Crossing at TJ

Oops, we did it again.

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Border Day!  We haven’t done this in a while.

We made the exact same ‘mistake’ we made the last time we crossed over into Mexico – we made a last-minute decision to cross late in the afternoon and just went for it. This time, the San Ysidro post at Tijuana. Still, this is pretty easy stuff. We even crossed in good company when another VW bus pulled in front of us right before we drove into the security checkpoint. Guess which two vehicles got stopped for inspection?

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Border crossing days are always a little funny. Even though we pretty much know the routine and have quite a bit of experience with this, we still get the border day jitters. You always have just a tinge of anxiety that something is going to go wrong immediately after you cross that imaginary line.

Tijuana is the busiest border crossing in the world, and it should be rated ‘beginner’ level for sure – at least crossing *into* Mexico. Haven’t tried getting out here yet.

This border post is huge and moves quickly. Maybe you’ll get pulled over for a random inspection or maybe not. They just asked us to open the doors and they peeked inside. That’s it. No documents, no passports – nothing. Just keep driving and you’re in Mexico!

Baja has a ‘special trade zone’ status and is different from the rest of Mexico. Driving in Baja with your foreign vehicle doesn’t require any permits. Just keep driving. If you later want to cross to the mainland by ferry, you can get your temporary vehicle import permits down the road at the port in La Paz.

For stays in Mexico longer than 3 days, you’re technically required to have a tourist permit. There is supposed to be a migración office right where we crossed, but we must have just driven past it. We asked around and some people told us it was closed – not sure if this was true – and we needed to go to the Otay Mesa post (another border crossing) about 4 miles away. So, we did and found the office and paid our $25 USD each for a 6 month permit. Easy – there was not a single person in the migración office and the officers seemed surprised to see us. They had to get up off the office sofa and miss a few minutes of the fútbol game.

There is an even better way – and we even knew about it – but the border day jitters had us anxious to get our permits right away. We’re a little rusty. Don’t do this.

Instead, just drive away from the border and start goofing off and enjoying Baja. Driving across and away from the border with absolutely no paperwork is the way to do it. Seriously.

You have 3 days to get your tourist permit – but nobody is going to check anyway (really).  Later, assuming you’re driving through Ensenada (about 50 km away) you’ll see a big sign near the entrance to town for their migración office at the port. Stop here and get your tourist card in a much less-hectic and smaller town right on the beach. Then, have a margarita and watch the sunset over the Pacific.



3 thoughts on “Crossing at TJ

  • September 21, 2014 at 7:01 PM

    I’ve been visiting Mexico for anywhere from 5 to 60 days my entire life, and I’ve NEVER heard of needing a tourist permit. Ha!

  • September 22, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    It’s not needed in the ‘free zone’ which includes Ensenada, San Felipe, and anything closer to the border. Technically, you need it if staying more than 3 days, but nobody ever checks in Baja. On the mainland, it’s a bigger deal – especially if you are driving a U.S. vehicle. On any international flights, it’s the paper you fill out before you land.

  • September 26, 2014 at 2:26 PM

    I was asked, very seriously by an armed policeman, for the tourist permit when crossing the checkpoint between Baja sur and Baja norte in our 88 westy. He seemed very surprised that we had one.

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