Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime

by wheretheroadforks

After living in Tijuana for about a year, I have gotten to know the city pretty well. Many of my friends have asked me ‘is Tijuana safe?’ In this article, I will answer that question as well as give tips on how to avoid common scams and crime while visiting Tijuana.

I will start off by saying that I have fallen in love with this city. While I have lived here, I have made friends, experienced the culture, and discovered some real hidden gems of restaurants and bars. In this same time, I have also been inside a bar during an armed robbery and pickpocketed on the street. In this article, I will attempt to be as neutral and rational as possible. I will outline all of the scams and crime that exist in Tijuana so you can make an educated decision of your own whether or not it is worth the risk to visit the city.

Tijuana, Mexico

Beautiful Tijuana

Table of Contents- Is Tijuana Safe?

Staying Safe from Violent Crime in Tijuana

I’ll start off by talking about many people’s biggest concern when visiting Tijuana, violent crime. Tijuana is a tough city with a statistically high crime rate. You have probably seen shocking stories in the news about gang murders, shootings, kidnappings, assassinations, and beheadings in the city. In fact, last year was the most violent years in Tijuana’s history. According to The San Diego Tribune, there were 1744 homicides in Tijuana in 2017. That record was broken in 2018 with 2502 homicides according to this article from The Guardian. 2019 is looking the same way, unfortunately. 

The reason that the murder rate spiked so drastically over the last couple of years is because of a turf war between the Sinaloa cartel and a new gang, the Nueva Generación Jalisco. They are fighting a war over drug trafficking routes through the city and into the United States. Violence has increased because the high-level traffickers have lost control over low-level street dealers.

Of course, the media loves to exaggerate and sensationalize all of this because it makes for exciting news. They make it sound like Tijuana is an active war zone. US travel advisories tell a similar story. They have their own motives.

The reality is that, while all of this crime does happen, it is almost exclusively among a small group of people. These are the cartels who are dealing in drugs and trafficking. Tourists are not targeted. In fact, tourists are their customers.

These homicides that you read about happen in poor and working-class neighborhoods. Not in the tourist zones. Innocents who have been killed are those who have been unlucky enough to be caught in the crossfire in their neighborhoods. In the time I have lived in Tijuana, I have not witnessed any cartel-related activity of any kind though I know it exists.

By sticking to the more touristy parts of the Tijuana like downtown, Zona Rio, and Playas de Tijuana, you can nearly eliminate your chance of encountering any violent cartel-related crime.

Mugging and Robbery in Tijuana

This is one form of violent crime that does, unfortunately, happen in Tijuana. During the day, the risk is low and it’s safe enough to walk around almost anywhere in the city. Touristy areas like downtown and Zona Rio are heavily policed. At night, you should exercise caution. Muggings are pretty rare but happen, even in touristy areas. 

How to Reduce the Risk of Mugging in Tijuana

  • Don’t wander around too much, particularly after dark- You can easily walk from a safe, touristy area into a sketchy neighborhood in just a few blocks. If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s better to just take a taxi, colectivo, or Uber just to be safe.
  • Stick to well-lit areas where other people are walking around- Muggers use the cover of darkness to attack. Chances are if there are a bunch of people around you, you’re safe. 
  • Avoid wearing jewelry or carrying expensive electronics- This includes cameras, phones, watches, wallets, etc. Anything visible that looks valuable makes you a target.
  • Don’t dress or act too flashy- I like to wear jeans and a t-shirt and try to blend in as much as possible.
  • Don’t wander around when you’re drunk or intoxicated- It makes you a target. This is how I got pickpocketed. I learned my lesson after that.

Overall, the risk of being mugged in Tijuana is pretty low, especially if you follow the above recommendations. If you are robbed in Tijuana, it’s best to just give the criminal what they ask for. Usually your wallet, phone, or money. If you comply, they will take it and leave you unharmed but a few dollars poorer.

If you try to start a fight, all bets are off. You could easily be badly injured or killed. Tijuana is a violent city where many criminals go unpunished. 

Tip: Use a money belt to hide your cash, passport, and valuables- If you do get mugged, this will reduce your loss. Most muggers won’t expect you to be wearing one and won’t look for it. I recommend the Eagle Creek Silk money belt. I’ve used mine for the past 8 years and It’s still holding up well. Check out my full review here.

Many travelers pair a money belt with a decoy wallet stocked with a few dollars and a couple of old credit cards to hand to robbers if they get mugged. The criminals assume this is all you have and leave you with your money belt.

Migrants in Tijuana

Over the past couple of years, thousands of migrants have made their way to Tijuana. Many are still there waiting. Fortunately, most of these people aren’t violent. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of crimes than criminals. 

Transportation Safety in Tijuana

In this section, I’ll cover the dangers involved in getting around the city by taxi, Uber, minibus, walking, and driving. Overall, transportation in Tijuana is pretty safe and convenient. Having said that, there are a few scams to look out for and a couple of occasions where you shouldn’t walk. I’ll outline them below. 

Getting to Tijuana

Most likely you will arrive in the city from San Diego if you are a tourist. This part of the trip is completely safe. You can drive yourself and park at the border. You can also take the trolley straight to the border for $2.50. For detailed information on how to get to Tijuana, check out my guide: Walking Across the Border to Tijuana.

