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Living in Tijuana as an American Expat

I initially moved to Tijuana in 2017 to reduce my living expenses. With the average rent in Southern California over $2200 per month, the cost of living was just getting out of hand. I was able to cut my cost of living in half by moving to Tijuana. By now, I feel like I have gotten to know the city well enough to write about living in Tijuana as a U.S. citizen.

In this guide, I discuss the monthly cost of living, the best neighborhoods to live in, finding an apartment, the visa situation, safety, and more. I’ll also outline the benefits and drawbacks of living in Tijuana and share some helpful tips.

Whether you’re looking to retire in Tijuana or work in San Diego and commute across the border, I hope this guide helps you get settled and comfortable in the city a little bit faster.

I’ve also made this short YouTube video to outline the main points of the article.

Key Takeaways

Budget: An individual can comfortably live in Tijuana for $1200-$1500 per month. On average, a one bedroom apartment in a good area costs $600-$800 per month.

Where to live: The best neighborhoods for expats to live in Tijuana include Playas de Tijuana (the beaches), Zona Rio (the business district), and Zona Centro (downtown). Other popular neighborhoods include Mineral de Santa Fe, Soler, and Libertad.

The visa: You can live in Tijuana for up to 180 days on an FMM visitor’s permit, which is available on arrival. If you wish to stay longer, you’ll have to apply for a temporary residency visa.

The border crossing: If you plan to live in Tijuana and work in San Diego, you should apply for a SENTRI card. This allows you to cross the border quickly. Crossing from Tijuana to the U.S. can take 1-2 hours without it.

Getting around: To get around Tijuana, you can drive your own car, take Uber, or take taxis de ruta (shared minibusses).

Staying safe: Tijuana has a high rate of crime including homicide, pickpocketing, mugging, and police corruption. You need to take some basic precautions to stay safe.

Table of Contents

Monthly Cost of Living in Tijuana

Living in Tijuana is much more affordable than living in San Diego. Exactly how much you’ll spend depends on the type of lifestyle you desire.

$1200-$1500 per month would be a comfortable budget for a single person. On this budget, you’ll be living an average middle-class lifestyle. You’ll live in a decent one-bedroom apartment in a safe area. You could afford to eat out at restaurants a few times per week. You’ll mostly use shared transportation but you 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. If you’re moving with your family, you could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment or a single-family home. You could afford to pay for private transport and a cleaning service.

If you’re on a tight budget, you could survive in Tijuana on as little as $800-$1000 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. 

Cost of Living Breakdown

In this section, I’ll break down some of the most common monthly costs to give you an idea of how much you’ll spend.

  • Accommodation- $300-$400 per month for a room in an apartment. $600-$700 per month for a studio or one-bedroom apartment. $1000-$1200 for a two-bedroom apartment or a home. 
  • Utilities- Expect to spend around $50-$65 per month on utilities. If you use a lot of air conditioning during the summer, you’ll spend more on electricity.
  • Food- If you cook most of your own meals, you can maintain a healthy diet for $150-200 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 make for a decent lunch. That will cost you around $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-$8 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.

How Much is Rent in Tijuana?

Most likely, the main reason you’re considering moving to Tijuana is to save on rent. Currently, the average cost of rent in San Diego is an astronomical $2200 per month! That’s unaffordable on an average income.

To compare, the average cost of rent in Tijuana is around $600 per month for a one-bedroom apartment in a decent neighborhood like Soler, Mineral de Santa Fe, or Libertad. For $800, you can find a nice apartment in a more premium neighborhood like Downtown, Zona Rio, or Playas de Tijuana.

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 monthly rent 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 like downtown or Zona Rio for an average price of around $300-$400 per month. 
  • Rent for a studio or one-bedroom apartment in Tijuana- If you’d prefer to have your own place, expect to spend $500-$600 per month in a normal area outside of the city center. In a nicer area, expect to spend $700-$800 per month for a studio or one-bedroom. On this budget, you could live in Zona Rio, downtown, or Playas de Tijuana. 
  • Rent for two-bedroom apartments or houses- In a normal area outside of the city center, expect to spend $800 for a large apartment or home. In a nice area, expect to spend around $1000-$1200 per month for a 2-3 bedroom home.

