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Walking Across the Border to Tijuana from San Diego

After spending over a year living in Tijuana and working in San Diego, I have made the walk across the border hundreds of times. Admittedly, the crossing can feel a bit intimidating the first time because it is so large and busy. This guide outlines the process of walking across the border to Tijuana from San Diego. I’ll cover how to travel from San Diego to Tijuana, which documents you need to cross the border, how to get from the Mexican border to downtown Tijuana, the best time to cross, safety considerations, costs, and more. I’ll also talk a bit about driving across the border.

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

How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana
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How to Walk to Tijuana

– Step 1: Take the San Diego Trolley Blue Line to San Ysidro Station ($2.50). This is the end of the line. Alternatively, you can drive to San Ysidro and park in a border parking lot on the U.S. side of the border ($10-$25 per day).

– Step 2: Walk one block to Mexican immigration. You’ll need your passport. Here, you will fill out an FMM visitor’s permit. You get the form at the border. If you’re staying in Mexico for less than 7 days, the permit is free. If you’re staying more than 7 days, it costs 687 pesos ($38).

– Step 3: After exiting immigration, walk about one block to Frontera street. Take a Taxi, Uber, or shared minibus to your destination in Tijuana. A taxi or Uber to downtown or Zona Rio costs $5-$7. A shared minibus to downtown cost 10 pesos. The ride takes around 10 minutes. You can also walk downtown from the border. It’s a 1 mile walk.

The line to cross into Mexico is usually short. Expect to wait 10-15 minutes to cross into Mexico. The line to cross back into the U.S. is usually long. Expect to wait 1-2 hours depending on the time and day of the week that you cross.

A view of Zona Rio, Tijuana at night.
Paseo De Los Heroes in Zona Rio, Tijuana

Table of Contents

Border Crossings Between San Diego County and Tijuana

Before your trip, you’ll want to decide where you’re going to cross the border. There are three places where pedestrians can walk across the border from San Diego county into Tijuana. These border crossings include:

  • San Ysidro Port of Entry (PedEast)- This is the main pedestrian crossing at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The entrance is located near the San Ysidro trolley station. This crossing is always open. For most visitors, this is the most convenient option. There are paid border parking lots nearby where you can park and walk across.
  • Otay Mesa Port of Entry- This is a smaller crossing to the east that links the San Diego suburb of Otay Mesa with the Otay Centenario borough of Tijuana. This crossing is open 24 hours. There are also border parking lots nearby.
  • Cross Border Xpress (CBX)- This is a pedestrian bridge that links Tijuana International Airport to the U.S. side of the border. You can only cross here if you’re flying out of Tijuana airport. I’ll talk more about this crossing in a later section.

There used to be another pedestrian crossing called PedWest. This smaller crossing is located near the Outlets At The Border in San Ysidro, about a 10 minute walk from PedEast. The PedWest crossing closed in October of 2021 but it may re-open in the future.

How to Travel From San Diego to the Border

Downtown San Diego, California
San Diego

There are lots of ways to get to the border. For the purposes of this guide, I will assume you are starting your trip in San Diego.

You’re going to be crossing the international border on foot. First, you need to travel from San Diego to the Border. The main crossing is actually located in the city of San Ysidro. This is a distance of about 16 miles or 25 kilometers.

To get to the border, you can drive and park in a border parking lot on the U.S. side. You can take the San Diego trolley. You could also take a rideshare or taxi to the border. It is also possible to take the bus to the border. In the following sections, I’ll outline each option.

Taking the Trolley from San Diego to the Border

For most travelers, the San Diego trolley is the most convenient way to travel from San Diego to the border. This light rail system runs all the way from San Diego to PedEast, the main San Ysidro border crossing. The trolley drops you off about a block from the border.

The trolley ticket costs $2.50 for a one-way adult fare. A day pass costs $6. Reduced fares are available for senior, disabled, medicare, and youth passengers. These cost $1.25 for a one-way ticket and $3 for a day pass. Tickets are valid on trollies and city buses. Transfers are included.

To take the trolley to the border, you want to catch a blue line train running south. There are several blue line stops in downtown San Diego including America Plaza, Petco Field, and Barrio Logan. You can also catch the Blue Line trolley further south in the communities of National City, Chula Vista, and Imperial Beach.

Trolley station in San Diego
A trolley station in San Diego

Once you’re on the blue line trolley heading south, ride the train all the way to the end of the line. This is the San Ysidro trolley stop. The ride takes about 40-50 minutes from downtown San Diego to the San Ysidro trolley station.

The trolley also has 2 other lines that connect many of San Diego’s suburbs including Mission Valley, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, El Cajon, and Santee. If you’re staying in one of these areas, you can hop on a green or orange line train and transfer to the blue line once you reach downtown.

