What do you need to cross
the Mexican border by car?

If you’re interested in crossing the U.S.-Mexico border by car then you’re not alone. Though there are quite a few points of entry along the southern border, the most heavily trafficked and popular route is driving to Tijuana from San Diego. This point of entry is also known as the San Ysidro area and on average sees more than 600,000 people cross each week.

While crossing the border in this manner is convenient, there are a few things you’ll want to know before making the trek to be better prepared. Being armed with these facts will allow you to cross the border as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

By far, the number one most important thing to know is the type of identification documents you will need to get through. A valid passport, green card or passport card will be asked for when approaching the border. When driving across via private car, you’ll also want to ensure you have your driver’s license (and be sure that it isn’t expired). As with any international trip, be vigilant and make copies of these important IDs before you leave. Have them stored somewhere handy just in case of the unfortunate event of loss, misplacement or theft. The final piece of documentation is the Mexico Tourist card, which is similar to a visa, but is only needed for trips of 72-hours or less, as well as trips outside of what is considered the free border zone. If you are traveling outside of the free border zone, additional documentation, including a Temporary Vehicle Importation permit, which usually runs around $45, will be necessary.

Many people ask, what is the best time to cross the Tijuana border? Though the border is open 24/7, you’ll should arrive first thing in the morning to be in daylight but also avoid the masses who tend to arrive in the largest numbers during the mid-to-late morning. In Mexico, it is recommended by both the U.S. and Mexico to avoid driving on the roads at night.

When driving your U.S. car over the border through the San Diego to Tijuana border crossing, obtaining temporary Mexico auto insurance is another requirement. The cost for this is minimal, and is available at the border, online or even as an insurance add-on from many mainstream carriers.

Though many prefer to drive their own car over the border, there are options for those who would rather park and walk or take a shuttle into to Tijuana. However, if you are planning on exploring for more than a day or more than one city, then having your car with you may be best. This would allow you the freedom to travel when you want to where you want at the schedule that fits best for you. Just be sure to do your research ahead of time on the areas you would like to visit, as there are cities in Mexico that require extra caution or even avoidance all together.

Another fun yet important insider tip is the mobile app for the official Customs and Border Protection. This can be downloaded to your smartphone and then monitored for the approximate wait times at the borders. Track this for a few days before your trip to see what the most heavily trafficked days are and then plan your trip around avoiding those.

Overall, driving to Tijuana from San Diego is relatively simple and straightforward. Understanding ahead of time exactly what you must have in order to be able to cross is immensely helpful, leaving more time and energy for planning your trip, curating your itinerary, and then actually enjoying it.

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