The housing market has changed since I moved to Tijuana. In the past, it was possible to rent a decent apartment for just $300-$400 per month. You could rent a room for under $200 per month. This isn’t really possible anymore. Rent prices have increased substantially. Prices are still far lower than in San Diego but Tijuana isn’t as good of deal as it once was.

Locals like to blame the increasing housing cost on the number of Americans moving to the city but I’m not convinced that that is the cause.

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. 

CECUT Cultural Center of Tijuana
CECUT Cultural Center of Tijuana
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for details.

Zona Centro (Downtown Tijuana)

Downtown or Zona Centro is my favorite place to live in Tijuana. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive. 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.

Zona Rio (The Business District)

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 Mexican 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.

Zona Rio, Tijuana
Zona Rio, Tijuana

Playas de Tijuana (Beaches of 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.

Playas de Tijuana
Playas de Tijuana


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 is Soler. I haven’t spent much time here but it’s located conveniently near the border. It 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. 

A Few Neighborhoods to Avoid in Tijuana

Generally, you should avoid the neighborhoods of Camino Verde, Reforma, Sánchez Taboada, Tres de Octubre, Urbivilla Del Prado 2, and Mariano Matamoros. These are dangerous areas where organized crime takes place. 

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.
  • Look for ‘for rent’ signs- This is another good option. Simply walk around a neighborhood where you would like to live and look for signs, 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 great 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. In many cases, people advertising their homes and apartments on craigslist will speak English.
  • Word of mouth- Another good option. Ask your friends and people you meet if they know of any rooms or apartments for rent. Maybe their neighbor just moved out or their friend is looking for a roommate.

Buying Real Estate in Tijuana

If you plan to live in Tijuana long term, it is also possible to buy a home or apartment in the city. Foreigners can own real estate in Tijuana. There are some restrictions on foreign property ownership in Tijuana because the city sits close to an international border.

Real estate in Tijuana can be a good investment. The city is growing and property values are increasing. That said, there are some risks to buying real estate in a foreign country. It is also difficult to get a loan. Some banks will issue mortgages with a big down payment.

There are some nice condos and vacation homes available in Playas de Tijuana. Rosario is also a popular spot for foreigners to buy a home.

The Visa: Living in Tijuana Legally

Before you move to Tijuana, I recommend you visit for a month or two to see whether or not you like it.

You can stay in Tijuana for up to 6 months on a Forma Migratoria Múltiple (FMM visitors permit). This is basically a tourist visa for Mexico. The cost is 687 pesos (around $38). This document allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days. The FMM is available to people from most countries including U.S. citizens and Canadians. You can check your eligibility here.

You can apply for the FMM on arrival. You don’t need to arrange anything in advance. When you arrive at the border, you will fill out the FMM form. Sometimes the immigration official will fill it out for you. They will send you to a cashier to pay. They will then stamp the FMM form and your passport. If you prefer, you can also apply for the FMM online and pay with a credit card.

When your FMM visitor permit expires, you’ll have to leave Mexico. At this point, you could pay for a new visitor’s permit when you re-enter. This gives you a fresh 180 days. Alternatively, you could apply for a temporary residency visa. More on that in the next section.

It’s important to note that Mexico has been cracking down on people living on FMM permits. In some cases, you may not be granted the full 180 days. It depends on the immigration official. It can help to have proof of accommodation and proof that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay. The immigration officials in Tijuana are usually pretty lenient.

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 1 year. It is renewable for three additional years.

After being a temporary resident for 4 years, you can apply for permanent residency. It is also possible to apply for citizenship down the road.

To apply for a Temporary Residence Permit, you’ll need to visit a Mexican consulate or embassy outside of Mexico. There are many Mexican consulates located across the U.S. that offer temporary residency visas.

There is an income requirement to be eligible for this visa. Currently, you’ll need to show that you earn around $2500-$3300 per month depending on the consulate where you apply.

Dual citizens of Mexico and the U.S. don’t have to worry about visas.   

Living in Tijuana and Working in San Diego

Many expats who live in Tijuana commute across the border to the U.S. for work. They don’t work in Mexico. This works out well because U.S. salaries are far higher than salaries in Mexico.