The Tijuana River

The Tijuana River

Taking a Taxi in Tijuana

For most tourists, the first stop after crossing the border is downtown. After you cross the border, the most convenient way to get there is by taking a taxi. Tijuana taxis are safe and the drivers are usually pretty friendly but there are two ways they will try to scam you.

  • They may try to overcharge you- The going rate is $5-$6 from the border to downtown. I recommend you take a white ‘taxi libre’ rather than a yellow cab. The city regulates the white taxis and because of this, they are less likely to attempt to rip you off. These cabs are supposed to be metered but often the meter is ‘broken.’ If one taxi driver won’t take you downtown for $5, try another and he probably will. A constant stream of cabs flows past the border pickup area so finding one that wants your fare is easy.
  • They will try to take you to a hotel or restaurant where they get a commission- They may lie to you saying that the place you are going is full or closed or give some other excuse and try to take you to a place that they have a prearranged deal with. This is a common scam all over the world. Just tell the driver where you want to go and if they won’t take you, get in another cab or insist that they take you anyway.

A Note About the Safety of Using Uber in Tijuana

Better than taking a taxi is Uber. The app works exactly the same way as back home. You can even set the app so you pay in cash if you’d rather not use your card in a foreign country. Prices are set by Uber so you don’t need to haggle. The service is reliable, professional, and safe.

When taking Uber in Tijuana, I recommend you try to be a bit discreet about it. The reason is that Tijuana taxi drivers really hate Uber for stealing their business. I have heard of Uber drivers being yelled at or threatened. There have been instances where Uber drivers were attacked by taxi drivers in Tijuana. I don’t believe any passengers have been targeted but you never know.  Having said this, I have ridden in dozens of Ubers in Tijuana and have never seen or experienced any of this behavior.

For more info, check out my guide: Using Uber in Tijuana

Taking a Colectivo Minibus

Colectivos are shared minibusses that can transport you to and from the border and all around the city. They are a safe, reliable, and cheap mode of public transportation. The buses are operated by the city. Prices and route are fixed and are clearly marked on the windows. They generally charge 5-15 pesos depending on route and time of day (The price of some routes goes up 2 pesos at night).

These buses don’t operate on a set schedule, rather they just leave when they are full. You can find them lined up at stops on busy streets or flag them down if you see one going in your direction. This is the best way to get around the city. All of the operators that I have come across have been professional and I have never been overcharged.

Walking: Is Tijuana Safe to Walk Around?

Tijuana is one of those cities where you can be perfectly safe on one street, walk a few blocks, and end up in a dangerous part of town. Walking is my main form of transportation in Tijuana. I enjoy it. I have walked around most of the city including quite a bit at night. The only problem I have encountered was having my phone pickpocketed. Luckily I got it back. Unfortunately, there are some parts of the city that just aren’t safe to walk.

Staying Safe While Walking To and From the Border

During the day it is perfectly safe to walk to and from the border. I do not, however, recommend making this walk after dark. Just take a taxi, Uber, or colectivo shared minivan.

The walk is safe except for one particular section. In order to walk from the border to downtown, you must cross a walking bridge that goes over the Tijuana River. This is where you are most likely to encounter problems. I have heard stories from several people of muggings and assaults happening on this bridge. The reason that the bridge is so dangerous is because it has dark, winding staircases where muggers can hide. During the day, there is a heavy police presence in the area so it is safe. At night, police don’t patrol the area and most of the bridge cannot be seen from the main road. 

If you absolutely must walk at night, do not cross the bridge alone. In fact, don’t cross any bridge over the Tijuana River alone after dark. If you must walk, ask someone else to walk with you. There is safety in numbers. One night I met a local man waiting for someone to cross with. He told me about how the previous week he had been held at knifepoint by a group of guys and robbed of $300. I believed him. This is how I learned this tip. After that night, I will never make this walk alone again after dark.

Bridge over Tijuana River

Bridge over Tijuana River

Walking Around Tijuana Safely

The main areas where you will want to go as a tourist are Downtown and Zona Río. Walking within these areas is relatively safe at all hours of the day and night. The city maintains a heavy police presence here at all times. Remember that pickpocketing and muggings are not common but do happen in these areas. Try to stay in well light areas and don’t wander too far off the main tourist streets.

I do not recommend walking between Downtown and Zona Río at night. I have done it many times and have never been hassled but It’s probably not worth the risk. It’s only about a mile walk but the streets are empty and not well lit at night. It’s best to just take a taxi or colectivo shared minibus.

Zona Rio, Tijuana

Driving in Tijuana

I personally don’t drive in Tijuana. The main reason I don’t drive here is because I don’t want to deal with the consequences of getting in an accident or getting pulled over by the police. You don’t know if the cop pulling you over is corrupt and looking for a bribe. Just the hassle of dealing with an insurance company in a foreign country is enough to dissuade me from driving here.

With that being said, many tourists decide to drive to Tijuana. Having your own transportation is the fastest way to get around. Secure paid parking is available all over the city. Traffic is a bit hectic but overall not too crazy.

