MAP: How to Beat the Four-Hour US-Mexico Border Wait at San Ysidro on a Sunday (A Tijuana Sí! Special)
We've reached a tipping point in Baja tourism; people have finally started to discover that Baja is there, it's safe, and it's chock full of things to do. Unfortunately, this means that the lines to cross back are longer than ever. People over at Baja Nomad have reported four-, five- and even six-hour crossing times as CBP works feverishly to add more capacity to the world's busiest border checkpoint and as the U.S. issues heightened security directives due to people who want to blow us up.
It will get better, and soon; the ongoing project, which also involved moving the Mexico-bound checkpoint a third of a mile to the west, will result in a maximum capacity of 64 cars at a time at San Ysidro when they're done, but unfortunately during construction, the lines just keep getting longer and longer. It's the sort of thing that could cause even the hardiest Baja traveler to stay NOB (that's North of the Border).
This week, Tijuana Sí! is going to take a break from food and drink coverage and talk about how to get across the border in the most expeditious way possible. This information was correct and current as of the date of publication, but there's construction everywhere and they have switched which side the Ready Lanes are on more than once. That is to say, your mileage--or kilometrage--may vary.
PREDICTING YOUR TIME
Customs and Border Patrol updates the estimated border wait times on their website once an hour. My experience has been that once the wait ticks over the 2-hour mark, it tends to be a half-hour off. Telnor has a site with live-streaming cameras, but no wait times. Here are the mobile sites:
San Ysidro: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250401If you don't have mobile data roaming in Mexico or don't want to use it, you can call an automated line at each border crossing. Data is updated once an hour (usually) and is given first in English, then in Spanish. The Calexico recording is done with a computer and is very hard to understand with any but the highest quality cell signal.
Otay Mesa: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250601
Calexico West: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250302
Calexico East: http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/portList.asp?action=port&n=250301
San Ysidro: +1 (619) 690-8999In addition, Telnor has Spanish-only recordings that tend to be updated a little more frequently. It's extremely rapid Spanish and the audio can be fritzy, so only call if you speak Spanish fluently. There's no recording for Tecate.
Otay Mesa: +1 (619) 671-8999
Tecate: +1 (619) 938-8300, press 1, then press 1
Calexico (both crossings): +1 (760) 768-2383
Tijuana (both crossings): +52 (664) 700-7000Note that driving time from the San Ysidro line to the Otay Mesa line is 20-30 minutes; from the San Ysidro line to Tecate is nearly an hour; from Otay Mesa to Tecate is about 30 minutes. Driving time between Calexico West and Calexico East is about 15 minutes.
Mexicali (both crossings): +52 (686) 700-7000
SAN YSIDRO READY LANES
If you have an RFID card--a passport card, a resident alien (green) card, a border crosser's card (or laser visa), an enhanced driver's license from Washington, Michigan, New York or Vermont (with a flag on it), or any kind of trusted traveler card (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST), you can use the Ready Lanes, which are much quicker; you flash your card at the sign that says "POINT CARD HERE", and by the time you get to the booth, the CBP officer has all of your information. It doesn't sound like it would save much time, but waits are rarely more than two hours for the Ready Lane.
If all you have is a passport book--even one with the little RFID symbol on it--you can't use Ready Lane.
To get to the Ready Lane from downtown Tijuana, head south on Revolución and make a left on 10th/Juan Sarabia, which will change names to Ave. Independencia at the first traffic circle. At the third traffic circle, which features a statue of a man holding a feather pen, make a left (go three quarters of the way around), then follow signs for the Ready Lane.