Currently, only pedestrians are required to show travel documents or proof of Mexican citizenship when entering Tijuana from San Ysidro.
  • Currently, only pedestrians are required to show travel documents or proof of Mexican citizenship when entering Tijuana from San Ysidro.
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Crossing into Tijuana has changed for many San Diego residents who enjoy the opportunity to shop, party, and otherwise explore the most visited city in the world. The looming question is how the change will affect business in Tijuana and the tourists and ex-pats who keep such businesses afloat.

For decades, visitors crossed into Tijuana at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on foot and were only hassled concerning any items they might be bringing into Mexico. If your cargo was larger than a backpack, you could have been asked to push a button on a machine resembling a stop sign — red meant you were searched and green meant you were free to go. As their U.S. counterparts began to tighten foot traffic into the U.S. in the mid-1990s, Mexico’s criteria remained loose and even whimsical pertaining to entry into Baja.

When Mexico opened a new San Ysidro pedestrian entry in mid-August, the routine changed drastically.

When Mexico opened a new San Ysidro pedestrian entry in mid-August, the routine changed drastically.

When Mexico opened a new San Ysidro pedestrian entry in mid-August, the routine changed drastically. In fact, the only truly whimsical part of entering Tijuana through San Ysidro on foot that remains consistent is the red light/green light procedure when it comes to checking your baggage — only now they employ the use of a modern x-ray machine and conveyor belt.

The federal government of Mexico is in the process of gaining the capacity to handle the northern Baja border in the manner they see fit, with the cooperation and help from the state government. The facility on the San Ysidro pedestrian border crossing, at a cost of almost $7 million, is only the first upgrade planned for international crossings into Mexico along the Baja California border with the U.S.

“We’re currently working on Otay,” said Rodulfo Figueroa Pacheco, the federal delegate in charge of the international border in Baja California. “We expect that facility to be opened between one and two years from now.”

Figueroa and Mexico’s national migration agency now have offices in Tijuana, just off of the inland route to Rosarito Beach. He and his team are responsible for the six land entries in their various forms, along with four airports and six seaports in Baja California. The plan is that eventually all ports of entry will comply with what has been Mexican law for many decades.

“The notion of a zona frontera [border zone] was never a law,” Figueroa said. “All people who are not Mexican citizens must have travel documents, like in any other country. Mexican citizens must show proof of their citizenship.”

Mexico considers travel documents as a passport or a passport card, and Mexican citizens can use their voter-registration card or even a copy of their birth certificate. Many visiting Tijuana and other northern border cities were once told that they were permitted to remain within 25 miles of the border — the zona frontera — sans a visa or a passport, but according to Figueroa that was never federal law.

Figueroa was adamant about his role concerning the new border policies. “We haven’t invented any new laws here, we’re not legislators. We’re here to enforce laws that have been in existence for many decades,” he said.

Jeff Anderson lived in Tijuana and worked in the U.S. for over a decade before moving back across to the South Bay a couple of years ago. He maintains friendships in Tijuana and crosses to visit, but the new rules have changed the way he has to cross.

“I can’t get a passport now due to back child-support, even though I’m paying it off; my paycheck gets hit every week. So, when I cross, I either pitch a couple of dollars at someone driving in or I go to Otay and cross there,” he said.

Currently, only pedestrians are required to show travel documents or proof of Mexican citizenship when entering Tijuana from San Ysidro, including those arriving by bus or other shuttle services. Drivers and passengers of private vehicles are not affected.

“We don’t currently have the resources to enforce travel documents for drivers and passengers of automobiles coming into Baja from San Ysidro,” Figueroa admitted. “As technology advances, perhaps we will find a way.”

Local businesses in Tijuana have been affected by the new pedestrian crossing, some more so than others. The majority of managers and employees of the restaurants and curio shops on Avenida Revolución, along with several hotels in the area, report a slight downturn over the Labor Day holiday, but nothing drastic.

“We were sold out the Saturday of the Labor Day weekend by 8 p.m., which is normal for any Saturday here,” said the front desk clerk at Hotel Leyva. “But we failed to sell all of our rooms on the Saturdays directly after the change at the border, which has never happened.”

On Avenida Revolución, most businesses remained upbeat. The cantinas and restaurants were busy enough, although the curio shops seemed to be struggling. “This won’t last,” said one owner lacking business. “They’ll get enough pressure to relax the requirements to enter Tijuana.”

