At this point, I have been living in Tijuana for over a year. Initially, I decided to move here to save on living expenses. With the average rent in Southern California over $2200 per month, the cost of living was just getting out of hand. By now, I feel like I have gotten to know the city well enough to write about living in Tijuana as an American. In this article, I discuss the best neighborhoods to live, finding an apartment, monthly costs, the visa, safety, money, and much more. I’ll also talk about the benefits and drawbacks of living in Tijuana as well as give some tips to help you get settled and comfortable in the city faster.
For the full, step-by-step guide, check out my eBook: The Complete Guide to Moving to Tijuana.
I’ve also made this short video to outline the main points of the article.
Table of Contents- Living in Tijuana as an American
- The Visa: Living in Tijuana Legally
- Crossing the Border Between San Diego and Tijuana
- Where to Live? The Best and Safest Neighborhoods for Living in Tijuana
- How to Find an Apartment in Tijuana
- How much is the Rent in Tijuana?
- Average Monthly Cost of Living in Tijuana
- How to Move Your Belongings Across the Border to Tijuana
- Staying Safe While Living in Tijuana
- How to Get Around Within Tijuana
- Healthcare and Insurance While Living in Tijuana
- Final Thoughts on Living in Tijuana
The Visa: Living in Tijuana Legally
If you plan to stay in Tijuana for more than 7 days at a time, you’ll need to pay for a Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM visitors permit). This is basically a tourist visa for Mexico. The cost is 533 pesos (around $25). This document is valid for 180 days and allows you to live and travel anywhere in Mexico.
After living in Tijuana for 180 days, when your FMM visitors permit expires, you’ll have to leave Mexico and pay for a new visitors permit when you re-enter. This gives you a fresh 180 days.
To get your FMM visitors permit, tell the immigration official who checks your passport that you plan to stay for longer than 7 days. They will send you to a cashier to pay. If you drive across the border, you will have to park on the Mexico side and walk into the immigration office and pay for the FMM. Generally, passports are not checked when driving into Mexico.
You could do without the FMM if you will be crossing at least once per week and not traveling outside of Tijuana. One befit of having the FMM is that you can walk through the Mexican citizens’ line when entering Mexico and just show the agent the card. This saves you time when entering Mexico.
Tip: Don’t lose your receipt. If you exit Mexico from the southern border or fly out of the country, you’ll need to prove that you already paid or they will try to charge you again. This happened to me when I exited through the southern border to Guatemala.
For more info, check out my complete guide to the FMM visitor’s permit.
Long Term Visa for Living in Tijuana
If you plan to live in Tijuana long term, you can apply for a Temporary Resident Permit. This document allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 4 years. It is renewable. To apply for a Temporary Residence Permit, you’ll need to visit a Mexican consulate or embassy outside of Mexico. There is an income requirement to be eligible for this visa.
Commuting Between Tijuana and the United States: Crossing the Border
There are 2 border crossings in Tijuana. The newer crossing, which was recently renovated, is located to the east and the old crossing is to the west. I prefer to use the west crossing because generally, the lines are shorter. This crossing is open from 6 am to 10 pm. The east crossing is always open. It is about an 8 minute walk from one crossing to the other.
The wait is usually pretty short when walking across the border into the U.S. You are able to use the ‘ready lane’ if you are traveling on a U.S. passport. You do need to plan ahead though. During the holidays I was routinely waiting in line for over an hour to cross.
If you are driving across, there is generally a longer wait. I rarely drive to Tijuana but I have waited around 1.5 hours on average. You can check the wait times on the US Customs and Border website here.
When crossing into Mexico the wait time is usually much shorter. When walking, you’ll simply flash your passport and FMM card to an immigration official. You’ll then pass through customs where you put your belongings through an x-ray scanner. The whole process usually takes 5-10 minutes. When you drive to Tijuana, there is usually no wait. You typically just drive across without stopping.