If you are going to drive in Tijuana I strongly recommend you buy insurance before you cross the border. While it is not checked upon entry, it may save the day if you have an accident while in Mexico. There are numerous locations in San Ysidro where you can buy Mexican auto insurance by the day before you cross the border. You can also buy insurance online before your trip or through your regular insurance provider.

While these insurance policies are legitimate, I have never met anyone who actually had to use one. I don’t know if, in the event of an accident, they would really pay up. I would be afraid they would find a way to get out of it and leave you with the bill. Drive here at your own risk.

For more info, check out my guide: How to Drive to Tijuana. Here, I discuss insurance, parking, driving in Tijuana, border crossings, and more. 

US-Mexico Border

Common Scams in Tijuana

Scams aren’t particularly common in Tijuana but there are a few that you may encounter during your trip. As long as you know they exist and how they work, you’re much less likely to fall victim. 

  • Overcharging: Always ask the price before agreeing to buy a good or service. While it is not common, it is possible that you will be overcharged if you did not agree on the price first. This is most common with scammy taxi drivers who will surprise you with a ridiculous bill if you didn’t negotiate the price first. You also have to be careful of this in some scammy restaurants.
  • Charging you for something you didn’t want: Another trick some people will use is that they will simply start providing you a service without asking and expect you to pay them for their time. For example, maybe a mariachi band will approach you in a restaurant and just start paying. After they finish their song, they will expect a tip. If you don’t want to hear their music, just wave them away or say no thanks and they’ll leave. The same thing will happen with people washing your windows when you are driving. Again, just wave them away.
  • Pickpocketing: This is another common scam in the city. You can read my story about getting my phone pickpocketed and getting it back again. To avoid this I recommend you don’t carry anything too valuable or important to you. Secure your phone and wallet in pockets with zippers or buttons if possible and try to avoid large crowds. Some of these guys are really good. They can get your watch off your wrist without you feeling a thing. For more tips, check out my guide: How to Avoid Pickpockets While Traveling.

To read my complete list of scams, check out my article: 19 Common Travel Scams, How They Work, and How to Avoid Them. Many of these can be found in Tijuana in one form or another.

Beggars and Homeless in Tijuana

There is poverty and homelessness in Tijuana and occasionally someone will approach to ask for money or try to sell you something. Some of these people are sick or mentally unstable. Try to avoid them as you can never predict how they will behave. For example, I was once walking down the street minding my own business when a crazy woman started yelling, jumped toward me, and punched me right in the stomach. She then continued walking like nothing happened. A passerby made eye contact with me and just shrugged.

Fast Talkers and Hustlers in Tijuana

Another type of person you will likely encounter are people who have been deported from the United States. Many times they had committed crimes and were forced to leave. After they were deported they were dropped off in Tijuana. These are the guys you have to look out for. They are fast talkers who speak perfect English and know how to hustle. They make their living running scams on tourists. These guys actually run some pretty elaborate scams involving multiple people and possibly the police. 

Two common scams fast talkers run are:
  1. First, they will approach you, pretending to be very friendly. They will then offer to walk around with you and show you around the city. Soon they will suggest you go to a restaurant for food or drinks. Of course, you are expected to pay for everything and they will get a commission. Next, they will give you a sob story asking you to buy them medicine or something for their non-existent sick children. They will say anything to part you with your hard earned money. This is not just common in Tijuana but in many cities around the world. For this reason, I rarely talk to people I meet on the streets.
  2. Sometimes these guys have deals arranged with the police. For example, maybe they sell drugs to a tourist then turn them in. At this point, the police will solicit the tourist for a bribe or threaten them with jail time. If the bribe is paid, the police will pay the scammer a commission for turning you in. To be safe, you should never get too friendly with anyone who approaches you on the street. Also, never buy drugs in Tijuana.

Street Children in Tijuana

While walking around town, you may encounter small children selling gum or small trinkets. They are harmless and are just trying to help their families. If you are in the mood, you can buy a small item from them.

It is up to you if you want to donate money to someone who is homeless or down on their luck, but I personally never give money to anyone when I travel. It is a personal policy of mine.

Tijuana Police

The Tijuana police are not known for being too helpful to tourists. They will do their best to keep the peace and protect you from violence but in the case of petty theft, you’re pretty much on your own. They have more important things to deal with than a stolen wallet or phone. The police have an incredibly dangerous job in Tijuana and I respect them for it greatly. If you do seek their help to retrieve lost or stolen items, they may ask for you to pay what is basically a bribe for their help. This, of course, depends on the officer.

Corruption is a major problem in the police force. I have friends who have been stopped by the police both in a car and on foot. In both cases, they had been misbehaving. One made an illegal maneuver in his car and one was walking around downtown while excessively drunk. The result was that they were searched and asked for bribes. For this reason, you should never carry drugs or large sums of cash around Tijuana. I have never experienced this myself. As long as you are respectful and not breaking any laws, the police will be helpful and respectful toward you.

The city of Tijuana makes a lot of money from tourism. It is the most visited border city in the world, after all. The last thing the Tijuana police want is to have a tourist dying in their city. Tijuana has enough negative publicity as it is. 

