charged extra costs.


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 MOST car rental companies in Mexico require you to purchase basic Personal Liability Insurance, which is, at it’s cheapest, about $15-20 per day. While there is a way out of it, there are a few things you need to know.

Don’t even bother booking insurance online from a third-party website or even the company website. While these websites are great, their insurance works in other countries, it doesn’t in Mexico (it actually doesn’t always work in France either based on my experience).

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.

renting a car in Mexico

What Happens if You Decline Car 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 options on their credit cards.

Random tree in the middle of the road because why not 🙂

Is it Better to Book a Car in Person Upon Arrival?

In my experience, it all depends on the person renting you a car and your Spanish skills. Quite often I was being offered a better rate including 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.

The best site to book your car is Discover Cars. They offer competitive rates as it searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. However, also read the temporary announcement below:

COVID 2021 UPDATE

In 2020 Mexican tourism increased enormously and it’s suspected to raise up to 60% since 2019 in 2021. Lots of people are coming to Mexico and staying long term and many Americans pick Mexico as well, as they have nowhere else to go. That said:

Prices for renting a car increased enormously and more importantly rental cars are always sold out. Over Christmas 2020 prices raised up to $150 per day and the cars were still oversold. If you book through a third-party website and worse – last minute, there’s an 80% chance that your reservation will simply mean nothing and you’ll get a call saying “sorry, no cars available”.

As I’m living in Mexico once again and I ended up renting a car, I Here are some tips I can give you guys for renting a car NOW until the situation calms down again:

  1. Book directly on the car rental website or on Discover Cars (I’ve been in direct contact with them and they specifically work with only those providers who will give you the car you booked). Do it at least a month in advance and also call the office to ask if they actually have a car available for you if you want to be triple sure.
  2. You cannot afford to be picky anymore. Manual, automatic, Kia or SUV – take whatever is available. The day I rented my car recently I was told the agency had 10 people coming and had to send all these people away because they had no cars for them at all and RentalCars and Orbitz didn’t register the availability correctly.
  3. Expect to pay minimum $30-35 per day. Nobody can give you a deal anymore because every employee has to call the head office to check on the car and the head office sends back the price. In fact, the guy I rented from wanted to give me a deal as he knew me from before, but got refused by his boss.
Renting a Car in Cozumel
Driving a buggy around Cozumel. I actually don’t recommend a buggy, they always break down. Once the shifter broke, not even kidding. Do yourself a favor an rent a regular car in Cozumel.

Laws Tourists Should Know When Renting a Car in Mexico

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. There’s no way around it.

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.

If you park at a wrong spot the police will give you a ticket and take one of your license plates to make sure you pay the bill.

How Old Do You Have To Be to Rent a Car In Mexico?

The legal driving age in Mexico is 18, but many cars hire suppliers will only rent to people aged 25. Some companies might do an exception for a person over 21, but absolutely not under 21.


Scams to Avoid in Mexico When Renting a Car

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 to?

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.

Honest gas stations will have this sign.

Recommended Rental Car Companies in Cancun & Riviera Maya in Mexico

The best site to book your car at is Discover Cars. They offer competitive rates as it searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. Also check:

Playa del Carmen Car Rental – Hertz (10th Av) & MEX Rent A Car (5th Av)

Cozumel Car Rental – HTL Rentals

Cancun Car Rental – Enterprise & America Car Rental


 DON’T FORGET ABOUT TRAVEL INSURANCE

Don’t forget to arrange health insurance before heading to Mexico. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is Safety Wing (especially since it includes covid coverage now!). Get it before your trip to skip unnecessary troubles that might ruin your holidays!

renting a car in Mexico
Bat crossing sign when driving in Mexico.

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.

Megan

Tuesday 9th of November 2021

Now THIS is the blog I've been looking for! Thank you!!

Any advice for renting a car as a solo female traveler? After a week in Riviera Maya , I'll be dropping my young adult/children at Cancun airport, then traveling solo for 5 days before meeting up with friends back in RM. The logistics are breaking my brain.

