Rent a Car to Explore Sonora
So you want to visit Mexico, and would like to have the freedom and flexibility that only driving a vehicle can offer. But, you’re in Arizona on vacation and don’t have a car, or you live in Arizona and aren’t so sure about taking your personal vehicle to Mexico until you’re more familiar with the area.
The answer – rent a car to visit Sonora.
Nearly all of the major vehicle rental agencies in Tucson and Phoenix rent vehicles that can be driven across the border into Mexico, in the Sonora Free Zone.
The rental will include an additional fee for Mexico auto insurance. Agencies charge different rates for the insurance, and its purchase is based on how many days the vehicle will be south of the border. You will need to purchase the Mexico auto insurance at the rental car counter (no insurance purchases online or over the phone).
In addition to the standard requirement for additional insurance, agencies charge different rates and have different rules for what types of vehicles they allow into Sonora and how far the vehicle can be driven into Mexico. One agency requires that you present a valid passport to be able to make the Mexico car rental.
As you pass through Mexican customs checkpoints located 21km south of the border and at the limits of the free trade zone, be prepared to present the rental car agreement along with your driver’s license. If you are crossing in Nogales, Naco, Agua Prieta or other border crossing that is not in the Sonora Free Trade Zone, you will need to obtain an FMT tourist visa. Read more about this.
Since originally writing this article in 2009 and making subsequent updates, there have been some changes in coverage and rates. Following is the latest information about renting a car to drive into Sonora, obtained in April 2016. Please contact the individual agency for current Mexico rental policies.
Advantage no longer allows its vehicles to be taken into Mexico.
Avis has airport offices in Phoenix and Tucson. They rent sedans (economy to full size) for a daily Mexico insurance rate of $34., and SUVs and 7-passenger vans for a daily insurance premium of $44. There are no Mexico distance or mileage restrictions.
Dollar agencies in Phoenix and Tucson rent vehicles for travel to Mexico, for a daily charge of $28.76 for Mexico auto insurance. Dollar is the only rental car agency with a requirement for the renter to present a U.S. passport in order to make a Mexico rental.
Strangely enough, the Enterprise Rent a Car in Nogales, Arizona no longer rents vehicles for travel to Mexico. You can, however, rent cars at Enterprise in Tucson and Phoenix for your Sonoran trip. Enterprise does not allow its large vehicles (vans, SUVs) or specialty vehicles (convertibles, luxury cars) to be taken into Mexico, only standard sedans from economy to full size. The daily Mexico insurance charge is $15.
You can rent a vehicle from any Hertz location in Arizona (including Nogales) for Mexico travel. The Mexico insurance for economy to full-size vehicles is $38 a day, and for specialty vehicles the daily rate is $46. Vehicles are not allowed to be taken more than 250 miles into Mexico, which is approximately the distance between Nogales and Ciudad Obregon.
You can rent a car at Thrifty Car Rental in Tucson and Phoenix for a daily rate of $27.80 for insurance. This applies to all vehicles and there are no distance restrictions while driving in Mexico.
Mexico Car Rental Tips:
Plan your trip, to know exactly what days you will be in Mexico – you will need to provide that information to the rental agency when you are renting the vehicle, so they can prepare the insurance documentation.
Keep a close eye on your rental contract – you will need to present it at the 21-kilometer checkpoint in order to be able to continue on your travels, and it will come in handy when you pass back in to the US as well.
When comparison shopping, consider the price of the insurance in addition to the price of the rental. If planning to spend the majority of your rental period in Mexico the insurance may have a greater impact on the overall cost of renting the vehicle.
Keep your insurance document in a safe place, preferably on your person. You will need to present it to authorities in case of an accident, and if the car is stolen you will need to have the document to contact the insurance company.
Make sure you’ve got some extra padding on the credit card you use to rent the car – oftentimes rental car companies will hold a larger deposit if you plan to take the vehicle to Mexico.
Don’t drink and drive. This is not only a good general rule, most Mexican insurance carriers won’t cover accidents where the driver was under the influence.
Be familiar with the rental agency’s rules and regulations – they differ from agency to agency, and it pays to be aware of any special policies.
Renting a Car While in Mexico
Another option would be to rent a car inside Mexico, in which case you wouldn’t be limited to driving in the free trade zone. There is a hotel in Santa Ana that rents cars, and rental cars are also available at the Hermosillo airport and other various places. Expect to pay more though; rental car rates in Mexico are about double the price you would pay in the U.S.
For an extra $20-$30 a day on your rental car charges, you may find that renting a car in Arizona to visit Sonora is not only an economical travel option (especially for groups, when compared with paying commercial transportation costs), but one that allows you to explore on your schedule and terms. Enjoy your adventure!
Additional Notes: Since writing this, I’ve also rented cars for trips to Mexico from the Tucson airport and Nogales, Arizona. Both were fairly routine and hassle-free. The people at the Enterprise rental agency are very friendly, often have weekend specials and will pick you up at your hotel (or wherever you are) in Tucson.
Also, as of March 2010 the Sonoran coastal highway extended south to the beach at Puerto Lobos, Sonora. While the small beach town still has no modern amenities, it’s not a long drive from the border to this beautiful beach area.