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Do You Need a Passport to go to Tijuana?

Most travelers do need a passport to go to Tijuana but there are some exceptions. Which travel document you need depends on how you’re entering the country. If you’re flying to Tijuana, you need a passport. If you’re walking or driving across the border, you need a passport book, passport card, enhanced driver’s license, or a SENTRI card.

I’ve lived in Tijuana and worked in San Diego for the past two years. During that time, I’ve crossed the border hundreds of times, both on foot and in my car. In this guide, I will outline all of the travel documents you may need to visit Tijuana. Whether you’re driving across the border, crossing on foot, or flying, this guide will help you determine which documents you need.

This guide is designed for U.S. and Canadian travelers. Much of the info also applies to travelers of other nationalities as well.

Tijuana, Mexico
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Do You Need a Passport to Travel to Tijuana?

The short answer is yes. Most travelers will need a passport to go to Tijuana. In the past, Americans could walk or drive to Tijuana without a passport. All you needed was a driver’s license or birth certificate. That changed in June of 2009 when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) passed. Now, most visitors need a valid passport to go to Tijuana.

There are some alternative documents you can use. In the following section, I’ll outline the documents you’ll need to cross the border on foot, drive across the border, and fly into Tijuana.

Tijuana sits just south of the US-Mexico border, just 30 minutes from San Diego. Because it’s so close to the U.S., Tijuana is a popular destination for day trips. You can easily cross border to enjoy some great food, culture, and nightlife.

Table of Contents

Crossing into Tijuana on Foot

Many travelers choose to either take the San Diego trolley to the border or drive to the border and park on the U.S. side in a border parking lot. From there, it’s easy to walk to Tijuana on foot. From the trolley station and border parking lots, it’s just a couple of blocks to immigration.

You do not need a passport to walk across the border to Tijuana. There are a few alternative documents you can use to enter Mexico and re-enter the United States by land.

Acceptable documents to walk to Tijuana include include:

  • Passport book
  • Passport card
  • Enhanced driver’s license
  • SENTRI card

When walking across the Mexican border, you will also need to fill out an FMM form. You will receive this document at immigration.

Driving to Tijuana

You don’t need a passport to drive to Tijuana. You can use a passport card, a SENTRI card, or an enhanced driver’s license instead. Everyone in the vehicle needs their own valid travel document.

In addition to your identification, you’ll also need some supporting documents. Everyone in the vehicle will need their own FMM tourist permit. To get this document, you will need to stop and park at the border and go into the immigration building to fill out the FMM form.

The driver will also need to bring their driver’s license. An international driver’s license is not required to drive to Tijuana.

In addition, you’ll need proof of Mexican auto insurance. Your regular insurance isn’t valid in Mexico. You can buy temporary Mexican auto insurance online before your trip or at a kiosk before you cross the border. I recommend you buy online. I use Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. They offer reasonable prices and you can buy a policy in just a few minutes.

You will also need your vehicle’s registration to prove that you are the owner of the vehicle. If you are driving a leased vehicle or a financed vehicle, you need a letter of permission from the lessor or lender.

For more info, check out my guide to driving to Tijuana.

Flying to Tijuana

A valid passport is required to fly into Tijuana Airport (TIJ). Only passport books are accepted when flying to Mexico. Passport cards and alternative documents are not accepted for air travel.

Everyone needs a passport to fly to Mexico. This includes children. There are no exceptions. If you don’t have a valid passport, you won’t even be allowed to board your flight.

Your passport is the only document you need to bring with you when flying to Tijuana. When you arrive in Mexico, you’ll also have to submit a completed FMM form (Forma Migratoria Multiple). You can get this at the airport.

In addition, immigration authorities could ask to see some supporting documents. For example, they may ask to see proof that you have booked accommodation. They may ask to see proof of onward travel.

For most visitors, it’s cheaper and easier to fly to San Diego airport (SAN) and then travel to the border and cross into Tijuana on foot. You can easily travel to the border with the San Diego Trolley. There is also border parking on the U.S. side.

Crossing Back into the United States from Tijuana

U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. from Tijuana can use the following identification documents:

  • Passport
  • Passport card
  • Enhanced driver’s license or enhanced identification card
  • Trusted Traveler Program card (SENTRI Card, Nexus Card, Global Entry Card, or Fast Card)
  • Permanent Resident Card (green card)

These documents are accepted when crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. by land or sea. For air travel, you need a passport book.

If you’re not a U.S. citizen or resident, you will need an I-94 or multiple entry visa to return to the U.S. after visiting Tijuana. For more info, check out this guide from the U.S. Department of State. Alternatively, you can use a visa waiver (ESTA) if you’re eligible. Check out this guide to the visa waiver program. for more info. You will also need a valid passport. Canadians usually don’t need a visa to enter the U.S. for tourism purposes.

Crossing Back into the U.S. on Foot

There are three different pedestrian crossings between Tijuana and the U.S. The main crossing is the San Ysidro Port of Entry. This crossing is also known as El Chaparral.

There are two pedestrian crossings here. One is called PedEast and the other is PedWest. They are a 10 minute walk apart. PedEast is the main crossing near the San Diego trolley station and most border parking lots.

There is another crossing located further to the east called Otay Mesa. This crossing is located just east of Tijuana Airport.

When crossing from Tijuana back into the U.S. on foot, you’ll find three lines. One line is for the general public, one is a ‘Ready Lane’ for those with a Ready Lane eligible card, and the other is a SENTRI lane for those with a Trusted Traveler Program card.

If you are using a regular passport book, you must use the general public lane. To use the Ready Lane, you will need a card with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. If you have a passport card, enhanced driver’s license, enhanced tribal card, enhanced permanent resident card, or an enhanced border crossing card, you can use the Ready Lane. Using the Ready Lane can speed up the crossing time by a few minutes.

If you have a Trusted Traveler card such as a SENTRI card or a Global Entry card, you can use the lane marked SENTRI.

When crossing back into the U.S. from Tijuana, there is no exit procedure for Mexico. You proceed straight to U.S. immigration.

Driving Back into the U.S.

The line for immigration at the U.S. Mexico Border

When driving back to the U.S. from Tijuana, everyone in the vehicle will need a passport book, passport card, or an alternative travel document. You may also need your vehicle’s registration and driver’s license.

The immigration official will ask a few questions about your trip. They may ask you why you were in Mexico and where you went. They will also ask you if you’re bringing anything back with you.

Sometimes they will ask you to pop the trunk and they’ll take a quick look through your belongings before allowing you to cross.

If you drive across the main Tijuana border crossing (The San Ysidro Port of Entry), expect a long wait. The line is often 1.5-2 hours long. Before driving to the Mexican border, you can check the wait time here.

Flying from Tijuana to the U.S.

To fly from Tijuana to the U.S. you need a passport book. Passport cards and alternative documents aren’t accepted. All travelers, including newborns, need a passport.

For most travelers, it’s better to walk across the border and then take a shuttle, Uber, or the trolley to San Diego and fly out of San Diego airport. Flights to other parts of the U.S. are usually cheaper.

If you’re starting your trip in Mexico or if you’re flying to another part of Mexico, it may be cheaper to fly in or out of Tijuana airport. There are several budget Mexican airlines that fly in and out of TIJ.

How Long Does Your Passport Need to be Valid to Go to Tijuana?

Your passport needs to be valid for the duration of your trip. In most countries, your passport needs to have at least 6 months of validity remaining to enter. Mexico doesn’t have this rule. If you’re planning to stay in Tijuana for one week and your passport expires in one week, you can still enter. You just have to leave before it expires.

What happens if I go to Tijuana without a passport?

If you try to fly to Tijuana without a valid passport, you simply won’t be allowed to board your flight. If you try to walk across the border to Tijuana without a passport or alternative travel document, you will most likely be denied entry. Mexican immigration checks everyone’s documents at the border.

It is possible to drive to Mexico without a passport or any other form of ID. When you drive across the border, nobody stops you in most cases.

If you drive into Tijuana without a valid travel document, you can create several problems for yourself. Most importantly, you will have entered Mexico illegally. You won’t have a valid FMM permit. If you get stopped at a checkpoint or if a police officer pulls you over, you could be fined or deported.

You’ll also run into issues when you try to return to the U.S. In this case, you’ll be sent to a secondary inspection area where you will be questioned. You will have to prove your citizenship or residency and your identity before you are allowed to re-enter the U.S. Even though it is possible to drive to Mexico without a passport, you shouldn’t do it.

Traveling to Tijuana With Children.

Whether or not a child needs a passport to travel to Tijuana depends on the mode of travel and the child’s age. When traveling to Mexico by air, all children need a passport book. Even infants.