This may be true, and it’s certainly the consensus of tijuanenses who depend on tourism in order to make a living. Even Figueroa conceded, “We’re going through a learning curve here; we’ll make adjustments as warranted.”

Cab drivers casually block the sidewalk leading toward the pedestrian walkway to downtown Tijuana.

Cab drivers casually block the sidewalk leading toward the pedestrian walkway to downtown Tijuana.

One portion of Tijuana that adjustments likely will not help is the plaza and corridor that leads to downtown Tijuana from the border on foot. The new exit into Tijuana is farther north and folks passing through are instantly introduced to a long line of taxis. Cab drivers ushering people into cabs casually block the sidewalk leading toward the pedestrian walkway to downtown.

“There is no more business,” said the doorman to Margarita’s Bar and Grill, located near the pedestrian bridge over the Tijuana River. “We’ll have to close and open somewhere else.”

The City of Tijuana remodeled the plaza leading to that bridge less than two decades ago. But after the U.S. became stricter with requirements for returning tourists, the dread of long return lines cost those potential businesses dearly. The new southbound requirements have reduced business further, and the plaza looks like a ghost town.

Despite the negative effects the new border may have on Tijuana tourism, Figueroa points out that the changes are in the best interests of everyone. “When hurricane Odile wiped out Cabo and struck La Paz, we discovered that three times the number of Americans lived there than we had documented. How are we supposed to notify their countries of origin if we have no idea who they are?” he said.

Meanwhile, tourists and visitors take the new requirements in stride.

“I know if I don’t stay more than a week I don’t have to pay for the six-month tourist visa, but I did it anyway,” said one frequent visitor. “I’m only here two weekends every month or so, but if paying the $20 fee means I don’t have to fill out paperwork every time I cross, then it’s worth it.”

Businesses in Tijuana can only hope that many Americans agree. According to Figueroa, between 22,000 and 30,000 pedestrians cross into Tijuana from San Ysidro on any given day...and Mexico aims to ensure they are documented.

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Matingas Oct. 7, 2015 @ 11:45 a.m.

I am 6'4 and white as hell... but I was born and grew up in Mexico. I've been going through the Mexican lane and rarely have they stopped me and told me I am going on the wrong lane. I simply tell them "I am Mexican," and they let me go on through.

I heard that if you don't have a passport or an ID, you can simply tell them you forgot it (and they let you through... supposedly).

They are simply targeting the large amounts of homeless people that have been moving down to Tijuana. If a criminal or someone undocumented wants to cross, they will simply get in a car, since it's still free for all.

Many Mexicans say "If they built a wall, we should built one too and have the right to ask for papers!" The problem is... Americans aren't very eager to come down to Mexico, while Mexicans are trying to escape the increasing poverty.

AKA, it is all pointless and it is all for show. Hopefully, it will die down and border crossing will go back to how it was.

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jnojr Oct. 7, 2015 @ 4:06 p.m.

If you forget your ID, you can always present Andrew Jackson's. I'm sure they'll agree the resemblance is striking...

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Visduh Oct. 7, 2015 @ 4:24 p.m.

Checking pedestrians and having no control over those in cars is another pointless gesture. I'm sure those laws have been on the books for a long time, but laws in Mexico mean as much as the cops or border officials want them to mean. If the merchants on Ave Revolucion depend upon pedestrian tourists, they're in trouble already. "Take a train, take a plane, take a car" to old TJ and be happy. Just don't walk.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 7:48 a.m.

I took the bus, the 905, from the Iris Ave. Trolley station to the Otay border crossing on Tuesday. It might have been a decade since I crossed that border on foot, and the bus to get there was unusually crowded. There were a lot of Gringos on it, standing room only. I think it's a safe assumption that they are crossing Otay to avoid San Ysidro.

On that bus ride alone I heard tales of woe, apparently a few folks have been detained at San Ysidro for an entire day for attempting to cross repeatedly after not having appropriate travel documents. This is here-say, of course, not something one could write in an article. So far as bribing in order to gain access, that isn't possible in the new port of entry. There are cameras everywhere. I attempted to get some pictures of the new digs, but was told I would have to go through Mexico City to obtain permission since I apparently missed the grand opening. It's impressive, state of the art, old Tijuana is attempting a makeover when you enter.

Visduh hit the nail on the head, it seems to be folly when scrutinizing pedestrians while allowing vehicles through without the same rules. Mexico is a lot like the U.S. when it comes to money allocated by the Federal Government - if they get it, they do what they can with it as quickly as they can, lest that money be stripped away and apportioned to other projects. Revo has yet to feel a real crunch from all of this, but I think they eventually will reach the conclusion that it's hurting their business. Immediate impact has been felt in the pedestrian corridor leading to downtown Tijuana. Businesses there are closing.

