Considering how close we are to the border of Mexico in Southern California, it’s surprising how many people I know who have never crossed over. Perhaps some of it is because of the bad press Mexico always gets for being corrupt and unsafe for travelers (which is not true, and might be something to address in a future post) but I’d venture a guess that part of it is because international flights can be expensive. But just as quick domestic flights within the United States can be super cheap, so are domestic flights within other countries. So it would stand to reason that flying from Tijuana to La Paz, which is about the same amount of time as flying from San Diego to Seattle, is cheaper than flying from the US to Mexico. For those of you who are still skeptical about traveling to Tijuana, the solution is to use the Cross Border Xpress, or CBX, which drops you inside the TJ airport so you don’t have to navigate streets, car insurance, or Federales. Just park, walk, and board. Simple as that.
What is the CBX?
The Cross Border Xpress is an enclosed bridge built between the border crossing in Otay Mesa, California and the Tijuana Airport. Opened in 2015 it’s made crossing into Mexico to fly out of TJ so much easier. Before it opened, you’d have to drive to the airport which not only meant you had to buy Mexican car insurance for the few minutes you were in the country, but also that you would have to cross back over the border which could take several hours. Once, it took us more than three hours to come back from picking my mom up from the airport. That’s three hours of bumper to bumper traffic only moving forward with each car that was let through at the front of the line. Ugh, it was awful.
How Does it Work?
To use the CBX you’ll need a few things. First and foremost, you need a passport. Second, you’ll need to already have your boarding pass. Volaris (the airline we use) allows you to check into your flight up to 72 hours beforehand, so be sure to print your boarding pass out before leaving home. Next, you’ll need a CBX ticket. One way costs $16 and it can be paid for when checking into your flight online, just like paying for extra luggage, online at their website directly, or in the lobby of the CBX. Lastly, you’ll need a travel visa. To the left of the entrance inside the lobby are tall tables you can use to fill out the paperwork. Look for a CBX employee to give you one of the slips. You’ll need to fill out both top and bottom portions, and they will check a few times that you’ve filled it out properly before letting you enter. Americans do not need to pay for a visa if they are staying less that seven days in Mexico. When you get to customs (I’ll go over that in a bit) they will tear off the bottom portion and give it back to you – this is your visa for the remainder of your trip.
After passing through the CBX you’ll go down a set of stairs and end up in the Mexico immigration line. The agent at the entrance will ask you how long you’re staying and send you in the line for foreigners. Mexican nationals get their own line. When you get to the front of the immigration line, one of the customs agents will check your passport and stamp your visa paperwork. Be sure to keep this with you for your return trip.
The next part is my favorite part. This is where they will either let you pass through to the airport or check your luggage. Remember this is all before you check your luggage into the flight so you still have everything you’re taking with you on hand. As you approach there is an agent standing next to a kiosk with a big red button on it. They will ask you how many are in your party and then ask you to press the button. If the lights above the button turn green, you are good to go. If they turn red you’re ushered to the side and they sort through all your stuff. As far as I can tell it’s literally a random outcome generator and I’ve only been unlucky enough once, out of all the times I’ve flown to Mexico, to have my bags checked.
After getting cleared by customs you’ll enter into the Tijuana airport and can grab a Starbucks and a little snack or head straight to check in or security.
Tips for Using the Cross Border Xpress
- The Tijuana airport can be very busy because it’s a big hub for all kinds of travel. If you’re checking bags give yourself about two hours before departure
- Parking is $20 a day at the CBX. If you don’t have someone who can drop you off, or you live too far to utilize ride sharing, try Delta Truck Parking about a mile down the road. I’ve parked there for about $40 for the duration of my trip. Plus they shuttle you to and from the CBX for free.
- There are kiosks in the lobby to buy tickets for the CBX that take cash or card so you don’t have to buy them at the desk if there’s a line. You can also buy them online from their website.
- Grab a free blue luggage cart at the entrance to the CBX. Before you head down the staircase into immigration you’ll be asked to leave the cart behind, but there are identical orange carts you can pick up around the corner and take into the airport.
- The airports offer free WiFi if your phone doesn’t get service in Mexico. Check with your carrier, you might already have access to use your phone for free in Mexico.