Walking Across the Border to Tijuana

by wheretheroadforks

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, it can feel a bit intimidating the first time because this is possibly the business border crossing in the world. This guide outlines walking to Tijuana, step-by-step.

This short video outlines the main points of the article. 

Things You Will Need when Walking to Tijuana

Passport

You need to bring your passport. Either the book style or card style is fine. In the past, documents were not checked when entering Mexico. You could get away with just a drivers license or birth certificate. This is no longer the case. Your documents will be checked both entering and leaving Mexico.

Money

You will also need some cash. I recommend you bring some pesos. People will tell you that this is unnecessary but I disagree. While dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere in Tijuana, you can almost always get better deals by using pesos. There are several currency exchange booths at the San Ysidro trolley station where you can exchange cash. You can also wait until you cross and use your credit or debit card to withdraw pesos from an ATM. If you decide to do this, be sure to notify your bank before using your card in Mexico. 

Starting in San Diego

For this guide, I will assume you are starting in downtown San Diego. If you’re not already there, I recommend you take the Greyhound bus. 

Without a Car

To get to the border you need to make your way to a trolley station. Get on a blue line train heading toward San Ysidro. Ride the train all the way to the end of the line. The ticket costs $2.50 for a one-way fare. The ride takes about 40 minutes from downtown San Diego.

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

With a Car

If you are driving, you will want to take the freeway 5 South and get off at the East San Ysidro Blvd exit. Don’t miss this exit or you’ll end up driving into Mexico. Once you get off the freeway, continue straight down San Ysidro Blvd until you see Jack in the Box. The cheapest place to park is in the paid lot behind the Jack in the Box. They charge about $21 per day during the week and a bit more on weekends and holidays. From there, you are just across the street from the trolley station.

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

line of cars waiting at the Tijuana border

Waiting to cross back into the U.S.

Before you Cross the Border

You will want to get some pesos. There are ATM’s and currency exchange booths at the trolley station. Also, if you need to use the restroom, there is a McDonald’s at the trolley station. They charge a small fee to use the restroom.

U.S.-Mexico Border

How to Walk From San Ysidro to Tijuana

From the trolley station, just follow signs to the border. The path is well marked and everyone is going to the same place. Follow the crowd. You will walk through a large metal turnstile and into a building where a Mexican immigration official will check your passport. The walk from the trolley station to the border is around a block. 

A Note about the Visa

If you are staying in Mexico for less than 7 days, then you will not have to pay for an FMM Visitors Permit (similar to a tourist visa). They will ask you to fill out an immigration slip then stamp your passport and send you on your way.

If you are staying in Mexico for longer than 7 days, then you will need to pay for a visitors permit. This can be purchased at the border for 500 pesos. You will be sent to a window to pay for the visa and fill out a form. It is valid for 180 days. Keep your receipt. If you are exiting at another border in the south of the country, they may try to make you pay again.

For a step-by-step guide to entering and exiting Tijuana, check out my guide: Do I Need a Visa to Visit Mexico? The FMM Visitors Permit Explained.

After You Exit Mexican Immigration

Just keep following the crowd. You will walk for about 2 blocks until you arrive at a street called Frontera. From here, you have 4 options to get to downtown Tijuana. Listed from most expensive to least expensive they are:

  1. Take a taxi- Once you are on the street you can flag down a cab. Tell them you want to go to El Centro and that you will pay $5. They’ll try to charge more but the going rate is $5-$6.
  2. Take an Uber- Depending on the time of day, this will cost $3-5. The app works the same way in Mexico as it does back home. For more info, check out my guide: Using Uber in Tijuana.
  3. Take a colectivo (shared minibus)- This costs 10 pesos (about 50 cents). I recommend this option because it’s cheap and saves you a 30 minute walk. To do this, just look right on the first street you came to after leaving immigration (Frontera). You will see a couple of vans lined up. You want to get in the one that says ‘centro.’ Ask one of the attendants if you need help. These buses leave about every 10 minutes, 24 hours per day. They leave when they are full. The ride from the border to downtown is about 10 minutes depending on traffic.
  4. Walk- It is about a one mile walk from the border to downtown Tijuana. I’ll detail step-by-step directions below.

How to Walk from the Border to Downtown Tijuana

  • Once you reach the first street after crossing the border called Frontera, stay on the right side of the street and take a right.
  • Walk up the incline and cross the bridge that goes over the cars waiting to cross into the U.S.
  • After crossing the bridge, continue walking straight. You’ll walk down a hill alongside a busy street. Continue until you reach a big intersection.
  • Take a right at the intersection and walk about 50 feet. You’ll see a taxi stand across the street. Cross toward the taxi stand and you will be at a walking street.
  • Now you are on the walking path to downtown. Follow this street over the Tijuana River and continue until you reach the big arch. On your way, you’ll cross a few streets. Just continue along the walking street and you’ll end up downtown. 
  • The arch is the heart of downtown Tijuana. It is located at the start of the main tourist street, Avenida Revolución.

If your destination is Tijuana Airport

After crossing the border, you’ll have to take a Taxi or Uber to get to Tijuana airport (TIJ). It is located on the border about 5 miles east of the crossing. 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)

A Note About Safety in Tijuana

During the day it is safe to walk between the border and downtown. I do not recommend making this walk after dark. Just take a taxi, Uber, or colectivo. I have heard several stories of muggings happening on the bridge that goes over the Tijuana River. The bridge has dark staircases where criminals can hide.

If you must walk at night, do not cross the bridge alone. Ask someone else to walk with you. There is safety in numbers. One night I met a local man waiting for someone to cross with. He told me about how the previous week he had been held at knifepoint by a group of guys and robbed. This is how I learned this tip.

Walking around downtown Tijuana and Zona Río is relatively safe at all hours. There is a pretty heavy police presence but they cannot stop all crime. Also, 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. I have friends who have been stopped by corrupt police and searched and asked for bribes. I have never experienced this myself.

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

Bridge over the Tijuana River

Bridge over the Tijuana River

Walking Back to the US from Tijuana

You can get back to the border the way you came. If you take a taxi, just tell the driver you are going to the border (‘la frontera’ or ‘la linea’ in Spanish.) There are two border crossings. If you plan to take the trolley back to San Diego, you want to go to the Eastern crossing. It’s called Ped East.

The second crossing lies just a few blocks to the west. It’s called Ped West. It’s only around a 10 minute walk between the two crossings. 

Generally, there is only a short wait to cross back into the U.S on foot. There are a few busy times that you want to avoid. For example, Sundays and most afternoons during the holidays are very busy and you’ll have to wait over an hour if you are unlucky. The lines are kind of unpredictable.

For info on wait times, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website. 

Travel Insurance

Most likely, your US medical insurance won’t cover you if something happens while you’re in Tijuana. You have to consider if you want to risk being uninsured. Before I leave the country, I always purchase travel insurance. It just gives me a little peace of mind. I like World Nomads. I have used them for all of my international trips and have had good luck with them. For more information, you can check out my travel insurance page.

Final Thoughts about Walking to Tijuana

For most visitors, parking on the US side and walking to Tijuana is the safest and most convenient option. This way, you don’t have to worry about buying Mexican auto insurance and driving in a foreign country. You can easily get around the city by public transportation using taxis, Uber, and colectivos.

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: Moving to Tijuana as an American.

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

More Tijuana Guides from Where The Road Forks
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6 comments

I C September 8, 2019 - 5:30 pm

I walk across the border about four times a month. Excellent article. Avoid the private taxis for safety reasons and to save money. You’ll see the drivers hanging out next to the unpaved parking upon exiting mexican customs at ped east. Just say ‘gracias’ and move along to Frontera St.

Reply
wheretheroadforks September 8, 2019 - 8:34 pm

Good advice! I always recommend people take Uber or the white taxi libre from the border into town. The yellow cab guys are too aggressive and scammy.

Reply
erik January 23, 2020 - 1:57 pm

About how long a walk is it in total from the trolley to where you can catch a cab or Uber? I have bad legs from MS and am trying to figure out if the walk is doable for me. Thanks!

Reply
wheretheroadforks January 23, 2020 - 2:52 pm

I would say the walk is about 3-4 blocks or maybe .4 miles. On the Mexico side, you can hire a guy to help you carry your luggage the last 2 blocks or so. You’ll see guys standing around with small carts. I feel like I have also seen some guys offering wheelchair service but I can’t remember for sure. Hope this helps.

Reply
Joanna February 10, 2020 - 12:02 am

I want to move to downtown TJ and walk across the border each morning to then hop on the trolley which takes me to my job in downtown SD. What time should I arrive at the border to walk across in order to hop on the trolley at 8am M-F? How long does it take to walk across the border M-F at 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm? I know these are very specific questions so I obviously don’t expect you to know them each. Just wondering if you know any answer to any of the questions. Thanks

Reply
wheretheroadforks February 11, 2020 - 4:11 pm

The wait times at the border vary. Sometimes you can cross in 15 minutes and sometimes you have to wait for an hour. I think the best way to answer your questions would be for you to periodically check the wait times online on the US Customs and Border Protection website here.

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