Using The Cross Border Xpress

Introduction: Mexico City, Really?
Using The Cross Border Xpress
Review: Tijuana VIP Lounge
Review: Aeromexico Salon Premier Tijuana
Aeromexico 787 Business Class Tijuana to Mexico City
Review: Las Alcobas Hotel Polanco Mexico City
Hot Air Ballooning Over Teotihuacán
Visiting Teotihuacan
An Evening Of Lucha Libre
Floating Around Xochimilco
Day Trip To Coyoacán
Exploring Mexico City’s Historic Center
Dining At Dulce Patria
Palacio De Bellas Artes & The Ballet Folklórico
Mexico City: Andrew’s Thoughts
Review: Minute Suites DFW


I wrote about the new Tijuana Airport Cross Border Xpress when it first opened, but this trip was my first opportunity to use the new terminal.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, the CBX is basically a small facility on the San Diego-Tijuana border. You can park (or be dropped off) in San Diego, enter the terminal, get your boarding pass, and then walk across a dedicated bridge right into the Tijuana Airport.

It was pretty awesome.

Arriving at the CBX

We live near the San Diego airport, and budgeted thirty minutes in case of traffic. It only took twenty minutes to reach the CBX facility.

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Cross Border Xpress exterior

There weren’t many people there on a Thursday morning, but I can definitely see parking being an opportunity as the CBX gets more popular.

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Cross Border Xpress parking lot

There did seem to be an off-site parking structure across the street, and hopefully more facilities will open. We had a friend drop us off, but I think Uber would be a reasonable alternative to the parking prices if you are coming from anywhere South of the 8. There are also shuttles from downtown San Diego (the Amtrak station), and San Ysidro.

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Cross Border Xpress exterior

The entrance to the CBX was off a small atrium with a few tables and chairs. A coffee shop was located just inside the terminal, and this could be a nice place to have a snack or wait for your ride on the San Diego side.

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Cross Border Xpress exterior courtyard

The departures area of the terminal itself was small — like you’d expect to see at a small regional airport. Aeromexico and Volaris both had plenty of agents in addition to the self-serve kiosks.

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Cross Border Xpress departures terminal

As soon as we entered the terminal we were greeted by a smiling Aeromexico agent who asked which airline we were flying, and if we’d already purchased our tickets for the crossing.

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Cross Border Xpress departures terminal

We gave her our boarding passes, and she printed our bridge tickets, emphasizing that they were round-trip tickets, and reminding us not to lose them.

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Cross Border Xpress tickets

Leaving the US, and the mysterious Amex lounge

The queue to exit the terminal was short, but took a long time. Your boarding pass has to be scanned, then your bridge ticket, along with a quick ID check. There was a single line, and only one person handling the process.

Construction seemed to be ongoing, so hopefully they add staff (and a second lane!) in the future.

After the ticket check we entered a tiny Duty Free Shop, which was comically overstaffed. There’s some work to be done with the staffing schedule, for sure.

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Cross Border Xpress Southbound Duty Free store

We exited the shop to a vestibule with a handful of kiosks for US customs agents. They were mostly just waving everyone through, so I’m not sure what the point was.

After the kiosks was a scanner — I can see this process taking a long time if you had a quantity of checked bags.

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From there, you could take either an escalator or bank of elevators up to the bridge.

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The CBX website claims there is a lounge for American Express cardholders, but I’m calling BS.

CBX-VIP-Lounge

I am pretty darn good at finding lounges (as you’ll see in the next installment), and we went directly from the door, to the terminal, to the shop, to the escalators, to the bridge.

I didn’t even see anywhere to put a lounge, so if anyone knows where it is please let me know!

Walking to Mexico!

I love that this is a thing, I really do.

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Cross Border Xpress bridge

The bridge itself is maybe 400 feet long, and there are plenty of carts if you need help with your baggage.

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Placard marking the international border

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More bridges and hallways

You can’t take the carts into Mexico, however, so you’ll have to leave them at the end of the skybridge.

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View of the Tijuana airport

A set of escalators takes you down to Mexican immigration, which was an interesting experience on several levels.