Children under 16 can travel to Tijuana by land with just a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or a naturalization certificate. These documents are accepted for both entering Mexico and re-entering the U.S. for those who are under 16.

Those under 19 can also travel to Tijuana with a birth certificate, certificate of citizenship, or naturalization certificate as long as they are traveling with an adult chaperoned organization such as a school group, sports team, religious organization, or a social or cultural organization.

The Parent Authorization Letter for Minors

When a single parent or legal guardian plans to travel to Mexico with their child, they must carry a notarized consent letter from the other parent or any other person who has legal custody of the child.

This document will be required when re-entering the United States. This rule is in place to prevent child abduction and child trafficking. It proves that both parents are aware that the child is traveling internationally. If both parents are traveling with the child together, a consent letter is not required.

If the child is a Temporary Resident, Temporary Student Resident, or Permanent Resident of Mexico, and they are traveling with only one parent, you must complete a form called a SAM (Formato de Salida de Menores). This is required by INM (Mexico’s immigration authority). It is similar to the consent letter. It serves the same purpose.

Can Canadian Citizens Go to Tijuana Without a Passport?

Generally, no. In most cases, Canadian citizens need a passport to go to Tijuana. If you’re flying from Canada to Tijuana, you will need a passport to board the flight. It would be possible for a Canadian Citizen to travel to Tijuana overland with a SENTRI Card.

Do You Need a Visa to go to Tijuana?

Most travelers don’t need to arrange a visa in advance to visit Tijuana. Instead, you just need to complete an FMM form. You will receive the form at the border. You can also apply online in advance here. This document works like a tourist visa.

Only passport holders from countries on Mexico’s no visa required list are eligible for an FMM. To see if you’re eligible check this list. Eligible countries include the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, European Schengen Area countries, Japan, Korea, and more.

If your passport was issued by one of these countries, you’ll need to apply for a Mexican visa at your nearest Mexican consulate or embassy before you can travel to Tijuana.

The FMM allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. It is free if you plan to stay in Tijuana for less than 7 days. If you plan to stay longer than 7 days, you will have to pay a fee of 687 pesos (about $40).

It’s important to note that the FMM form is being phased out. In the future, you will just receive a passport stamp. The entry requirements are still exactly the same.

For more info, check out my guide to Mexican entry requirements.

Do You Need a Temporary Import Permit to Drive to Tijuana?

No. You don’t need a temporary import permit to drive to Tijuana. The states of Baja California is exempt. If you’re planning to drive outside of the Baja Peninsula or the Sonora Free Zone, you will need to get a TIP before you enter Mexico. For more info, check out my guide to the temporary import permit.

Do You Need a Passport to Fly Out of Tijuana Airport?

Yes. You need a passport to check in for your flight. It may be possible to fly out of Tijuana on a domestic flight with a regular photo ID such as a driver’s license but it’s not worth the risk. If you’re asked for a passport and you don’t have one, you may not be allowed to board.

You don’t need a passport to fly out of Tijuana airport if you are a Mexican citizen or resident. In this case, you can fly out of Tijuana with your Mexican government-issued photo ID or residency card.

Do I Need a Passport to Use the Cross Border Xpress (CBX)?

Yes. A passport book is required to use the Cross Border Xpress. In addition, you’ll need an FMM tourist permit (you can obtain this at the CBX), a boarding pass, and a Cross Border Xpress ticket. You can buy a CBX ticket online here.

The Cross Border Xpress is a special terminal at Tijuana airport that is located on the U.S. side of the border. It allows you to walk directly from the U.S. to Tijuana airport over a 390 foot sky bridge over the US-Mexico border. This allows you to fly in or out of Tijuana airport without ever having to go into the city.

When you use the Cross Border Xpress, you check in for your flight on the U.S. side of the border, pass through Mexican immigration, pass through security, and then walk directly into Tijuana airport where you can catch your flight. If you’re flying into Tijuana airport, you can pass through U.S. immigration and then walk across the sky bridge into the United States. This makes flying in and out of Tijuana incredibly convenient.

For more info, check out my guide to using the Cross Border Xpress.

Information About the Various Travel Documents You May Need When Traveling to Tijuana

The Tijuana River

The Passport Card

A passport card is a wallet-friendly version of a passport. It proves your U.S. citizenship and your identity, just like a passport book. It allows you to travel to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Bermuda and re-enter the United States. A passport card contains the same information as a passport book. Passport cards can only be used for land and sea travel. They are not valid if you’re flying.

The main benefit of a passport card is the small size. It fits in your wallet. It’s the same size as a credit card. It is also $100 cheaper than a passport book. In addition, passport cards come with an RFID chip inside that contains your information. You scan the chip and immigration officials can quickly identify you. This allows you to use the ‘Ready Lane’ when crossing back from Tijuana to the U.S. This can save you some time at the border.

The Enhanced Driver’s License

An enhanced driver’s license or EDL is a special type of driver’s license that allows you to cross into the United States from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean without a passport. An enhanced license can be renewed just like a regular license. It is valid for 4-8 years, depending on the state of issue.

EDLs are available to U.S. citizens who live in Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Vermont. An EDL costs around $30-$40 more than a standard license. If you don’t have a driver’s license, you can also get an EDL in a standard ID card that doesn’t allow you to drive.

Trusted Traveler Cards (SENTRI, NEXUS, FAST, and Global Entry)

Trusted Traveler Cards are identification cards that are issued by the U.S. government to low-risk travelers. These cards allow the holder to use special expedited lanes at the border crossings. There are several different types of trusted traveler cards including SENTRI, NEXUS, FAST, and Global Entry.

The SENTRI card is made for overland travel between the U.S. and Mexico. You can also use a Global Entry card or NEXUS card. The expedited lanes at the Tijuana border are labeled as SENTRI lanes.

When applying for a SENTRI card, you must complete an online application, undergo a background check, pay a fee, and attend an in-person interview. SENTRI cards are valid for five years.

Having a SENTRI card can really speed up the border crossing process. For example, in the regular line to cross from Tijuana back to the U.S. you might have to wait for an hour and a half. With a SENTRI card, you could cross in less than 10 minutes, even during peak periods. If you need to cross between the U.S. and Mexico frequently, a SENTRI card is a necessity.

What is an FMM Tourist Permit (Forma Migratoria Multiple)?

The FMM form or Forma Migratoria Multiple is a travel document that allows citizens of most countries to travel to Mexico without having to apply for a visa in advance.

The FMM permit allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days for tourism, business, studying, or volunteering. You can obtain an FMM on arrival or online in advance. To get an FMM tourist permit, you just fill out a paper form. The form asks for basic travel information. In Tijuana, sometimes the immigration agent just asks you some questions and fills the form out for you.

If you’re staying in Mexico for less than 7 days, the FMM is free. If you’re staying for more than 7 days, it costs 687 pesos (about $38).

For more info, check out my guide to the FMM Tourist Permit.

It’s important to note that the FMM is being phased out. In the future, you will simply receive a stamp in your passport. The entry requirements will stay the same.

Zona Rio, Tijuana

What is the Best Way To Travel to Tijuana?

For most visitors, the best way to travel to Tijuana is to cross the border on foot. You can easily take the San Diego trolley to the border. Alternatively, you can drive to the border and park in one of the border parking lots. It’s also easy to take an Uber, Lyft, or a taxi. You can also get to San Ysidro by Greyhound bus.

From the trolley station or border parking lot in San Ysidro, you can easily walk to Tijuana. Mexican immigration is just a couple of blocks away.

After crossing into Tijuana, you can take a taxi, take an Uber, or take a shared minibus (taxi de ruta) to your destination in Tijuana. You can also walk downtown. It’s a 1 mile walk from PedEast to Zona Centro.

If you want to have your own transportation in Tijuana, driving across the border is also a good option.

A footbridge over the Tijuana River
Walking from downtown Tijuana back to the border

Final Thoughts

Whether or not you need a passport to go to Tijuana depends on your mode of travel and your nationality. If you’re planning on flying to Tijuana, you will need a passport. If you’re planning on driving or walking across the border, you don’t necessarily need a passport. you can use a passport card, a SENTRI card, or an enhanced ID instead. These are the only alternative documents that are acceptable.

Even though you may not need a passport for this trip, it’s always a good idea to have one just in case. If you need to fly home unexpectedly, you will need a passport.

If you travel between Mexico and the United States often, consider getting a Trusted Traveler Card, like a SENTRI card. It will save you a good amount of time.

Whichever travel document you use, I hope this guide makes your trip to Tijuana a little smoother and easier.

Have you visited Tijuana lately? Share your experience crossing the border in the comments below!

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