Monday, September 12, 2016

Crossing Back Into the USA

Story and Photos by Jim Foreman

A road trip to Mexico is typically filled with wonderful memories, great photos, and fun stories.

The only disappointing aspect is crossing back into the USA.  Wait times can be long and arduous.  Lanes are closed with little notice, it can be hot, and everyone is more than ready to get through and back home.

Border wait times vary from minutes to hours depending on the day, hour and if you have special privileges.  
Most often, the longest wait times are on the weekends.  If you can arrange to return on a Monday Morning, you'll find the wait times dramatically less.  Sundays or Mondays on a 3-day weekend will always be the worst.

Before you enter the line to cross back into the USA, make sure you have at least half a tank of fuel in your gas tank.  If there is an unusually long wait, you may run out of fuel before making it across the border.  Enterprising Mexicans will try to help you by getting fuel for you, while waiting in line.  Expect to pay a premium for this delivery service.

Make sure all legal documents are accounted for such as passports, US Visas, and US Resident Alien cards.
INM Mexican Tourist Visa

Find out where you return your Mexican Tourist Visa and Temporary Vehicle Import Permit (TVIP). If you only traveled in Baja California (North and South) or the Hassle Free Zone in Sonora, you do not need a TVIP.  If you did travel outside these areas, you must have one. 

In most cases returning the Visa and TVIP is at the same place you received your Mexican Tourist Visa and TVIP.  

Please don't forget to do this.  Failing to return a Mexican Tourist Visa can make future entry into Mexico very difficult and possibly costly.  Neglecting to turn in your TVIP before the expiration date will cause you to forfeit your deposit and have extreme difficulty and cost if trying to acquire a future TVIP.  

Sonora Hassle Free Zone.  No TVIP needed.
TVIPs must be canceled out in Mexico.  You can not do this at any location in the USA.  Additionally, the vehicle must be present, and the VIN must be verified to be canceled out.  Your deposit will be issued immediately or will be immediately credited back to your credit card.

If using the Frontera or Border crossing in Tijuana, it is very difficult to find the location to return your Mexican Visa and TVIP if previously traveling on the mainland.  It may be better to do this in Ensenada.  

If you are in Tijuana, the Banjercito is found here.

In Mexicali, you will find the Banjercito on the east end of town here.  It's usually an easier crossing, too.

For smaller crossings, you can find the Immigration and Banjercito at or near the incoming border crossing into Mexico.  

Once you have fueled up, accounted for all the entry documents, and returned any visas and TVIPs, it's a wise idea to find out how long border wait times are.  

You can go on your mobile phone to the Customs and Border Protection Current Wait Times Page.  Additionally, you can download and install a Smartphone App for iPhone and Android from this page.

Savvy travelers who frequently cross the border will opt for a SENTRI Pass. According to the Customs and Border Protection: The Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI) is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Participants may enter the United States by using dedicated primary lanes into the United States at Southern land border ports.

To apply for a SENTRI pass, you first have to create an account on the GOES site. From there, fill out the application, pay the fee and schedule an interview. It's quite simple. When you have a SENTRI pass, you can use the lanes designated for SENTRI to dramatically speed up your return to the US.

When traveling in Mexico, you must have Mexican Auto Insurance for your Auto, Motorcycle or RV. Get quality Mexican insurance from Mexican Insurance Store. It's simple. Enter your vehicle details, choose a carrier, buy and print out your policy. All in about 5 minutes.

©2016 Jim Foreman  All Rights Reserved


  1. Not too shabby, Jim. Very helpful info. A couple adds: If a person returning to the US fails to cancel his or her TVIP, it's not a disaster: Simply turn around and re-enter Mexico and get it done at a Banjercito. Also, while SENTRI is a great idea, the vehicle being ridden/driven by the returning party must be listed on the account.

    Nice job.

  2. Great info. One question about the SENTRI Pass. Does it need to be done for each trip across, or is it good for a certain period of time?

    1. Great Question, Davina. The SENTRI is good for 5 years. It is easily renewed, online.
      Think of it like the TSA PreCheck program for airports, also good for 5 years. Vehicles must be listed on the GOES account. It's easy to go online and add or change them.