CECUT Cultural Center of Tijuana

CECUT Cultural Center of Tijuana

Safety in Rosarito and Ensenada

Many tourists chose to skip Tijuana entirely and just drive or take a bus straight through to Rosarito or Ensenada. Rosarito is a pleasant little beach town about 12 miles south of Tijuana. Ensenada is a small coastal city about 70 miles south of Tijuana known for its excellent, fresh seafood. These are quiet and safe cities that you can visit if you want to avoid the big city hassles of Tijuana. 

Food and Drink Safety in Tijuana

The final safety point that I would like to talk about doesn’t have to do with people but rather germs and bacteria. While visiting Tijuana, you do have to be a bit more cautious about what you eat and drink because, in general, food hygiene standards are just a bit lower in Mexico than in the US. To avoid getting sick, you should:

  • Make sure that foods are hot and cooked all the way through.
  • Avoid foods that have been sitting out in the open.
  • Avoid unwashed leafy greens. E. coli is a risk.
  • Only drink beverages that came from a factory sealed container. While the juices that are sold on the street look nice, they were probably made from tap water. When you’re in a restaurant, ask for filtered water or ‘agua purificado’ in Spanish.
  • Avoid ice in your drinks. It was probably made with tap water.

A note about the tap water safety in Tijuana

In the recent past, it was not safe to drink the tap water in Tijuana for fear of ‘Montezuma’s Revenge’ or travelers diarrhea. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. Tijuana’s municipal water department treats and chlorinates the water so that it is safe to drink when it leaves their facility. With that being said, I recommend you buy bottled water anyway. I have drunk the tap water on a few occasions and didn’t get sick but it’s best to err on the side of caution just in case. For more info, check out my guide to drinking water in Mexico.

Another safe water option is to buy a water filter. I bought the Sawyer Mini on Amazon. With it, you can filter tap water or water from rivers and streams and save on buying bottled water. It’s also more environmentally friendly because you’re not going through so many plastic bottles. For more info, you can check out my full review of the Sawyer Mini here.

If you do get sick while visiting Tijuana

  • Drink lots of water to stay hydrated
  • Take some anti-diarrhea medication like Imodium or Pepto-Bismol. You can purchase this at any pharmacy.
  • If the food poisoning is really severe, consider taking some antibiotics. To get antibiotics, you may have to visit a clinic. For more information, you can check out my step-by-step guide to visiting a Tijuana clinic. Unfortunately, I had to do this once after eating some bad tacos.

Travel Insurance

If, after reading all of this, you still feel a bit nervous about visiting Tijuana, you may want to consider purchasing travel insurance to put your mind at ease. Travel insurance can cover you in the event of theft, injury, or medical emergency. When I travel, I have always purchased my travel insurance from World Nomads. For more information and for a free quote, check out my travel insurance page.

Final Thoughts: Is Tijuana Safe?

In general, yes, Tijuana is a safe place for tourists to visit. Don’t miss out on this exciting city just because of its poor reputation. Tijuana isn’t just the dangerous border town that it’s made out to be in the news. It is the 6th largest city in Mexico after all. It is also a city full of friendly people, delicious food, fascinating culture, and great drinking and nightlife. Trendy bars, restaurants, and cafes are popping up all over the city. Tijuana is also the home of the best tacos that I’ve had in Mexico.

All of the scams and dangers I wrote about in this article exist but the likelihood of you running into them is slim. Remember that Tijuana is a dangerous city but the risk can be greatly reduced by knowing what to expect and taking the small precautions outlined in this guide.

Have you experienced any crime or scams in Tijuana? Is Tijuana Safe? Share your story in the comments below. I’d be interested to hear about it.

For more general info on safety, check out my guide: Is Mexico Safe? Avoiding Crime and Scams

More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, including links from the Amazon Serivices LLC Associates Program. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links. I only recommend products and services that I use and know. Thank you for reading!


bob August 20, 2018 - 10:45 am

Absolutely correct about the best tacos in Mexico. I wouldn’t have thought it but now I have been around to most of Mexico and never had any this good.

wheretheroadforks August 21, 2018 - 1:13 am

Definitely, I was in Oaxaca earlier this year and while the food there was great, I still prefer the Tijuana tacos.

Carlos September 24, 2019 - 9:09 pm

You should try tacos in Mexicali, that is another thing

wheretheroadforks September 24, 2019 - 9:52 pm

I’ve been wanting to visit Mexicali for the longest time but haven’t been yet. I need to make the trip over there one of these days. Do you have any taco shop recommendations?

Michael McAbee April 3, 2019 - 1:10 am

Thanks so much for this informative and frank piece! I feel a lot more prepared now.

wheretheroadforks April 3, 2019 - 1:57 am

Glad I could help. Thanks for reading!

Chantal May 24, 2019 - 4:48 pm

If you plan to drive across the border, you should absolutely purchase insurance before crossing at one of the little huts. It’s around $10 per day. We hit a pedestrian who ran in front of us on the highway. He ended up in the hospital with a broken leg and my husband detained in jail for 36 hours. The insurance covered everything.

wheretheroadforks May 24, 2019 - 5:04 pm

Great advice about buying insurance. Better safe than sorry. Interesting story though. I wonder if the guy was attempting some kind of insurance scam or something? Glad to hear the insurance company covered everything.

pedro September 6, 2019 - 12:12 pm

If he had insurance why was he arrested and jailed at all?

