One of the biggest obstacles to coming to Tijuana for dental care is the long line for crossing back into the US. There are times that the line is very long, and the wait can be up to a couple of hours. However, here are a couple of tips to make crossing back into the US more quickly.
1.- Apply for a US Passport Card. This is a card, about the size of a driver’s license, with a RFID chip, (radio frequency identification). You get it the same way you get a US passport, and with this card, you do not need to carry a passport book. The cost is $40. Anyone who is carrying a US Passport Card, or an “Enhanced Drivers License”, (some states like Washington offer an enhanced driver’s license), is allowed to walk through a special gate called the “Ready Lane”. You don’t have to wait in the line with all the other people who are waiting to go in at the regular gate, you can walk right up to the Ready Lane gate, show your Passport Card, and get into the ready lane. The average time to cross in the ready lane is 30 to 45 minutes.
2.- Drive into Tijuana, and use the Medical Fast Lane to drive back into the US. We can issue you a pass to use the Medical Fast lane. Only people with US Plates, and who have a pass can use this lane. It is a special lane, controlled by the Mexican authorities, and was made to facilitate dental/medical tourism. This lane will cut you in at the head of the line, right by the control booths of US Customs. Taking the Fast Lane will get you back into the US in about 15 minutes. If you plan to drive into Mexico, we can give you simple instructions for finding the clinic, and will explain how to get into the Medical Fast Lane. Make sure you call us before you cross in, and also, write down you license plate number to give to our receptionist when you arrive.
Important Note: Because the Fast Lane merges with the Ready Lane, in order to use a Fast Pass, you have to make sure everyone in the car has an ID with the RIFD chip. The ID with a chip is a Passport CARD, a Border Crossing Card, a new version of a Permanent Resident card, or an enhanced drivers license. If you only have a passport book, or a regular drivers license, they you don’t have a chip, so you will have to go through the regular lanes.
3.- Alternative transportation. If you don’t have a passport card, and don’t want to drive into Tijuana, you can get into a van or a bus, near the border, and ride across. This will be a little faster, and you can be seated while you cross the border, rather than standing. We can explain how to do that when you are here at the clinic.
4.- Have the proper documentation. Although you don’t have to have a US passport to get back into through US Customs, you are supposed to have one. We have patients every week who just have their driver’s license, and sometimes birth certificate, and technically, US Customs cannot turn away anyone who is a US Citizen from re-entering the country. However, if you don’t have the proper documentation, they can hassle you, and will screen you more closely. If you want things to go more smoothly, get a passport book or card prior to coming.
**One thing to note: If your passport is expired, it is still a good form of I.D. for US Customs. They will readily accept an expired US Passport, without question, because it proves you are a US citizen, or have legal status, and it is still registered in the US National database.
New Border Crossing Regulations:
1.- You must now have a US passport to cross the border:
Just like the US Government requires everyone crossing the border into the US to have passports, the Mexican Government also now requires all persons crossing into Mexico to have a passport. Things have historically been a little lax, but now they are tightening up on the regulations. Make sure you get your passport before crossing into Mexico, to avoid any delays or hassle, by the US Customs, as well as Mexican Customs.
If you haven’t yet gotten a US Passport, we strongly recommend that you get the “Passport Card”, rather than the “Passport Book”. You can actually apply for both, or either one. But the reason the Passport Card works better than the Book, is because it has the RFID electronic chip, which qualifies you to use the faster moving “Ready Lanes” either as a pedestrian or riding in a car. Here is a link to the government website: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports/apply.html
2.- You will need to get a Tourist Visa at the border:
Pedestrian Crossing: If leave your car parked at the border, and are walking into Mexico, you will need to present your US passport, and fill out a tourist permit form. It will just take 5 minutes. However, make sure you keep your tourist permit on your person. In case you are stopped in Mexico for any reason, you will now have proof that you entered into the country legally. The cost of a tourist permit, to visit Tijuana for a week, is free. But, if you plan to stay for more than a week, plan to return for a second trip, or are thinking of going on to Rosarito or Ensenada, you will need to get the 180 day permit, costing $25.
Crossing the border by car: If you are stopped in Tijuana, you will need to show that you have legally crossed the border. So, even though you could just drive through Mexican Customs, and they don’t ask you for any documents, don’t neglect to first stop and get your tourist permit. The process will just take a few minutes.
When you first cross into Mexico, do NOT get into the lines of cars that are going through the lanes through for inspection. Rather, keep to the right, and go straight ahead to the area for Voluntary Declaration. Most of the cars going in here, and parking, are stopping to declare products that they purchased in the US, so they can pay the “Importation Tax”. But this is the same area where you will find the “Immigration” office, in order to get your tourist permit. Just park your car next to the others, and go into the building. Inside you will find the Immigration office, and tell them you want a tourist permit. It will be easiest if you just tell them you are coming to visit and shop, otherwise they will ask you for the exact address of the clinic, and hotel address where you are staying. Just a little less hassle.