San Diego’s public bus system is also connected to the trolley system. If you’re not near a trolley stop, you can catch a bus heading toward downtown and transfer to the trolley. The same ticket works on the whole Metropolitan Transit System (MTS).

For more in-depth info, check out my guide to taking the San Diego trolley to Tijuana.

There is free parking at many of the trolley stations. You can park in these lots for up to 24 hours. These are a convenient option for those who are just making a day trip to Tijuana. This way, you avoid expensive border parking. You can find a list of these free parking lots here.

You can also bring your bicycle with you on the trolley at no extra charge. For more information, you can read my guide: Traveling from San Diego to Tijuana by Bicycle.

Taking the Bus from San Diego to the Border

San Diego city busses also travel to the border. You can catch a 901 bus either downtown or on Coronado Island. You’ll have to transfer to a 906 bus at the Iris Avenue Transit Center.

If you want to travel to the Otay Mesa Crossing by public transit, you’ll have to take the bus. Bus 225 and 950 both travel from downtown San Diego to Otay Mesa. You can catch bus 225 at the Santa Fe bus depot downtown. you can catch bus 950 from the Iris Avenue blue line trolley station.

It is also possible to take the Greyhound bus to the border. Greyhound has a bus stop right next to the San Ysidro transit center. From here, you’re just steps away from the PedEast crossing. This is a convenient option if your trip in Los Angeles or Phoenix or further away.

Greyhound also offers service from San Diego to Tijuana Central Bus Station and the Tijuana airport. This journey takes a little over an hour. You’ll have to exit the bus at immigration and wait for everyone’s travel documents to get checked. Tickets cost $15-$25. This option really only makes sense if you don’t feel comfortable walking across the border by yourself or if you’re going to the airport.

Driving from San Diego to the Border

line of cars waiting at the Tijuana border
By walking across the border you avoid having to wait in this line.

If you plan to cross at the main San Ysidro crossing (PedEas), the easiest way to get there is to take I5 or I805 South and get off at the East San Ysidro Blvd exit. Don’t miss this exit or you’ll end up driving into Mexico. There is no turnaround if you miss the exit.

Once you exit the freeway, continue straight down San Ysidro Blvd. Along this road, you’ll find a number of paid border parking lots. Prices vary depending on the day of the week.

Some lots charge by the hour and some by the day. A common deal is $9 for 10 hours or around $25 per 24 hours. Keep in mind that these lots can fill up during weekends and holidays. Prices are also higher during these times.

The cheapest lot I have found is called International Parking. They charge about $21 per day during the week and a bit more on weekends and holidays. They don’t get the best reviews but they’re cheap. There is another parking lot called Border Station Parking. I’ve never used this one but it gets decent reviews.

From the parking lot, you are around 1-2 blocks from the border. There are also a few lots located further from the border that offer free shuttle service to and from the border.

To save on parking, you can read my guide about how to park for free at the border.

If you plan to cross at the Otay Mesa crossing, you’ll want to take freeway 905 or 125. Exit the freeway at the Siempre Viva Road exit. If you don’t, you’ll end up driving into Mexico. You’ll find several border parking lots in the area.

Taking an Uber, Lyft, or Taxi from San Diego to the Border

You can also take an Uber, Lyft, or taxi from San Diego to the border. This is the most expensive option. An Uber from downtown San Diego to PedEast costs around $50-$70 depending on traffic. Your driver can drop you off just outside of your desired border crossing.

In the past, Uber drivers could drive you across the border to Tijuana. This service was called UberPassport. This option is no longer available as far as I am aware. You’ll have to get out of the car at the border and walk across to Tijuana. After you cross, you can order another Uber in Tijuana to take you to your destination.

U.S.-Mexico Border

Which Documents Are Required to Walk to Tijuana?

To walk to Tijuana all you’ll need is a valid passport (book or card style). It is also possible to cross with an enhanced driver’s license or a SENTRI Card. In addition, you’ll need an FMM visitor’s permit (more on that later)

How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana

In this section, I’ll outline how to walk across the border to Tijuana, step-by-step. The crossing process is pretty simple. It can feel a bit confusing and intimidating because the area is so large and busy and because security is so tight.

Step 1: Arrive at the Border

The trolley or Greyhound bus drop you off at the San Ysidro Trolley Station. From here, you’re about a block from the PedEast crossing.

From the border parking lots, you might have to walk a couple of blocks. Some companies offer a free shuttle service between the parking lot and border. They can drop you off at the PedEast crossing.

The Otay Mesa crossing has a similar setup. The city bus drops you off near the pedestrian crossing. There are also parking lots nearby.

Step 2: Walk to Mexican Immigration

Once you arrive at the border area, follow the signs to the Mexican immigration building. The path is well marked and everyone is going to the same place. Follow the crowd. You can’t really get lost here.

