Skip to Content

5 Painful Places to Cross the Mexican Border

So you want to cross the Mexican border for a road trip with friends. Adventure awaits, and you’re ready to relax.

While the country to our south is usually straightforward, it could take some precious time out of your vacation. However, returning to the US can be a whole other ordeal. 

Today, we’ll share five border crossings you may want to avoid and a few to consider choosing instead. 

Let’s roll!

Is El Paso a good or bad place to cross the Mexico border?

Why Cross the Mexican Border?

Although the food alone is worth crossing the Mexican border, millions of people visit the country annually for several other reasons. We know many who go there for inexpensive dental work. That said, plenty more travelers head to Mexico for beach vacations that won’t break the bank. 

The great thing about spending a holiday south of the border is learning about a different culture. No matter where you go in Mexico, you’ll see symbols of a heritage dating back over 10,000 years. 

Beautiful artwork, Mayan ruins, and marine life are just a few things you’ll experience on a trip to our southern neighbor. You’ll also find friendly locals who welcome tourists from all over the world. 

While flights into the country are plentiful, driving can be more enjoyable if you have the time. First, you’ll have your vehicle to explore Mexico the way you want. Secondly, it allows you to go on a road trip with family or friends for a memorable experience. 

Before you hop in the car and head south, figuring out the least busy places to cross the Mexican border might be in your best interest. You don’t want to spend hours of your vacation waiting with hundreds of other people in long lines. 

And remember, entering Mexico usually takes a fraction of the time it takes to return to the US. When leaving the country, officials will ask for your passport and purpose for being there. In general, this process is smooth and only takes a few minutes. But some people could hold up the line if anything seems unusual about their documents or answers to questions. 

Know Before You Go: Find out how long you may have to wait at a specific crossing by visiting the Border Patrol’s website. 

The 5 Worst Places to Cross the Mexican Border

Flying into Mexico is certainly an option. However, many Americans and Canadians choose to drive across the border. While not every junction will have long wait times, here are five spots we recommend avoiding. 

#1 San Ysidro

California has several places where it’s easy to drive into and out of Mexico. But San Ysidro isn’t one of them! Located in a southern district of San Diego, this is one of two border crossings to directly access the Mexican city of Tijuana. It also happens to be the busiest port of entry, with about 50,000 vehicles making their way between the countries daily. 

Average wait times vary from 30 to 120 minutes. Of course, any number of reasons can cause you to spend more than two hours in line. 

Since San Ysidro allows 24-hour entry, driving through at night might be a better option.   

Cars in line waiting to cross the border into Mexico

#2 El Paso

El Paso, Texas, is another hectic US-Mexico entry point. You’ll have the choice between four crossings here, but the wait times are about the same. On average, it takes roughly an hour or longer to get through the lines of vehicles during the day. 

Three of the places to cross the Mexican border here offer 24-hour access. As with San Ysidro, passing through the checkpoint at night is usually a pretty quick process.  

Over 30,000 vehicles and about 15,000 pedestrians go through the Mexican border in El Paso each day. Remember this when choosing where to enter the US for your return trip. 

Crossing the border might not be the only bad part of a Mexican trip. Here are 5 Reasons to Avoid RVing in Mexico.

#3 Otay Mesa

Besides San Ysidro, Otay Mesa is the other area to cross the Mexican border from San Diego. As the third-busiest port of entry, it’s another place we suggest not using if you don’t have to. 

Even though you can pass through 24 hours a day, it may still take a half hour to get through the line in the middle of the night. But that beats a minimum of an hour during the day. 

We discovered one reason for long delays at Otay Mesa might be due to commercial trucks having to cross here. They can’t use the San Ysidro access point. While separate lanes are available for large cargo vehicles, they could still cause backups before moving into the truck lines.

Cars waiting to cross the border into Mexico.

#4 Laredo

Further south from El Paso is another US-Mexican border crossing in Laredo, Texas. It’s about a three-hour drive from Monterrey, Mexico, in the beautiful Sierra Madre mountain region.

Many tourists visit this area of Mexico for the museums, ecological attractions, and, of course, the food. But some people living in Texas have family members in and around Monterrey. It’s often cheaper for them to drive than fly.

An average of five million vehicles annually cross from Mexico into the US in Laredo. That’s roughly 13,000 per day. As you might imagine, wait times can be upwards of an hour or more.

Cars waiting to cross the border into Mexico.

#5 Calexico

The final Mexican border crossing we advise to avoid is in Calexico, California. Located 50 miles west of Yuma, Arizona, it has direct access to Mexicali, Mexico. 

Many Americans and Canadians travel to Mexicali for cheap dental and medical treatments. But it’s also an excellent place to visit to immerse yourself in museums and attractions honoring the rich culture. 

Calexico offers two locations to travel between the US and Mexico. The West port of entry is open 24 hours, with an average wait time of about an hour during the day. The East pass is another option, though it isn’t available overnight.

The 3 Best Alternative Places to Cross the Mexican Border

Fortunately, not all Mexican border crossings are hectic, with thousands of vehicles waiting in long lines. We found a few alternatives that shouldn’t cause too much anxiety.

#1 Tecate

If you drive down to Ensenada, Mexico, you’ll have three options for returning to the US. Each is about three hours away from this popular tourist destination. 

We already mentioned San Ysidro and Otay Mesa are two of the busiest ports of entry. However, Tecate, California, is much easier and often quicker to pass through. Rather than an hour or longer, you may only wait 30 to 45 minutes to cross the Mexican border. 

#2 Fabens

You already know that the El Paso junction is one of the busiest. Fortunately, you have another option about 40 miles south. 

Choosing to go through at Fabens, Texas, will save you a lot of time. It’s not a 24-hour port of entry, but you might spend as little as five or ten minutes in line. Even if you arrive in the afternoon, you’re only looking at maybe 20 to 25 minutes of sitting in a line. That’s far better than the alternative of spending an hour or more waiting to cross the Mexican border at El Paso. 

Grab additional tips with the Traveler’s Guide to Mexican Camping.

#3 Roma

One of the least busy spots has to be Roma, Texas. In most cases, you’ll breeze right through in a matter of minutes. Located roughly 100 miles south of Laredo, very few drivers seem to use this entry point. 

Roma isn’t near much of anything in Texas, so that’s likely why many people don’t even know about it. But if you aren’t in a rush and want to explore some out-of-the-way locales in the Lone Star State, opt for this Mexican border crossing.

Here’s What You Need to Know About Crossing the Mexican Border in Your RV.

You Can Cross the Mexican Border with Ease

The next time you want to hop in the car and head south for a Mexican adventure, choose your border crossing wisely. Luckily, plenty more places than the ones we mentioned are available. The US operates 50 sites to travel between the two countries.

Before you decide which one you’ll use, check online for average wait times. It’ll help guide you away from potentially spending hours in line. After all, you’ve earned that valuable vacation!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers who love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below: