UPDATED: December 21st, 2021
The U.S.-Mexico border is open to all travelers. Travel restrictions at the Mexican and Canadian land borders were eased in November, allowing fully vaccinated travelers to enter the country for non-essential activities, such as tourism and family visits.
Original-ish post below
I’ve been thinking about the U.S.-Mexico border a lot lately. Not just because I cross it so frequently, but because it has once again become a headlining story and the subject of much confusion.
As a binational business owner and community member, I’ve received more messages than ever from friends, past Baja Wine Tour clients, and even strangers regarding travel into Mexico (is it safe? is it allowed? will I get stuck?).
I thought I’d take a moment to share what I know regarding the two questions I keep getting. One has a simple answer and the other depends on who is asking:
Is the Border closed?
On March 20, 2020, the White House Coronavirus Task Force said it was “closing” the border with Mexico to any nonessential travel, beginning March 21, 2020. Headline-grabbing, right?
The outcome was that the next day The U.S. and Mexico entered a joint initiative restricting non-essential travel along the U.S.-Mexico land border “to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” according to the State Department. The updated restrictions are in place until May 2020 then it was extended to June 2020 and is now currently in place until at least
December 21, 2020, January 21st April 21st, May 21st, June 21st, July 21st, , NOVEMBER 8th. The site has been updated to say “The restrictions are in place until at least June 21, 2021,” a date which has now passed. October 21st
On the bright side, northbound traffic is made up of mostly U.S. citizens, Mexican citizens, and world travelers looking to enter the U.S. are turned away at the land port of entry and must instead fly-in –I don’t make the rules. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
How long is the border wait?
It depends on how you travel...
Trusted Travelers zoom by.
The Trusted Traveler program which consists of SENTRI and Global Entry, allows travelers to benefit from an expedited return into the United States. I regularly wait 5 – 15 minutes, with peak traffic times hitting up to half an hour. Apply for a trusted traveler program on the Department of Homeland Security website, you can pay the application fee there too. The process includes a background check, in-person interview, and a possible car inspection. LPT: Global Entry has more benefits and costs less than SENTRI, see which is right for you.
Ready Lane traffic is moderate.
When traveling with a valid passport, Real ID, or any RFID-enabled documents wait times have consistently stayed in the 60 – 90-minute range through much of the 2020 pandemic. You can see the current and historical data online to help plan your trip across the border to calm fears and set real expectations.
General or “All Traffic” lanes are very slow
These lanes (all the way to the left) are for passenger vehicles with individuals that do not possess any of the aforementioned travel documents and are always the slowest lane option. General entry can range from 2 – 4 hours depending on the day and time of travel. Sundays often hit the five-hour mark and exceptional holidays have been known to create a nine-hour wait time, yes NINE HOURS. It’s important to note that most people in these lanes are crossing without a passport, that is only one form of ID (or birth certificate), which is legal but means the screening process per vehicle takes much longer even if the line seems shorter.
Otay and Driving vs Walking
It’s important to remember that the above information pertains to vehicle entry into the U.S. via the Tijuana – San Ysidro port of entry (officially known as El Chaparral) and may not accurately reflect the Otay Mesa, Tecate or any other Southern California ports of entry as many of those have a smaller processing capacity with a proportionally similar volume of traffic. Pedestrian traffic flow is also split into three tiers of travelers and is not always reflective of what’s occurring in the vehicle lanes.
I really hope the information above cleared things up for you and is helpful for you and your party in deciding to travel into areas of Mexico that are now open for tourists, these regions have worked diligently to enact health protocols for your safety and security. It’s unfortunate that the U.S. and CBP seem to actively be working to intimidate and confuse law-abiding citizens in an effort to deter us from lawfully traveling South of the Border.
The border wall was the main story in a recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and also one of the many topics of conversation during my chat as a guest on the From Another Zero Podcasts too. Check them out!
Let me know what your relationship is with the border is like, I’m curious to hear your thoughts or when you plan to return to Mexico.