You will walk down a pathway, through a large metal turnstile, and into the Mexican immigration building. There is no exit procedure from the United States. You walk straight to Mexican immigration.

When you enter the immigration building, there are two lines. One line is for Mexican citizens and residents. The other line is for everyone else.

Wait in the second line until you can speak to a Mexican immigration official. The wait is usually 10-20 minutes. Sometimes there is no wait at all.

Step 3: Pass through Mexican Immigration

The Mexican immigration official will check your passport and hand you an immigration form to fill out. Alternatively, they may ask you some questions about your trip and fill out the form for you.

This form is called the FMM (Forma Migratoria Múltiple.) It asks for standard travel information such as your name, passport number, how long you’ll be staying in Mexico, where you’re staying, etc. I’ll explain this form more in-depth in the next section.

Step 4: Pay the FMM Fee

If you plan to stay in Mexico for less than 7 days, the immigration officer will stamp your passport and the completed FMM form and send you on to customs.

If you plan to stay in Mexico for 7-180 days, the official will send you to a bank window to pay an FMM permit fee. The the bank is located in the immigration building just a few steps from passport control.

The FMM fee costs 684 pesos or around $38. You can pay the fee in cash in Mexican pesos or US dollars. You can also apply for the FMM online in advance and pay the fee with a credit or debit card.

After paying the fee, you will receive a receipt. Return to the immigration official with your receipt. They stamp your FMM form and send you through to customs. Be sure to keep your FMM form and receipt.

Step 5: Pass through Customs and Security

If you have nothing to declare, go ahead and get in the customs line. Once you reach the front of the line, you will place your luggage on a belt. It will pass through an x-ray machine, just like at an airport. You will also walk through a metal detector. The line moves quickly. Usually, you don’t have to wait more than 5 minutes to pass through customs.

If you have something to declare, you’ll have to go to the customs window to make your declaration and pay the necessary tax. You’ll see the customs window to your left after you leave immigration.

Step 6: Leave the Immigration Building and Enter Tijuana

After clearing customs, you can grab your luggage and exit the immigration building. Just follow the crowd. Everyone is walking in the same direction.

You’ll walk a couple of blocks until you exit the border area and enter the city. Now you’re in Tijuana. The first street you’ll come to is called Frontera. From here, you can walk or catch a bus, taxi, or Uber to your destination.

Do I Need a Visa to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana?

In most cases, no. Citizens of the United States, Canada, European Schengen area countries, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and a number of other countries, do not need a visa to enter Mexico for tourism or business purposes. If you are a citizen of one of these countries, all you need to walk across the border to Tijuana is a valid passport.

In addition, those who hold a valid permanent resident card from the United States, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Peru, the United Kingdom, or any European Schengen Area country also do not need a visa to enter Mexico.

If you hold a passport from one of these countries and do not have a resident card from one of the above-listed countries, you do need a visa to visit Mexico. In this case, you will need to arrange the visa in advance through your nearest Mexican embassy or consulate.

About the FMM Visitor’s Permit

Those who are able to enter Mexico without a visa will need to fill out an FMM form (Forma Migratoria Múltiple) upon arrival at the border in Tijuana. The FMM is a visitor’s permit or tourist permit. It is not a visa.

This document allows you to stay in Mexico for up to 180 days for tourism or business-related purposes. You need to fill out an FMM form, even if you’re only visiting Tijuana on a day trip. You will get an FMM form to fill out on arrival at the border.

A Mexican immigration official will either hand you an FMM form or fill it out for you. All you need to fill out the form is some basic travel information such as your name, passport number, how long you plan to stay in Mexico, the purpose of your trip, etc. It is a simple form that takes just a couple of minutes to fill out.

After the immigration official checks the form, they will tear off your copy, stamp it, and hand it back to you. You must carry this document with you while you’re in Mexico. Don’t lose it.

If you plan to stay in Mexico for less than 7 days, then you will not have to pay for an FMM Visitors Permit. If you plan to stay in Mexico between 7 and 180 days, then you will need to pay an FMM fee. The current FMM fee is 684 pesos or around $38. You will pay this fee in the immigration building.

With an FMM Mexico visitor’s permit, you can cross back into the U.S. and then return to Tijuana without having to pay the fee again. You can come and go as long as the FMM permit is still valid. If you fly out of Mexico or exit at another border, you will have to surrender the FMM and you can’t reuse it.

If you have to pay the FMM fee, be sure to keep your receipt. When exiting Mexico at another border or flying out of the country, you may need to show proof that you’ve already paid the fee or you could be charged again.

If you plan to stay in Mexico for longer than 180 days, you’ll have to apply for a temporary residency permit. You must apply for this at a Mexican consulate or embassy.

