This article is part of our Border Crossing Report series.
Border name: San Ysidro
Between cities: Chula Vista, USA and Tijuana, Mexico
Cost for visas: $20 USD per tourist card
Cost for vehicle: $48 plus $200 USD refundable deposit
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
All in all, the world’s busiest land border crossing is nothing spectacular. In fact I’d say there are a lot busier borders in rural Africa. Make no mistake, it’s not exactly a breeze getting all the paperwork done, but the actual crossing part was simpler than getting our oil changed at the Firestone in San Diego.
We left our campsite (the KOA Chula Vista) just south of San Diego at 8am. We hit the border at roughly 8:10. It’s really about 2 minutes away, but we stopped to get cash. There was no US side of immigration or customs. Just a bunch of freeway signs that said “last exit in the USA.”
Mexican customs was easy. Stop at the gate, push the button. Green light means go, red light means you get waved over to a little side area to be searched. We got a red light, and we flagged over to the side. The official there spoke about two words of English. “Pets?” No, sir. “Guns?” Noooo, sir. Then he waved us on. We did attempt to ask where the vehicle import office was (banjercito). He spoke back in rapid Spanish, and the only word I caught was McDonald’s. OK, I guess we’re going towards McDonald’s!
After the red-light green-light area, the road dumps you off in downtown Tijuana, from this point most people just keeping going. If you are staying in Mexico for less than a week then you don’t need a tourist card, and if you aren’t taking you vehicle beyond Baja then you don’t need an import permit. We needed both.
Our next task was to find immigration (migración) and the vehicle office (banjercito), somewhere near the McDonald’s. At first I thought it was in the building immediately next to the customs area, and despite the banjercito sign on one of the doors, I was wrong. If you are crossing the border and need to find immigration and the banjercito, my best advice is to stay to the right. There are several signs that say various things like “Temporary vehicle permits” or “Tourist vehicle imports”. None, oddly enough, mention the words we knew like “migración” and “banjercito.” If you follow the signs for about a half mile and drive in the general direction of the giant golden arches, you will find the banjercito office.
Here’s a link to the current location on google maps
GPS for the building (according to google earth) is:
Longitude: 117° 1'54.76"W
There was plenty of secure parking behind the building. A loitering crowd of people ushered us to the migración office, where a nice official, who spoke almost no English, filled out three tourist cards for us.
From the Migration office, we crossed the courtyard to the bank (banco). It is worth noting that the bank and the banjercito are the same place at this crossing. We waited in a short line (which still took almost 20 minutes). At the window the official took our tourist cards and $60 USD and issued us receipts with stamps for each tourist card. He then instructed us to go back to the migración office, where official looked at the receipts and stamped our tourist cards. Excellent. People paperwork done. Now for the car.
Just next door was another small office with a copy machine. We made copies of the vehicle title, Kobus’ tourist card, passport and green card. It cost about $1. And now back across the courtyard to the banco/banjercito.
We waited another 20 minutes in line at the banjercito. The official took our copies and entered lots of information into the computer. He explained in excellent English the payment process. Our credit card was charged $200 for the deposit, plus another $48 for the permit. All payments were actually withdrawn in pesos at the current exchange rate. The $200 will be refunded when we cross the border into Belize, but we have to stop at the banjercito there and return the permit. He gave us a receipt back, as well as a letter and a sticker for the car. And we were done.
We affixed the sticker to the window, filed all our paperwork away, and drug Jared away from the tasty tacos being prepared on the street corner. On the way out of the parking lot an official checked that our sticker was in the right place and sent us back to the merry streets to Tijuana.
Total time, not more than 1 ½ hours. Pretty good for our first border crossing! We attribute most of this luck for crossing early in the morning and on a weekend. The banjercito here is open 8am-8pm every day of the week, so it pays to arrive early and on a weekend.