Renters who travel from the United States to Europe frequently find the ability to seamlessly travel across country borders in the Schengen Zone extremely convenient. What happens closer to home? Assume a renter wants to visit the Seashores of Old Mexico on a Merle Haggard / George Strait Tribute tour, traveling down through Durango, Colima, Almeria, then into Manzanillo.

Well, making that trip happen with a rental car from the United States would be a challenge (to say the least)! Drivers wanting to pick up a vehicle in the United States for trips to Mexico face many roadblocks - procedural as well as literal - in getting where they wish to go.

Attempting to rent a car in the U.S. and travel to Mexico, there are two subgroups of travelers:

  • Those who rent a car in the U.S. and want to return the car in Mexico (a one-way rental), and
  • Those who rent a car in the U.S., wish to travel into Mexico, and then return the car in the U.S. (a round-trip rental)

We'll address the one-way renters first, as travelers in that group don't need to read much further.

Can I do a One-Way rental from the United States to Mexico?

Nope. Not going to happen. Even short one-way rentals such as San Diego to Tijuana, or El Paso to Ciudad Juarez, aren't possible despite being separated by just the border.  

OK, but do you have Any Tips for Crossing the Border at Tijuana?

The most common request we receive for one-way rentals ending in Mexico is from California to the General Abelardo L. Rodríguez International Airport in Tijuana (TIJ); the airport runs along the United States / Mexico border. For those renters, there's a (relatively) painless option as the Cross Border Xpress opened in late 2015.

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What's more, a few of the rental car companies were smart enough to put return locations near the U.S. terminal of the Cross Border Xpress.

Cross Border Xpress

Can I Drive a U.S. rental into Mexico, then return to the U.S.?

Maybe. Many of the border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico have a perception of being far less safe than coastal vacation destinations or the remainder of Mexico. I spent time assigned to a position at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas; active-duty U.S. military were forbidden at the time from crossing the bridge to Ciudad Juarez, whether in uniform or not!

I also saw signs frequently selling insurance riders for individuals who wanted to drive into Mexico, as the country's requirements differ greatly from the United States. While rental car companies study risk when making their rules, we think some decision-makers are still battle perceptions when crossing the U.S. / Mexico border.

The policies of the major rental car companies differ on these rentals crossing to and from Mexico. If border crossings are allowed, expect to pay for the privilege of trans-border drives. Of the nine primary firms, there are four basic forms of rental car rules.

Rule 1: The Answer is Always "No"

Avis is exceptionally clear on their feelings about crossing the U.S. / Mexico border.

This is one of the few times a rental car company's rule cannot be misinterpreted.

Alamo has a similar policy as vehicles cannot be driven into Mexico.

When the rental car company doesn't start with the letter "A", the answer is a resounding "maybe" but with a cost. With some companies, recreating the route in the Seashores of Old Mexico would still be impossible. And in at least one case, there's even the need for a written permission slip from the rental station manager to drive into Mexico!

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Rule 2: Can Pay to Cross but with Stated Limits on Distance

Dollar and Thrifty have selected (read, not many) locations that are equipped to handle reservations from the United States to Mexico with a return scheduled back in the United States.

A few important notes:

  • Dollar and Thrifty's add-on Emergency Sickness Plan coverage is always invalid in Mexico,
  • Customers must purchase Mexican auto insurance from Dollar or Thrifty, and
  • The renter can only go 250 miles past the U.S. / Mexico border.

The 250-mile limitation is significant. Let's face it - Mexico is a huge country! Mexico City alone is over 1,400 miles by air from the border crossing at San Diego! Durango, Colima, Almeria, and Manzanillo are all more than 250 miles from the border, so one would only be able to finish the trip to the Seashores of Old Mexico on the back of a flatbed half-loaded with hay if a suitable Dollar or Thrifty rental location could even be found.

Rule 3: Can Pay to Cross, if You Find a Participating Location

Hertz leaves the discretion entirely to the individual rental location, with rules that must be searched on a location-by-location basis per their support division. For instance, high-volume (and nearby) San Diego Airport (SAN) completely restricts crossing into Mexico. Renters - if an appropriate site can be found - still must pay for the Mexican Insurance at the site.

Budget follows Hertz's lead - just a small subset of locations in three states (Arizona, California, and Texas) are equipped to handle border crossings at all; Mexican Insurance at the counter is always required.

Only U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents with valid visa status can rent cars at the limited Budget locations where border crossings are allowed; Mexican border crossing officials will arrest non-compliant individuals and the car will be impounded. Budget would then bill the incarcerated driver for the cost of the car! It is not anyone's idea of fun.

Payless requires written permission slips for any border crossing if authorized by the individual site. If the rental is allowed, unspecified "additional rental qualifications may apply". Given the history of abuses by Payless, those "additional rental qualifications" most likely include Mexican insurance plus some other non-refundable fees.

Rule 4: Belong to a Specific Employer Group or Luck out at a Participating Location

Enterprise and National allow individuals in specific employer groups to cross the U.S. Mexico border. While their current policy if poorly written, individuals who are not part of those employer groups can also drive across the border if lucky enough to find a participating location, as verified by the support team of each company.

Whether part of a specific employer group or just lucky enough to find a participating site, the renter must pay for Mexican insurance and would have to pick up the vehicle at one of the limited locations. And regardless of employer status, neither Enterprise nor National allows Mexican citizens to rent a vehicle for a U.S. to Mexico crossing.  

Our Take

Unlike trips from the U.S. to Canada (and return) or drives across Europe, permission to drive from the U.S. to Mexico (and return) are the exception rather than the rule.

As we detailed above, don't even search the rules for Alamo or Avis; crossing the border with Mexico simply isn't going to happen. With other companies, the Rules and Information tab when making reservations - or the See Rules link once the reservation is confirmed - will always list the Geographic Restrictions of the specific location being searched.

The Thrifty at El Paso International Airport (ELP) currently allows crossing into Mexico, and the Rules & Information tell us so before booking!

With enough planning and a broad enough search radius, renters could indeed take a car on a Mexican adventure! We can't make the rental car company say yes but we're happy to help provide the tools needed to find a site that works!

If an appropriate rental company is found, renters should expect:

  • Only the ability to rent from some (not all) sites near the border,
  • A requirement to return the vehicle to the same site,
  • Prohibitions on rental for individuals who are not U.S. citizens on lawful U.S. residents,
  • Arrest in Mexico for unauthorized drivers or drivers causing an injury accident (yes, really),
  • The requirement of purchasing Mexican Insurance directly from the rental car company.

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