For more in-depth info, check out my complete guide to the FMM visitor’s permit and Mexican visas.

A bird's eye view of Tijuana
Tijuana

How to Get to Tijuana After Crossing the Border

Tijuana sits right on the border so you are in the city as soon as you exit immigration.

After you pass through immigration and customs, exit the building and keep following the crowd. You will follow a path for about 2 blocks until you exit the border area.

If you crossed at PedEast, you’ll arrive at Frontera street. From this street, you have 4 transportation options to get to downtown, Zona Norte, Zona Rio, Playas de Tijuana, or anywhere else you want to go in the city. To travel from the border into Tijuana you can:

Take a Taxi de Ruta (colectivo taxi or shared minibus)

Taxis de ruta are shared vans and busses that transport people around the city. They are Tijuana’s public transportation system. The rates and routes are fixed. You can hop on and off wherever you like along the route.

A taxi de ruta from the border area to downtown costs 10 pesos (about 50 cents). To catch one, continue walking until you arrive at the first street you come to after leaving immigration (Frontera if you crossed at PedEast). You will see a couple of vans or minibusses lined up on the street.

Most of these vans go downtown. There should be a sign in the window indicating the destination. There will also be an attendant who you can ask for directions. If you’re trying to go downtown, say ‘el centro?’.

From downtown, you can transfer to another taxi de ruta to take you to your destination. If you’re staying downtown, you can walk to your hotel.

I recommend this option because it’s cheap and convenient. There is always a taxi de ruta waiting at the border. These buses leave about every 10 minutes, 24 hours per day. They leave when they are full. The ride from the border to downtown takes about 10-15 minutes depending on traffic.

Take a Taxi

Once you exit the border area, you can flag down a cab on the street. Taxi drivers regularly drive by the border looking for customers. You won’t have to wait more than a minute or two.

If you do this, try to take a white ‘taxi libre’ rather than a yellow cab. White taxis have meters. Fares are cheaper. The yellow cabs have a fixed rate and are more expensive.

The going rate for a ride from the border to downtown, Zona Norte, or Zona Rio is around $6-$7. A ride to Plays de Tijuana costs around $15.

Before getting in the cab, you should ask the driver if they will use the meter. If they won’t you’ll need to negotiate the rate before you get in the cab. If you don’t, you will get overcharged. This is a common scam. Alternatively, you can wait for another cab.

Take an Uber

Uber in Tijuana is slightly cheaper than taking a taxi. Depending on the time of day, a ride from the border to downtown, Zona Norte, or Zona Rio costs about $5-$6. A ride to Playas de Tijuana costs around $12-$14.

The app works the same way in Mexico as it does back home. If you don’t want to use your credit card, you can opt to pay in cash if you prefer. For more info, check out my guide: Using Uber in Tijuana.

Walk

It is about a one mile walk from the border to Zona Centro or Zona Norte. I’ll detail step-by-step directions below.

It is also possible to walk to Zona Rio from the border. This is about a 1.7 mile walk. This is a pretty long walk. You can’t walk from the border to Playas de Tijuana or the airport. It’s too far.

You’ll only want to make the walk from the border if you’re arriving during the day. At night, it’s too dangerous. For more info on walking in Tijuana, check out my guide: Is Tijuana Safe?

How to Walk from the Border to Downtown Tijuana or Zona Norte

Most people who are visiting Tijuana want to go downtown. If you cross the border the main crossing during the day, you can easily walk to Zona Centro or Zona Norte.

In this section, I’ll outline how to walk from PedEast to downtown or Zona Norte Tijuana.

  1. After exiting immigration, follow the path until you reach the first street. This street is called Frontera.
  2. Take a right on Frontera street and stay on the right side of the street. You will walk up a slight incline and walk across a bridge that goes over the line of cars waiting to cross into the U.S.
  3. After crossing the bridge, continue walking straight on Frontera street. You’ll walk down a hill next to a busy street with a parking garage on yor right. Continue walking until you reach a big intersection.
  4. Cross the street at the intersection. The street you are crossing is called Avenida de la Amistad.
  5. After crossing, turn right and start walking down Avenida de la Amistad. You’ll walk about 50 feet until you see a walking street on your left.
  6. Turn left at the walking street. You’ll see the walking street right after you pass a taxi stand.
  7. Now you are on the walking street that leads directly to downtown Tijuana. This is called Calle Primera. Simply follow this street all the way downtow. You will walk over a big pedestrian bridge that passes over the Tijuana River. The bridge is called El Chaparral. You’ll also cross a couple of intersections on your way. Just continue along the walking street and you’ll end up downtown. You’ll know you’ve reached downtown when you see the big arch (Arco Monumental).  This walking street lets you off right at the base of it.
  8. The arch is the heart of downtown Tijuana. It is located at the start of the main tourist street, Avenida Revolución. Take a left down Avenida Revolución to walk through downtown.