Jarmila

Friday 22nd of October 2021

Hey Anna, I have followed your recommendation and booked car via Discover cars, but I wouldn’t do it again. They charged me instantly, but then left me 5-6 days waiting for confirmation that the car I requested would be available. Also nobody replied to my email, when I approached customer service. So I called the car rental I booked the car with directly and only this helped to get the confirmation. I cannot imagine that I would need more support from Discover Cars on my trip considering their terrible customer service. Also, the second driver was not included in the booking, you should delete this information from your article. Next time I would do anything to book directly with car rental to avoid Discover cars.

Anna Karsten

Saturday 23rd of October 2021

Can I ask you some questions regarding this situation? Who did you book your rental car with on DiscoverCars and when you decide to book directly was it the same company and place?

The instant charging is normal, but it's usually a hold not a charge. The thing with Mexico, especially since last year when Mexico became insanely busy especially during winter months, is that no matter how you book a car you only get 50:50 chance that the specific car you booked might not be available and frankly that A car will be available at all - regardless of how you book.

Just last year for example I booked directly and when I showed up there were 10 people there (6 of which booked directly as well) and only car was available - the rest of the people got sent away. A month later, in February, there was not a single car available in the entire Playa del Carmen and Cancun to rent and all agencies were overbooked about 130% and you had to get lucky or know someone who knows someone. So there's that aspect...

It's really odd that you received no reply from their customer service though.

P.S. Second driver is always included in Mexico, but lots of agencies are sadly still trying to get extra money saying it's not included when it is.

Alex

Thursday 26th of August 2021

I'm booking a rental car using Discover Cars. I purchased the liability insurance in advance. It mentioned collision damage waiver and theft protection is not included. I was curious if I'm going to be sold that when I pick up the car? Is that something that is needed?

Also, I noticed even with liability insurance when I arrive they will be a 7k hold on my credit card. Do you know if that is normal?

Thank you! - Alex

Anna Karsten

Friday 27th of August 2021

Usually that's the case with the deposit.

They might offer you additional insurance for sure, but it's up to you.

Erin

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

It’s interesting that, when renting in Tulum, the first choice of cars is always from America. In Tulum, they have a terrible reputation. My American Express card was compromised before I even got to my destination. I had read this might happen because the reviews on their site are terrible. I also read about how awful customers were treated, yet the seemingly low price drew me in, which wasn’t so low when we got done. So even though you regard the Discover Cars rental site as good, actually for Tulum, it is a terrible choice since all the first cars with the best price lead you to America. He took so long with my credit card that I suspected he was already sending the card number on to his accomplice. And that was, in fact, what happened. Try another site in Tulum.

Anna Karsten

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

What do you mean from America? What America? Do you mean the USA? I guarantee you that your card didn't get compromised that way, because the provider doesn't have the card details when you book through Discover Cars until you arrive. Looks like you know that since you're saying "he took so long with my card". Also, scams can happen anywhere and Tulum is THE most scammy place in the area, but it has nothing to do with the company you're renting from. There are a lot of factors involved. Plus, scammers happen all over the world - whether you're in Paris, Tulum, or literally anywhere. Sad, but true.

Nadia Mustafa

Monday 12th of April 2021

Hi Anna, congrats for your courage and your great life adventure! I am Nadia and I am planning a trip to Mexico in May. I will be travelling with my boyfriend (he is Polish too) and we would like to rent a car and visit as much as possible of Yucatan peninsula. I am just concerned about the ability to park in the cities, at the ruins, around the beaches etc. and how safe it is to leave the car parked somewhere. Would be great if you could give me some tips about good safe parkings. We are thinking to land in Merida or Cancun, rent a car for 2 weeks, do all the visiting and then fly back from Cancun. Meantime we would like to spend a couple of days in Cozumel. Any safe parking close to the ferry ? Thank you in advance!

Anna Karsten

Monday 12th of April 2021

You can always find a place to park, maybe apart from Tulum's hotel zone because that's just crazy haha. It's pretty safe, just don't leave valuables visible inside but I think people do it anywhere. If there's street parking then you can park there, but in many spots there isn't enough space so there are those outdoor parking spots you need to pay for but it's not much :) There's safe parking right in front of the mall at the ferry, but to be honest, if you're planning on spending a few days in Cozumel bring the car. It's impossible to explore Cozumel without a car. The ferry for Cozumel with a car leaves from Punta Venado.

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