Now that the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) is operating it is like having a second major airport in San Diego. The Tijuana airport has been completely remodeled and acts as the gateway to Latin America. Flights throughout Mexico are ridiculously cheap but the real convenience is a border crossing at the airport that has little to no wait. If you haven’t used the Cross Border Xpress yet you have to check it out.
I started using the Tijuana airport on a regular basis in 2009 long before the CBX was inaugurated. Back then, it was really difficult to find a friend who was willing to drop me off at the airport in Tijuana. It was more common to park at the Delta truck parking lot, take their shuttle to the border, walk across the international boundary, then take a taxi to the airport. That is a good distance to walk with suitcases and a surfboard slung over your shoulder but it’s the line at Otay or San Ysidro to get back that was really painful.
Today, you don’t have to worry about any of those problems. There is no need to stand in line, in the sun or in the rain, at San Ysidro. There is an international border crossing that is easy, fast, comfortable, and connected directly to the Tijuana airport.
When I first saw the model of what the CBX terminal was going to look like I was blown away. The Tijuana airport is literally right on the border. The bridge that stretches from the baggage claim to the US side of the border only needs to clear 150 meters. The US side of the border was an open field that has grown into a major transportation hub.
How The Cross Border Xpress Works
The Cross Border Xpress (CBX) is only open to ticketed airport passengers. You can’t use this crossing if you took the bus into Tijuana. Because it is only for airline passengers the line to cross nothing like Otay nor (‘ni se diga’) San Ysidro. That does not mean there is no line. You still have to clear immigration on both sides but it is way more convenient and comfortable.
There is a cost of about US$15 – $20, each way, to use the bridge. You can buy tickets at the same time as you purchase your airfare, buy them on the CBX website or buy them right before you cross the bridge. Buying your tickets ahead of time is usually the cheapest option, however, we have gotten some discounts emailed directly from CBX.
Ticketed airline passengers should arrive at the Cross Border Express earlier than you would normally arrive to the airport for an international flight because you need to check-in and make it through customs before getting to the security filter on the Mexico side. It takes a little bit longer than just going through the airport.
Passengers will check in with their airline before crossing into Tijuana. The airlines will weigh your bags and put all the appropriate stickers on your luggage so you can quickly hand them off to the baggage handlers on the Mexico side. Traveling with oversized luggage is going to require another line on the Tijuana side where everyone else is documenting their luggage.
There are little carts to help you but there are a lot of gates and x-ray machines to go through. There are no porters that can cross immigration with you and carry your bags all the way. Remember that when your elderly mother is coming with all the stuff you ordered from Amazon US.
Make sure to plan on a little extra time. It is a little further to Otay Mesa than you think it is. The traffic along the 805 and the 5 gets heavy at rush hour and the immigration line can get busy. I recommend arriving to the US side of CBX two plus hours to be safe. We have made planes that leave only an hour later but everything has to go your way or you are going to miss your flight.
How To Access The Cross Border Xpress
There are a number of ways to reach the Cross Border Xpress from San Diego. If you will not be driving, there are shuttles from Downtown San Diego, San Ysidro, Los Angles and Riverside. The schedules have changed a little bit during the pandemic but San Ysidro shuttle runs once an hour and the Downtown San Diego shuttle every two hours.
The shuttle to Downtown San Diego stops at the San Diego international airport car rental center before hitting the Santa Fe Depot. If you are coming form Mexico and need to rent a car, it is way cheaper to rent at the SD airport car rental center. Every car rental company in San Diego has an office there and you can rent economy to sports cars and luxury vehicles.
From The Tijuana Airport
The entrance to the CBX passenger bridge is right in the baggage claim. You leave the gates, pass through immigration, grab your checked bag, and walk to the far end of the room. You can’t miss the huge CBX signs. Do not walk into the Tijuana airport arrivals area, not even to smoke a cigarette. You will not be allowed back into the baggage claim area and that is the only way to access the CBX.
From San Diego
CBX is out in the sticks. It is about 5 minutes away from the Otay Mesa border crossing off of the 905 freeway. Two things to keep in mind. If you are taking the 805 south keep an eye out for the 905 east. It is not really well marked and I have missed it more than once. You will exit the 905 east on Britannia Blvd, but again, it is poorly marked. Make sure to use a your Google maps so you don’t miss the exit. There is only one tiny sign that says Cross Border Xpress.
You take Britannia Blvd down two blocks and make a left. A block and a half down Siempre Viva road and you are pretty much on the US-Mexico Border and almost inside the Tijuana Airport.
A Funny Story
The first time my dad came to pick me up at the CBX he got super lost. I flew home the weekend that it opened, December of 2015, and he missed the exit on Britannia Blvd. He wound up on a dirt road being followed by border patrol trying to get back to the brand new and slightly unmarked border crossing.