Here is a map of the route on Google Maps.

How to Get to Zona Norte

If your destination is Zona Norte (the red light district), take a right at Avenida Revolución after you exit Calle Primera (the walking street). Walk straight until you get to Calle Coahuila (about 2 blocks). From there, take a left down Calle Coahuila and continue down the street for one block. This will take you to the heart of Zona Norte.

You can also take the taxi de ruta from the border to downtown and then walk to Zona Norte. Of course, you can also take a taxi or Uber.

Arco Monumental in Tijuana
Arco Monumental in Zona Centro, Tijuana

How to Get to Tijuana Airport (TIJ)

After crossing the border, you’ll have to take a Taxi or Uber to get to Tijuana airport. The airport is located on the border about 5 miles east of the main San Ysidro crossing or about 4 miles west of the Otay Mesa crossing. The ride from the border to the airport takes around 10-15 minutes depending on traffic.

Alternatively, you could use the Cross Border Xpress (CBX). This is a 390 foot pedestrian sky bridge that connects Tijuana airport with a special terminal on the U.S. side of the border in the city of Otay Mesa. You can walk directly to Tijuana airport from the U.S. without having to travel through Tijuana. In the terminal, you’ll pass through immigration and customs. You can pay for your FMM visitor’s permit here as well. It’s very convenient.

There are a couple of ways to get to the Cross Border Xpress terminal. You can drive and park your car at one of the lots. There are several lots at the CBX. The parking fee is around $15-$25 per day depending on which lot you use. There is also a shuttle service from San Diego, San Ysidro, Los Angeles, Fresno/Sacramento, and many cities in between. After you arrive at the terminal, you walk across the bridge into the airport.

It’s important to note that you can only use the Cross Border Xpress if you’re a ticketed passenger flying out of Tijuana airport. There is also a charge to use the Cross Border Xpress. A round-trip ticket currently costs around $32-$34 depending on the season.

At the Cross Border Xpress terminal, you’ll also find rental car agencies, currency exchange, a duty-free shop, and several food stands.

For more info, check out my guide: How to Fly Out of Tijuana Airport and Use The Cross Border Xpress

The Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT)

Walking Back to the U.S. from Tijuana

You can get back to the border with a taxi, Uber, taxi de ruta (shared minibus), or on foot.

If you take a taxi, tell the driver that you want to go to the border (‘la frontera’ or ‘la linea’ in Spanish.) You’ll also want to clarify which crossing you want to use (PedEast or Otay Mesa). If you take an Uber, you’ll set your desired border crossing as your destination.

From downtown, you can also catch a taxi de ruta that is heading to the border. These usually leave every 10-15 minutes. You can also walk to the border if you’re crossing during the day.

If you plan to take the trolley back to San Diego or catch a Greyhound bus, you want to cross at the PedEast crossing. To get to most border parking lots, you’ll also want to go to PedEast.

Once you arrive at the border, you’ll simply follow the path to the U.S. immigration building. You’ll see signs marking the way. You can also follow the crowd. Everyone is going in the same direction.

Passing through U.S. Immigration

There is no exit procedure for Mexico. Nobody checks your FMM upon exit. For U.S. citizens, all you need is your passport. Book and card style passports are both accepted. Alternatively, you can use a permanent resident card.

If you’re not a U.S. citizen, you may need a visa or an ETSA visa waiver to travel to the U.S. Be sure to check the travel requirements for your passport before your trip.

Chances are you’ll have to wait in line. There are three pedestrian lines at the crossings. One is for the general public, one is a Ready Lane, and the other is for those with a Sentri Pass or Global Entry.

Most tourists can use the Ready Lane. In order to use this lane, you’ll need a WHTI-compliant RFID-enabled card that is approved by the Department of Homeland Security. Examples include a passport card or an enhanced driver’s license. You can learn more about the Ready Lanes on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here.

If you don’t have an RFID-enabled card, you’ll have to use the general entry line. You’ll use this lane if you’re traveling with a regular passport book.

The wait time to walk across from Tijuana back into California varies. On average, I’d estmate the wait is around 1 hour. There are a few peak times that you want to avoid. For example, Sundays and holidays are very busy. Expect a long wait. During these times, you may have to wait in long lines for 1.5-2 hours if you are unlucky. If you’re in a hurry, the line is usually the shortest in the early morning before 7 am and late at night after 8 pm or so. The lines are kind of unpredictable.

You can check border wait times on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here.

Once you get to the front of the line, you’ll hand your passport to the U.S. immigration official. They’ll scan your document and ask you if you have anything to declare.