The minimum wage in Mexico is 207 pesos per day ($11.35). That’s only about $340 per month. Of course, many people earn more than that but salaries are low.

To compare, the minimum wage in San Diego is $16.30 per hour. A minimum wage worker in San Diego makes more per hour than a minimum wage worker in Tijuana makes per day.

It would be easy to live in Tijuana, even if you’re only earning minimum wage in the U.S. That’s exactly what I did when I first moved to Tijuana. I was doing gig work for Uber and Amazon and I probably even earned less than minimum wage after all costs were considered.

If you’re earning an average salary in San Diego, you will be considered fairly wealthy in Tijuana. Currently, the average salary in San Deigo is just under $70,000 per year.

Commuting Between Tijuana and the United States: Crossing the Border

line of cars to cross from Tijuana to San Ysidro
The line to cross back into the U.S.

There are currently 2 border crossings between California and Tijuana: PedEast and Otay Mesa. There was a third crossing called PedWest but it was recently closed.

Both PedEast and Otay Mesa are open 24 hours. I prefer to use the PedEast crossing because it is closer to downtown and is more convenient for me. If you drive across the border or if you live in the east, the Otay Mesa crossing may be more convenient.

The wait can be long when walking across the border into the U.S. Oftentimes, you’ll have to wait 45 minutes to an hour or more. During busy periods, the wait may be over an hour and a half.

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.

There are a couple of ways to reduce the wait. You can use a 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.

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.

The Sentri Pass

To speed up the process of crossing the border, a special card is available called SENTRI Pass which allows you to cross the border within minutes. SENTRI Pass holders have a special fast lane that puts them in the front of the line. Unfortunately, there is around a 3 month wait time to get the card. Also, not everyonne is elligible.

How to get a SENTRI Pass

  1. Create a Trusted Traveler Account through the US Customs and Border Protection website here. 
  2. Complete the application and upload your supporting documents. These include your passport, driver’s license, and permanent residents card if applicable.
  3. Pay service fees. At this time, the application fee is $25. The system cost fee is $82.75. Fingerprint fee is $14.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 

Transportation Options in Tijuana

The most convenient way to get around Tijuana is to drive. There is public transportation but it is somewhat limited. The only options are shared minibuses, taxis, and rideshare.

If you choose not to drive in the city, there is an extensive network of minibuses that can get you anywhere in the city. One-way fare generally costs about 10-15 pesos depending on where you are going. The buses operate on set routes. You can hop on or off anywhere along the route.

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. Taxis are slightly more expensive.

Most neighborhoods are also quite walkable. 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

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. You can also buy Mexican auto insurance online. I recommend Baja Bound Mexican Insurance. Click the link to get a free quote in just a couple of minutes.

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. Many shopping centers also charge for parking.

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.

You do not need a temporary import permit to drive your vehicle in Tijuana. The Baja Peninsula is considered a free zone where a TIP is not required.

Getting to San Diego from Tijuana

San Diego, California
San Diego, California

Many San Diegans are choosing to live in Tijuana work in the San Diego area. Conveniently, the trolley runs from the PedEast 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. It runs less frequently at night.

I enjoy cycling. Often I will just ride my bike to the border, cross, and then take my bike on the trolley to San Diego. For more info, check out my post about traveling from Tijuana to San Diego by bicycle.

The U.S. - Mexico border
The U.S. – Mexico border

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 hotel while searching for an apartment. A few popular options include:

  • Hotel Ticuán- This historic mid-range hotel is located right in the middle of the city center on Avenida Revolucion. This is one of the most popular hotels in Tijuana.
  • Tijuana Marriott Hotel- This is probably the most upscale hotel in Tijuana. It is is located in Zona Río. 
  • Hotel Caesars- This is a highly rated and affordable hotel locate in Zona Centro.
  • Hotel Suiza- This is a small hotel located in Zona Centro on Calle Cien Niños Heroes.
  • Hotel Colonial- This is another small hotel in Zona Centro located on Calle Sexta.

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

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 the 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 are two ways to go about moving your belongings to Tijuana. You can hire a moving company to move everything for you or you can move by yourself.

Hiring 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 for 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 by 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 furniture 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.

