Returning to the U.S.

Passport Requirements
U.S. Customs
Special Entry Lanes for Crossing the Border – SENTRI, Ready Lane, Fast Pass
Pedestrian Crossing
Border Wait Times

 

PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS

As of June 1, 2009, US citizens are required to carry a valid passport one of the following forms of documentation for reentry into the US from Mexico:

  • Passport
  • Passport card
  • Enhanced driver’s license (from Michigan, New York, Vermont, Washington and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec)
  • SENTRI pass
  • FAST (Free and Secure Trade) membership card – only for commercial drivers

A regular driver’s license or birth certificate is no longer sufficient for entry back into the US.

For more information on how to obtain a U.S. Passport or Passport card, please see the U.S. Department of State website.

 

U.S. CUSTOMS

You must declare all items you are bringing back with you into the U.S. that you acquired in Mexico. Each person may bring back up to $800 worth of goods duty-free if they meet the requirements listed below. The items must be in your possession. A joint declaration is possible for families.

Requirements for duty-free items:

  • Must be under $800 worth of items
  • The items must be for personal or household use
  • All items must be declared to the customs official
  • You cannot have used any part of your $800 in the past 30 days.
  • The items are not prohibited or restricted in the US (i.e. ivory, tortoiseshell products, absinthe, counterfeit items, anything made in Cuba)

For any amount exceeding $800, you must pay a duty. Items mailed home are exempt up to $200.

You can bring back one liter of alcohol if you are over the age of 21 and as long as the state you are returning to allows you to import it. Any excess amount is subject to duty. Alcohol purchased from a duty-free shop or homemade wines, are subject to duty and Federal excise taxes. See the CBP website  for more information. You must declare all alcohol you are bringing into the U.S.

You may bring back certain food products into the U.S. from Mexico. However many fruits, vegetables and meat products are prohibited. See the CBP guide on bringing food for personal use into the U.S. You must declare all food products. Failure to do so may result in in fines and penalties. For produce, see the following APHIS guide for restrictions  on fruits and vegetables.

Click here for a complete list of items that are prohibited to bring back in the U.S.  For more international travel tips, see the Department of Homeland Security website.

DB insider tips:

  • Any items brought back for resale are not exempt from duty fees
  • Declare everything you are bringing in from abroad, even if bought in a duty-free shop (this merchandise is also subject to U.S. duty fees and restrictions). Keep all receipts from purchases.
  • Money over the amount of $10,000 must be declared
  • Keep receipts from purchases together in an envelope to make it easier to fill out the CBP item declaration
  • Many foreign-made prescriptions are not FDA-approved and are therefore, not allowed in the US. If you have prescriptions you are taking into Mexico from the US, make sure to keep the medication in its original container.
  • Do not bring food back into the US without knowing that it’s permitted.

 

SPECIAL ENTRY LANES FOR CROSSING THE BORDER

The Discover Baja Border Chart has information on the California/Baja border crossings and which of these special lanes can be found at each border crossing.

FAST PASS/FAST TRACK

The Fast Pass (also called the Fast Lane or Fast Track) is a special lane for tourists crossing at the San Ysidro border crossing who have received a single-use pass by patronizing certain medical centers, doctors offices or hotels in northern Baja. Generally, customers must spend around $1000 pesos in order to receive a Fast Pass. Restaurants no longer have the Fast Passes available to give to customers. Right now the only merchants with passes to give to customers are located in Ensenada, Rosarito and Tijuana. The program is still developing and constantly changing so be sure to call ahead to verify that the merchant has passes and what the requirements are to get one.

The Fast Pass lane is open daily from 8am-10pm. The wait is about 30 minutes. Vehicles with Mexican license plates, vehicles with trailers and motorcycles are currently not allowed to use the Fast Pass lane.

Click here for step-by-step photo directions to the Fast Pass lane that you can download and print.

The Ayuntamiento de Tijuana, the authorities who run the Fast Pass program, will not release an official list of establishments that offer the Fast Pass. We’ve put together our own list, below, of establishments that currently have the Fast Pass (and what you need to spend at the establishment in order to get the pass). The availability of Fast Passes is not always certain so before you book, call ahead to the establishment to make sure they have the passes and to verify what you must spend in order to get the pass.

