The San Ysidro border crossing can seem a bit intimidating if you’ve never done it before. However I have visited Tijuana many times and that is why I have decided to break down the best ways to cross the San Ysidro border.
Tijuana has really undergone a restoration process in the past couple of years. Slowly but surely Tijuana is shedding its darker past and reinventing herself as a culinary hub and craft brew mecca.
I was most surprised to see trendy little cafés and shopping areas beginning to pop up offering immense charm and culture to the once dilapidated city.
Even if you have visited Tijuana before, I assure you it is well worth the visit to meet the new Tijuana. 🙂
San Ysidro Border Crossing: Everything You Need to Know for Visiting Tijuana
Is Tijuana Safe?
I know the biggest question you have is, is Tijuana safe? This is a completely legitimate question because for years Tijuana has been in the news for its crime and drugs scene. For a while Tijuana was very dangerous and these concerns kept tourists and visitors away.
However now, Tijuana has made an effort to shed its dark past and reinvent itself as a safe place to visit again.
Even Tijuana’s raunchy, strip club scene of old is practically gone, and instead has undergone a refreshing revival in gastronomy and craft brewery. Even a surprising hipster scene has emerged!
But since safety is most likely still on everyone’s mind, before planning a trip to Tijuana or Baja California in general, it’s best to always check the State Department’s travel advisory website for updates on any safety rules and recommendations.
Besides that, some safety rules of thumb I always follow are:
- It’s best to not go alone
- Never walk around at night alone
- Never get intoxicated either alone, or in the company of people you just met
- Wear a zip-able purse and cross it over my shoulders
- Stay in the tourist areas where there are lots of people around
Many people will want to visit Tijuana to experience the new craft beer scene. However, it’s important to still understand that you are in a foreign country and precautions should be always be made.
Do I Need a Passport to Visit Tijuana?
Yes, you do need a passport to visit Tijuana.
As of January 2008, a valid passport is required if you plan on crossing over to Tijuana.
Pedestrians crossing into Tijuana are also required to complete a Mexico Visitor’s Permit (FMM), the same form you would fill out if you were flying into Mexico. This permit is free if you’re staying 7 days or less. However, if you plan on staying longer, a fee of 332 Mexican pesos (roughly $20 USD) is required.
If driving across the border you are exempt from this process.
Do I Need Mexican Pesos to visit Tijuana?
The U.S. dollar is widely accepted, as are credit cards. Obtaining Mexican pesos before you trip is not a necessity, unless you particularly want to.
Distance from San Diego to Tijuana
Tijuana is only 20 miles south of San Diego. Because of Tijuana’s close proximity, many San Diego visitors make a day trip to Tijuana to experience a little bit of Mexican culture.
If you are driving from San Diego to Tijuana, the drive typically takes only 30-35 minutes.
San Ysidro Border Wait Time and Border Traffic
The San Ysidro border is open 24 hours a day and is the most crossed port of entry in the world!
Unfortunately because of this, you can surely expect delays.
Typically when crossing the San Ysidro border by car from San Diego to Tijuana, you won’t experience any delays. However, returning from Tijuana into San Diego can be a headache.
Driving across the San Ysidro border back into the United States usually takes a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour, however I have personally waited at the San Ysidro border crossing for up to 7 hours during a holiday weekend.
But don’t worry, we will discuss all of your options for how to cross the San Ysidro border throughout the rest of this post. 😉
If you are crossing back into the US crossing on foot, expect to wait a minimum wait of 45 minutes to an hour. However, it has become the norm to wait at least 2 hours.
On a normal weekend, I have waited up to 2 hours to cross back into the United States, but you might get lucky depending on the time of day.
Driving from Tijuana to San Diego
Driving from Tijuana to San Diego is a great option, however you need to be aware of a few concerns.
You Must Have Mexican Car Insurance
By law you must have a 3rd party Mexican liability auto insurance. The insurance policy doesn’t have to cover the vehicle you are driving, but instead is only required to cover the damages you do to another person’s property. Without it, if there is an accident, you could go to jail.
If you rent a car, you have no choice but to buy auto insurance from the rental agency. It’s about $10.00 a day.
The best place to find auto coverage is through the Mexpro.com web site. Their website explains everything well and it easy to use.
Because of the hassle with finding auto insurance and the unpredictable San Ysidro border crossing wait time, I don’t recommend driving from Tijuana to San Diego as a day trip. The only time I would recommend it is if you also have plans to visit other locations in Baja California such as Guadalupe Valley, Rosarito, or Ensenada.
San Diego to Tijuana by Bus – The Tourismo Express Bus
The Tourismo Express Bus is a great option for direct transportation to downtown Tijuana.
With the Tourismo Express Bus (formerly Mexicoach) you don’t have to worry about finding auto insurance or even the San Ysidro border wait time. The bus has a special bus lane where it is able to skip the line, making crossing the border quick and easy.
The Tourismo Express Bus runs 7am-6pm every hour on the hour and tickets are $10 each way. The bus departure is from the Border Station Parking in San Ysidro. This means you will need to drive and park at the San Ysidro border and then wait for the bus to shuttle you across the border into Tijuana.
