The Unique Way Travelers Are Saving Time And Big Bucks Flying To Mexico

Exterior view of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) skybridge that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border

If you are flying from southern California airports to destinations in Mexico, there is another option you might not have considered. A cheaper and faster way to fly to Mexico can be found with Cross Border Xpress. The facility is located in San Diego, California, and provides a crossing into Mexico.

CBX’s existence pre-dates my introduction. When we traveled to Cancn in 2012 we were told that we should cross the border at Otay Mesa and fly out of the airport in Tijuana. It would be more direct and cheaper.

After CBX was built, a co-worker told me that we should fly out of Tijuana Airport when we visit Mexico again. I was given the chance to do that for a flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Cross Border Xpress and the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board hosted me on this trip to Puerto Vallarta. My opinions are my own.

Exterior view of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) skybridge that crosses the U.S.-Mexico border
Exterior view of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) skybridge that crosses the U.S.-Mexico borderCross Border Express, Otay Mesa, California. Photography by Harrison Photographic

What Is Cross Border Xpress (CBX)?

Located on the U.S.- Mexico border, Cross Border Xpress is a terminal. The skybridge that crosses the border allows passengers to access the TIJ from the other side.

“From its conception, CBX has sought to change the way people travel between southern California and Mexico by offering a faster, more convenient and efficient way to cross one of the busiest borders in the world,” saysJorge Goytorta, CEO of Cross Border Xpress.

Both the U.S. and Mexico are involved in CBX. Tijuana Airport is the only true binational airport with facilities on both sides of the border, and the first to connect a U.S. facility directly to a foreign airport terminal. EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg is operated by both France and Switzerland, but it is located on the French side of the border.

Exterior of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) building at dusk
Exterior of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) building at duskCross Border Express, Otay Mesa, California. Photography by Harrison Photographic

History Of CBX

Back in the 1960s, discussions about a possible cross-border terminal started. The Minister of Public Works in Mexico, Gilberto Valenzuela Ezquerro, brought up the idea of modernizing the country’s transportation system.

For the next 20 years, there were no plans at all. Plans and negotiations involving numerous people and organizations were conceived, abandoned, refloated, failed, revived, canceled, and reborn between 1987 and 2006

The proposed cross-border terminal was incorporated into the development of the airport. The creation of a private investment group led to the creation of the CBX, which is currently operated by the group. The facility was under construction in 2013). On December 9, 2015, Cross Border Xpress opened.

The question is why not expand San Diego Airport instead of building a whole new airport terminal? It isn’t possible, that’s the simple answer. The only runway at San Diego Airport is short and restricts the size of planes that can land there and the destinations that can be reached. Because there are hills and skyscrapers on one end, and San Diego Bay framing it on two other sides, there is no room to build out more. The CBX solution was to build a bridge over the border.

Inside of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) on the Otay Mesa (San Diego) side
Inside of Cross Border Xpress (CBX) on the Otay Mesa (San Diego) sideCourtesy of Cross Border Xpress

Expansion Of The Facility

Since its opening, CBX has welcomed over 3 million passengers. CBX had only four customs booths when it first began. A total of 16 booths have been added so far this year. Travelers passing through customs had reduced wait times.

Projects on both sides of the border are included in further renovation and expansion plans for CBX. There will be a parking structure, gas station, restaurants, retail shops, car rental facilities, and hotel rooms on the San Diego side of the Otay Mesa. The roads coming into and out of CBX will be improved.

The expansion project of the Aeroportuario del Pacifico was on the Tijuana Airport side. There is a new baggage claim area at the new multi-level passenger processing facility. Travelers will be able to cross the border via CBX quicker if the immigrations and customs process is standardized.

In addition to the 35 Mexican destinations already served by the airport, the expansion will allow airlines to provide access to a variety of new destinations in Central America, South America, Europe, and Asia. The flights to Beijing and Shanghai were halted, but are expected to resume.

US Customs booths at Cross Border Xpress (CBX)
US Customs booths at Cross Border Xpress (CBX)Courtesy of Cross Border Xpress

My Experience Using CBX

The group flew from the airport to Puerto Vallarta on CBX. Our flight to Puerto Vallarta was changed from an international to a domestic flight because of CBX. It saves travelers 30–50 percent compared to flying from other airports. We did not have to go through immigration in Puerto Vallarta.

