How to Fly Out of Tijuana Airport and Use Cross Border Xpress

by wheretheroadforks

Flying out of Tijuana Airport (TIJ) is a great way to save money on tickets to Mexico as well as the Caribbean and Central and South America. Thanks to the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) terminal, Tijuana airport is easily accessible from the US side of the border. You don’t even have to enter the city. This step-by-step guide will walk you through flying out of Tijuana airport and using the Cross Border Xpress.

This short video outlines the main points of the article. 

How to Get to Tijuana Airport from San Diego

  • Cross the border on foot and take an Uber or Taxi to the airport- The easiest way to do this is to take the trolley from San Diego to San Ysidro ($2.50). After crossing, you can catch a taxi or Uber to the airport (about $5-$7). To walk you through the crossing, check out my guide: How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana.
  • Drive to Tijuana airport and park- If you’re comfortable driving in Tijuana, you can just drive directly to the airport and park at one of the paid lots. Tijuana airport parking costs $12-$16 per day. 
  • Use the Cross Border Xpress (CBX)- The terminal is located in Otay Mesa, just across the border from the airport. A sky bridge connects the US side of the border with Tijuana Airport. 

What is the Cross Border Xpress?

The Cross Border Xpress is a special terminal in Tijuana airport. The terminal includes a 390-foot sky bridge crossing the US-Mexico border that connects a parking lot in Otay Mesa on the US side with the rest of Tijuana airport. Inside, you’ll find both Mexican and US immigration booths that you pass through while crossing the international border. The CBX terminal opened in 2015 and makes TIJ the world’s first binational airport. 

How to Use the Cross Border Xpress to Fly Out of Tijuana Airport

CBX was specifically designed to make flying out of Tijuana Airport easy and convenient for Americans. It allows US-based travelers easy access to budget Mexican airlines and more affordable flights around Mexico and much of Latin America. It also allows you to avoid the hassle of crossing the busy Tijuana border and traveling through the city. In this section, I’ll explain how to use the Cross Border Xpress, step-by-step.

Step 1: How to Get to the Cross Border Xpress

Cross Border Xpress is located in Otay Mesa about 20 minutes from downtown San Diego, just across the border from the airport. Here is a google maps link. You have four options to get there:

  1. Drive yourself- Long term parking is available in the nearby lot for $15 per day. A closer lot also exists which costs $18 per day.
  2. Take the shuttle- The Cross Border Xpress operates a shuttle service from San Diego ($11), San Ysidro ($6), and Los Angeles ($25). Several stops are offered in each city. For a list of the available pickup and drop off locations and times, check this pdf from CBX.
  3. Take Uber or Lyft- This is the most convenient option. Depending on the duration of your trip, it could be cheaper than driving and parking. 
  4. Take the city bus- From downtown San Diego, you can catch the blue line trolley to Iris Avenue. From there, you can transfer to bus 909. This will drop you off on Siempre Viva Rd & Britannia Bl. From there, it’s about a .7 mile walk to the Cross Border Xpress. The ride costs about $6. This journey takes about 1.5 hours but could take longer depending on the time of day.

Step 2: How to Get Your Cross Border Xpress Ticket

One drawback to using the Cross Border Xpress sky bridge is the fact that it costs money. One way tickets cost $16 and round trip tickets cost $30. There are discounts for families or if you buy tickets in bulk if you need to cross often.

Cross Border Xpress tickets can be purchased in three ways:

  • Online in advance online- You can purchase tickets on the CBX website here. You can pay by credit or debit card. This is the most convenient and affordable way to buy tickets. Be sure to print your ticket with the QR code so you can scan it at the entrance. 
  • At one of the kiosks in the terminal- Inside the terminal, you can purchase tickets with cash or by card at a CBX kiosk. The price is slightly higher if you wait to purchase your ticket here. 
  • From some airlines- Most airlines flying out of Tijuana airport offer you the option of buying a CBX ticket along with your air ticket during checkout. These include Aeromexico, Interjet, Calafia and Volaris.

Tip: Discounted fairs are available for families, groups, military, or commuters who use the CBX often. Children under 2 years old don’t need a ticket to use the CBX. 