San Diego to Tijuana via the San Diego Trolley
However note that the San Diego Trolley doesn’t actually take you across the border into Tijuana.
Instead you will need to take the blue line south towards San Ysidro and exit at the last stop. Get off on the San Ysidro stop (US side) and cross the border into Mexico by foot.
Once in Mexico, you can either take a taxi or walk to downtown Tijuana.
If wanting to enter Mexico through PedWest, you can use your trolley tickets to take the 907 bus to the PedWest station at no extra cost. If you don’t want to take the 907 bus, you could walk to the PedWest station, which is only about 10-15 minute walk.
Taxi from San Diego to Tijuana
I would not plan on paying a taxi to drive you across the border from San Diego into Tijuana. Or vise versa from Tijuana into San Diego.
Taxis generally do not do this because of the Mexican auto insurance requirement and the long wait times at the San Ysidro border crossing.
However I would definitely recommend either driving or taking the San Diego trolley to the San Ysidro border, and then walking across the border. Don’t worry, at the San Ysidro border crossing you shouldn’t expect delays getting into Mexico.
After you cross you’ll see taxis and pedi-cabs willing to take you to downtown Tijuana. Don’t pay more than $5 USD one way and agree to the fare beforehand.
San Ysidro Border Crossing on Foot
If you are wanting to cross the San Ysidro border on foot, you will first need to either drive and park at the San Ysidro border or take the Tourismo Express Bus or the San Diego Trolley to the border.
Parking at San Ysidro
If you decide to drive and park, you will need to take I-5 south, exit at 1A. Exit 1A is the last exit before the Mexican border.
There will be signs saying “Last USA Exit Parking”. Parking is available ranging from $7 a day to $25 a day depending on the day of the week.
From the parking lot follow signs for border crossing into Mexico. If wanting to enter Mexico through PedWest, you can use your trolley tickets to take the 907 bus to the PedWest station at no extra cost. If you don’t want to take the 907 bus, you could walk to the PedWest station, which is only about 10-15 minute walk.
Once again, you shouldn’t expect delays getting into Mexico.
Take a Taxi to Downtown Tijuana
After you cross you’ll see taxis and pedi-cabs willing to take you to downtown Tijuana. Again, don’t pay more than $5 USD and agree to the fare beforehand.
Take the Pedestrian Walkway to Downtown Tijuana
Another viable option to walk across the pedestrian walkway to downtown Tijuana. It’s roughly a 20-minute where you will walk over a large bridge.
However be careful if you do choose to walk. I wouldn’t walk this alone and definitely do not walk at night.
Tijuana Tours from San Diego
Another hassle free way to take a day trip to visit Mexico is to book a tour from San Diego to Tijuana.
Here are 3 that I highly recommend and I think you’ll love!
- Tijuana City and Shopping Trip – This tour offers a 5-hour day trip from San Diego to Tijuana. It includes seeing some of Tijuana’s top sights such as the Old Bullring and Tijuana’s fancy new Culture Center. You’ll enjoy some Tijuana shopping and sightseeing and the tour also includes a comfy air-conditioned bus for transportation.
- Tijuana Food Tasting Day Tour – Tijuana offers some of the best Baja Mediterranean food available! The food scene is becoming more and more popular and I have even made special day trips to Tijuana just to sample the new cuisine. This tour offers in-the-know guides who whisk you around the city to sample some of the best food available.
- Tijuana Craft Brew & Taco Tour – Word is getting out that Tijuana’s budding craft brew scene is starting to make headlines. The Tijuana Craft Brew and Taco provides transportation to Tijuana, and is lead by a local guide. They provide a comprehensive tour of the city, plus show you the best spots in Tijuana for the up and coming craft beer movement. And of course, let’s not forget the tacos!
- Tijuana City and Shopping Trip from San Diego
- Price: $65.00
- Tijuana Food Tasting: Tijuana Day Tour from San Diego
- Price: $110.00
- Crawling Craft Brew Tijuana: Tijuana Day Tour from San Diego
- Price: $125.00
Mexican Customs: What Can I Bring Back from Mexico?
Ye, you can bring stuff back from Mexico!
Since the San Ysidro border crossing is a duty free port of entry, U.S. Customs allows you can bring up to $800 worth of personal use goods back into the United States.
This includes up to one liter of alcohol, if 21 or older (Guadalupe Valley fine wines anyone?!).
If possible, I would recommend getting a receipt to verify the value of your purchases.
I hope you now have a comprehensive understanding of the San Ysidro border crossing. I love visiting Tijuana so I hope this guide makes your future trips smooth and relaxing.
Going to Tijuana? Check out these popular posts:
- Discover 18 Things to do in Tijuana
- Discover Tijuana's Underground Hipster Scene (who knew?!)
- A Guide to the Guadalupe Valley Wineries
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Plan on using the San Ysidro border crossing for your next visit to Tijuana? Love to know in the comments below!