How to avoid wasting your time at the San Ysidro port of entry

8 Tips for Driving Across the Border into California

Every year, it seems to get harder to stay out of long lines at Mexico/US border. Most people want to wait less than one hour, but waits at the San Ysidro port of entry can be two hours or more on a busy weekend, and twice as long on a Sunday afternoon.

For many people living in Baja California the city of San Diego is definitely a shopping paradise. These Southern California visitors end up spending all day on shopping sprees at San Diego's malls, they are smart shoppers, time conscious, and have a lot of border-crossing experience.

I asked around some of my fellow Americans, and noticed some people don't have a clue on how to avoid wasting time at the US/Mexico border. So I did a survey with my friends from and we decided on "eight ways to shorten the wait".

Our tips will help you have more fun and spend less time in line. In fact, you may save so much time that you can stay longer, which is the best way to travel around Baja, when you are in no hurry. Dealing with Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) requires some planning, so we've prepared a simple guide of time management tactics will all shorten your waits somewhat.

1-Know what ID is necessary: They are three types of lanes at the San Ysidro port of entry. For "regular lanes" is very important that you have the correct documentation before you plan to cross the border. For faster "ready lanes" you need WHTI-compliant, RFID-enabled cards approved by the Department of Homeland Security. And "Sentri lanes" are reserved strictly for the use of NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry and Free And Secure Trade (FAST) card holders.

2-Check out border wait times before crossing. Especially if you can choose from different border crossing, such as at Otay Mesa, you can tune into 104.5FM Radio Latina or visit their website or the U.S. Customs border wait times at their official site.

3-Upon arriving at the CBP booth, roll down your window all the way, take off your sunglasses, and always turn off radios and cell phones. Turning off the engine is not a necessary step, however if the officer ask you, immediately turn off the engine.

4-Have your car registration on hand: CBP officers are on the lookout for stolen vehicles or people trying to break the law, so having your car registration handy is a smart move.

5-Unnecessary items in your trunk may be a source for questioning and potentially send you to secondary inspection adding time to your border crossing experience.

6-The CBP officer will ask you a series of questions, such as "How long you have been in Mexico?" and "Why are you traveling to California?" Answer these questions directly, never make jokes about it, and always declare all goods you have purchased or acquired while you were outside the US.

7-Think about it from the CBP officer perspective, because he does not know you or what you may be capable of. So never forget to smile, remain calm and collective all the time.

8- Timing: To avoid long lines, plan your trip off-season: Traditionally December is awful at San Ysidro Port of Entry, but after Christmas gets much better. Please consider that between January 2 and Valentine's Day (middle of February), between Easter and Memorial Day, or between Labor Day and the end of September you probably will avoid traffic congestions at the border. Any time of year, weekdays are less busy, especially Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday is called by locals "swap meet day", no idea why but historically it is a busy day, and Saturday is always better than Sunday.

There are other ways to avoid the long lines at the San Ysidro port of entry. For instance, a special lane dedicated to medical tourism.

I really hope this tips will help you, my main advice is to relax and enjoy the ride.


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