Step 3: Check-in for your flight

When using the Cross Border Xpress, you can check-in for your flight in the terminal on the US side of the border. At the terminal, you’ll find airline counters for Aeromexico, Interjet and Volaris. The staff working in the Cross Border Xpress terminal all speak English. 

If you’re flying another airline, you’ll have to wait until you’re in the ticketing area in Tijuana Airport to check-in.

Step 4: Get Your Documents in Order

In order to cross the CBX sky bridge and enter Tijuana airport, you need four documents:

  1. Cross Border Xpress ticket
  2. Your Passport- Book or card style is fine.
  3. A completed Mexican Immigration Form (FMM)
  4. Your boarding pass or eTicket

A Note about the FMM Immigration Form

Every non-Mexican citizen needs to fill out this form when entering Mexico. FMM forms are available at the terminal or Mexican immigration desk. The form asks for basic travel information such as your name, passport number, where you are going in Mexico, for how long, etc. Sometimes the immigration official fills the form out for you.

  • If you will be in Mexico for less than 7 days- You don’t have to pay anything. There is also no charge if you are transiting through Mexico as long as you stay for less than 7 days. 
  • If you will be in Mexico for more than 7 days- You will have to pay a 500 peso (about $25) fee. This allows you to stay anywhere in the country for up to 180 days as a tourist.

Tip: If you paid for your visitor’s permit, remember to save your receipt to prove that you paid your 500 pesos. If you exit the country through another crossing they may try to charge you again. This happened to me when I crossed from Mexico to Guatemala. I had lost my receipt and had no option but to pay again.

For more info on the FMM visitors permit, check out my Mexico Visa Guide.

Step 5: Cross the Sky Bridge into the Airport

Before you enter the sky bridge, you will pass through a security checkpoint. Here, you must scan your CBX ticket, passport, at an automated gate. You may also have to show your boarding pass or eTicket. After everything is scanned and the gate opens, you can proceed across the bridge. 

The CBX sky bridge is fully enclosed and is 390 feet long. About halfway through, you will see a bronze plaque indicating exactly where the US-Mexico border is. The walk across takes about 3 minutes at an average pace. The terminal offers free baggage carts if you need help hauling your luggage across the bridge. 

Step 6: Pass Through Mexican Immigration

Near the end of the bridge, you will come to the Mexican Immigration booth. Hand them your Passport, flight ticket, and filled out FMM visitors permit form. The immigration process takes 10-15 minutes depending on how busy they are. 

At this time, you’ll be asked to pay the 500 peso fee if you are staying in Mexico for more than 7 days. If you’re staying fewer than 7 days, the immigration official will just stamp your passport. 

Step 7: Check Your Luggage

If you have a bag to check, you can do so before you exit the CBX facility if you’re flying one of the airlines with a counter in CBX. These include Aeromexico, Volaris, and Interjet. After passing through immigration, you’ll see a counter where an airline staff member will take your checked luggage.

If your airline doesn’t have a counter in CBX, you’ll have to check your bag at your airline’s ticketing counter in the airport. If you don’t have any luggage to check, simply exit the CBX terminal. 

Step 8: Go Through Security then Proceed to Your Gate and Catch Your Flight

After exiting the CBX terminal, you pass through a door into the main terminal of Tijuana Airport. At this point, the process is the same as if you just arrived at the airport like everyone else.

If you already have your boarding pass and have checked your bag in CBX, simply head through airline security then go to your gate and wait to board your flight.

If you don’t have your boarding pass yet, go to your airline’s ticketing counter to get it. You can check your bag at this time as well. From there, you can head to security and continue to your gate. 

How to Cross Back to The United States from Tijuana Airport Using the Cross Border Xpress

The return process is basically the same but in reverse.

