My friends and I go volunteer at an orphanage in a little town called El Porvenir on La Ruta de Vino (Baja's version of Napa Valley). We take the Hwy 1 toll road to Hwy 3 to get there. We've been visiting the same orphanage for almost 4 years now. We typically visit 4-10 times an year. It's always really fun. But, the only downside is on the way back, if we can't get back to the San Ysidro border control before 3:30 or 4pm, we get stuck for a long time.
Back in the summer time, we had to wait for 4 hours! Last week the wait was 2 and a half hours at the border. Adding 2-4 hours to an already 3.5 hour drive back to LA is a bummer. So, I was wondering if you have any tips on how to get back quickly.
For example, when is it best to go the extra distance and cross at Tecate? Should I just bite the bullet and get a Sentri pass? Is it worth it? Have you tried any of the businesses that offer the Fast Pass? Or should we just bring a lot of baladas to drown our sorrows and enjoy the readily available churros from the street vendors?
I recently applied for a Passport Card which has an RFID chip. It's cheaper than a Sentri pass and allows you to enter a faster line to cross the border, both by car and by foot. http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html
My wife and I head down to Baja quite often. If you think you'll be heading there consistently, I highly recommend applying for a Sentri pass through the US government. The cost is around $125 per person and EVERYONE in the vehicle (as well as the vehicle itself) must be cleared and have a Sentri pass themselves. You do have to go through an interview process in order to get it, and that can take a few months to get. But with the pass you go to a special line and the wait is usually around 15 minutes. The pass is good for 5 years.
Some side benefits to getting a Sentri pass is if you also sign up for the "Global Entry" pass (basically just another certification on your same card. It doesn't cost any extra) you get to go to a fast line whenever traveling through US customs in airports. Also, you can enter your Sentri number when buying a plane ticket and get access to the relatively new TSA pre-check security line at airports.
If you're traveling down there a little less frequently, you can try to get a "medical pass" that is given out by some hotels/resorts in Baja. We've done this for our friends once and it usually requires you spending a certain amount of money (~$75) at the resort. That pass allows you access to another special line where the wait is around 45 minutes or so. We were able to get that pass at Bajamar Golf Resort restaurant.
And finally, Katherine is correct that if you get a NEW passport (hard cover) or a passport card, you can cross using the "Ready" lanes, which is typically about half the wait time of the normal lane.
Hope this helps!
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Hi Supun! Crossing the border is hit-or-miss. There is no exact science as to what time of day you will experience less wait time. I live in TJ and commute (via San Ysidro) everyday to work in San Diego. Hopefully these tips will help you.
I would first like to address the sentri pass. I think it would be absolutely worth it. It costs about $120.00 and last thing I heard is that the entire process takes about 3-4 months. Here's the catch... only people with a sentri pass can cross the border through the sentri gate. What this means is that even though you are the sentri pass holder and presumably the driver at the time of crossing the border, if the passesngers riding in your vehicle do not hold a sentri pass, they won't be able to cross the border through the sentri gate. By the way, the wait time at the sentri gate is 30 minutes tops.
Though always unpredictable, I've found the the best times to cross the border are from 3am-5am and from 2pm-5pm. Friday's and Saturday's generally see less wait time. Hope this helps!
Walking over is another viable option, yes, and it usually has much shorter wait times than driving through. Check out the border wait times (not 100% accurate, but close enough) to see what's the best way to go when down there.
Also, Otay is often the better option and it's really not far away at all.