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The escalators themselves weren’t that interesting

One, this was the first opportunity to fill out entry cards for Mexico. You’d really think they’d pass these out on the San Diego side, and there was quite the bottleneck as everyone filled out their forms.

Secondly, I had never considered how instrumental the flight experience is to acclimating to a language change. I am not bilingual (not even close!), and even returning to Italy it generally takes my brain some time to adjust to a new language. Walking made that worse —  rather than patient flight attendants reminding me of words I knew and adjusting over several hours, it was just “BAM! SPANISH!”

Which led to this hilarious exchange with a very good natured Mexican immigration officer:

“Bongior — ack, no, buenos dias.”
“Hola, buenos dias senora, [something my brain couldn’t process, but assumedly about destination, dates, and purpose of visit]”
::wide-eyed confusion::
“Ahhh…una gringa. Entiendes ’¡Buenos dias!’ ‘¿Como estas?’ y nada mas. :)”

So that was fun.

Even more fun? Mexico’s discounted alternative to the TSA’s $300,000 randomizer app.

Walk up to the pillar, hit the button Family Feud-style, and see what comes up. Green, you’re good, red, you’ve got secondary. So simple.

And with that, we were in Tijuana! We entered right into the departures hall (and I’ll write about our best-of-times-worst-of-times Tijuana airport experiences in the next couple of installments).

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Tijuana airport departures hall

Walking back to San Diego

Our return trip was just as easy! Upon arrival we walked through baggage claim, then followed the very ostentatiously marked pathway to the CBX entry. The agent scanned our boarding passes, took the second half of our tickets, and waved us down a corridor.

Eventually we reached a bank of escalators, an identical long bridge, and another set of escalators — just like the outbound trip, but this time it was US Customs officials waiting for us.

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An identical (but separate) bridge for the return walk

Two interesting things to note about our arrival in the US:

  • We never actually interacted with Mexican authorities on our departure, which in retrospect I’m a bit perplexed by. We still have our departure cards, as there was never anyone to give them to.
  • Although there were signs for Global Entry, the kiosks themselves were entirely different. They didn’t even have fingerprint readers, so it was a bit of a waste of time to swipe passports, and then still have to talk to the CBP officer. But, we got to skip the line.

CBX Bottom line

This is a great new option for San Diegans, and we will definitely be using the Tijuana airport more frequently now. Provided I haven’t overstayed my tourist visa or otherwise created an international incident by not submitting my departure card.

The parking seems like it could be a challenge, and if you have lots of luggage you definitely want to plan extra time for dealing with your bags. Otherwise, it’s a simple facility, but works well.

Has anyone else used the Cross Border Xpress? Any tips?

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Comments

  1. So this is a purpose built facility for US citizens to access the TJ airport, but the Mexican Immigration officers stationed at it don’t speak any English? Could be a problem for me, as my Spanish is pretty much limited to Cerveza and Una Mas 🙂

    Upon reflection I’m not quite that limited. After consulting Google translate, it turns out that Margarita, tortilla, and salsa are also Spanish words. 😉

    Also do you have to buy a R/T ticket for the bridge on departure, and then risk losing it? Can you buy a one way ticket when you return, or if you lose your R/T ticket have you just permanently moved to Mexico?

  2. @ Robert Hanson — Hah, he did speak English, but because I started in Spanish, so did he. It was all good-natured.

    We bought our R/T bridge tickets with our airline tickets, but you can also buy one-ways. I think they’re a touch more expensive.

  3. Thanks for the primer. So if I hear your correctly, it sounds like if it was a busy time the process could potentially take a while to get to the boarding gate.

  4. @ ScottB — It could indeed. Keep in mind that while the Tijuana airport isn’t that big, you still have to go through security there as well. I would add 30 minutes to however much time you’d generally give yourself at the airport.

  5. thanks for reviewing this. I’ve been fascinated by this and glad to see the press. So you’d recommend using it, if it made sense?

  6. @ Grant — Definitely intra-Mexico flights, but can make sense for some international trips as well. There were great fares TIJ-EZE a few years back, for example.