  1. Collect your bags- Follow the signs to the baggage claim in Tijuana airport and gather all of your luggage.
  2. Make your way to the Cross Border Xpress terminal- Follow the signs directing you there.
  3. Get your documents ready- You’ll need your passport and CBX ticket. If you don’t already have a ticket, you can buy one at the kiosk. If you need a visa to enter the US, you’ll need that too.
  4. Go to the US immigration desk- They will check your passport. You will then be asked to place your luggage into an x-ray machine to be scanned. They may ask to inspect your luggage.
  5. Continue across the sky bridge- Walk across and into the CBX terminal on the US side.
  6. Arrange transport to your destination- Pick up your car at the parking lot, call an Uber or Lyft, take the shuttle, or take a taxi to your destination.

Why Use the Cross Border Xpress?

The main reason to use the Cross Border Xpress is to save time on the border crossing when returning to the US. The big Tijuana border crossing is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Crossing back from Mexico to the US can take hours. Even when crossing on foot. If you use the CBX, you’ll cross in minutes without having to wait in a long line.

The CBX is also convenient if you’re driving. The reason is that you don’t have to deal with shuttles and taxis and Ubers. You also don’t have to drive in Mexico. You can just drive there, walk across, and catch your flight. 

Cross Border Xpress Facilities

At CBX, you’ll find:

  • Food and snacks- There are a couple of small restaurants, vending machines, as well as a Starbucks and Wetzel’s Pretzels.
  • Rental cars- On the US side, there is a Hertz, Mex Rent a Car, and Budget Car Rental
  • Currency exchange booth
  • Duty-free shop
  • Free WiFi
  • Free carts for transporting your luggage

How to Get to Tijuana Airport Using the Regular Crossing Instead of the Cross Border Xpress

The Cross Border Xpress is convenient but it is also kind of expensive for what it is. If you want to save the $30 on the ticket, you can simply cross into Tijuana for free at the regular crossing then travel to the airport. You’ll still have to pay the 500 peso FMM visitors permit fee if you are staying in Mexico for more than 7 days.

Check out my guide to walking across the border for step-by-step directions.

After crossing the border, catch a taxi or Uber to the airport. The ride from the border to the airport takes about 10-15 minutes depending on traffic. One way taxi fare should cost about $6-$8. Maybe a bit less if you’re a good negotiator. Uber will be slightly cheaper. 

Taxis are no longer allowed to wait at the border, but you can walk to the closest street, Frontera, and flag one down. Frontera is the first street you come to after exiting the Mexican immigration building. The path leads directly to it. Taxi drivers will be driving by at all hours of the day and night waiting for passengers. The driver will drop you off at departures. 

On the way back, you can catch a taxi from Tijuana airport to the border. The price is slightly higher for the airport taxis. Uber isn’t allowed to pick up passengers at the airport. 

Is it Safe to Fly out of Tijuana Airport?

Yes. It is perfectly safe to fly out of Tijuana Airport. Particularly if you use the Cross Border Xpress. In this case, you won’t even have to walk outside. The sky bridge leads you directly from a terminal on the US side into the boarding area inside Tijuana Airport. The airport itself has 24-hour security. There is no safety risk here. 

If you decide to cross the border at the big Tijuana crossing then take a taxi to the airport, you will have to travel through the city. While Tijuana is a dangerous city, statistically, this trip is low risk. From the border, you can catch a taxi or Uber directly to the airport. You’ll spend all of 15 minutes in Tijuana. 

I recommend Uber because you are less likely to get scammed or overcharged. If you decide to take a taxi, try to take one of the white ‘taxi libre’. They are cheaper and safer than the yellow cabs. Be sure to negotiate the fare before accepting the ride.

For more general safety info, check out my guide to staying safe in Tijuana. 

Why Fly Out of Tijuana Airport?

Southern California offers plenty of airports to choose from. You have Los Angeles, Burbank, John Wayne, Long Beach, San Diego, and several others. Why bother traveling all the way to TJ to catch a flight?

