What is the CBX and How to Use It

The CBX is a pedestrian bridge that connects San Diego to Tijuana airport making travel to Mexico super simple and hassle free.

How to cross from San Diego to Tijuana airport?

The introduction of the CBX (Cross Border Xpress) that connects San Diego to the Tijuana airport has made traveling to Mexico and South America much easier since it opened.  There is a pedestrian skybridge that you walk across from the San Diego side straight into Tijuana airport.

On arrival, you present your boarding pass and passport as well as fill out an immigration form to cross the CBX.  From there, you will cross the skybridge and into Mexico where you will go through immigration and have your passport stamped (or present your passport card if flying within Mexico).  

How is CBX different from the regular border?

To cross into Mexico from San Diego, you only have to cross at the border and there is no cost to do so.  You can park and walk across or even drive into Mexico without incident. The CBX is different because it is attached to the Tijuana airport and although it is a land crossing, it is only accessible to those flying in and out of Tijuana airport.  

Also note that there are limitations to using the CBX.  You are only allowed to cross the CBX within 24 hours of your departure, you must be departing or arriving at Tijuana airport, and upon arrival in TJ, you cannot leave the airport (basically the baggage claim area) if you want to use the CBX to cross.  Of course, you’re more than welcome to go into Tijuana to do whatever you want but you will then have to cross the border at the regular border crossing and will not be able to use the CBX.

Can you cross border with just a passport card as a US Citizen?

Yes you can.  I cross with my passport because I know I’ll need that for any connecting flights out of Mexico but if the passport card is all you have, you’ll be fine. However, if you are traveling domestically within Mexico, you should be ok.

When crossing, you’ll have to fill out the immigration form (which is done at a computer station before you cross the pedestrian bridge) and you’ll need to swipe your passport.

A major caveat to this is remembering that the passport card is only valid at land and sea crossings.  So, if you plan to fly out of Tijuana but come back at an airport in the US, you’ll need to have your passport.  

One note on passport cards vs. passports.  It’s easy to forget that if you are connecting to an international flight, you will obviously need a passport.  Considering most people will only have a passport unless living in a border city, I would recommend just bringing your passport to avoid any risk of being denied.  

Cost to cross CBX

The cost is $16 one way (if purchased in advance online) or $20 at the CBX.  Round trip cost is $30. To cross, all you need to do is purchase a ticket here.  You can purchase the ticket for 1 way if you don’t know when you’ll return or if you think you may lose the ticket while vacationing.  You can purchase tickets on site at a kiosk if at the CBX. Children under 2 do not need a ticket and group and family discounts are also available.

Some airlines will offer you a “special” CBX rate of $16 each way that can be bought in conjunction with your airfare at checkout. I guess if you’re in a hurry and can’t be bothered to purchase your CBX ticket separately, it could make sense but just know there isn’t anything special about this ticket.

On the US side, you just have to show your ticket before you cross and you’re through quick and easy.   On the Tijuana side, you’ll have to go to the counter to show them your proof of purchase. Then they’ll provide you with a ticket to cross the CBX.  

Parking cost

The cost to park is $15 – $18/day and there is typically ample parking. That said, when I was traveling the July 4th weekend, all the lots were full (which is something I’ve never seen before).  However, there is no long term parking here. I’ve never actually seen the parking lot close to full.  Note that the parking lot is just out in the open and not covered or in a parking structure so I wouldn’t leave anything out that may become damaged if exposed to the sun and heat for extended periods of time.

How much time does it take to cross?

This all depends on the time of day and the passengers needing to cross.  Obviously all the people waiting to go through immigration are flyers so any flight after 6am will have longer lines to get through.  

I travelled during the July 4th weekend and I’ve never seen the CBX so packed. Luckily I knew the routine but even I had to look twice since the way the staff had the lines positioned didn’t make any sense. Also, it was a very busy travel day so there were a ton of people arriving and departing. However, even then it only took me 30 mins from drop off to entering Mexico

Although I usually use the 3 hr rule for international flights as a general recommendation more than anything, I try to get to the CBX at least 2 hrs before my flight.  I’ve been there when immigration takes minutes and I’ve been there when it seems to take forever. Also, the pedestrian bridge does take a bit of time to cross so it isn’t a short 2 minute stroll. I would give yourself 10-15 mins to cross the skybridge to be safe.

Is there Global Entry?

Yes there is.  When returning, there is a separate line for global entry but it’s been my experience that it does little to no good.  Since many of the passengers are not crossing into the US, by the time you get to the US side, the line is never really that long.  Maybe I’ve always been lucky but I’ve never seen a reason to use it.

Remember though that this is a LAND CROSSING and not considered an airport crossing. Thus, if you want to use Global Entry while coming back to the US, you need to have your Global Entry CARD to use the Global Entry lane. If you only have your passport, you’ll have to stand in the regular line and will not be able to utilize the Global Entry line.

Airlines that fly in/out of TJ

There are 4 airlines that flight into Tijuana.  They are Aeromexico, Interjet, VivaAerobus, and Volaris.  Interjet, VivaAerobus, and Volaris are Mexico’s low cost carriers and have multiple flights connecting Tijuana to Mexico.  Hainan Airlines also has a flight from TIJ to Beijing as part of a refueling stop between Mexico City and Beijing.

Interjet, VivaAerobus, and Volaris are the commonly flown carriers for their low costs and their network of non stop flights throughout areas of Mexico.  However, if flying mainly as a positioning flight, any carrier will fly to Mexico City.

Shuttle Service from CBX

There is a shuttle service from the CBX that can take you to different parts of Southern California as well.  The cost ranges from $6 – $25 each way and can take you anywhere from Downtown San Diego to Los Angeles.

You can purchase the shuttle ticket from one of the CBX reps and the shuttles depart every 2 hours to San Diego and Los Angeles with a random departure at 1:30am to Los Angeles to coincide with the Hainan Airlines arrival.  

Why use the CBX vs. SAN?

Although San Diego is the 2nd largest city in California, the airport is extremely small and insufficient for a city of this size.  It is the busiest single runway airport in the US and due to its size and location, the type of planes that can land and take off is limited.  That means most flights out of San Diego will have to connect at a major hub whether it’s LAX, SFO, or further.

For anyone needing to fly to Mexico City or South America, Tijuana is a great alternative since it has nonstop service to Mexico City (which San Diego doesn’t have).  Also, flights are much cheaper out of TIJ especially if you fly business class.

I usually fly out of TIJ if I’m flying anywhere to Central or South America because Mexico City is a major destination for many airlines.  More importantly, as someone who mainly utilizes points and miles to fly, it is much easier to find award space flying out of Mexico City vs. an airport in the US.  Flying out of Mexico City will also allow you to avoid the dreaded 9 hour layover in San Salvador or Panama City if flying from the US as well (that’s what it is from LAX at least).  

Is it worth it?

CBX is a great alternative to SAN if flying out of TIJ is an option.  Although there is a cost to use the CBX, the overall savings on a ticket from TIJ vs SAN is huge in terms of time and money.  Also remember that this can be used by international travelers as well. You may find it to be more cost effective to fly into Mexico City and connect to Tijuana vs. flying to the US and connecting to San Diego.  San Diego only has a handful of non stop international flights so regardless of where you’re departing, you’ll more than likely have to stop somewhere so there could be a significant time savings as well.

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