  7. We did the xpress border cross a few weeks ago. I think the ONLY way we’d do it again is if the price of flights from TIJ are significantly cheaper. We took advantage of a $240 flight to Peru. Some thoughts:

    – You can pay for your border cross when you purchase your AeroMexico ticket. Unfortunately even when using a CSP credit card we encountered problems. There is actually two separate purchases. The first is the ticket in USD and the border cross in MEX Pesos. The flight went through, but the border cross did not. We didn’t find this out until we arrived.

    – As you pointed out… you have to hold on to your return ticket. If you are traveling for a week or two it would be very easy lose the ticket. I’d suggest buying online so you don’t run into this problem. Do they offer a digital ticket you can show on your phone? I’m thinking they could just scan the PDF on a smart phone.

    – Bags, bags, bags… You have to push them on the cart until the mexico side where they then have porters who have to haul your stuff down the elevator and across a large portion of the airport. One of the biggest hassles! Do you tip these guys? You are paying $24 for the bridge and they told us in spanish they get paid fairly well.

    – You might point out in your next post on the airport. You have to actually check-in. The lines for AeroMexico on the weekend were MASSIVE. There were at least 10 people in the priority check-in. There were about 45 people in the economy line (which we were in so we could check our bags) and only 2 agents working the economy line!

    – Uber was around $30-40 to the border. I believe the toll was included.

    – If you are a frequent traveler the mexico stamps will add up. You have to go back through immigration and customs (which coming back from Peru you will be highly targeted for another inspection) on your way back. So all that time and convenience you save returning to the border in Tijuana is actually used up in Mexico City. It’s almost the exact same setup of immigration, customs, rechecking your luggage, and another security check you’d find returning to the USA. Of course, if you are only traveling within Mexico you won’t see this.

    I’d only use the bridge for cheap flights within Mexico and if it is really cheap to fly out of TIJ internationally.

  8. “You’d really think they’d pass these out on the San Diego side, and there was quite the bottleneck as everyone filled out their forms.” I doubt that anyone is going to pass out Mexican government forms on the US side. I mean, if you allow that, soon there’ll be blue UN tanks rolling through your town, taking away your freedoms. (But stationing US agents on foreign soil is perfectly OK.)

    Walking across to Tijuana at ground level, there is no immigration and no forms to fill out. So it’s kind of confusing that there are forms to fill out when walking across the bridge. I’ve never proceeded further into Mexico after walking across, but I believe there is immigration somewhere beyond Tijuana as you leave the border zone.

    PS When he builds a wall, will it slice through this bridge?

  9. On a busy holiday weekend, when the border crossing at Tijuana has a 4-5 hour wait, is there anything stopping somebody from getting to the arrivals area at TIJ and buying a one-way CBX ticket?

    Also, my understanding of the immigration cards (from my experience driving deep into Baja) is that they are unnecessary until you reach a certain distance from the border. Once you cross that threshold, you are expected to have one and can be asked to present it at any point and subject to fine if you don’t. Just as the immigration folks don’t stamp a card as you enter Mexico by road, they must not stamp it as you use the CBX. (But you’d better have it on your person at all times)

  10. @ Chuck Lesker @ Chris S. — You can only use the CBX if you have a boarding pass for a flight that day to/from Tijuana. So by definition, you wouldn’t be staying within the border zone.

    We definitely received stamped cards, and it was otherwise treated like an air crossing, not a land border.

  11. I hope you picked up a bunch of extra entry cards, as you could fill these in at home before your next trip.

  12. 1. Do you buy the bridge ticket from the airline or another vendor and is there a discount for paying in advance? How much did the bridge cost?

    2. Did you pay the visa tax at a bank inside Mexico to validate your tourist card? Or does the bridge fee include the visa tax? It’s about $20 and the airlines pay it for you, unless you cross the border over land. If you never turned your card in, I guess there’s no enforcement. When you leave by air they require you to turn in the card.