Matingas is correct in the sense that one might be able to talk their way through. I did that a couple of weeks ago. It's entirely helpful if you speak fluent Spanish. Otherwise, I'm not sure how one would negotiate passage into Baja from San Ysidro. And the vast majority of Mexicans I interviewed in Tijuana think this isn't a great idea. Gringo money provides the local economy with liquidity, and that lubrication stopped after 9/11, what little still spills into here is precious. Figuroa and the Federal Government might not care much, but local pressure might sway them to relax their standards for entering a border city because money is really what this is all about here.

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SalULloyd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 9:27 a.m.

Cars are checked more often than pedestrians. Before and now as well. Pedestrians rarely if ever were. Some girl from immigration would just stand there checking her cell phone as people poured in from the US when back when they had the old entrance.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 10:40 a.m.

It's rare that cars are checked. Pedestrians are not scrutinized. I've been through San Ysidro both ways since the new entry was opened, it's very different now on foot. But, as it was for the last two decades, the vast majority of vehicles are simply waived through.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 12:41 p.m.

"Pedestrians are not scrutinized" should have read, Pedestrians ARE scrutinized. Sorry about that.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 7:55 a.m.

Also, I'm doing a radio interview today on this, no idea what time it will be on the air. Chris Merrill does an afternoon show in Phoenix on KFYI and is on evenings at KOGO 600 AM. I'm fairly certain I'll be back here in time for his KOGO show, so if I get a time the interview will air, I'll post it here.

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SalULloyd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 9:25 a.m.

KOGO? I think I already know which direction that interview will go.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 10:36 a.m.

Merrill's show isn't your a-typical KOGO spot. It could actually be entertaining. I reckon we'll see.

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SalULloyd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 10:02 a.m.

Matingas is correct in that one of the mains reasons is to prevent the US homeless, particularly the mentally-ill homeless from just strolling across. I don't see them getting passports anytime soon, nor the 18 year who just wants to drink.

"One portion of Tijuana that adjustments likely will not help is the plaza and corridor that leads to downtown Tijuana from the border on foot. The new exit into Tijuana is farther north and folks passing through are instantly introduced to a long line of taxis. Cab drivers ushering people into cabs casually block the sidewalk leading toward the pedestrian walkway to downtown."

The second half of that problem with this new entrance, which the article doesn't mention is that people who want to take the bus downtown now are forced to walk across the bridge. What if they are seniors, women with small kids or disabled??? So, access to visit downtown or to make a connection to a taxi, is now very difficult. They need a foot ramp from the new instalation to go down to the old sidewalk and cross the bridge. According to one taxi driver it was a scheme to driver certain businesses, out of business and help the yellow taxis, which are allied to the PRI, increase theirs. DO NO use the yellow taxes.

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 10:52 a.m.

Once pedestrians enter Tijuana, it is, in fact, not friendly toward disabled folks until they find their way to the bridge over the vehicle entrance into the U.S. The political alignment of the Yellow Cabs actually has a disconnect to what the Federal Government is doing at the borders. They benefit, but there is no actual alliance in place. These changes in the pedestrian border crossings are slated not only in Baja, but in every State in Mexico that features international entrances. This includes International airports and sea ports as well. To what extent they will be controlled remains to be seen, but the money has been allocated by the Federal Government.

So far as the mentally-ill/homeless, they still cross somehow. We have one here, his name is David, sleeps on the streets. I heard him this morning on the street below, "You alright? You alright?" His mantra. He's harmless. I would ask him how he continues to cross but I fear I wouldn't get a cognitive answer.

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JohnERangel Oct. 8, 2015 @ 6:48 p.m.

Good story RG, I am very familiar with the situation and have my opinion but I'll keep it to myself. One humorous note, when you enter Mexico now by foot you immediately see two signs. One says Mexicans and the other says foreigners. It's funny to see how many African Americans and Anglo Americans try to slip into the Mexican line. The other day two old Mexican ladies were ahead of me and as we both watched the people in the Mexicans Only line one lady turned to the other and said, "Oh sure, NOW everybody wants to be a Mexican!"

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David Dodd Oct. 8, 2015 @ 6:54 p.m.

Yep, I see that as well. Red, White, and Green! I'm not certain exactly where this is going to go, but it will be interesting.

