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Driving in Baja – a true story

By Frank Maury

I’m officially a Real Estate Advisor for Pedregal de Cabo San Lucas, in Los Cabos. I didn’t realize when I started this little gig that I would have the opportunity to become so much more. As you go through the process of learning to know your clients and conversely them getting to know and trust you, you find that you also become a source of information for that person that’s never been here or at least never lived here.

My past blogs have dealt with medical insurance, available qualities of service and doctors in the area. Now, I’m going to pass on a few answers about a question that always comes up after potential property owners start to put themselves in the picture of really living in Los Cabos; that being, how do I get a car down here and what do I need to know?

Driving a car or pickup down the Baja Peninsula is an enlightening experience. Now the roads are good, gas is plentiful, there’s lots of clean places to stay and eat and if you have the time, the peninsula is a natural wonder. My problem the first 10 times I made that trip I was focused on simply getting there and didn’t stop and look. The trip is about a two day, twelve hour per day journey from the border to Cabo. Once you arrive and settle you start to put your life in order as an official resident and what to do about the vehicle soon crosses your mind.

You will find that if you have an American registered vehicle and you want to import it, you are going to pay import fees of about 23% of the wholesale value. The vehicle must be at least 5 years old and no older than 20 years old so Mexico will not be filled up with old American junk. It’s easy to find agents to do the leg work for you, for a fee of course, and depending on the VIN number of the vehicle, the process can be done locally or in La Paz. It takes anywhere from 4-10 days to get temporary placas, “plates”, then you will find you eventually have an officially Mexican registered vehicle that you will want to get insured with Mexican insurance and have a Mexican driver’s license.

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My view any day driving in Baja…

I’ve never done any of this! I’ve driven an American registered car here for 25 years. At first, being from California, I had a California car and every year worried about more insurance costs in California and here, smog checks that were supposed to be done every few years, then finding a police official who would sign a letter stating that the car never left Cabo so I didn’t need a smog check and then finally completely giving up and simply drove around on expired plates or stuck a bogus, colored-coded sticker on the upper right portion of my rear plate and hope the police wouldn’t notice. Those were the years when I went through life with a cold Pacifico in one hand and my hair on fire, looking for my next great adventure. Then came a wife and property and bank accounts and credit cards and cell phones; this is just like Orange County the place I ran away from.

Do this; take your pink slip and send it to the Clay County Courts in South Dakota and tell them you want to register your vehicle in South Dakota. They will send you a new South Dakota title with plates and a nice shiny sticker. You can do this every year on-line and those wonderful folks up north won’t give a fig about smog checks or insurance in South Dakota. They are god’s gift to expats who refuse to go through all the hoops.

HAPPY TRAILS!