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Walking Across the Border to Tijuana

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 step-by-step. I’ll cover how to travel from San Diego to Tijuana, what you’ll need to cross the border, how to get from the border to downtown Tijuana, safety considerations, costs, and more.

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

How to Walk Across the Border to Tijuana

A Bit of Info About Tijuana and the Border Crossing

The US-Mexico border lies 16 miles south of downtown San Diego. The last city on the U.S. side of the border is called San Ysidro, California. The city of Tijuana sits directly on the Mexico side of the border. After you cross, you’re less than a mile from downtown. Tijuana is the largest city in the state of Baja California, Mexico. It is the 6th largest city in Mexico with a population of just under 2 million.

The official name of the border crossing is the San Ysidro Port of Entry. This crossing is also known as El Chaparral. This is one of the busiest land border crossings in the World. Over 50 million people cross between San Diego and Tijuana each year. That’s over 100,000 per day. This includes around 70,000 vehicles and 20,000 pedestrians.

People cross from San Diego to Tijuana for a wide range of reasons. Thousands cross daily to go to work or attend school. Many locals cross occasionally to attend a doctor or dentist appointment, to get work done on their car, or to go shopping. Tourists cross for a day trip or to enjoy one of Tijuana’s many restaurants, bars, or clubs.

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

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 four places that pedestrians can walk across the border from San Diego county into Tijuana. These border crossings include:

  • PedEast- This is the main pedestrian crossing. The entrance is located near the San Ysidro trolley station. This crossing is always open. For most visitors, this is the most convenient option.
  • PedWest- This smaller crossing is located near the Outlets At The Border in San Ysidro. PedWest is open from 4am until 10pm. It’s around a 15 minute walk between PedEast and PedWest.
  • Otay Mesa- This is a smaller crossing to the east that links the San Diego suburb of Otay Mesa with the Otay Centenario neighborhood of Tijuana. This crossing is open 24 hours.
  • Cross Border Xpress (CBX)- This is a skybridge that links Tijuana 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.

How to Travel From San Diego to the Border

Downtown San Diego, California
San Diego

For the purposes of this guide, I will assume you are starting your trip in San Diego. If you’re not already in San Diego, you can get there by driving, taking the Greyhound bus, or flying. San Diego is a major city with plenty of connections.

You’re going to be crossing the actual border on foot. First, you need to travel from San Diego to the Border. This is a distance of about 16 miles. There are a number of ways to travel from San Diego to the Border.

Taking the Trolley or Bus 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 crossing. The trolley drops you off just steps 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.

Once you’re on the blue line heading south, ride the train all the way to the end of the line. 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).

Trolley station in San Diego
A trolley station in San Diego

Trolley Tips

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. 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. This way, you have free transportation once you arrive in Tijuana. 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 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 trolley station. From here, you’re just steps away from the PedEast crossing. This is a convenient option if your trip is starting outside of San Diego county.

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 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 (PedEast or PedWest), 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.

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 $25-$30.

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 but this option is no longer available. You’ll have to get out of the car at the border and walk across to Tijuana.

U.S.-Mexico Border

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, public bus, and 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 or PedWest crossing.

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

Step 2: Walk to Mexican Immigration

Once you arrive, 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 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. You should wait in the second line until you can speak to a Mexican immigration official. The wait is usually 10-20 minutes.

Step 3: Pass through Mexican Immigration

The Mexican immigration official checks your passport and hands 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.) I’ll explain this form more in-depth in the next section.

If you plan to stay in Mexico for less than 7 days, the official 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. This costs around $30. After paying the fee, you 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 4: 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 then pass through customs as outlined above.

Step 5: Leave Immigration 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. 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?

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. This will need to be arranged in advance through your nearest Mexican embassy or consulate.

A Note 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.

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 594 pesos or around $30. You will pay this fee at a small bank window in the immigration building. The immigration official checking your passport and FMM form will tell you where to pay.

With an FMM visitor’s permit, you can cross back into the U.S. then return to Tijuana without having to pay the fee again. You can come and go as you please as long as the FMM permit is still valid.

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

After Exiting Immigration and Entering Tijuana

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 and arrive at a street. Tijuana sits right on the border so you are in the city when you exit immigration.

If you crossed at PedEast, you’ll arrive at Frontera street. If you cross at PedWest, you’ll arrive at José María Larroque street. From these streets, 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. Listed from most expensive to least expensive transportation options from the border into Tijuana include:

  1. Take a taxi

Once you exit the border area, you can flag down a cab on the street. Taxi drivers regularly park and drive by here. You won’t have to wait long. Try to take a white ‘taxi libre’ rather than a yellow cab. White taxis have meters and 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 or Zona Rio is around $5-$6. A ride to Zona Rio costs around $6-$7. A ride to Plays de Tijuana costs around $15.

You’ll need to negotiate the rate before you get in the cab. Alternatively, you can insist that the driver use the meter. If you don’t, you will get overcharged. This is a common scam.

2. 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 or Zona Norte costs about $4-5. A ride to Zona Rio costs around $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.

4. 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. Rates and routes are fixed. You can hop on and off wherever you like along the taxi 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?’.

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 minutes depending on traffic.

5. 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. 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 first. If you cross the border at one of the main crossings during the day, you can easily walk to Zona Centro.

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 bridge that passes over the Tijuana River. The bridgeis 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.
Arco Monumental in Tijuana
Arco Monumental in Zona Centro, Tijuana

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.