You’ll want to declare anything you bought in Tijuana that you’re bringing back across the border including alcohol, medications, tobacco, gifts, etc. There is an exception of $800 for gifts and personal items. Alcohol and tobacco products are restricted. For example, you can only bring one liter of alcohol with you. For info on exactly what you can bring back from Mexico, check out this guide.

After passing through immigration, you’ll pass through customs. You set your bag on a moving belt and it will pass through an x-ray machine. After your bag passes, you can grab it and leave the building. You’re back in the United States.

From there, simply follow the path back into San Ysidro or Otay Mesa. You can catch the trolley back to San Diego, a Greyhound bus to various destinations, or you can walk back to your parked car.

The hills of Tijuana

Is it Safe to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana?

Yes, it is perfectly safe to walk across the border to Tijuana. The area is heavily policed on both sides. There are cameras and security gates everywhere.

You also don’t have to worry about corruption at the border. The immigration officials are honest. Nobody will ask you to pay a bribe in order to cross.

The only fee you may be asked to pay is the FMM permit fee if you intend to stay for longer than 7 days. This is a legitimate fee. You will receive a receipt.

During the day it is safe to walk between the border and downtown Tijuana. I do not recommend making this walk after dark for safety reasons. Just take a taxi, Uber, or taxi de ruta.

I have heard several stories of people being held up by armed muggers while walking between the border and downtown Tijuana. These robberies usually happen on the bridge that crosses over the Tijuana River. The bridge has dark staircases where criminals can easily hide. The area also isn’t well policed at night. It gets scary. I don’t make this walk after dark for this reason.

If you absolutely must walk from the border to downtown at night, do not walk alone. Look for someone else making the walk and ask them 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. This is how I learned this tip.

Walking around downtown Tijuana, Zona Norte and Zona Río is relatively safe at all hours. There is a heavy police presence in these areas. Of course, you still need to remain cautious. Avoid deserted areas. It’s also best to avoid carrying valuables and lots of cash while out and about. Pickpocketing and robbery occur.

I was pickpocketed in downtown Tijuana. I was also inside a bar while it was robbed. The police cannot stop all crimes.

It’s also important to keep in mind that 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.

Police corruption is an issue in Tijuana. An officer can stop you on the street, search you, accuse you of a crime, and ask you to pay a bribe. Some officers ask you to hand over your wallet. This type of corruption is fairly common, unfortunately. The best way to avoid corrupt police is to obey the law and try not to draw attention to yourself. Dress down and walk with purpose. For more info, check out my guide to police corruption in Tijuana.

For more information on safety, check out my article: Is Tijuana Safe? Avoiding Common Scams and Crime.

What is the Fastest Way to Travel from San Diego to Tijuana?

The answer to this depends on the time of day and which crossing you’re using. Generally driving to the border, parking in one of the border lots, and walking across is the fastest way to get to Tijuana. You can usually drive from Downtown San Diego to San Ysidro in less than half an hour when traffic on I5 or I805 is light. When traffic is heavy, it can take an hour to make the same drive.

During busy commuter hours when traffic is heavy, the fastest way to get to Tijuana is usually to take the trolley and then walk across on foot. The trolley runs on time. It’s not held up by traffic. It usually takes around 40 minutes to get from downtown San Diego to the border.

FAQ About Crossing the Border to Tijuana

Bridge over the Tijuana River
The pedestrian bridge over the Tijuana River. This area can get dangerous at night.

How Long Does it Take to Travel from San Diego to Tijuana?

The total trip from downtown San Diego to downtown Tijuana will take around 75-90 minutes. The trolley takes around 40 minutes. You’ll spend 15-20 minutes in the immigration building. It will take another 15-20 minutes to travel downtown.

The wait to enter Mexico is usually 10-15 minutes. The line is usually pretty short. During rush hour, it may take up to 25 minutes. Late at night and in the early hours of the morning, there is often no line at all.

How Long Does it Take to Travel From Tijuana to San Diego?

The trip from Tijuana to San Diego can take anywhere from 2-3 hours.

Traveling back to the U.S. takes much longer because there is often a long wait at the border. The wait to cross back into the U.S. on foot is usually 60-70 minutes on average. It can be over 2 hours during holidays and busy weekends. If you cross late at night or early in the morning, you can often cross in less than 20 minutes.

One way to speed up the crossing is to get a SENTRI card or a Global Entry card. This allows you to cross in minutes. This could reduce the travel time to around an hour.

What is the Best Time to Travel from San Diego to Tijuana?

You can cross into Tijuana at any time. The border is always open. The wait is rarely over 20 minutes.

You will want to choose your crossing time more carefully when returning to the U.S to minimize the wait. The best times to cross are between 6 pm and 3 am. During these times, the wait is usually less than 20 minutes. You might also be able to reduce the wait by choosing a different crossing. Sometimes there is a shorter line at Otay Mesa. You’ll want to check the wait time before you go to the border. You can check the wait times here.