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Bouncingbaby Oct. 9, 2015 @ 4:48 a.m.

Hi, Can anyone tell me how long they have had to wait walking into Mexico with the new ID check. I'm going to my dentist in Mexico and I'm trying to figure out how much extra time I need for waiting in the line.

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David Dodd Oct. 9, 2015 @ 5:30 a.m.

Hello, Bouncingbaby, I walked through on Thursday and there was no line at 3:30 PM. If you can avoid crossing in during the time that most people commute back into Tijuana from work, you won't have a wait at all.

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Ponzi Oct. 9, 2015 @ 2:54 p.m.

I visited Mexico recently, September 26th through the 30th. I crossed the border at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and was not required to stop. I went on to visit Rosarito (actually just drove through the town and did not stop). I headed south on the toll road to Ensenada, on my way to the Guadalupe Valley. It is a booming wine country now and they have good wines and a burgeoning olive oil industry.

I got a flat tire on a dirt road off the Ruta Del Vino. Changed the tire and bought a new tire at Costco in Ensenada. I thought about the travel visa, but I didn’t bother to get one for my friend, figuring if we were asked we could just pay the fee then and me.

You’ll notice many positive changes if you haven’t been to Baja for a while. There is an obvious improvement in the quality of construction, roads, and the hospitality of the people (who have always been friendly). There is a growing middle class and it shows in housing and the condition of most of the vehicles.

My interests are in the Ensenada and towns and villages further south. I have no interest in staying, shopping dining or anything in Tijuana. I consider it unsafe, especially for the uninitiated and those who do not speak Spanish. On the other hand, I love Baja and enjoy many of the interior cities of Mexico.

Enforcing the requirement for a travel visa is going to harm businesses in the long run. The government should permit visitors to border areas to travel for up to 72 hours without any documents, other than their passport. The United States doesn’t require them to get a visa for border area visits (that I know of).

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David Dodd Oct. 9, 2015 @ 3:35 p.m.

The U.S. does actually require a travel VISA, I'm unsure of the cost. If you have a passport and wish to visit Mexico, no VISA is required to stay less than a week. It's an unenforceable law for the most part, but some frequent visitors just go ahead and pay the 6-month VISA fee of around $20 U.S., it's reasonable and makes their lives easier.

You're right about the wine region along the Baja Coast, it's a great grape-growing area, although I'm not certain they'll ever be able to compete with the Chilean Reds, but I love that they're trying. Also, if you're into microbrew, I highly recommend the offerings from Border Psycho Brewery, impressive stuff. You can buy it by the bottle at a liquor store on the corner of 6ta and Madero, or take your chances in many of the small shops between Revo and Constitución, they sometimes offer that stuff. The alcohol content tends to be rather high, so use good judgement, but the flavors are awesome.

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Ponzi Oct. 9, 2015 @ 6:32 p.m.

This is what the Mexican Diplomatic Mission says about a tourist visa. I think I read this while I was in (near) Ensenada. We stayed at a couple days at the Hotel Hacienda Guadalupe in the wine country, visited the Museo de la vid y el vino (Wine Museum), we also stayed at Hotel Punta Morro, right on the ocean. Both hotels were fantastic. We dined at both hotels and also Finca Altozano, in the Guadalupe Valley. All were excellent. Finca is a must see if you can get a table. We also visited and had lunch at the Encuentro Guadalupe property were the "eco pod" rooms overlook the valley.

Entry Requirements for Mexico

As of March 1, 2010, all U.S. citizens – including children -- must present a valid passport, book or card, for travel beyond the “border zone” into the interior of Mexico. Entry by any means, for example by plane or car, is included in this requirement. The “border zone” is generally defined as an area between 20 to 30 kilometers of the border with the U.S., depending on the location. Stays of less than 72 hours within the border zone do not require a visa or tourist card.

U.S. citizens traveling as tourists beyond the border zone or entering Mexico by air must pay a fee to obtain a tourist card, also known as an FM-T, available from Mexican border crossing points, Mexican tourism offices, airports within the border zone and most airlines serving Mexico.

http://mexico.usembassy.gov/eng/eacs_sheet.html

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jnojr Oct. 12, 2015 @ 11:15 a.m.

Ponzi - thanks for the great post! I'm going to be in Ensenada this weekend via a cruise, and I've already begun thinking about planning a longer stay for the wine region. Hopefully, lots of gringos are still scared of big bad May-Hee-Co and will stay away... I hate crowds!