To speed up the process of crossing the border, a special card is available called SENTRI Pass which allows you to cross within minutes. SENTRI Pass holders have a special lane that puts them in the front of the line. Unfortunately, there is around a 3 month wait time to get the card. The process for getting a SENTRI Pass goes as follows:
- Create a Trusted Traveler Account through the US Customs and Border Protection website here.
- Complete the application and upload your supporting documents. These include your passport, driver’s license, and permanent residents card if applicable.
- Pay service fees. At this time, the application fee is $25. The system cost fee is $82.75. Fingerprint fee is $14.
- After submitting everything above, your application will be reviewed. This takes between 1 and 3 months. During that time, Customs and Border Protection will perform a thorough background check through multiple criminal and immigration databases.
- If everything comes back clean, you can schedule an in-person interview at the SENTRI enrolment center.
The SENTRI application process is actually fairly strict. I have a friend who was denied because she was unemployed at the time. She had just moved back to San Diego and wanted to get the application process going.
If you are planning to make this a long term move, the SENTRI pass would be well worth the time and cost. Commuting across the border is the worst part about living in Tijuana. It is just a hassle and you have to allow extra time in case there is a long line to cross. With the SENTRI Pass, you never have to wait more than a few minutes.
Getting to San Diego from Tijuana
Most expats who live in Tijuana work in the San Diego area. Conveniently, the trolley runs from the east border crossing in San Ysidro to downtown San Diego. Tickets cost $2.50 for one way fare or $6 for a day pass. Trolleys leave about every 15 minutes during the day and it takes about 40 minutes to get from the border to San Diego.
I enjoy cycling. Often I will just ride my bike to the border, cross, then take my bike on the trolley to San Diego. Here is my post about traveling from Tijuana to San Diego by bicycle.
A Note on Driving in Tijuana
Having your own car is convenient but also comes with a few hassles and expenses. First, you need to make sure that you are insured for driving in Mexico. Before crossing the border, call your insurance company to add a Mexico policy or purchase daily insurance from one of the booths in San Ysidro. Insurance will protect you if you are involved in an accident in Mexico. For more information, check out my guide: How to Drive to Tijuana.
You’ll also need somewhere to park your car. Most apartment complexes have parking spots available for around $50 per month. Parking on the US side of the border is expensive. Most border lots charge around $20 per day or more. You can park for free at the trolley stations but you must move your car every 24 hours. For a bit more info, check out my guide: How to Park for Free at the Tijuana Border.
Where Should I Live? The Best and Safest Neighborhoods for Living in Tijuana
In this section, I outline each of the most popular Tijuana neighborhoods for expats including downtown, Zona Rio, and Playas de Tijuana. I’ll also outline a few cheaper alternative neighborhoods outside of the city center like soler, 5y10, and Libertad. These areas are affordable and safe for expats as well.
Downtown or Zona Centro is my favorite place to live in Tijuana. Unfortunately, it is also the most expensive so I only spent about a month there. Expect to pay about $500-600 for a small apartment or $250-300 for a room Downtown. The biggest benefit to living downtown is that it is only about a 20 minute walk to the border or 10 minutes in a shared taxi that only costs 10 pesos.
The whole downtown Tijuana area is walkable. Another benefit to living downtown is that it is full of restaurants and clubs and bars to explore as well as delicious street food stands on almost every corner. A supermarket or convenience store is always s just a short walk away. There is also a big police presence in downtown at all hours of the day and night so it is a relatively safe area to live.
The next area I lived in was Zona Rio. This is a very modern and safe part of the city. It is considered the business district. Here you will find office buildings, hospitals, and expensive hotels. Expect to pay about $500 for a small apartment or $200-300 for a room to live here.
Zona Rio is a bit more spread out so you may want a vehicle or bicycle if you live here but it is still walkable if you like to walk as I do. If you are driving, it is a straight shot to the border from this part of the city. There are also buses that will take you to the border from here.
