On Flying Out of Tijuana, Mexico from the U.S. side of the border.

In my recent trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, I did something I’ve been curious about doing for a while…I flew out of the Tijuana airport. You see, I live in San Diego, California, which is just over the border from Mexico in the United States. I’ve done day trips to Tijuana and into Baja California before by driving to the border, parking, and walking across, but when I’m going anywhere further afield I usually just fly out of San Diego airport. If the flights are cheap enough, I will even drive to Los Angeles and fly out of LAX. I had heard that it was preferable to fly out of Tijuana for flights anywhere within Mexico because you get the domestic flight rates rather than international rates, but I hadn’t actually tried it until this trip.

On this particular trip, I flew with Volaris and the experience was pretty good. Volaris is a budget Mexican airline. They are no-frills, so you have to pay for extra things you might want like extra leg room, food, or drinks. That being said, the flight included one checked bag as well as a personal item and it was plenty of luggage to get me through the trip. Since this was actually a work trip (I know, lucky duck….) I was even carrying some extra items with me and traveling much heavier than I usually do. Even so, it was plenty of baggage allowance so I wouldn’t worry too much about luggage restrictions.

If you’re going to fly out of Tijuana Airport from the U.S. side of the border, they have made it really easy for you.

How to get to the airport from the U.S. side of the border.

While you could take the train and/or Trolley through San Diego to the border, cross on foot, and take a taxi to the airport, there’s an even easier way. You can drive, park, and simply walk across the border on a bridge.

You’ll want to park at the Delta Parking Lot near the Otay Crossing and then walk over the border on the bridge. You’ll need to get tickets for the Cross Border Xpress in order to walk across the bridge, which I highly recommend you do ahead of time and you must have your boarding pass ready in order to cross the bridge. The Cross Border Xpress website has a lot of information on the whole process and need to know information about crossing over the bridge and into the airport, so definitely check it out. You can park on the U.S. side of the border for $17 per day, which in my opinion is kind of expensive.

If you’re not too keen on paying that much to park, you can also get there by taking a bus or shuttle there from San Diego, which is much more economical. From San Diego airport or downtown San Diego, there are plenty of options to get you where you need to be. I’ve written about San Diego public transit before, so I’ll link to my guide on that to give you a little more information on how to get around on the U.S. side of the border without a car. Basically, though, you’ll want to get either to SAN (San Diego airport) or downtown San Diego via public transit, and then take the shuttle or bus, cab, or Uber to the Cross Border Xpress.

Airport Restrictions in Mexico.

So…here in the U.S. we have the TSA and we’re all aware we need to have a full body cavity search and get anally probed before we’re allowed to board our flights (I kid…but it does feel that way sometimes). So…what’s different about flying out of Mexico? Not much, really, although I did find the experience to be a little more pleasant than when I fly in the USA. The lines weren’t bad at all and they were fast and efficient at the security checkpoint, so things went pretty smoothly.

Here are the general airport security check guidelines as of the time of writing (but check before you fly, because these are subject to change).

  • The liquid restrictions are pretty much the same as they are in U.S. airports. You should have your liquids in a clear, 1 quart bag, and in no larger than 3oz (100ml) containers. They should be removed from your bags to be examined at the security checkpoint.
  • In general, security restrictions were much the same. Take off your coat, take out your laptop, that sort of thing.

Other things you should know.

  • It may seem obvious, but bring your passport. Up until 2007, it was possible for U.S. citizens to cross into Mexico and back into the United States with nothing but a driver’s license or state issued ID card. A 2007 U.S. law ended that practice, however, and it is now required to bring your passport with you into Mexico if you would like to return to the United States without a huge hassle. I still get people asking me occasionally if they need their passports to go into Mexico, however, so I would like to just let you know right now….bring your passport.
  • If your final destination is somewhere within Mexico, it is absolutely worthwhile to cross the border and fly out of Tijuana instead of San Diego. Although the two airports really are quite close to one another, the fact that Tijuana is on the other side of the border means you’ll be flying domestic, which means cheaper rates on flights. If you’re coming from San Diego, this is absolutely worthwhile. If you’re coming from farther afield such as Orange County or even Los Angeles, however, you may want to factor in the cost and loss of convenience from the drive time vs. the savings of flying out of Tijuana. It’s entirely up to you!
  • Be prepared to do a bit of walking when you come. Although there weren’t really any lines, it did take a bit of time to get into the Tijuana airport terminal just because there were a lot of halls and corridors to walk through.
  • Some people have expressed to me that they wouldn’t want to fly out of Tijuana because they don’t speak Spanish and are worried about getting confused. I do speak a little bit of Spanish (but not a lot!) and I had no issues whatsoever. Many people in Mexico do speak English, ranging from fluently to only a little bit, but even if you encounter somebody (like the gate agent who helped check me in) who doesn’t speak any English, I just showed her my printed itinerary, showed her my passport, and she got me all checked in. No worries.
  • Volaris Airlines made all their announcements in Spanish and English since there are a significant number of Americans who cross the border every day to fly with them.

Next time you’re thinking about flying out of So Cal for a flight to Mexico, I highly recommend you check flights out of Tijuana. You might just find a really good deal, and it’s not that hard…I promise.


12 replies »

  1. Anybody basically under the age of 40 or so in Mexico who was able to finish going to high school is almost guaranteed to speak English and if they don’t they’ll understand you even if you see they are having trouble getting the words out. It’s a requirement in Mexican schools to take English.


  2. I’m from SAn Diego and I will be flying from TJ to La Paz in June this year. Im applying for a passport and wondered if I needed the passport book or the card to fly within Mexico as a US citizen. Do you know the answer? I can’t seem to find it while searching online.


    • As far as I understand it, you should be good with the card if you’re passing over the border first by land, and then traveling by air. This is according to immigration law. However, I encourage you to check with your specific airline because airlines may have differing rules of their own. I also always encourage people to get the book because it’s just better to have. The card is great for land crossings over the Canadian and Mexican borders, but doesn’t do anything else. With the book, you have more options and you’ll be able to use the passport for any emergency flights, say, straight back to San Diego if needed. There is an option when you order your passport where you can get the book and the card, which is convenient if you cross into Mexico a lot but also want to travel elsewhere. Hopefully that helps!


  3. Just found out my son’s passport is expired for our trip tomorrow! I know i should have tripled checked but i thought we were all good until 2019. Lesson learned… now, so the poor kid doesnt miss out on the trip, can i drive to TJ book a flight to Cabo and get him on the flight with a birth certificate and a notarized letter from his father? Our daughter will be flying with my husband (son’s father as well)? I cant seem to locate a concrete answer.


      • You don’t need a passport, my wife and I have done this before with our daughter. Put your son in the trunk of your car just before the border line with a walkie-talkie, a bottle of water and a flashlight. Make sure he goes the bathroom prior. Tell him to keep quiet and drink water only if he gets thirsty. Only use walkie-talkie in case of emergency. You can get basic walkie talkie at Walmart for $15.
        Assuming your son is under 10 years old and it’s under 90 degrees F, your family and he will be fine. They can’t detect his body heat and Mexico is pretty lenient coming into the country.
        When you return, tell US Customs that his Passport was stolen, they’ll let him in no problem. Easy Peasy.


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