Crossing Back to the United States from Mexico

To facilitate your crossing back to the United States from Mexico, be sure to keep the following items in mind.  By following these tips, you can head home safely and without difficulty.  While U.S. citizens cross the border every day, there are various aspects of the trip that all travelers should keep in mind.  


Be sure to have the needed forms for reentry to the U.S.  You will certainly need a valid passport or passport card to reenter the country.  Since specific requirements often change, be sure to visit the U.S. State Department website with questions regarding Visas or other acceptable forms of identification.


Many travelers crossing back to the United States from Mexico return to the with a wide variety of goods from souvenirs to high-end items.  Be sure to find out if the items you want to bring back are allowed in the country.  Fruit or other foodstuffs may not be allowed while many food and packaged items are.  Be prepared to declare any items you purchased in Mexico to Customs’ officials.  In most cases, travelers will not have to pay a duty to bring them into the U.S. if they collectively fall under the $800 personal limit.  However, some items like wine, cigarettes, cigars, and perfume may have imposed duties nonetheless.

Prohibited Items – Don’t Try to Bring These Back to United States

  1. Cuban cigars are prohibited.
  2. Check with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about importing any medications prior to crossing into Mexico.
  3. Illegal drugs. ICE has zero-tolerance. Any type, in any amount, may result in serious fines, seizure of the vehicle, federal record and/or imprisonment.
  4. Switchblade knives, sea turtle boots or any other articles of endangered species (i.e. spotted cats, coral, crocodile, elephant, etc) are prohibited.
  5. Most fruits are prohibited (No oranges or apples)

Return Vehicle Permits and Stickers

If your trip to Mexico warranted a vehicle permit be sure to return the permit and stickers in person before leaving the country.  If you do not return your permit in person, you risk losing your entire deposit (typically around $400) or having to make the trek back to Mexico simply to return this paperwork.

Don’t Do Anyone Any Favors

When it comes to reentering the country with merchandise—be sure it’s your own.  Do not bring materials back to the U.S. that you did not purchase or are not willing to declare in your own right.  Certainly, if strangers ask you to carry something into the U.S., you should decline the task.

Ready Lanes

If you have a Sentri card or another acceptable travel card, you may enter the U.S. via the Ready Lanes.  Remember that everyone in the vehicle will need to present a Sentri card to use these lanes.  The Sentri cards expedite the customs process since card-holders are prescreened and determined to be low risk travelers.  You can find out more about these cards by visiting the State Department website or talking to Customs officials.  Not every border crossing, however, is equipped with Ready Lanes at this point; however, many border crossings are planning to install them since during peak times, it can take as long as two hour waiting to cross the border.  The Ready Lanes can cut down this time frame to ten minutes.


For any other concerns, it can be helpful to discuss your questions and plans with a travel agent or visit the State Department website or other useful travel site that details Mexican travel requirements.

11 Responses to Crossing Back to the United States from Mexico

  1. Can I get a detailed map and route description of how to get from Rosarito to the Sentri lane in Tijuana? I have not been able to get into that lane and every time end up in the regular lanes!

  2. I can’t find directions on how to get to the “standard” border crossing lanes. California doesn’t issue an EDL license and we don’t cross often enough to get a Sentri card.

    • In California with the construction it has changed! And even I have gotten lost in Tijuana a time or two. If you cross at San Ysidro, they have many signs for the 5 (highway 5), follow those. Also look for the words “Linea” or “San Diego”. They expect to finish the border crossing by 2015…also if you cross at Otay, just go towards the airport and look for the signs for “Linea”.

    • Yes! Any approved Ready document will let you in the Ready Lane which only excludes SENTRI. Sentri has it’s own unique lane (often adjacent to Ready)

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