The biggest benefit is the money you can save on tickets. Particularly if you are flying to Mexico. Reasons flights are cheaper include:

  • You can take advantage of Mexico’s budget airlines- Mexico has an excellent network of budget airlines. These include Interjet, Viva Aerobus, Volaris, Avolar, and several others. I’ve flown Viva Aerobus and Interjet. Both were on time and professional. I can recommend them.
  • Lower airport taxes- By flying domestically in Mexico, you avoid paying expensive US airport taxes. Mexican airport taxes are much cheaper.
  • Tijuana offers a lot of flights- As Mexico’s 6th most populous city, Tijuana offers tons of connections all over the country and beyond. There is a lot of competition which drives down prices. Many US airports aren’t served by Mexican budget airlines so fewer flights are offered and prices are higher.

Airlines that Fly out of Tijuana Airport

  • AeroMexico
  • Interjet
  • Volaris
  • VivaAerobús

Popular Destinations in Mexico with Direct Flights from Tijuana

From Tijuana airport, you can catch direct flights to over 35 locations in Mexico including:

  • Mexico City
  • Cancun
  • Guadalajara
  • Cabo San Lucas
  • Oaxaca City
  • Puerto Vallarta
  • Mazatlan

From Tijuana, I have seen round trip tickets to popular destinations like Cancun or Mexico City for between $100-$150. This is cheap enough to make a long weekend trip if you live in Southern California.

Hierve el Agua

Hierve el Agua, near Oaxaca City

Flying From Tijuana to a Third Destination Outside of Mexico

Flying out of Tijuana airport is also a good way to save on tickets to other destinations such as the Caribbean, Central America, or South America. There are a number of budget airlines operating throughout Latin America that don’t serve the US but offer plenty of flights from Mexico.

If you’re looking for flights to Central or South America, I recommend you check for flights from Mexico City. If you’re looking for flights to the Caribbean, I recommend you check flights from Cancun. You can book two separate flights and save a nice chunk of money.

For example, you could book a cheap flight from Tijuana to Mexico City. From there, you can find budget flights to popular destinations outside of Mexico like Colombia, Costa Rica, or Peru. If you’re willing to put in a bit more effort on the planning and booking side, as well as make the trip to Tijuana, you can save hundreds of dollars on your international airfare this way.

I used this trick when I went to Cuba. I took a cheap flight from Tijuana to Cancun on VivaAerobus. This was convenient for me because I was already living in Tijuana at the time. I spent a couple of days enjoying Cancun on a stopover then booked a cheap flight to Havana on Interjet. This ended up being a really inexpensive vacation. I made a similar budget trip to Mexico City.

Recently, Aeromexico also began offering direct flights from Tijuana to two destinations in China, Beijing, and Shanghai. 

Havana

Havana

Tijuana Airport and Cross Border Xpress Tips

  • If you have the time, I highly recommend you spend a couple of days in Tijuana either before or after your trip- I’ve spent about a year living in the city and have absolutely fallen in love with it. For tips and recommendations, check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana.
  • If you are on a tight budget, consider just walking across the regular border and taking a taxi or Uber to the airport- You’ll avoid the $30 fee for using Cross Border Xpress. The cab from the border to the airport will cost around $10-$15 round trip.
  • Be sure to bring something to the airport for entertainment- It’s a pretty small airport with nothing really to do. You’ll want a book or a movie to pass the time. I spent about 6 hours there one night to avoid having to pay for a hotel before an early morning flight. I was bored out of my mind.
  • Bring some snacks- Again, the airport is pretty small. Food options are limited. I think there was a coffee shop and a small convenience store where you could buy snacks and sandwiches. There are a couple more options if you use CBX. I recommend you make a stop at a grocery store before heading to the airport so you can pick up some snacks for the ride. If you’re flying on a budget airline, food options will also be limited during the flight.

Final Thoughts on Flying Out of Tijuana Airport and Using the Cross Border Xpress

Flying out of Tijuana Airport is a great way to save money on international flights all over Latin America. Since the CBX opened, accessing Tijuana Airport is as easy as flying out of any of the other Southern California airports. In fact, if you live in the San Diego area, it’s easier to fly out of Tijuana than to travel all the way to LAX. When buying a ticket, it’s always a good idea to check the prices out of Tijuana. You might save a few bucks. 

Have you flown out of Tijuana Airport or used the Cross Border Xpress lately? Share your experience in the comments below!

More Tijuana guides from Where the Road Forks

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