My Experience With US Customs and Border Patrol at the Tijuana Border

CBP Secondary Inspection Area


Earlier this week on Tuesday, my Mexican car insurance was expiring in the morning. We decided to head back to California by driving from Tijuana to the San Ysidro border. It took me thirty minutes to find the correct entrance to the regular line. I didn’t know how long the wait would be, but this was my first time driving my own car from Tijuana to California.

It was basically bumper to bumper traffic and took two hours to reach the US Customs border where we were questioned by an agent.


We proceeded to hand over our documentations. I handed over my Passport Card and Global Entry Card (with SENTRI logo on the back). My cousin handed over his enhanced California Driver’s License and an expired passport along with a birth certificate.

The CBP agent proceeded to verify our identities on his computer and asked us questions about our documents.

The agent asked me, “When’s the last time you used the SENTRI card?” I said that this was my first time using the Global Entry card. Since the Global Entry card acts as a SENTRI card, it has an RFID chip in it. Apparently he said my SENTRI card wasn’t activated. I knew that because I had just added my vehicle on the GOES site and my application was still pending.

My Global Entry Card with SENTRI logo on the back

My Global Entry Card with SENTRI logo on the back

The agent proceeded to ask my cousin about the whereabouts of his passport even though he showed him an expired passport.

My cousin's passport

My cousin’s passport

Yes, it was an old expired passport with his baby picture. My cousin responded with “I just applied for a new passport.”

The agent then asked us what we were doing in Mexico. I responded with “We just went to Puerto Nuevo (Lobster Village), Rosarito, and spent the night at the Marriott Tijuana.”  Then he asked us what we brought with us from Mexico. I replied with, “I bought three shot glasses”. The agent was satisfied with our answers, but he wasn’t satisfied with my Global Entry/SENTRI card not working even though we were in the regular lanes. He said that unfortunately he would have to send us to Secondary Inspection and they could activate the SENTRI card for me. I said that was fine and thanked him for helping me out.

The officer wrote some notes on an orange paper and placed my Global Entry Card beneath the windshield wipers of my car. I proceed to drive into the secondary inspection area.

CBP Secondary Inspection Area

CBP Secondary Inspection Area

At this point, I had to drive my car though a large x-ray machine for vehicles. One of the officers told me that the x-ray machine scans for weapons and drugs in the car. He proceeded to ask me if I had any of the aforementioned in my car. I kindly replied with a “No.” After the X-ray machine, the officer told me to park my vehicle in a designated spot.

It was approaching 12pm and apparently most of the CBP Officers went to lunch. There was a sign that said to wait in your car until an officer approaches your vehicle. 50 minutes later, an officer came out and finally read the orange form on my dashboard. He read the notes the previous officer wrote and said “Oh, looks like your SENTRI card wasn’t activated.” “I can help you with that. Sir, can you please step out of your vehicle and stand by the table?”

The officer began to thoroughly search my car for weapons and drugs, but could not find any. 5 minutes later, he said that I could get back into my vehicle while he proceeded to go into the office to activate my SENTRI card. The process took about another 5 minutes and I was well on my way to San Diego which took a total of 3 hours!

At this point, I was so confused since I knew I didn’t have “SENTRI” access. I barely added my vehicle on the GOES site and the application was pending. After it passes pending, then I can schedule an appointment at the SENTRI office near the border to have my vehicle inspected. After the car inspection and an interview, then I can use the SENTRI lanes.

Lesson Learned: Don’t show US Customs and Border Patrol any excess documents beyond the required minimum. I should have just showed the CBP officer my US Passport Card and my cousin should have just shown his enhanced California Driver’s license. Both of these are valid documents according to


About the Author

Points Summary
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5 Comments on "My Experience With US Customs and Border Patrol at the Tijuana Border"

  1. Hi all, I just got back from Tijuana and Casa de los Pies on 2nd street. They smile and are friendly as they quote you a price but when it comes time to pay the price more than doubles. Stay away from this place they are crooks.

  2. I always use the right documents for each lane, only bad thing about sentri is that you get random inspections (even on foot). Unfortunately, every time I’m running late for work is when that happens lol.

  3. Renew Sentri Card . Its my 3 or 4 Time . I been Pending and I made a Complant of Hostile Behavior Towards Me during Interview . Since 09/04 2014 . Neither Departments have Reached Me . . . !

  4. Do they allow you to opt-out of the x-ray drive through? or can one of their agents drive your car through it for you?

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