Can I Walk into Tijuana Without a Passport?

No. You need a valid passport to walk to Tijuana. Both passport books and passport cards are accepted. Mexican immigration will stop you and ask to see your passport. If you don’t have one, you won’t be allowed to enter. You will also need a passport to cross back into the United States.

There are some exceptions. It is possible to walk to Tijuana with a Sentri card or an enhanced driver’s license instead of a passport.

In the past, you could walk to Tijuana with just a driver’s license or birth certificate. This is no longer the case. Most travelers need a passport.

For more info, check out my guide: Do I Need a Passport to Go to Tijuana?

Can I Fly from San Diego to Tijuana?

No. There are no direct flights between San Diego and Tijuana because the distance is so short. The cities are less than 20 miles apart.

If you really wanted to fly, you could. You would have to make a layover in a third destination like Guadalajara, Mexico City, or Las Vegas. For this reason, it doesn’t make sense to fly between the two cities. It would require a full day of travel. Flying would take far longer than driving.

If you want to go to Tijuana airport, your best option is to use the Cross Border Xpress terminal.

Is There a Bus from San Diego to Tijuana?

Yes. Greyhound operates a bus from San Diego Bus Station to Tijuana Central Bus Station. The San Diego bus station is located at 1313 National Ave.

This route will take you to the border. The bus will stop at the border and everyone will get off and pass through Mexican immigration and customs. The bus will then proceed to Tijuana Central Bus Station.

This trip usually takes around 1 hour. A ticket costs about $15-$25 depending on the day of the week and the season.

Taking the bus really only makes sense if you want to go to the Tijuana bus station to transfer to another bus. The bus station is not really centrally located in Tijuana. If you’re visiting Tijuana for tourism, this isn’t really a convenient option.

Things You Need to Bring when Walking Across the Border to Tijuana

A Valid Passport

You need to bring your passport. Either the book style or card style is fine. Your passport will be checked by Mexican immigration when entering Mexico and by U.S. immigration when leaving.

In the past, documents were not checked when crossing into Mexico on foot. You could get away with just a driver’s license or birth certificate. This is no longer the case. You need a passport to visit Tijuana.

If you want to use the Ready Lane when crossing back into the United States, you’ll also need to bring a WHTI-compliant, RFID-enabled card such as a passport card or enhanced driver’s license.

For more info, check out my guide: Do I Need a Passport to Go to Mexico?

Money

You will need some cash for the trolley, taxis, Ubers, busses, and possibly the FMM visitor’s permit. You’ll also probably want to buy some food and drinks and souvenirs while you’re in Tijuana.

I highly recommend you exchange some dollars for pesos. People will tell you that this is unnecessary because dollars are widely accepted in Tijuana but I disagree. You can almost always get a better deal by paying with pesos.

You can exchange money on either side of the border. There are a couple of currency exchange booths near the San Ysidro trolley station. There are also exchange booths in downtown Tijuana.

You can also wait until you cross and use your debit card to withdraw pesos from an ATM in Tijuana. If you decide to do this, be sure to notify your bank that you plan to use your card in Mexico. Otherwise, they may assume that your card was stolen and shut it off.

You can also pay with a credit card at many grocery stores, convenience stores, and hotels. This is a good option if your card issuer doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. You’ll get the best exchange rate this way. Paying with credit cards also protects you from fraud. Before you travel, be sure to notify your card issuer so they don’t shut your card off.

Comfortable Walking Shoes

The border area is large and spread out. The distance from the entrance of the border zone to the exit is around 3-4 blocks. At the very minimum, you’ll be walking around a mile round trip.

If you decide to walk from the border to downtown Tijuana, you’ll be walking several miles. The tourist zones in Tijuana are also pretty walkable. Chances are you’ll want to stroll around these areas as well. Comfortable shoes are a must.

When you’re returning to the U.S., you’ll also have to stand in line. You might have to stand for an hour or more.

The border area is handicap accessible. The PedEast crossing is wheelchair friendly. There is a slight incline part of the way.

The Best Hotels and Hostels in Tijuana

  • 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 the city.
  • 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.

Travel Insurance

Most likely, your U.S. medical insurance won’t cover you if something happens to you while you’re visiting Tijuana. You have to consider if you want to risk being uninsured during your visit.

Before I leave the country, I always purchase travel insurance. This way, I’m covered if I get injured or if I experience an unexpected medical issue. Having travel insurance gives me a little peace of mind.

I use SafetyWing travel insurance.