Jeff June 3, 2019 - 10:10 pm

I agree with the rule…avoid being on foot after dark. I made it across the foot bridge and at the next main street a short distance from the border 2 cops stopped me, went thru my pockets, counted my money, etc. They found a vitamin pill in my pocket and were going to take me to the station to test it. On a dark street they stopped and i had to “give” them $150 to avoid the station. Yes, next time i take a cab or get back sooner.
Note; a little spanish and addressing them as senor helps, they didnt take all of my dough.
Also; my dentist there makes it worth the risk.

wheretheroadforks June 3, 2019 - 11:01 pm

Good tip about addressing the police in Spanish. They’re big on respect. I hate hearing about encounters like that but I’m not surprised. That walk between the border and downtown is always kind of nerve-wracking. Oh well, you’ve probably saved way more on dental work than the $150 you lost.

pedro September 6, 2019 - 12:14 pm

I saved on dental work in TJ. Crowns and root canals. Then it failed and I had it fixed in San Diego for a high price. Get a second opinion from an American dentist for any major work any dentist wants to do. Much of it is not needed.

wheretheroadforks September 6, 2019 - 4:40 pm

Good advice! Dentists often try to upsell unnecessary services. Some do better work than others. I’ve had the same problem with an American dentist. I went to a dentist in Newport Beach who told me that I needed a crown. I thought it was strange so I waited and went to a different dentist the following year. She told me that the tooth was fine.

M May 14, 2020 - 4:45 pm

Don’t walk around drunk.Believe it or not the police are your first enemy.They will stop and search you and steal money from you wallet.They will also threaten to take you to jail if you don’t pay them a bribe.And if you don’t pay them they will take you to jail even if your not drunk and only have alcohol on your breath.Its happed to me and as a white boy you don’t want to be in a Mexican jail unless you’re about 6 ft 6 in and weigh about 250 pounds

Adrian June 29, 2019 - 12:59 pm

It started as a wonderful vacation checking out my dad’s new retirement home in Rosarito baja. On my way home I got pulled over right before the border for my rear windows being tinted (my car came from the manufacturer with the rear windows tinted). The officer pulled me out of my car searched me and my car and didn’t find anything, he then instructed me to blow in his face and says I smell like tequila and asked if I’ve been drinking? Its was 7am, I told him it’s to early to be drinking and I dont even drink liquor; ( I had 3 beers the day prior over 12 hours had gone by) he then says I need to go down to the station with him because I’m driving under the influence and he is going to impound my vehicle for the rear tinted windows. I asked how much do I need to pay to avoid all that chaos, he then says he cant accepted money because his “body camera” is on. At this point I’m terrified thinking I’m going to jail, I asked if I could grab my wallet and phone from the car and he says yes but I cant make any phone calls. As I’m grabbing my belongings he opens my door and tells me to put $350 in an envelope and he’ll let me go, so I had no choice but to pay the bribe. I highly recommend to avoid driving or even visiting Tijuana until they fix they’re corruption problems they have.

wheretheroadforks June 29, 2019 - 3:05 pm

Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds like you did the right thing by paying there and then. I’m sure it would have cost much more had you gone to the police station. They probably would have charged you for towing, impound fees, and who knows what else. It’s a shame that the Tijuana police is still so corrupt. I’m sure it hurts tourism plenty.

Adrian Mora June 29, 2019 - 3:32 pm

I know it could of been a lot worse, but it still makes me upset that this is still happening nowadays. This happened just this morning.

wheretheroadforks June 29, 2019 - 4:42 pm

Oh wow, that recent. I’m not surprised but it is incredibly frustrating to have to worry about being hassled police just as much as criminals.

Bobby July 30, 2019 - 9:54 am

I would advise some caution taking the colectivo taxis between centro and otay after dark at the moment. We were in la postal, Buena Vista, on Sunday night when the taxi (white and gold) and passengers were robbed at gunpoint by two young men. Not the nicest experience. They took the phones and wallets from passengers and the taxista’s fares.

wheretheroadforks July 30, 2019 - 10:45 am

Thanks for sharing your story. I hadn’t heard of a colectivo being held up before. How many people were in the colectivo? Did anyone try to refuse? It’s a shame that that kind of thing is happening

Bobby July 30, 2019 - 4:46 pm

There was the driver, my wife and I, and at least 3 other people not including the robbers. They all gave up their phones and money, I wasn’t carrying any. The robbers didn’t seem impressed by that, as I was the only one in the taxi that looks like I’m not local. I just told them I didn’t have anything.
To be honest, it seemed like an opportunistic thing and they wanted to get out of there as much as we did. My wife was about to hand them a wallet when they jumped out and ran off. It’s not something that happens much in this part of Mexico, more often in DF from what I’m told.

wheretheroadforks July 30, 2019 - 11:20 pm

Sounds like you didn’t suffer any loss at least. I’m sure the police are so busy they don’t have enough time to investigate every robbery. I was in a bar downtown while it was robbed last year. The guys didn’t ask for anything from the customers. They just robbed the bar then shot off a couple of shots before running out the door. According to the bartender, that kind of crime is fairly common.

Richard Lim July 30, 2019 - 7:02 pm

Yeah my first day in TJ and had a taxi cab guy overcharge me for a ride and a “cop” who was trying to claim that he was shot 9 times and looking out for tourist but threatened to confiscate my phone and demanded money from me for taking illegal pictures. At first I was confused and try to reason with him but he was not having it I only had 200 pesos ($10) I gave it to him and walked away which suxs because he could have just been a lone scammer or legit uncover corrupt cop. I’m rethinking about coming to TJ in the future sad to say so much potential.

wheretheroadforks July 30, 2019 - 11:31 pm

Yeah, there are a lot of scams to look out for in Tijuana. If you’re aware of them, they’re much easier to identify and avoid. The police officer you met was probably a scammer impersonating a cop. It is a shame that the city has so many issues.

Jose Marrero September 6, 2019 - 7:52 pm

Thanks for all the information, now I feel like I am much better prepared for my trip down there.

wheretheroadforks September 6, 2019 - 10:13 pm

Glad you found the info useful. Have a great trip to TJ!

Bob October 5, 2019 - 10:11 pm

Walking over to Tijuana I’m sure is fine and fun- very little with you to lose (except your health if really unlucky). The last time I drove there I was returning from a Baja trip and I swore I’d never drive through Tijuana again. We had a hair raising experience which I won’t go into laborious details about. I’ve driven to Mexico twice over the years and both times to the bottom of Baja. Both times crossing the border at smaller places to the east like Mexicali. I don’t like the border areas when driving there so I like to arrive early enough to get many miles past the border before dark. Driving in Mexico after dark for a gringo is dangerous and not necessarily because of crime but also black cows, people driving with no lights, cars parked insanely dangerously, etc…. Mexico is a great place with awesome people, food and culture but unfortunately it’s run and policed by criminals (with some exceptions but don’t expect them). If you’re driving, my advice is only for a trip past the border and get away from it as soon as you cross- ie. not a TJ trip. Once well past, your chances of misadventure is reduced considerably. Also, as a gringo, don’t copy the Mexican style of driving. It’s like a language. They know what they’re doing and what to expect from the other guy (sort of). Just drive reasonably rational and be predictable to them- otherwise you’re going to cause an accident and that is almost as bad a situation as you can get down there- you’ll be in a world of misery. I guess I went on a bit of a tangent away from TJ but it’s related.

wheretheroadforks October 6, 2019 - 1:25 pm

I agree about the dangers of driving in Mexico. It’s really not worth the risk most of the time. Between the corrupt police and the traffic, I always feel on edge while driving in Tijuana. I avoid it. For most visitors, walking across the border is the way to go. It’s pretty easy to get around with buses, taxis, and uber anyway.

gilbert November 30, 2019 - 10:05 pm

you point out multiple scams, robbery potential and the awful murder rate. then you say generally its safe for tourists.
are you an ostrich or something? heed your own warnings. tj is DANGEROUS even for the locals!

wheretheroadforks December 1, 2019 - 9:32 pm

I guess it depends on your risk tolerance. For the average tourist, it’s perfectly safe to walk across the border, take a taxi to the city center, then explore downtown and enjoy some tacos. You can further reduce any risk by knowing the common crimes and scams to look out for.

Yasmine December 10, 2019 - 12:01 am

I was planning to buy a vaccinated puppy, since they are a lot cheaper. Total of like $75 for the one I’m interested in. My biggest fear is the kidnapping. I would be driving from San Diego, and not going alone but with my boyfriend. I’m not a gringa either and neither is he, I’m Puerto Rican and speak a majority of spanish for the most part and he’s Mexican but born in the U.S. Dumb question I know but would it be worth it or risky?

wheretheroadforks December 10, 2019 - 1:01 pm

I don’t think it’s too risky. Whether or not it’s worth the trip depends on how much you’re saving on the puppy. A random kidnapping is highly unlikely. The biggest risk is probably getting pulled over by a corrupt cop who asks for a bribe. To reduce any risk, you’ll probably want to make the trip during the day and obey all traffic laws while driving. You might want to consider parking on the US side and just walking across the border. From there, you could take an Uber or taxi wherever you need to go. That way, you won’t have to drive in Tijuana.

Kevin January 23, 2020 - 5:30 am

I’ve been to TJ dozens and dozens of times over the years and certainly agree with the author’s advice! I’ve had a few issues over the years, but keep wanting to go back because of the many good and fascinating people I’ve also encountered. Good or bad, one week of life in TJ feels like a month’s worth
of life in Topeka Kansas.

I like to travel and get situated into my lodging during the morning rush hour, safety in numbers. Additionally, many of the tourist scammers are not positioned and on station at 8:00 AM and those that are seem less emboldened around numbers of purpose driven people (working people), essentially it becomes hard to pull, or separate an interesting mark out of a crowd. In other words, just keep walking and don’t allow the street hustler his/her critical introduction into your life. This tactic is just as useful in Chicago or New York.

Also, I loved the advice about using Uber and avoiding any drug activities. If a foriener starts consorting with drug culture people, the jems of humanity who also live there will avoid you too.