If you like to eat out, Zona Rio has the best restaurants in the city. Prices are reasonable as well. There are big supermarkets with better prices than downtown. There is also a Costco. All of the American fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr, Little Caesars, and Domino’s are all available. Another popular activity is going to the movies. Tickets cost just 40 pesos during the day and 60 pesos at night. This is a good bargain. Zona Rio feels the most like an American city.
Playas de Tijuana
This is the beach town part of Tijuana. Here you will find the boardwalk, some laid back bars, and some of the nicest apartments in the city. Playas is one of the nicer neighborhoods in Tijuana. It is also the most popular part of the city for expats. If you’re looking to find a place with American roommates, check out this neighborhood.
The only drawback to living here is the fact that it is located a bit far from the border for my taste. Commuting from Playas de Tijuana into San Diego every day would get pretty exhausting unless you have a car. If you want to live near the beach, but can’t afford the astronomical rent prices in California, Playas de Tijuana is for you.
5y10 is the area that I am currently living in. This neighborhood is probably about 6 miles from the border. It takes about 20-30 minutes in a taxi to get downtown from here. The taxi costs 15 pesos. The main benefit of living here is that rent is cheaper. Expect to pay around $300 for an apartment here or $100-250 for a room.
This neighborhood is more middle class. You won’t see many tourists around but it is safe and everyone is friendly. It is a bit noisier because there are some busy streets running through this part of town. All of the same amenities are available here including fast food, supermarkets, and restaurants. I enjoy living here.
Mineral De Santa Fe
I didn’t live here but I looked at an apartment here. It was only $100 per month and was very clean but when I asked the woman who showed me the apartment if it was safe, her face immediately gave me the answer before she even spoke. I just didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood even though everyone I met seemed nice enough.
When I got home, I researched the neighborhood and found that crime rates were high. Also, it was far from any restaurants and stores. The reason I’m including this neighborhood in the list is to show that you can live in Tijuana on a very low budget. Of course, you have to be cautious because some neighborhoods are not safe. If you are on a very tight budget, it may be worth looking into this neighborhood because it is conveniently located in the city.
Another popular neighborhood for expats. I haven’t spent much time here but it’s located conveniently fairly near the border and seems like a decent place to live. Next time I move, I’ll probably look into this neighborhood.
This neighborhood lies right across the border to the east of the Tijuana River. It is a convenient location for those who plan to cross the border often. Particularly if you want to walk across. It’s not the most beautiful place to live but it is convenient.
How Much is the Rent in Tijuana?
Most likely, the main reason you’re considering moving to Tijuana is to save on rent. Currently, the average rent in San Diego is an astronomical $2200 per month! That’s unaffordable on an average income. The average rent in Tijuana is less 1/7th of that at around $300 per month for a one-bedroom or studio in a decent neighborhood like Soler, Mineral de Santa Fe, or Libertad.
For $500, you can find a studio or one-bedroom in a nice, centrally located neighborhood like Downtown or Zona Rio. Prices are similar in Playas de Tijuana. This is less than 1/4th of the price of rent of a similar apartment in the San Diego area.
Rent prices in Tijuana vary depending on the neighborhood, amenities, and whether the apartment is furnished or not. With a budget of around $800-1000 per month, you can find a nicely furnished apartment in an expensive neighborhood with a pool, gym, and 24-hour security.
Average rental prices to expect in Tijuana include:
- Rent for a room in an apartment in Tijuana– If you don’t mind having roommates, you can find a room in a decent area for $100-$150 per month. If you’d prefer to live in a central area like downtown or Zona Rio, expect to pay $150-$200 per month for a room.
- Rent for a studio or one-bedroom apartment in Tijuana- If you’d prefer to have your own place, expect to spend $250-$300 per month in a normal area outside of the city center. In a nicer area, expect to spend $400-$700 per month for a studio or one-bedroom. On this budget, you could live in Zona Rio, downtown, or Playas de Tijuana.
- Rent for a 2-3 bedroom apartment or house- In a normal area outside of the city center, expect to spend $400-$600 for a large apart or home. In a nice area, expect to spend around $1000 per month for a 2-3 bedroom home.