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Ponzi Oct. 9, 2015 @ 6:29 p.m.

I tried a bottle of Border Psycho.. just because I liked the name. It was darn good! I also bought some good tequila, for holiday gifts ... it is 50% of the US cost.

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Ponzi Oct. 9, 2015 @ 6:52 p.m.

This is a good discussion and I want to through something else out there. Although I do not really enjoy Tijuana, I know it is improving in certain areas. I really just don’t enjoy the crowds and all border cities are like that. I there were better cross-border relations, things could improve for both sides.

I have traveled Baja for over 30 years. When I was younger, it was for surfing the coasts, eating lobster and drinking in Puerto Nuevo. Later it was for business in the Tuna industry in Ensenada. Later it was for dune buggies and relaxation in a trailer kept in Gonzaga Bay (we flew to La Paz for Mexican customs and then landed on the dirt runway in Gonzaga), and scuba diving. Now, it is mostly just to get away from San Diego without having to fly somewhere.

In all the times, I travelled the locals or police never harassed me. Once I was stopped on the toll road for speed, and at 90 MPH, I deserved to be pulled over. I paid $20 cash and was on my way? It that a bad justice system? I say no, I paid my “fine” and didn’t have to go to driving school.

My point is... like anywhere in the world... if you look for trouble, you will find it. If you keep your head and stay away from the bad parts of town, don’t walk down dark alleys at night, do not give the cops a hard time if they have some question and treat the locals with dignity, you will have no problems unless you are at the proverbial “wrong place, at the wrong time.” We have cities in the U.S., which are far more unsafe… D.C, Detroit, Miami. Be polite, obey their laws, respect their culture and traditions and you will be fine.

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dwbat Oct. 11, 2015 @ 12:43 p.m.

I enjoy watching "Crossing South" on PBS. But it doesn't entice me enough to cross the border into Mexico. Never have; never will.

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jnojr Oct. 12, 2015 @ 11:23 a.m.

A-Freaking-Men! 100% dead on. And I had never heard of Gonzaga Bay, I just had to Google it ;-)

A lot of the people who focus on Mexico's warts are the same who studiously ignore our own warts here in the US. I still firmly believe that the US is the greatest nation in the world, but we have faults, some of them serious, some of those quite a bit worse than some of the faults in other nations.

I intend to spend more vacation time in Mexico. And I'll be thrilled if the hordes stay away in fear :-)

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David Dodd Oct. 11, 2015 @ 8:21 p.m.

No one should come into Mexico if they feel unsafe doing so. My first two years here were not so pleasant, I didn't understand how this place worked. The last 21 years have been awesome.

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abcdef123 Sept. 27, 2016 @ 11:46 a.m.

I have a tourist visa as of now. I am applying for my work permit. I have an appointment to get my finger prints done next Thursday in TJ (USA embassy). However, my actual interview is not til monday. I have friends in SD and would rather hang out with them in SD for the time being til my actual interview. Is that possible?

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bear Oct. 28, 2016 @ 2:50 p.m.

I'm U.S. citizen I crossed Mexico border a couple weeks ago at San Ysidro, Mexican officer on border asked me something in Spanish....like.. Mexico.. I don't speak Spanish, I realized he asked something ... going to Mexico and I said "si"  then he asked me something I said I don't know Spanish, he asked in English if I'm Mexican, I asked what he meant, and he said if i'm mexican citizen I said, no I'm U.S citizen...then he said this is the line for Mexican citizens, I asked him how he knows if he don't asks passport to people what citizen they are (just 100 of people crossed during my conversation with him and no one asked them passport), he just stopped me, and "I said if this is discrimination?" (my question I think was absolutely rightfully) then he took me to his boss, and boss said I lied officer that I'm Mexico citizen, I said I don't know Spanish how I lied him, I answered in English all... then he asked for how long I'm going to visit Mexico I said one day or less, he said you said one day (just try to catch from me something)!! He asked if I have hotel reservation, I said I'm not gonna be stay at night.. he said I won't be able to enter to Mexico, he printed out some piece of paper and said Sign it, I said I don't know Spanish I have no idea what he has written, he said if I Sign it I'll able to enter Mexico after 1 week, if not 1 year or more, I didn't Sign it because I don't know what he has written, and came back to USA.  My question is, how or where I can check if I'm in blacklist or for how long I can't enter to Mexico??  I'm not interesting for what reason he has written, but if he put for 1 year I'll never go to Mexico again my friends ether, only reason why I'm going to Mexico is a spend money.

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