Last, geographically, culturally and historically this is one awesome city. Likely it will always remain a complex, but please don’t feed the drug culture and hopefully it will become safer.

wheretheroadforks January 23, 2020 - 1:08 pm

Great tip about traveling during the morning! The scammers usually aren’t out yet and the city is very active. Mornings are generally more peaceful. Even though TJ isn’t the safest city on earth, it is still worth taking a small risk to experience the culture, food, and atmosphere of Baja.

RicaMarRuss February 27, 2020 - 9:22 pm

I’ve read the comments on Tijuana and can totally relate to some of the posts. After going down to Tijuana and rosarito beach for most my life I’ve encountered some of the same problems with the police but far and few between. Most of the issues were my own fault (driving too fast , not making a complete stop, walking around with a beer, riding quad on street) I’ve learned to not stick out. No loud music while driving,no fancy cars, no fancy clothes, no flashy jewelry, drive the speed limit, use common sense.These things have helped me avoid trouble with the authorities. I have a house in rosarito and have been coming down to Mexico for almost 40 years now on a regular basis. I have yet to encounter ANY violent crime.( not saying it doesn’t happen)Many good times down there as well as the great food. not to mention the awesome prices you can get on some items and services. I would not recommend driving in Tijuana if it’s your first time only because the streets can be very confusing and people drive a little crazy sometimes (no different than driving in New York City!!)and that can lead to getting pulled over. If you do get pulled over then go ahead and follow the cop to the station the fines are very low usually lower than what the cop will be asking for. This might cost more time than just paying him $40 though. Car insurance is highly recommended as you will at least have some help if you get into an accident . Don’t drive around too much after sundown and you will be fine . Don’t keep all your money in one place , keep about $60 stashed in a different place just in case you lose your wallet then you can at least get back to the boarder. Hope this helps!!! Viva Mexico!!! ????????????????????????

wheretheroadforks February 29, 2020 - 1:43 pm

Great tip about not sticking out and obeying the law. That’s the best way to avoid problems with the police. Pretty much everyone I know who has had an encounter with the Tijuana police did something to provoke them. Usually getting drunk in public or making an illegal maneuver while driving.

Personally, I try not to drive in Tijuana too often. It’s safe enough if you take the precautions you listed but it’s just not worth the potential problems. It’s always a good idea to have Mexican auto insurance and have some cash ready to pay a ‘fine’ just in case. Stashing some cash is also a good idea. Sometimes the police will take all of the cash that you have on you.

Daniel Sanchez March 3, 2020 - 4:25 pm

Hi, I really enjoy your website. My wife and I have been considering retiring/living in Tijuana. We currently live in Temecula and I commute to San Diego for work. My wife is Mexican by birth but is now a U.S. citizen. She speaks Spanish fluently which will help. Our main concern is that we have heard that if you live in Mexico and leave your house for an extended period (like 2 weeks for vacation) that you could come home to all your stuff stolen from your place. Have you heard of this happening? Is there an American expat community (or even friendly Mexican neighbors) that watches over each other for stuff like this? We would like to move to Tijuana but we also like to travel frequently. Thanks for all the info!

wheretheroadforks March 3, 2020 - 5:50 pm

Hi there, I have never heard of anything like that happening but I guess it’s possible. I think the risk is pretty low. Particularly if you take a few precautions before you leave on vacation. There are apartment buildings and gated neighborhoods in Tijuana with 24-hour security. That would probably be your safest option. If you want to live in a regular house, the best you could do is find one that is surrounded with a wall and bars over the windows to keep the bad guys out. Maybe set a light on a timer to go on at night so it looks like somebody is home. You could also hire a house sitter to come by and check on things or even live in the house while you’re away. There are websites that can put you into contact with house sitters. If you become friends with your neighbors, you could ask them to keep an eye on things for you while you’re gone. If you have anything that is highly valuable like jewelry, for example, you could keep it in a safe deposit box or storage locker in the US. Hope this helps.

Vylinda April 1, 2020 - 7:02 pm

Hi, Thank you for this very informative article. I’m not sure you will know the answer to my question but thought I would try. Would it be safe to have surgery at the TJ hospital? They send a driver to San Diego and drive you over the border. Prices are so much cheaper but not sure it’s worth the risk. After reading your article I would love to visit just for the delicious taco’s. Thanks again.

wheretheroadforks April 3, 2020 - 2:55 pm

Hi there, the trip to Tijuana is safe. Having a driver pick you up in San Diego removes pretty much all of the hassles and dangers of crossing the border. As far as the surgery goes, I don’t really know. From what I’ve seen and heard, the hospitals in Tijuana are great. Lots of Americans cross the border for healthcare. It’s a big industry in Tijuana. Having said that, Tijuana is kind of a ‘get what you pay for’ kind of place. Some doctors are better than others. If you’ve done your research and trust the doctor, it’s probably pretty safe. I know the savings can be significant. Hope this helps!

notme August 4, 2020 - 1:21 pm

I haven’t been to TJ for quite a while but I have made many trips over the last 60 years & have only had a couple unpleasant experiences.
I used to walk in but it is a bit harder with the changes they made quite a few years ago.
It is better now to park in the US or take the light rail to the border. Then get a bus on the US side to downtown (Last time I went it cost one Dollar). Repeat on the return trip. One advantage on the return trip is you avoid the LOOOONG pedestrian line.

wheretheroadforks August 5, 2020 - 5:10 pm

I don’t believe the bus can take you across the border these days. As far as I know, you have to travel to the border, cross on foot, then catch another bus, taxi, Uber, etc.