At around 3:30 a.m., we met up inside the CBX terminal. We were able to skip the ticket counter because we already owned our airline and CBX tickets.

If you have a valid boarding pass, you can use CBX, but only if you leave the airport in 24 hours. CBX can be used by passengers arriving at the airport who have not left the baggage claim area, and are still within 2 hours of their flight landing.

Required Documentation

If you are staying in Mexico for more than 7 days, you must have a valid passport, FMM form, and boarding pass.

FMM Form

It is possible to fill out the form online, but it may be a bit difficult. The form can be filled out at the computer terminal on the U.S. side. It is what we did. If you are traveling during busy times, you should fill out the form online in advance.

Other Documentation

It’s easier to navigate through CBX if you have your boarding pass and ticket readily available on your phone. You can still use paper copies, but you can save time by using your phone. It is even easier to download the app. A printed copy is a good idea as a backup. Also bring a pen.

Once you have passed the first checkpoint, you can’t leave the facility. You can’t re-enter if you do that.

This is a pro tip. Travelers who had to leave CBX for whatever reason had to make their way back to the U.S. on their own, and return to CBX several hours later.

Sign inside CBX directing passengers to Tijuana Airport (TIJ)
Sign inside CBX directing passengers to Tijuana Airport (TIJ)Stan Thomas / Kanale Creations

Crossing Into The Tijuana Airport

We were ready to cross from San Diego to the airport. We breezed through the Mexican immigration checkpoint after crossing the skybridge. We arrived at the gate. Many of the shops and restaurants at the terminal are open at night.

We had a 5 a.m flight so CBX was very quiet. If you plan to park at the airport, factor in more time than you think you will need.

Looking across CBX skybridge from U.S. side
Looking across CBX skybridge from U.S. sideStan Thomas / Kanale Creations

Returning To The U.S.

The process was reversed when we returned from Puerto Vallarta to San Diego. To enter the U.S., you must have a valid passport, a boarding pass from your flight, and a CBX ticket. You will need them to get to the bridge. If you wish to travel more than 25 miles from the border, or stay longer than 30 days inside the U.S., you must pre-pay and fill out a form I-94 before you can cross the skybridge.

We walked across the sky bridge after passing through baggage claim. Customs booths are expected downstairs.

Global Entry lines are very helpful here. Two other flights arrived at the airport at the same time as ours. The Global Entry line didn’t have anything. As we neared the customs booth, two families walked through the Global Entry line and were waved at by the next available agent. The wait to pass through customs was less than an hour because we did not have Global Entry. On a Thursday, this was around 9 p.m.

Getting To CBX

Driving is the most direct way to get to CBX. I would recommend using one of the many public transportation options.

There are over two dozen points in southern, central, and northern California that the CBX Shuttle can connect to. Access to Nevada, Arizona, and Texas has been extended by Limousine Express. Call them for more details.

Another option is the rideshare company. Sorry, users of the car service. The ride-sharing service is no longer available at the venue. You can take a shuttle or taxi from either San Diego Airport or San Diego Trolley stations. You can park at the San Ysidro border crossing and then take a taxi to CBX. A friend can drop you off, or you can combine the above methods.

Parking At CBX

Depending on the day and time you arrive, parking at CBX can be difficult. I parked in one of the paid parking lots because we had an early flight. You can park for free on the nearby streets, but you risk being blocked in by other cars if you park inches from your bumper.

Delta Truck parking is a bit cheaper. A shuttle runs to CBX.

Parking Pro Tips

You can pre-pay for parking on the CBX website or at one of the kiosks inside CBX. I would recommend forgoing that option as convenient. There are a lot of things that can delay your return to the US.

All of the information about reservations, refunds, hours, and after-business hours should be read if you are using Otay Mesa parking.

CBX has plans to build a parking structure that will provide 10,000 more spaces.

It worked out great to fly to Mexico from CBX. I got to see how Cross Border Xpress works and I am happy I did. I plan at least two more trips to Mexico and will use CBX for both of them.

You can check out the southern California destinations on your way back from Mexico.