Moving to Tijuana with a Dog or Cat

You can move to Tijuana with a cat or dog. As long as your pet is in good health, you don’t need any documentation to take them across the border with you. A health certificate is no longer required as of 2019. It’s a good idea to bring an up-to-date rabies vaccine certificate. Your pet may be inspected for parasites or diseases at the border.

For more info, check out my guide: Traveling to Mexico with a Dog or Cat.

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 out and about.

Statistically, Tijuana is a high-crime city. Violent crime, including homicide, is a major issue here. Foreigners aren’t targeted in violent crimes here. Most crime occurs among those involved in the drug cartels. The exception is mugging, which can be a risk to foreigners.

You do have to take some precautions here to stay safe. There are also some parts of the city that are best avoided. Most crime takes place outside of the tourist areas. Police presence is high in the areas that are frequented by tourists. These areas include Zona Centro, Zona Norte, Zona Rio, and Playas de Tijuana.

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.

Tijuana River
Tijuana River


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 touristy neighborhoods like Zona Centro, Zona Norte, and Playas de Tijuana at night is generally safe. You should avoid deserted areas. Stick to areas where there are lots of people.


Another crime that you’ll have to be careful of in Tijuana 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 woman 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

Unfortunately, Tijuana has a high crime rate. While living in Tijuana witnessed one violent crime. I was inside a bar during an armed robbery. You can read my story here.

Tourists are not targets for violent crime in Tijuana but it is possible to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Police Corruption

Unfortunately, police corruption is an issue in Tijuana. A police officer could pull you over while driving or stop you while you’re walking on the street and accuse you of a crime. For example, they could accuse you of driving without a seat belt or making an illegal turn. They will then solicit a bribe. They could ask for $100 or ask you to hand over your wallet.

To read about how to deal with this situation, check out my guide to police corruption in Tijuana.

Transportation Options in 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.

Most neighborhoods are also quite walkable. 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 and Banking 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. You’ll get a better exchange rate this way.

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. Currently, the exchange rate is 18.32 Mexican pesos per US dollar.

If you plan to live in Tijuana long term, you will want to open a bank account. In order to open a bank account, you will need proof of residency and your passport.

Another important thing to note is that living in Tijuana may complicate your taxes. If you become a tax resident in Mexico, you may have to pay taxes. It’s best to consult with a tax professional to make sure you’re handling your taxes correctly.

Healthcare While Living in Tijuana

Another benefit to living in Tijuana is access to affordable and quality medical care. Tijuana is a medical tourism destination. There are some very good clinics here. There are also lots of dentists.

If you get sick, you can visit a clinic for just 60-100 pesos. Dental work is 30-70% cheaper than the same work in the U.S. Doctor visits are also much more affordable. Wait times are short if you have private insurance.

Before getting any kind of treatment, be sure to do your research. The quality of care can vary.

To read more about healthcare in Tijuana, check out my step-by-step guide: Healthcare in Mexico for Americans

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 private insurance or travel insurance so you are covered in case of a catastrophe.

I recommend SafetyWing travel insurance.

Do You Need to Speak Spanish to Live in Tijuana?

No, you don’t need to speak Spanish to live in Tijuana. Many people in Tijuana speak at least a bit of English. It’s possible to get by with only English but it will be a struggle.

Speaking some Spanish will make your life a lot easier. You don’t need to be fluent. I would recommend you speak at least basic Spanish before moving to Tijuana. You can learn more when you arrive.

To help you get started learning, I would recommend you work your way through apps like 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 take Spanish lessons or hire a private tutor in Tijuana if you have the budget. 

My Spanish is at an intermediate level. I am able to get my point across in most situations just fine but I would not consider myself to be fluent yet. My Spanish has improved quite a bit since moving here. Hopefully, in another year or so I’ll be fluent.

Paseo de los Héroes and the Tijuana Cultural Center
The Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)

Schools and Education

The education system in Tijuana isn’t great. If you’re moving here with kids, you’ll probably want to send them to a private school. There are a couple of international schools. Of course, it would be an option to send your kids to school in San Diego if you don’t mind taking them across the border every day.

Who Should Move to Tijuana?

Tijuana is a popular destination for those who work in San Diego. Particularly if you only have to go in to work a few times per week. You can save a good amount of money if you’re willing to make the commute across the border.