Matt September 6, 2020 - 1:01 pm

This will be a comment (and some advice) on the entire Tijuana portion of the blog, as a whole. I’m currently living here temporarily, and it’s funny how we can have very different experiences:

The people of Tijuana are indeed friendly and welcoming providing you’re paying them for something. They don’t find the whole hipster living in TJ thing to be cute, and will very quickly and abruptly let you know when you’ve worn out your welcome. When someone is too friendly and speaks perfect English, you’re being set up for a scam. TJ is a hotspot for the deported, and there’s a reason they’re no longer in the US.

The manners here end with ”buenas tardes, ” and customer service isn’t a ”thing.” Need to return something to a store? Fat chance.

Expect insanely long lines everywhere, and during COVID-19, don’t expect service in many stores: this seems to be a work-avoidance excuse that’s pretty much applicable to every foreigner.

Don’t over-tip: while it’s true that many Americans make in an hour what the average Mexican worker makes in a day, you’re only encouraging the stray cat syndrome that will inevitably develop if you do this repeatedly. If you engage in the somewhat “legal” activities in TJ that typically take place at night, use extreme caution to not leave valuables out or disclose any personal information to the “service provider.” If they ask how long you’re staying, you’re leaving tomorrow no matter what the true story is. Saying otherwise will get you stalked at your hotel or apartment. You don’t want this to happen, just take my word on this one.

STREET DRUGS ARE NOT LEGAL IN MEXICO- NOT EVEN WEED- this seems to be a gross misconception for many Americans, and you’re putting your life at risk by getting involved with anyone involved in the drug trade, even low-level street dealers.

YOU CANNOT BRING BACK NON-PHYSICIAN PRESCRIBED MEDICATIONS- unless you want to go through a living hell courtesy of the wannabe cops at the US Border patrol, don’t do this.

The police:

Perhaps the most corrupt police force in the world, (and I’ve traveled near and far),the TJ police force isn’t here to protect you. You will be stopped for walking down the street without any regard for probable cause, simply because you’re an easy target for them to rob. To date, I’ve had a credit card stolen and used for over $100 and about the same amount stolen in cash over a couple of instances. I repeat, the TJ police are not your buddies, they’re the enemy. If someone else robs you, they couldn’t care less about helping you. Walking alone in many parts of centro or anywhere around the arch is a 90+% chance that you’ll be stopped. The same goes for anywhere near the border, which should completely be avoided at night. The police rarely ever speak English, so the people reporting that must have incredibly good luck. I speak Spanish in the Caribbean dialect, which is apparently too difficult for them to understand. ???? “Mande guey?” Cashiers are notorious for doing this, but often locals will jump in and tell the cashier to just do their job.

Many stores have stopped accepting US money since COVID-19, so sharpen up on your math skills, because you’ll need to do fast conversions in your head. Using the dollar isn’t a good idea, as you’ll almost always be quoted a far higher amount. Nothing in TJ is over $50, unless you’re renting, buying a car, or getting some type of medical procedure. Electronics purchases in Mexico should be avoided.

The street children are often victims of human trafficking, and not actually the children of the adults that accompany them. I disagree with the advice to give them food or anything else, as you’re just supporting these practices. I’d go into more depth, but just know this is a rather disgusting thing to support.

I could go on for hours, but I’ll leave with a:

tl; dr: Unless hanging out with angry poor people and getting robbed and scammed in a filthy cesspool of a city is something that sounds appealing to you, AVOID TJ and just live in an affordable part of the US. Tijuana is in no way, shape, or form, an “alternative” to the high cost of living in San Diego.

wheretheroadforks September 10, 2020 - 9:02 pm

Great comment! Thanks for taking the time to write this out. There are some excellent tips here. Particularly about police corruption and tipping.

It does seem like we have had pretty different experiences though. Sounds like you’ve had some bad luck or maybe I’ve just had good luck. In my time living in TJ, I have walked all over at all hours of the day and night and have never been stopped or hassled by the police. I do agree that they are incredibly corrupt and should be avoided. I have heard plenty of horror stores about people getting ripped off by corrupt officers.

When I’m out walking, I’m more worried about getting mugged. There are plenty of scammers and beggars around but they are pretty easy to avoid.

As far as the people go, I don’t find them particularly unfriendly or angry. Cashiers, restaurant workers, drivers, etc are usually friendly enough. I’m not much of a people person though. I have a few friends I go out with but otherwise keep to myself. When I need to make a big purchase, I just cross the border or buy online so I don’t have to deal with scams, poor return policies, or poor customer service.

I still feel that Tijuana is an excellent alternative to living in San Diego. There are thousands of people who cross the border for work daily who enjoy the lifestyle as well. It’s not for everybody but it works well for some. I find it to be a pretty exciting city. I would rather spend my time in San Diego and Tijuana than a boring low cost of living part of the US.


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