Tijuana and San Diego border. It's the busiest border crossing in the world and for a good reason - both those regions create a unique way of living for those who are open to new opportunities and experiences. It's hard to imagine San Diego without Tijuana and vice versa. And with Mexican affordable cost of living and affordable healthcare - why not do it?
Nevertheless, many people avoid crossing the southern border because of security concerns and other reasons while others do it every day and for them it's more like going to another neighborhood rather than going to another country. Let's discuss what you should do to make a border crossing an easy task.
Don't forget your passport and get an FMM card
Those times when you can cross the border with your driver license are long gone. Today you need a passport both to pass through Tijuana border customs and American customs.
When entering Mexico by foot: Don't forget to go to the line called "Extranjeros" (Foreigners), present your passport and get FMM card (Forma Migratoria Multiple).
When entering Mexico by car: If you just drive and enter Mexico you are highly unlikely will be stopped at all. However, please note that while most likely nobody will check you for a possession of FMM card, technically speaking you are in the country illegally if you don't have it. To avoid that, stop right after crossing at immigration booth and fill out the form to get an FMM card.
FMM card rules:
- If you are in Mexico shorter than one 7 days then FMM card is free
- If you are in Mexico for more than 7 days (maximum 180 days) the FMM will cost you 500 pesos (approximately 25$ USD).
Usually, the officer at Mexican port of entry will give you 180 days if you ask for it (and pay the fee). Otherwise, if you just ask for a day trip they will write there "1 day" and stamp your passport.
When going back to the USA, be ready to present your passport and answer questions about the goods you are bringing back. Be aware that some medicine needs to be declared or it's even disallowed in the United States. To avoid that, check the specific laws for the medicine that you are bringing to the country.
Be aware: By the rules, you must return your FMM card upon leaving Mexico. However, Baja California is exempt from this condition at the present moment. I haven't found where FMM needs to be returned when leaving Tijuana. But if you plan to leave Mexico by another port of entry (airport/different state of Mexico) you should know that they you will be asked for that card and not having it will cause trouble.
Enjoy your trip, but be wise about your surroundings
Generally speaking, wherever you are anywhere in the world (even in your home area) you should know what is happening around you. And be ready to adapt. Don’t take too many valuables with you, only what you need, just in case.
Same applies to your day trip to Tijuana. Have fun, but don’t get unconscious and alone in the middle of the night with a wallet wide open. Be street-smart, friendly to others and everything will be fine. I was feeling safe in Tijuana during my visits.
You don't really need to change dollars to pesos
If you are coming for a day trip and worrying about using pesos (Mexican currency) don't be too much worried. Bring you dollars - they are widely accepted in Tijuana in most places. Well, maybe except taco stands at the street. There might be not the best exchange rate if you pay dollars, but if you are coming just for a day or two that should not be a big deal. And if you are paying with a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee it also should be fine.
If you plan to travel frequently get a SENTRI pass
SENTRI pass is specifically for those who travel between Mexico and the United States frequently so they can have expedited entry into the USA without the need to wait for several hours at the border. It has the steps to apply and not everyone is getting approved after a background check. It's definitely a must if you are planning to go back and forth several times a week.
Be smart - weapons are illegal in Mexico
This one is obvious, but still a big thing to keep in mind. Some people forget about that and risk being heavily punished or imprisoned if they have guns with them. Even a pepper spray is considered a weapon and you shouldn't bring it there. Be careful with that and respect the local law and you will have no problems.
The most important thing you should know is that you are entering a different country. Follow the rules and have all the documentation when crossing Tijuana border. You should respect local laws. Be nice to others and not behave like a typical tourist. Well, you know those who only wants to party and doesn't care about anyone else. That attitude is a way to troubles, avoid it.