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Complete Guide to Renting a Car in Mexico: Things to Know

Complete Guide to Renting a Car in Mexico: Things to Know

I’ve been living in Mexico for over 4 years and I’ve rented a car numerous times in both the Yucatan Peninsula and Mexico City. With all my experience I feel like I’m more than qualified to tell you all about renting a car in Mexico including which is the best rental car company in the area, and whether renting a car in Mexico is actually manageable for you.

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. I’m here to clear your doubts: it’s safe and especially safe if you’re renting a car in Cancun area.

Trio of tourists enjoying their jeep rental as they explore a forested area in Mexico.

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 but luckily 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 Mexico: Rules and Customs

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

  1. Pedestrians don’t have the right of 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 give these guys.
  4. It’s really not as crazy as it may seem at first 😉
A local street vendor approaching cars at a traffic stop in Mexico, an experience often encountered when renting a car for city travel.
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 at car rentals 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 when booking online is that once you walk to the counter to pick up your car, you’ll suddenly be bombarded 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.

Many times I had a car booked for $5 online which 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 its 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.

A rented sedan car parked on a remote forest road in Mexico, highlighting the freedom of renting a car for exploration.

What Happens if You Decline Car Insurance?

If you choose to decline the additional insurance you’ll stumble upon another issue. Most companies allow you to decline all additional insurance if you agree to a refundable deposit (held on your credit card) of $2500 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.

It’s also helpful to have regular travel insurance for additional coverage, not just for the car, but also health and incidents. The easiest and the most reliable travel insurance is Safety Wing.

Casual glimpse of a Mexican street through a car window with a tree in the middle of the road, showcasing th weird things you might encounter while renting a car in Mexico
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:

Couple riding in a bright green dune buggy rental on a sandy path in Mexico, embracing the adventurous side of 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 and rent a regular car in Cozumel.

What to 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. But 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 an off-road vehicle 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.

Parking ticket in Mexico
If you park at the 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 car rental suppliers will only rent to people aged 25. Some companies might make 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 as it’s a most common scam in Mexico. Unlike in the US, you won’t get out of your car in Mexico as gas stations have workers filling your car for you. You’ll also pay them in cash most of the time.

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 you know 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.

Informative sign about Mexican gas station scams.
Honest gas stations will have this sign.

Recommended Rental Car Companies in Cancun & Riviera Maya in Mexico

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.

Otherwise, also check these companies:

  • 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
Cautionary bat crossing road sign, which one might see while driving a rental car on rural Mexican roads.
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 the 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.

Brent

Wednesday 8th of May 2024

Hi Anna, Have you ever traveled without your car seat, and rented one when in PDC? Our family has had a condo in PDC for nearly 15 years, and we've always had great experiences renting cars. But this is my first trip with our toddler and I am not sure if renting a car seat from the rental company (something that's very easy and convenient in the US) is possible.

AnnaEverywhere

Wednesday 8th of May 2024

Honestly I didn't, because we would always just get a shuttle with a car seat to our apartment and then rent a car. It's easier to rent from BabyQuip or buy one locally than renting from the car rental place and it's probably one of a few places in the world where I would say I wouldn't trust these car seats.

Teresa

Wednesday 26th of April 2023

To everybody renting car in Mexico !

In December 2022 we have rented car in AMERICA RENTAL CAR in Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Coming back from our trip around Yucatan, we stopped for shopping in Playa del Carmen. When we returned it occurred that our car has been robbed. Our two big bags which were in locked car trunk have been stolen. Thieves didn’t break any windows, they did not damage the locks. It may suggest that the thieves had additional key. In the police station, we were informed that almost identical incidents with other cars have happened many times before and that the police are investigating these particular cases. They are sure that they cooperate with a criminal group. Be careful and steer clear of America Car Rental !!

Carissa

Friday 14th of April 2023

We made the mistake of taking a shuttle from the airport to one of the car rental spots. It took 3 hours and we got there at 9 pm. It was miserable. We got a good deal even with the insurance but even with the insurance they requested a $300 deposit. It was great having the car for the few days. We drove to Tulum from Cancun and into the jungle to Cobha ruins. We never once felt unsafe. I grew up going to Baja and Cancun feels much safer. We left the car in the same condition, We even filled up the tank. But they kept the deposit anyway. My friend fought it, I think it was Hertz, but they just ignored her complaints. They even told us we don't need to take pictures when we returned it but we did anyway, not that it kept them from keeping the deposit. I am going to attempt to rent a car next time I visit but much further away from the airport. I figure I can shuttle to a hotel and taxi to a rental spot. fingers crossed.

jonathan

Tuesday 15th of March 2022

Regardless of the cost of renting a car, even getting used to the traffic system is a difficult thing. I think everyone should use google maps, it can be found on apkdownload, at least it can help us to know which way we can go. And make sure your phone has signal in mexico

Gregg

Friday 11th of February 2022

I appreciate the advice about renting a car in Mexico. We rented a full size car for two weeks at the Cabo San Lucas International Airport for $344 with Mex$750,000 mandatory Mexican liability insurance included in the $344 rate. Awesome deal!

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