Passport to Mexico

The era of laissez-faire crossing of the land borders into Mexico appears to be finally coming to an end.

The Government of Mexico has announced that it is phasing in the process of checking the passports of visitors crossing the border by foot or vehicle from the USA. Passport/visa checks of travelers arriving by air and sea have, of course, been the norm for years.

A pilot program conducted over the past few months has resulted in random road travelers (including a group that I was with) being sent to immigration to check their passports and to issue them with tourist visas if they indicated that they would be going beyond the 25 km border zone. When travelers insisted that they would be spending less than 72 hours in San Felipe, they were issued complimentary tourist documents.

Part of the motivation for this enhanced security obviously comes from the need to control who actually comes into the country. Anyone who watches the Southern California TV news programs is aware of the number of high speed chases on the freeways where the driver heads for the border and disappears into Tijuana. Another aspect is the need to stop the physical transportation of “contraband” (think guns and drug money) coming into Mexico.

Initially, these will be small, random, checks at each border crossing point but the plan is to eventually require all travelers to show valid documents and purchase visas when necessary.

Undoubtedly, the system will likely resemble that used by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency with booths on each crossing lane with the latest technology for remotely reading passport and visa card chips and for determining what the vehicle is carrying.

As the system is increasingly enforced, we can expect to see lines of traffic become similar on both sides of the border with 2-4 hour delays going south at busy times of the day.

A Mexican equivalent of the U.S. SENTRI frequent border crossing pass has already been announced and it will make sense for residents of the retirement communities in northern Baja to consider applying for membership and undergoing the required background checks as the crossing lines get longer.

Of course, all of this means that the demand for air travel to and from San Felipe will boom in the future as people get fed up with the obstacles being put in the way of driving cars across the border.