Tijuana is also a good place for retirees from Southern California. You can live there for half the cost of the U.S. It would be possible to live off of social security. If you have doctors in the San Diego area, you can cross the border for appointments. You’ll also be near your friends and family in the U.S. It’s convenient.

Remote workers, freelancers, and digital nomads should also consider Tijuana. The city offers good internet speeds. There are some nice cafes and co-working spaces. Thanks to Tijuana’s proximity to the U.S. border, it’s easy to travel back to the States when necessary.

Pros and Cons of Living in Tijuana


  • Low cost of living
  • Good food, restaurants, and bars
  • Living in a foreign country is a unique experience
  • Good weather. It’s sunny and warm year round.
  • You can live near the beach
  • You can learn a new language
  • The people are friendly and welcoming
  • Great nightlife
  • Good healthcare
  • Fast and reliable internet


  • Safety can be an issue. The city has a high crime rate
  • Crossing the border is a hassle. The wait times are long
  • It’s not the most beautiful city
  • The public transportation system is bad
  • Prices are increasing. It’s not as good of a value as it was.
  • It’s not as clean and nice and developed as California
  • Police corruption
  • It will complicate your taxes

My Experience Living in Tijuana and Working in San Diego

I initially moved to Tijuana for affordable housing. I was tired of the high rents in Southern California. When I first arrived, I stayed in a hotel while I searched for an apartment. I ended up renting a room in a 3-bedroom apartment in Zona Rio, near Hospital Angeles. I think I paid about $200 per month. Later, I moved to 5y10. I rented a studio apartment for just under $200 per month. My total monthly cost of living was under $1000.

After living in Tijuana, for a little over a year, I did some traveling in Mexico. I stayed in Mexico City for a few months then traveled to southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula. I later returned to Tijuana because I liked being near friends and family in Southern California.

Over the years, prices have increased quite a bit. These days, I pay close to $600 per month to rent a decent apartment in a safe area. The cost of food has increased quite a bit as well. Still, I find Tijuana to offer a good value.

I don’t just live here because it’s cheap. Over the years, I’ve had some good times living in Tijuana. People here are friendly, the nightlife is good, and there are some excellent restaurants. The city has also really improved in recent years. Over the past decade, new businesses have been opening up everywhere including some really nice bars and restaurants. Personally, I love Tijuana.

Final Thoughts

Tijuana can be a great place to live. Unfortunately, most people think of it as a dusty, crime-filled border town. It is so much more than that. The city has a rich history. Tijuana can offer a good quality of life to expats.

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. The close proximity to the U.S. is the only reason I chose Tijuana specifically. 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!

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Thursday 18th of May 2023

05/2023 What are rent prices?

apt/singles -Tijuana.

Darren McLeod

Friday 13th of January 2023

Thanks for the complete overview. I've yet to vusit it, but you've made much more compelling.



Saturday 15th of October 2022

It seems that prices have gone up significantly, even like $700-1000+ a month in Zona Centro or Buena Vista. I looked up listings in Spanish and it seems that is the cheapest one can find. Are there any tips on where to look for apartments in the post-covid era? Thanks


Monday 17th of October 2022

Yeah, prices have increased a lot over the past couple of years. There are a couple of Facebook groups where people advertise apartments. You can find some better prices there but there are lots of scams and low-quality apartments to sort through. If you search 'departamentos Tijuana' you'll find the groups.

Peter Cole

Thursday 22nd of September 2022

Hello, I'm planning to move to Tijuana and I would like to go down for a day or two and hire a translator to help me look for apartment and neighborhoods - maybe a driver, although I have a car. If you know someone or could refer me to someone that could help please let me know.

I'd like to come down next Monday September 26.


Sunday 31st of July 2022

Great guide! Thank you so much for sharing.

A note about crossing legally: An alternative to the SENTRI pass that people should consider is the Global Entry card, which is about $20 cheaper and can be used with air, ground, and sea travel. As long as you register your vehicle during the process of obtaining your Global Entry card, it allows you to drive across to Tijuana the same way the SENTRI card does. One thing to note is that everyone in the vehicle (including children of any age) must have a trusted traveler card (SENTRI, Global Entry, or other) in order for this to work.


Tuesday 2nd of August 2022

Good tip!

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