• Menu

How to cross the border between Mexicali and the United States

Chronicle of the crossing of the border between Mexico and the United States with the car. How much time can it take?

Depending on the circumstances of each person, the notion of what a border is changes. For some it may mean a mere formality, not waiting, showing a document and passing. For others, an unbreakable barrier since they do not have the “correct passport” that closes the doors of a visa. There are also some lucky ones, for whom a border is simply a sign that says the name of the country. But they don’t have to show any documents and can come and go freely. In this article we are going to show how to cross the border from Mexicali to the United States.

Check the waiting time at checkpoints here  (Mexicali)

I will talk about a border that has been present throughout my life, I am talking about the border between Mexico and the United States. Those who know me know that I come from a border city, in which crossing from one country to another has become an everyday thing … but not easy. I am going to put aside all the time, difficulties and paperwork involved in obtaining a US visa. Here I come to speak simply of the act of crossing the border by land.

Sounds easy right? Yes, it sounds simple but you have to be prepared for us to have a random second review, to ask us questions. Or that we have to see an incident such as the murder of a cyclist (luckily we did not see it ourselves) or simply that they do not ask us anything and let us pass.

To all this we must add the time factor, yes, time. Many people want to cross the border. Whether it is people from Mexico who want to go to the United States, to do their shopping, see relatives, etc. Or people from the United States who came to Mexico to do the same and want to return. In December times the waiting time at the sentry boxes is several hours, you have to have a car that can hold up.

With all that said, here is a diary of what was one of our crossings to the United States by car. It is not the first nor the last. But this will give you an idea of how to cross Mexicali United States border.

Are you thinking of visiting other parts of Mexico? book your bus and ferry tickets here

How to cross the Mexicali border by car? our experience

10:15 – We got to the line

We had already consulted the waiting time at the sentry boxes (a reflex that all border people have), the time indicated was approximately one hour. To give you an idea of the situation: one hour was promising! (since it had been much worse in other days). We stood patiently behind the last car that was already lining up. At the place where the line began, there was no lane division yet. In that case, we must be careful not to get another car in front of us… yes, it happens, and a lot.

10:35 – This is where we finally see the border signage

We are doing well, we have reached the point where we can no longer be overtaken by other cars, one thing less to worry about. Let’s see if we can pass before what the prevision told us.

Aquí es donde tenemos el letrero de los carriles que van hacia la garita
This is where we have the sign of the lanes that go to the sentry

10:40 – And the sales begin

A little after crossing the signs (and sometimes before) there is a transformation of the environment, what used to be just cars fills up with people passing between them. Who am I talking about? Well, of the people who offer services to change pesos to dollars, clean glass, sell trinkets, handicrafts, bedspreads, everything! it is a walking mall.

Get your flight to Mexico at the best price

Of course, you have to be careful with those who clean the glass because most of the time they do not ask: they simply pounce on the car and you have to say NOOOOO as quickly as possible before they have cleaned the glass.

There are also the people who ask for money. On this subject I have to tell a sad but true anecdote: when I was a child I remember a lady who was there asking every time we crossed. She had legs the size of a log and she was there between the cars asking for money for her treatment. Years passed and she there she kept asking for her treatment. A lot of time passed and she was still there.

Later I’ve been told that in reality, she did not ask for her treatment, but that this was how she maintained herself and that it was convenient for her to look bad to be able to continue asking. I couldn’t believe it. The confirmation came when there was a doctor who offered to help her and she rejected him :/ Those are stories that one refuses to believe. But when I reached my twenties and saw that the person was still there doing the same thing, that confirmed it for me. Those from Mexicali who are reading me may know who I am talking about.

Persona entre los autos
Person between cars

10:50 – The medical lane?

We reached a certain point, where there was a lane that nobody occupied, to which we did not have access, we were intrigued to know what it was, since it was not there before. At a certain point we can see what it is: it is the medical lane. It puzzled me quite a bit. I thought it was for emergencies in case someone had to cross by ambulance or something like that, but reading the instructions it seems that it was dedicated to people who go from the United States to Mexico to buy their medicines (because it seems that they are much cheaper) and return to their country. Of course, I saw the access to that lane closed with a padlock and we saw a car that was waiting for a long time to be opened … while we advanced slowly.

El carril medico: no entendí muy bien la utilidad
The medical lane: I did not really understand the purpose

10:50 – Yay we are going to cross in less time than the prevision says … deluded!

As we advanced, I deludedly believed that we could get to cross before the promised time, but it was not like that, we advanced slowly! And it is that the revisions can sometimes take time and therefore the line becomes slower, that causes people to invade the lanes that go less slow and it becomes a disaster. Meanwhile I was entertaining myself by looking at a water tank that is on the other side but can be seen from Mexico. It has been there for as long as I have crossed (many years ago) and it does not move from there. I don’t know if it still contains anything.

Y ahí esta, de pie desde hace mucho. Viendo a los autos avanzar lentamente.
And there it is, standing for a long time. Watching the cars move slowly.

11:20 – Crossing the sentri box

After half an hour, which seemed eternal (the worst part is the end because the only thing you want is to get out of the car), we reached the border crossing. We present our passports myself with my visa and Vincent with the ESTA (which is what they ask of Europeans). We were lucky, this time they only asked us where we were going, “shopping” we answered (which was totally true). Luckily, this time they didn’t make a fuss about seeing a “weird” passport. It is a fact that on this border they are not very used to seeing passports from countries so far away. Other times, they have asked questions as to how we met or even more, they have passed us to a second review and have taken the French passport (as a joke we supposed that they took it to photograph it).

Aquí ya estamos por llegar a la frontera, ya no tomo mas fotos a partir de este punto no vaya a ser...
Here we are about to reach the border, I do not take any more photos from this point, better safe than sorry…

Once we have crossed the border between Mexico and the United States, we prepare to spend the day in that country and do what many of my fellow citizens do there: go shopping. In our case, these are purchases for which we have waited more than a year and they range from electronics (a new keyboard for me) to clothes for Vincent and me.

But this time it was shopping. Other times the reasons for crossing have been: go to take a plane to San Diego because the flight is more convenient from there, go to Los Angeles to a concert, go to Las Vegas with friends, etc …

And this was the chronicle of how to cross the border of Mexicali. Although “fast” ways of passing such as SENTRI have been added, people still experience crossings of hours in certain seasons. That doesn’t change, unfortunately.

What about you, do you have any difficult or tedious border crossing experiences that you want to share with us?

Some of the links in this article include affiliate links. This means that if you buy a product listed here by following these links, we'll receive a commission. The use of this link does not increase the final price for you and thus helps us to keep our blog alive.

Olga Grijalva

Olga is a traveler and travel content creator with 17 years of experience. Her goal is to share useful information to help you plan your adventures. She has visited more than 40 countries and is excited to share her experience with you.