If your destination is 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 minutes depending on traffic.

Alternatively, you could use the Cross Border Xpress. 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.

There are a couple of ways to get to the Cross Border Xpress terminal. You can drive and park your car at one of several lots. There is a parking fee of $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.

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 US 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, PedWest, or Otay Mesa). If you take an Uber, you’ll set your desired border crossing as your destination. From downtown, you can 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. If you want to go shopping at Las Americas Premium outlets, you’ll want to use the PedWest crossing.

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. There is no exit procedure for Mexico. Nobody checks your FMM upon exit. All you need is your passport.

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

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 Lane on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website here.

The wait time to walk across from Tijuana back into California varies. On average, I’d say the wait is around 1 hour. 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 around 2 hours if you are unlucky. If you’re in a hurry, the line is usually the shortest early in the morning before 7 am and late at night after 8 pm or so. The lines are kind of unpredictable. You can check 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 info on exactly what you can bring back from Mexico, check out this guide.

After passing through immigration, you’ll pass through customs. This works the same way as Mexican immigration. 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 a 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. Nobody will bother you while crossing the border.

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. This crime usually happens 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 no longer 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. 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 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

Frequently Asked Questions About Walking to Tijuana

  • 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 is heavy, it can take an hour to make the same drive. During busy commuter hours during the mourning and evening, the fastest way to get to Tijuana might be to take the trolley then walk across on foot.
  • How long does it take to walk across the border to Tijuana? The wait to enter Mexico is usually 10-15 minutes 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. 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.
  • What is the Best Time to Travel from San Diego to Tijuana? You can cross into Tijuana at any time. The wait is rarely over 20 minutes. You want to choose your crossing time 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 PedWest or Otay Mesa. Remember, not all crossings are open 24 hours. You’ll want to check the hours adn 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. 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 als oneed a passport to cross back ino the United States.

Things You Will Need when Walking Across the Border to Tijuana

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.

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 but I disagree. While dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere in Tijuana, you can almost always get a better deal by paying with pesos.

You can exchange money on either side of the border. There are several 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 credit or debit card to withdraw pesos from an ATM. 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 a credit card 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 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.

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, robbed, or if I experience an unexpected medical issue. Having travel insurance gives me a little peace of mind.

I use World Nomads travel insurance. I have used them for all of my international trips and have had good experiences with them. For more information, you can check out my travel insurance page.

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 option. 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 collectives. The main touristy areas of Tijuana are also pretty walkable. You don’t really need a vehicle to enjoy the city.

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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Autumn

Wednesday 2nd of June 2021

Awesome post the most current I have found. Since you are crossing regularly do you know If entering Mexico with a expired passport would be possible? Due to covid the passport agency’s are unavailable to renew in time for my trip. And if I were able to get in have you rented a car there? Would I need a passport for that? Most sites say just a license . And last if I get in and don’t rent a car what would be your recommendation for travel to rosarito?

wheretheroadforks

Thursday 3rd of June 2021

I'm not sure if you'll be able to cross with an expired passport. I've never tried. It may depend on the immigration official that checks your passport. Some might let you through while others may not allow you to enter. If you're going to be near the border anyway, you could try. I'm pretty sure all you need to rent a car is your driver's license.

If you don't rent a car, you can easily take the bus or a minibus to Rosarito. From the border, you can walk to the ABC bus station to catch a bus. I think they leave every 30 minutes. You could also go downtown and catch a minibus (taxi ruta). The ticket costs a few dollars. I think they leave from 3rd or 4th street. You could also take an Uber for around $25. That would probably be the quickest and most convenient option. It's only about a 12 mile trip from Tijuana to Rosarito but it can take around a half-hour with traffic.

Deanna Poland

Friday 19th of February 2021

I am In Puerto Vallarta I flew in here on 11 February. I tested positive for Covid and cannot fly into the US. They do not require a negative test to fly the Mexican airlines. If I flew into Tijuana would I be able to cross the border even though I flew in to begin with! I’ve heard that it can sometimes take up to months for you to test negative that’s why I’m looking at different options. I hope that you were able to help me if you email me I will give you my phone number and maybe we can talk by phone

wheretheroadforks

Saturday 20th of February 2021

Hi, I believe you could cross back into the U.S. overland from Tijuana but I'm not 100% sure. Technically, the land border is closed to non-essential travel but people are still crossing. I don't believe you need a test to cross overland. I don't think they can deny you entry if you're a citizen. They'll probably ask you some questions though. Sorry I can't be of more help.

Bob

Sunday 27th of September 2020

Don't you realize the main thing on people's mind is how long and what is the best way to get across the border into the US from Tijuana, either by car, bike or walking? I can't understand why you would leave this out.

wheretheroadforks

Friday 2nd of October 2020

The best way to cross really depends on the individual. Driving is probably the most convenient because you have your own transportation on both sides of the border. Some people aren't comfortable driving in Mexico though. The drawback to driving is that the wait to cross back to the US by car is often longer than the wait to cross on foot. The amount of time it takes to cross varies. During the middle of the day, you can often cross on foot in 15 minutes or less. If you're driving, the wait is often over an hour. During busy commuter hours or holidays, it can take over 2 hours to cross on foot and even longer by car.

Joanna

Monday 10th of February 2020

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

wheretheroadforks

Tuesday 11th of February 2020

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.

erik

Thursday 23rd of January 2020

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!

wheretheroadforks

Thursday 23rd of January 2020

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.

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