Entering & Driving In Mexico
The Following Info Applies to Our Area of Northern Baja, Mexico
You have 3 basic options for entering Mexico in order to get to our area of Mexico.
1. San Ysidro (Tijuana) Best Choice if arriving via San Diego
If you are heading south from San Diego, the San Ysidro (Tijuana) border crossing is the best choice. The best (and quickest) route is to take U.S. I-5 or I-805 south to the border crossings. For more help on driving directions, please refer to our Detailed driving directions to Go Missions to Mexico Mission Base
2. Otay Mesa - Second best choice if arriving via San Diego.
Requires driving through Tijuana, which can be complicated. From either I-5 or I-805, take California Route 905 east for approximately 5 miles- there are signs directing you to the border crossing.
3. Tecate - Best if arriving from the East
If you are avoiding Tijuana or driving from the east, then Tecate is where you catch Mexican Route 3 south to Ensenada. The drive from Tecate to Ensenada is a lovely one over the coastal mountains. The road intersects the coast just on the north side of Ensenada. Be aware that the border crossing at Tecate is closed from 11pm to 5am.
Mexican Customs & Inspections at the Border Crossing
Please note that all RVs, vans, vehicles pulling trailers, pickups carrying cargo, etc. will be waved over and inspected. These vehicles should be the first in your mission team to cross the border and then the rest of your passenger vehicles should pull in behind them.
Important Tips for Crossing the Border - Very Important! Please read carefully!
Pack all your questionable items in the front part of your cargo vehicles and cover them up with all your luggage, food, personal items, etc.
Don’t volunteer any more info at the border than what you’re asked. If you plan on doing medical or dental work on your mission trip, it’s best not to volunteer that info as it could raise red flags and cause them to search everything very thoroughly.
When crossing the border, you don’t have to stop unless they give you the red light or pull you over after crossing the border.
Always have your cargo vehicles go first and if they get pulled over, have all the other vehicles pull over with them as well. This lets the officials know that all the food and luggage is for a lot of people, not just a few.
Remember, you're a tourist and not a missionary. You can tell them you'll be helping out a church, needy people, etc., but don’t volunteer the details unless asked. Technically, Mexico doesn’t have a missionary category, so it’s best to avoid raising issues.
Just the leaders should speak with the border officials.
Vehicle Information Needed
Be certain to carry your vehicle identification with you as this can be asked for on regular occasion by Mexican officials or U.S. officials upon returning to the U.S.
Tourist Visa Info
The following info applies to our area of Mexico (Northern Baja).
Tourist Visas are free for visitors staying less than 7 days in Mexico and appear to be somewhat optional as to rather or not they’re really needed. Our area of Mexico has been declared a “Free Zone” and visitors can stay up to 7 days without paying a fee for a Tourist Visa. If a Tourist Visa is obtained, then it must be mentioned that your stay in Mexico will be 7 days or fewer, otherwise, they will give you a long-term Tourist Visa that cost around $25 dollars and lasts up to 180 days. Mexico has different classes of Tourist Visas and the only free one is for visitors staying 7 or fewer days in Mexico.
While Mexico has stated that these free Tourist Visas are needed, it appears they have no desire to make sure you have one. You will not be asked for a Tourist Visa from anyone and therefore seems to be somewhat optional. Mexico’s greatest desire is that tourism grows and that you come down and spend your money to help their economy and needy people. In all our years in Mexico working with mission teams, we have no knowledge of anyone ever being asked for a Tourist Visa.
Mexico would like those who get the free Tourist Visas to drop off the stub of the Tourist Visa at their immigration office prior to leaving Mexico. However, this can be a big challenge as finding the office, and then finding the border crossing from the immigration office, can be complicated.
Note: If you do choose to get a free Tourist Visa, then it is imperative that you drop them off upon your departure from Mexico, or you could run into problems if you ever return to Mexico.
If you decide to get Tourist Visas, here’s how to do it:
Just after crossing the border pull over to your right.
Ask an official for the office where the Tourist Visas are obtained.
Be certain to mention that your stay in Mexico will be no more than 7 days and ask for the free Tourist Visa.
You will need your passport or original Birth-Certificate.
If a child is not accompanied by both parents, a notarized permission form is needed for giving permission from the absent parent that their child has permission to travel in Mexico.
Wait times for mission teams of 20 or more acquiring Tourist Visa can be around an hour or more.
Personal Identification Needed
The Government of Mexico requires that all U.S. citizens present proof of citizenship and photo identification for entry into Mexico. While U.S. citizenship documents such as a certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate, a Naturalization Certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Certificate of Citizenship are acceptable, the U.S. Embassy recommends traveling with a valid U.S. Passport to avoid delays or misunderstandings.
The best place for bathroom stops is at the Pemex Gas Stations. They are green in color and located readily along the highway.
For your protection, during your drive down the Baja, there will be a few checkpoints with soldiers. They are checking for guns and drugs and are your friends. They are very kind and gracious. Please treat them with respect and don’t worry about anything.
Between the Tijuana border and Ensenada, there are 3 toll booths. Each toll is about $2.00. They’re very simple and straight forward. You can pay in dollars or pesos. There are no tollbooths between Tecate and Ensenada.
Tips for Shopping in Ensenada
If you choose to do some shopping in Ensenada, either coming or going, here’s an important tip. It is very rare, but we have had a couple of teams over the past 20 or so years that have had their vehicles broke into and things stolen while shopping in Ensenada. It is a tourist city and therefore, does have some characteristics that you would find in any tourist area. Therefore, it’s recommended that you have someone stay back and watch over your vehicles to prevent this.
We have had many mission teams recently, and everything has been calm and peaceful regarding safety. Each mission team has been amazed at how there was nothing to worry about. They have seen and experienced absolutely nothing regarding problems. Please feel safe and secure in coming down to serve.
Exchanging Dollars to Pesos
Exchanging US dollars for pesos is not required as dollars are accepted gladly in Mexico. Just be careful to watch that you get a fair exchange rate. If you do, however, want to use pesos while in Mexico, the best method for exchanging dollars to pesos is via drawing pesos out of ATM’s via your debit card. It is best to not exchange money by the border as you’ll receive a poor exchange rate.
If you can, try to arrive by 5:00pm. This will give you time to settle in, eat dinner, and allow us to have a brief welcome and orientation meeting regarding the mission base and Mexico. Sunday from 9:00 – 11:00am we’ll have your Culture & Ministry Orientation Meeting. It will be the foundation to all you experience in Mexico so we’ll be excited to share it with your mission team.
Driving Directions to Go Missions to Mexico Mission Base
We provide very detailing driving directions with photos for getting to our mission base. It would be a good idea to give all of your drivers a copy.
Driving Directions for Returning to the U.S.
It would be a good idea to give all of your drivers a copy.