  13. @ Owen — 1) We bought them from the airline. I think you save $2 each way by booking in advance. I have a few more details about the logistics in this post: http://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2015/12/09/cross-border-xpress-tijuana/

    2) I guess it was included in our airline tickets? We were never asked to pay a supplement. I still don’t understand why we never had the opportunity to turn in our cards. We took a domestic flight, of course, but it seems there should have been a Mexican border control officer before we took the escalator up to the bridge. The CBX technically counts as an air crossing in that way, I believe.

  14. @ R — You need one to use the facility. Otherwise you’d need to enter Mexico at a land crossing and drive to the Tijuana Airport.

  15. @ Tiffany – I figured as much, but still don’t see what the actual point of it is. Thanks for the review of this. Was reading about it the other day and was curious about how it works.

  16. I think this sentence is missing something:
    “There weren’t many people there on a Thursday morning, but I can definitely see parking being an opportunity as the CBX gets more popular.”
    Did you mean something else? Is there valet parking? Is there not enough parking?

  17. I actually flew through Tijuana a couple of weeks back and instead of flying AA I flew direct on Volaris. The advantage of flying Mexico domestically is you aren’t paying for the international fees on the ticket. All of the flights I looked at from AA or United were $500+ round trip and most of them closer to $700-$800.

    I flew Volaris round trip including paying for exit row $12 each way and the Cross Border Xpress with my flight at $12 each way for $240.

    As I do not live in San Diego, I drove down and parked at the facility. Its $15 a day there and if you cross over into another 24 hour segment they charge you another $15. Next time I fly out of Tijuana, I will park somewhere else and Uber over. $15 a day is way too much for parking there.

    Once you enter the facility they have some counters for the airlines and then the ticketing agent who takes your ticket. If you pre-paid you can take your boarding pass to the counter and they give you the ticket.

    I walked across the border and once you cross into the Mexican side you need to fill out a visa card if you don’t have one. When you go into the Tijuana airport they charge you for these. Because my trip was 3 days they didn’t charge me. Score for me.

    On the return trip, once inside baggage at TIJ there is a line to buy the return ticket. I showed my receipt to a lady managing the line and she handed me a return ticket.

    There actually is a global entry line on the US side. There was no one in it and I got waved through pretty quick.

    The experience was really easy and I’d totally use this again as crossing at San Ysidro where I crossed before is a hassle with the walk across and the taxis.

  18. Hey Tiffany, I travel between the US and Mexico several times a year, and up until recently they only gave the entry cards when flying into Mexico from another country, but now they’re making everyone do them. I cross by foot all the time into Tijuana and they have been handing them out, but I never have a chance to turn in the other part. They only collect them if you are departing on an international flight from Mexico, so don’t worry, you won’t be on any watch list or anything!

  19. @R

    Point of ticket? Think toll road here, tickets pays for ongoing maintenance and operations and probably also for capital cost from building the facility in the first place

  20. @Chris and @Chuck, Tijuana’s pedestrian crossing (at least at San Ysidro) used to have little-to-no border formalities other than a turnstile. But they just last year opened a new full-fledged immigration facility on the other side of the turnstile, so if you walk across at San Ysidro, you now have to show your passport and be processed by Mexican border agents. Mexico is beefing up its incoming pedestrian and vehicle crossing security to more closely match that experienced by people heading north to the U.S.

  21. Thanks Tiffany! This is awesome to read about. I’ve been thinking about going to Mexico City for years but sometimes flights are as expensive as discounted fares to Asia… With this, though, now I can do a quick hope from the Bay to SD and have my dad (who works in Point Loma) just drop me off a CBX! As a native San Diegan, I can’t wait to fly out of TIJ.

  22. I talked to a Mex immigration officer as I needed to get an exit stamp. he said I could not do that at the CBX and that I would have to go to the border! WTF!? He said they didn’t think about that when the terminal was built and in the future it might change. unreal!