A view of the Arch from Avenida Revolucion

Final Thoughts about Walking Across the Border to Tijuana

For most visitors, taking the trolley or parking on the U.S. side of the border and walking to Tijuana is the safest and most convenient way to get to Tijuana. This way, you don’t have to worry about buying Mexican auto insurance and driving in a foreign country. Crossing the border on foot is often faster than driving across as well.

once you arrive in Tijuana, you can easily get around the city using taxis, Uber, and taxis de ruta to get around. The main touristy areas of Tijuana are also pretty walkable. You don’t really need a vehicle to enjoy the city if you’re just spending an afternoon in downtown.

If you decide that you’d rather have your own transportation, check out my guide: How to Drive to Tijuana.

If you fall in love with Tijuana like I did, and you want to move there, you can read my guide: Living in Tijuana as an American.

Have you made the walk to Tijuana recently? Share your experience and tips in the comments below!

More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks

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Angie

Friday 2nd of February 2024

Hi Zachary, A very helpful article...thanks! I recently acquired dual citizenship (US and Mexico). Do you know if I'm expected to pay immigration if I'm using a Mexican passport? This will be my first land crossing.

Zachary Friedman

Monday 12th of February 2024

You won't have to pay. You should be able to just walk right through. They may take a quick look at your passport but that's about it.

Mike

Thursday 1st of June 2023

I’m a Temporary Resident in Mexico who will be exiting the country via a land border for the first time. You mention in your article that there’s no exit procedure when leaving Mexico, but from my understanding, residents are supposed to report to INM and get their passports stamped before exiting. Is there a place to do this when exiting Mexico near PedEast? Thank you!

wheretheroadforks

Saturday 10th of June 2023

I had never heard of that requirement. There isn't really any passport control for Mexico when you're leaving. There is an immigration office in Tijuana where you could ask.

M P

Thursday 2nd of March 2023

"You also don’t have to worry about corruption at the border. The immigration officials are honest"

I cross regularly and this is 100% not true. During the restrictions of COVID, people (myself included) were forced to buy the $30 FMM permit even if their stay was for one night. There are 2 particular border agents whom I recognize, and if they're working (afternoon until early evening), then you're paying. It's been less abusive recently (2023).

Also, you 100% can cross the border without a passport (or ANY documents). They'll take you to their back office, where the agent will eventually (yup, you guessed it) pay $30. The price varies depending on your negotiation skills. The agent may not initiate the request, they'll play verbal footsie with you until you offer the bribe.

Don't make it sound like the border agents are some magical people who are immune to corruption and bribery. They're normal people like everyone else.

Reinhard

Thursday 9th of February 2023

Thanks for this great read! Now I wanna share my experience real quick and hope it may be of help to others planning to cross the broder on foot. Long story short: Crossed into MX via PedEast on Jan.10, 2023, late AM in little less then 5mins. Mexican official only scanned my German passport, waved me through, then customs X-ray and on to downtown. Stayed two nights in TJ to get accustomed, flew out of TIJ to Cancun, stayed three weeks, flew back to TIJ, brief sightseeing and last Fish Tacos near the beach, then Uber to PedWest. Two MX officials stabnding there, one checked ID (my passport), then walked over that lengthy bridge, showed CBP at the turnstyle my I-94, headed to immigration booth inside the bldg. then walked out in little less than 3mins.

Wondering why I wasn't confronted at all with the FMM. Can't believe the requirement has been waived, elsewhere I read you have to proactively ask for the FMM, getting mixed infos. But I'm pretty sure you'd run into problems if let's say you enter TJ on foot like I did without getting the FMM, and then try to exit MX by plane. So, the only reason I have why I was able to "evade" the 30+USD fee for the FMM is that I went in and out on foot and MX authorities basically don't perform checks of FMM. Some food for thoughts for sure. Happy if my sort of unique experience helps!

Reinhard

Friday 10th of February 2023

@wheretheroadforks, yeah, this "fmm hack" seems to only work in this specific scenario, when walking in and out of TJ.

wheretheroadforks

Thursday 9th of February 2023

In some parts of Mexico, they are eliminating the FMM. Instead, they're doing everything electronically. I'm not sure exactly how you got out of the $30 fee. When you walked across the border, they probably assumed you were staying for less than 7 days. There is no fee if you stay for less than 7 days. Then you exited on foot where nobody checks. Anyway, sounds like you had a great trip. Thanks for the write-up.

Amy Holland

Thursday 2nd of February 2023

Hi, we are planning on crossing the border from Tijuana to San Diego after flying to Tijuana Airport. How much is a taxi to the border or is it best to use the Cross border express?

wheretheroadforks

Sunday 5th of February 2023

I can't remember how much I paid for a taxi at the airport. I think it's around $7-$10. You could take the Cross Border Xpress but that is more expensive. You'd also have to take a shuttle to San Diego. If you use the regular crossing, you could take the trolley from the border to San Diego.

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