How to Find an Apartment in Tijuana
- Facebook- This is the best place I have found to look for an apartment in Tijuana. There are several active Facebook groups where people advertise and search for apartments. The biggest one is called ‘renta de casas y departamentos en Tijuana.’ This is where you will find the cheapest apartments being offered online. You can also use this page to find roommates.
- Walking around a residential neighborhood that you would like to live in and looking for ‘for rent’ signs- This is another good option. Many apartments are not advertised online so this is a good way to find a cheap place to rent. You’ll need to speak some Spanish to do this or have someone call for you if you don’t. Also, if you can, it is best to view the property with a local that knows the rental rates. The landlord may try to overcharge for rent because you are a foreigner.
- Craigslist- This is another good place to look for apartments. Craigslist isn’t as popular in Tijuana as in the U.S. so choices here are limited. These are also slightly more expensive in general but it is definitely worth taking a look.
- Word of mouth- Another good option. Ask your friends and people you meet if they know of any rooms for rent. Maybe their neighbor just moved out or their friend is looking for a roommate.
Monthly Cost of Living in Tijuana
$800-$1000 per month would be a comfortable budget for a single person. With that budget, you’ll be living an average middle-class lifestyle. You’ll have a decent apartment in a good area. You could afford to eat at restaurants and enjoy nights out on occasion. You’ll mostly use shared transportation but could afford the occasional taxi or Uber ride.
With a budget of around $2500 per month, you’ll live an upper middle-class lifestyle. You could afford to live in a large furnished apartment with a pool and gym. You could afford to pay for private transport and, a cleaning service, and even a cook if you wanted.
If you’re on a tight budget, you could survive in Tijuana on as little as $300-$500 per month. In this case, you’ll have roommates and cook most of your own meals. You could afford to go to a movie or have a couple of drinks a couple of times per month. You’ll use shared transportation to get around.
Monthly Cost of Living in Tijuana Breaks Down as Follows
- Accommodation- $100-$300 per month for a room in an apartment. $400-$500 per month for a decent studio or one bedroom. $1000 for a multi-bedroom home.
- Food- If you cook most of my own meals, you can maintain a healthy diet for $100-150 per month. If you like to eat out, you’ll probably spend around $300 per month per person. A couple of tacos and a drink makes for a decent lunch. That will cost you $3-$5.
- Transportation- If you don’t have a car, transportation will cost about $30-50 per month to the border with public transport (shared van). A San Diego monthly transit pass costs $72. This allows you unlimited rides on the trolley and non-premium buses. If you take a taxi or uber, expect to spend $5-$10 for a one-way ride across the city.
- Entertainment- Tijuana is a great city for going out. Between the incredible craft breweries, nightclubs, and restaurants, there is always something new to try. This expense really depends on your preference. I’ll usually spend about $100 per month going out for a few beers with friends or a nice dinner once in a while.
Temporary Accommodation: Try living in Tijuana Before you Move
Before committing to the move, I recommend you spend some time in the city so you can get an idea of what living in Tijuana is like. After just a week or two, you can get to know the city pretty well and develop a routine.
Temporary accommodation also gives you time for apartment hunting. I always recommend everyone book an Airbnb for a couple of weeks when moving to Tijuana. There are some nice rooms and full apartments available that will be much cheaper than staying in a hotel while you get situated in your new city. You could even stay long term for a discount at many properties.
Another option is to stay in a cheap hotel while searching for an apartment. There are 2 hotels downtown that I recommend.
- Hotel Suiza- This place is located at Calle Niños Heroes 924, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana, B.C. It is a clean, simple hotel. They charge 250 pesos during the week and 300 pesos on weekends for a basic single room.
- Hotel Colonial- This place is slightly nicer and is located just around the corner from Hotel Suiza. Hotel Colonial is located at Calle Sexta, 1812, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana, B.C. I think this place costs about 50 pesos more than Hotel Suiza.