  23. I guess the Mexican tourist visa/permit for US citizens you describe is similar to the “permit” we must get (on top of the visa) when we visit the US beyond the border area. It is valid for 6 months and we have to pay for it (around 6 USD). People crossing the border by land are normally allowed to keep it as they are likely to re-use it within its 6 months validity. So I would suggest you to keep your Mexico visitor permit (which you probably had to pay for). In case you visit MX again within 6 months, just use the same permit again and avoid the fee. If next time you visit us your permit is expired, just hand it back to the Mexican authorities at the entrance point, and apply for a new one. That´s the way Mexican visitors proceed with the US permit when crossing by land; by air its always automatically removed by US customs authorities at the exit point… Despite being located at an airport facility, the CBX seems to function like the other two land-crossing points in TJ. Ultimately your flight was domestic, and so you never went through an airport-based customs point to have your MX permit removed.

  24. Thank you for the info Tiffany! I do have a question, is a passport required to cross the bridge to Tijuana? or is a CA Driver’s License sufficient?

  25. How much is the charge for using the cbx n do they charge us citizen for crossing walking also or is it just the charge for the cbx pls if someone knows about it…I have 3 children n my self which we are us citenzen..so I want to know so it can give me an idea if it’s better to cross the cbx or just go all the way to tj
    Thank you

  26. Does any one tell me about the mexican side of the bridge if they have perssonel with carts to help with the luggage to get to the counter in Tijuana airlines , thank you

  27. URGENT!!
    Hello my mom’s passport just expired and I wanted to know if they ask you for it when crossing through CBX ?

  28. You can fill out necessary forms in the us before entering the bridge near where you buy your bridge ticket. You don’t have to fill it out in Mexico. That way you can get someone to help you if needed.

    Parking. If it’s busy there they will valet your car for you to another parking lot free. It costs 17 dollars a day to park now. Was 10 then 15 now 17. If you loose your parking ticket they charge you an extra day -17 dollars.

    You need a boarding pass buy a bridge ticket and enter the bridge. The kiosks there only print out tickets for volaris Internet and Aeromexico. For others you need to pre printout at home or have on your phone to show.

  29. Hi can anyone tell me if I can take the Amtrak Train from Fullerton to CBX Do I stop @ Downtown San Diego ….or Is there a Amtrak station closer to CBX …Thank you

  30. Hello! I am landing in San Diego Airport at 11:00 pm and catching a flight in Tijuana at 1:00 am on a Thursday. Do you think 2 hours will be enough to make it to the gate considering a taxi ride from the San Diego Airport to the CBX, going through immigration and airport security? I’m thinking that because we will be crossing sometime around midnight the lines will be shorter, but I am not sure. Also, I am thinking I can save some time by only taking carry ons, and pre-printing boarding passes. I am really nervous we might be cutting it too close and might miss our flight! Thank you for your help!

  31. @ Sara F — That is going to be very close, but potentially possible if everything is on time and you’re super organized.

  32. What if you are picking someone up from the airport? Is it easy to get to arrivals or what not? Do I park? Is the arrival teminal close to any parking lot? Will be congested on a Saturday night around 6pm. And how far is this exactly from, let’s say Sea World? Any suggestions?

  33. We fly into San Diego soon and are planning to catch an Uber/Lyft ride to the border, then go to the TIJ airport to rent a car for a few days before flying on to Cabo San Lucas. The CBX seems like a great way to simplify our plans and leave the other border crossing hassles behind since we will have a few bags. I know however that one requirement to use CBX is that you need a same day flight departure. So do you think it is possible to purchase a refundable same day flight departure on AM for a flight much later in the day, then use the CBX? Then cancel the reservation for a refund once accross? I’ve lived in Mexico for years and it seems like it would work but since I haven’t tried it before would love to get your input.

  34. @ Sara F – not sure if you saw my last post but thought I’d give it one last attempt …
    We fly into San Diego soon and are planning to catch an Uber/Lyft ride to the border, then go to the TIJ airport to rent a car for a few days before flying on to Cabo San Lucas. The CBX seems like a great way to simplify our plans and leave the other border crossing hassles behind since we will have a few bags. I know however that one requirement to use CBX is that you need a same day flight departure. So do you think it is possible to purchase a refundable same day flight departure on AM for a flight much later in the day, then use the CBX? Then cancel the reservation for a refund once accross? I’ve lived in Mexico for years and it seems like it would work but since I haven’t tried it before would love to get your input.

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