If you know of an establishment that offers the Fast Pass that we don’t have listed, please email us at ask@discoverbaja.com.

Ensenada
BajaMar
 – must spend $75 or more to receive pass
Best Western El Cid – must stay two nights at the hotel
El Rey Sol – must stay one night in hotel or spend $80 or more in the restaurant
Estero Beach Hotel – spend one night in hotel
San Nicolas Hotel & Casino – spend one night at hotel and pay extra $10

Rosarito
Bobby’s Baja – spend $94 in spa
Festival Plaza – must spend two nights in hotel
Grand Baja Resort (Puerto Nuevo Hotel & Villas)– spend one night in hotel
Rosarito Beach Hotel – spend one night in hotel
Rosarito Inn – spend one night at hotel

Dr. Avila’s Dental Group
Dental Zamora

Tijuana
Dali Suites – spend one night in hotel

READY LANE

Ready lane is a vehicle lane for travelers entering into the US who have a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) enabled travel document.

The RFID technology allows information in a wireless “tag” to be read from a distance, thus enabling officers to process travelers crossing into the US more quickly.

RFID-enabled documents include the following:

  • U.S. Passport Card (Passport Books will NOT work in the Ready Lane)
  • Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL). Available from the US states of Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington as well as the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. (California is now issuing what they call “enhanced Driver’s Licenses” but these are NOT compliant with RFID and will not work in the Ready Lane).
  • Enhanced Tribal Card (ETC)
  • Trusted Traveler Cards: Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI and FAST cards
  • Enhanced Permanent Resident Card (PRC)
  • Border Crossing Card (BCC)

All travelers in the vehicle over the age of 16 must have a RFID-enabled card in order to use the Ready Lane.

See our Ready Lane Directions for step-by-step photo directions to arrive at the Tijuana San Ysidro Ready Lanes from the toll road.

USING THE READY LANE

In order to use the Ready Lane, make sure that each passenger has their RFID card out at the beginning of the lane. When it is your turn, drive slowly through the lane and hold all cards so that the flat face of the cards show through any window on the driver’s side of the vehicle. Then stop at the officer’s booth and hand him the cards.

Getting an RFID-enabled card:
Passport Card:
You can get a Passport Card from the US Department of State for $30 if you already have a Passport Book or $55 if you’re a first-time applicant. They’re valid for 10 years. If you already have a Passport Book, you may apply through the mail. If you do not currently have a Passport Book, you must apply in person at a Passport Office. For processing times, see here.

 DB insider’s tip:

  • The San Diego Passport Agency is able to offer expedited service to receive a Passport Card without requiring proof of travel (most Passport Agencies require proof of travel for any expedited service). You must call the Passport Agency reservation line to make an appointment, 1-877-487-2778. Be prepared to pay $90 ($30 for the Passport Card plus $60 for the expedited fee). Make sure you have your passport book with you, a passport photo (we recommend Costco if you have a membership – $4.99 for 4 photos), and the proper forms completed. Passport Cards will generally be issued within 5 business days of applying. If you are traveling within 5 days, take proof of travel (your Discover Baja Mexican Auto Insurance policy will work – it must be printed out, showing the policy on your smartphone is not sufficient). If necessary, they are generally able to issue a Passport Card on the same day.
  • See the Discover Baja Border Chart for information on which border crossings have Ready Lanes and the hours of the lanes.

SENTRI

The SENTRI lane is the fastest way to cross the border, but it is also the most expensive option and the process to get a SENTRI card can take months and is extensive with background checks, supplying personal information and in-person interviews. SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) passes are issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prescreened applicants and vehicles to help them pass over the border more quickly and efficiently. The application process for the SENTRI pass can be rigorous. You will first apply online through the GOES (Global Online Enrollment System). You will complete and submit an application and a background check will be performed. If approved, you will be asked to come in for an interview where you will answer questions about your application, show documentation, be fingerprinted, photographed and have your car inspected if you will be crossing the border in a vehicle.

The entire process usually takes about 2-3 months and will cost $122.25 per person. The pass is valid for 5 years.

SENTRI Application process

  • Go to the GOES website to start the application process. You will pay a $25 USD application fee.
  • You will be notified by email if you are rejected or approved to move onto the interview round. If you are approved, you will need to go online to schedule your interview at one of the enrollment centers located at a border station.
  • For your interview, you will need to bring the following paperwork. Make sure to have copies of everything for the office to keep on file if necessary:
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Valid passport, visa or other entry document
  • Valid driver’s license issued by the state in which you reside
  • Evidence of financial support – your most recent tax return, bank statements, recent pay stubs or direct deposit statements. If you are self-employed you must bring your business license, current tax information, and bank statements.
  • If you are registering a vehicle to your SENTRI account, you will need the current vehicle registration and proof of U.S. auto insurance. If the vehicle is not registered in the name of the applicant, you will need a notarized letter from the vehicle owner allowing use of the vehicle. Vehicle must not have any cracks on the windshield, front windows on the driver’s and passenger’s side must not be tinted, and license plates must be attached on the front and back of the vehicle.
  • Proof of residence – mortgage or rent payment receipts and utility bills.
  • They will take a photo and fingerprints during your interview. The remaining fee (about $97 USD) will be required.

For more information on the SENTRI pass, please visit the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website.

In March 2014, the entrance to the SENTRI lanes at San Ysidro was moved to Padre Kino Blvd. Click here for directions and maps to the new entrance.

DB insider’s tips:

  • A SENTRI pass holder may cross the border in any SENTRI-approved vehicle. It does not have to be the specific vehicle that you registered when you applied to the SENTRI program.
  • SENTRI pass holders are also able to use their SENTRI cards in the Ready Lane.
  • The Mexican government does not recognize SENTRI cards as a valid form of identification so SENTRI card holders must still travel with either a passport or a passport card in addition to their SENTRI card.
  • If you are enrolling for a SENTRI pass and are also interested in getting approved for Global Entry, you can let them know when you arrive for your SENTRI interview that you would like to be enrolled in Global Entry. As long as you have a passport book (and not Passport Card), they will place a sticker on your passport and enroll you in Global Entry at the same time for no additional charge. All U.S. citizens with SENTRI passes are automatically able to use the Global Entry lanes at airports with their passport book.
  • See the Discover Baja Border Chart for information on which border crossings have Ready Lanes and the hours of the lanes.

GLOBAL ENTRY
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival into the United States when traveling via airplane. If you joined Global Entry after July 12, 2011, you should already have a RFID card that will allow you to use the SENTRI pedestrian lane. If traveling by vehicle, you may use your Global Entry RFID pass, but only if you are riding in someone’s car that is already SENTRI approved. In order to use the SENTRI lane with your own vehicle, you must register your vehicle with CBP to schedule an appointment at a SENTRI enrollment center to have it inspected and stickered for SENTRI lane use.

If you were approved for Global Entry prior to July 12, 2011 (you do not have a RFID Global Entry card) and you are not already a SENTRI card holder, you may login to the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES) account and request a Global Entry card for $15 in order to use the SENTRI lane.

For more information on Global Entry: http://www.globalentry.gov/

 

PEDESTRIAN CROSSING

Along with the regular lanes for crossing the border on foot, there are pedestrian Ready Lanes which are an expedited crossing for those with a SENTRI card or other RFID-enabled identification (see list of approved documents above in Ready Lane information). Check out our Border Chart for more information on which Baja/California border crossings have expedited pedestrian crossings.

 

BORDER WAIT TIMES

Luckily, thanks to some innovative students at UCSD, there’s a new mobile app, “Best Time to Cross the Border,” that provides real-time border wait information as well as typical wait times for border crossings. Other features include:

  • Specific information for all California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas crossings
  • Current U.S. Border wait times for regular lanes, Ready Lanes and SENTRI
  • Number of lanes currently open
  • Graphs with average wait times broken down by day of the week and hour of the day

The app is free and downloadable for iPhone and Android or on a desktop computer.