Tijuana also has a couple of hostels that would be a good place to stay temporarily:
- Lifestyle Hostel- This place is located in Playas de Tijuana. It’s probably the best-rated hostel in the city.
- Mi Casita de Colores- Another well-rated hostel. Unfortunately, the location isn’t great.
You can find more information about Tijuana neighborhoods and apartment hunting in my eBook: The Complete Guide to Moving to Tijuana.
How to Move Your Belongings Across the Border to Tijuana
At this point, you’re ready to move your things into your new home so you can start settling in. When crossing the border into Tijuana with all of your things, you will most likely be stopped by customs. They will require you to declare a value of all of your belongings and charge you an import tax on them. The amount you have to pay depends on what you bring with you. New items are taxed at the highest rate.
There two ways to go about moving your belongings to Tijuana. You can:
Hire a Moving Company to Transport your Belongings to Tijuana
This is the easiest but most expensive option. Moving companies exist in both the San Diego and Tijuana area that specialize in cross border moving services. They will load your belongings into their moving truck and drive them across the border to your new address in Tijuana.
If you have a lot of stuff to move, hiring movers is the best option. The reason is that these guys can help you with the customs paperwork and figuring out import duties. They have experience with this as they do it every day. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up overpaying if you try to do this yourself.
The best way to find these movers is through Craigslist. They advertise in the moving services section. I recommend this option form most moves.
Move Your Belongings By Yourself
This is the cheaper method but requires more work on your part. Simply pack up your own vehicle and drive your stuff across the border to your new place.
If you choose to move yourself, you’ll have to deal with customs by yourself. This means that you’ll have to determine the value of your belongings when you cross so you can pay the proper taxes. This sounds easy but can turn into a headache if you don’t know what you’re doing.
If you don’t have much stuff, you may be able to reduce the amount that you have to pay by making multiple trips. When you cross with just a couple of bags, you’ll just look like a tourist and won’t be charged or even stopped.
If you’re not moving any furnature or large items, you can just pack a couple of suitcases and walk across the border like any other tourist. That’s what I did.
Staying Safe While Living in Tijuana
Overall, Tijuana is a fairly safe place to live as long as you aren’t involved in the drug trade and you take a few precautions when walking about. In this section, I give a brief summary of safety in Tijuana. For more info, check out my article: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.
This is the violent crime that you’re most likely to fall victim to while living in Tijuana. The best way to avoid getting mugged is to take normal precautions like avoiding walking around too much after dark and trying not to flash money, jewelry, or valuables while out and about.
Another piece of advice that I can give is to avoid walking between the border and downtown after dark. It is safe in daylight but I have heard of muggings happening on bridges that cross over the river and freeway at night. There is heavy police presence all over the city but they can’t see what is going on on the top of a pedestrian bridge. Walking around within the three neighborhoods that I have lived in at night is generally safe.
Another crime that you’ll have to be careful of is pickpocketing. I fell victim to this crime one night while walking home alone from a bar after having a few too many drinks. After leaving the bar at about 3 am, a prostitute approached me. I told her that I wasn’t interested and tried to walk away. Somehow, she got her hand into my pocket and snatched my phone while I was trying to get away from her. Luckily, I was able to get my phone back. To find out how, read about my Tijuana pickpocketing experience here.
Tip: Use a money belt to hide your cash, cards, and passport from muggers and pickpockets- This reduces your loss if you do fall victim to a crime. I have the Eagle Creek Silk money belt. I’ve used the same one for the past 8 years and really like it. Check out my full review here.
Many travelers carry a decoy wallet while using a money belt. Just fill it with a few dollars and a couple of old credit cards. Muggers will think it’s all you have and leave you alone. If a pickpocket gets it, you haven’t lost much.
Violent Crime in Tijuana
2019 is turning out to be one of the most violent years in Tijuana history. While living in Tijuana witnessed one violent crime. You can read my story about being inside a Tijuana bar during an armed robbery here. Tourists are not targets for violent crime in Tijuana but it is possible to be caught in the crossfire.
For more information, check out my full article on safety: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.
Getting Around Within Tijuana
If you choose not to drive in the city, there is an extensive network of shared taxis and buses that can get you anywhere in the city. One way fare generally costs about 10-15 pesos depending on where you are going.
Uber is also available. It costs about 100-150 pesos to get all the way across the city or 40-50 pesos from the border to Zona Rio.
The city is also quite walkable so when you just want to get groceries or go to a movie or restaurant, you most likely can get there for free by simply walking.
Another option is to cycle around the city. Traffic can be heavy so I don’t really like to bike in Tijuana too much but it is an option. Drivers generally move over for cyclists, not passing too close but rough roads and pollution make riding less pleasurable.
For more info on transportation within Tijuana check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana
Money while Living in Tijuana
One hassle of living in Tijuana is having to carry 2 currencies. Dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere in Tijuana but it is generally cheaper to use pesos.
Getting pesos is easy. There are ATMs and currency exchanges on nearly every corner. If you are making a bigger purchase it is best to ask the price in dollars as well. Depending on the exchange rate, it may be cheaper or more expensive. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
To avoid ATM withdrawal fees and currency exchange fees, you can read my guide on the best debit card and credit card to use internationally.
Healthcare While Living in Tijuana
Another benefit to living in Tijuana is access to affordable, quality healthcare. If you get sick, you can visit a clinic for just 60 pesos. A dental check-up costs less than half of what it would in the US.
To read more about healthcare in Tijuana, check out my step-by-step guide: Healthcare in Mexico for Americans: Visiting a Clinic, Going to the Dentist, and Buying Prescriptions in Tijuana.
Insurance While Living in Tijuana
Speaking of healthcare, another thing to consider while living in Tijuana is that your US health insurance most likely won’t cover you while you’re in Mexico. Even though healthcare is much cheaper in Mexico, you may want to consider purchasing travel insurance so you are covered in case of a catastrophe.
I have always used World Nomads and have had good luck with them. They can cover you in the event of injury, medical emergency, or even theft. They even have plans for Americans living abroad. For more information and a free quote, you can check out my travel insurance page.
Do You Need to Speak Spanish to Live in Tijuana?
No, you don’t need to speak any Spanish to live here but it will certainly come in handy. My Spanish is better than the average gringo but I still have trouble understanding some people. I am able to get my point across in most situations just fine though. Many people living in Tijuana speak English or have lived in the U.S. so you can get along without Spanish.
To help you get started learning, I would recommend you work your way through the free apps Duolingo and Memrise. I also like to use the program Anki to make flashcards of new words that I learn every day. I like watching movies in Spanish with Subtitles to practice. Reading books in Spanish is also good practice. You could also simply take Spanish lessons if you have the budget.
My Thoughts on Living in Tijuana
Tijuana a great city. Unfortunately, most people think of it as a dusty, crime-filled border town. It is so much more than that. After all, Tijuana is the 6th largest city in Mexico with well over a million people living in it.
Personally, I’ve fallen in love with Tijuana. People here are friendly, the nightlife is good, and there are some excellent restaurants. In the time that I’ve lived here, the city has really improved with nice new bars and restaurants opening up everywhere.
Most importantly, Tijuana is close enough to the U.S. that you can cross the border every day to work if you work in the greater San Diego area. Overall, I have enjoyed my time living in Tijuana.
If you have found this guide helpful, consider purchasing my eBook-The The Complete Guide to Moving to Tijuana. It includes 50 pages of information covering everything you need to know about making the move to Tijuana.
Have you already made the move? Let me know about your experience in the comments!
More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks
- Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime
- Walking Across the Border to Tijuana
- 30 Best Places to Retire in Mexico
- The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana
- Healthcare in Mexico for Americans: Visiting a Clinic, Going to the Dentist, and Buying Prescriptions in Tijuana
- Living in Mexico: Pros and Cons After 1 Year as an Expat
- 29 Incredible Things to do in Tijuana
- Tijuana Police Corruption: How to Avoid Paying Bribes