US-Mexican border: Is the passport check going out the same as coming in?

Never been there before: Is Customs and Immigration essentially scanning your passport and “emigrating” you when you go into Mexico exactly the same when you come right back in and they scan and “immigrate” you?

This reminds me of the first time time I took my Thai wife to Mexico. We were staying at the Motel 6 in Anaheim, California, and drove down to San Diego with the intention of checking out Tijuana across the border. She had her passport, but no visa for Mexico. No problem for Americans, but what about Thai citizens? The Mexican Embassy in Bangkok had assured us it would be no problem. I THINK we double-checked with a Mexican consulate in the US. Some American official or another somewhere had assured us coming back would be no problem.

But as anyone who has walked into Tijuana from San Diego knows, there are no Mexican border officials there. It’s just this huge turnstile that you walk through, the kind that you cannot turn around and come back through. Not a human soul in sight, Mexican OR American. And there’s this big CLANK sound when you walk through it, like the sound of a jail-cell door closing in the movies; I think they made it loud on purpose, just so you will know: Now you are LOCKED OUT of America; welcome to Mexico!

We had a good afternoon, but my wife was unable really to relax. Whether she could get back into America or not stayed in the back of her mind. Sure, she had a visa to America, but she had already entered the country, then left. Would they let her back in? And if not, how could she stay in Mexico without a proper visa? It didn’t help that I kept promising to write to her if they didn’t let her back in America.

Happily, when time came to return across the border, we found ourselves behind a group of Chinese guys reentering America themselves after a day in Tijuana. The US border officials were friendly and joking with them, so that set my wife at ease. And yes, they let her back in the country again, no problem.

If your passport is scanned when you hit a border control point, then everyone with access to the Interpol database and/or PISCES, etc can see exactly where you have been, so there is no difference between “immigrating” and “emigrating”.

ETA @Siam_Sam plenty of people all over the world every day cross borders without having their passport scanned. It is a perfectly normal non-event. Up to you to have your passport and/or other paperwork (visa if required) with you if you need it and to know how long you are allowed to stay. To leave and come back you want a “multiple-entry” visa.

A moot point now that she’s a US citizen. The above story was from the '90s.

Several years ago my wife and I were transiting through Chicago, then Istanbul (not Constntinople), to Africa. This was the only time I have seen US customs check outbound passengers. Certain people were pulled aside for closer scrutiny as they went by a bunch of CBP standing at the entrance to the gate gangway. (We didn’t stay to see what happened…)

This was about 4 years ago, so I surmise it was in the middle of the whole ISIS / Daesh problem, so they were looking for interesting people headed for Turkey.

Between Canada and the USA there is a cooperation level, so no outbound check. Presumably anything to do with border crossing problems, one side notifies the other. But yes, a outsider crossing from one to the other for a short visit better be sure they are entitled to re-enter upon return.

(There was something similar between Hong Kong and China. We got a single-entry visa to China, so were warned not to visit the Chinese mainland near Hong Kong, because then we would use up our one entry and not be allowed to fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai.)

Each border crossing involves both an act of emigration (for the country you’re leaving) and an act of immigration (for the country you’re going to); when you go back, you have the same act again, just with the perspectives of the two countries reversed. Typically, immigration checks are stricter than emigration checks (as I remember it, US airports don’t even have separate emigration passport checks - the airlines simply report the identities of the boarded passengers to CBP), because countries like to keep control over who’s coming in but don’t worry very much about who’s leaving. So I would expect the US checks on the return to the US to be stricter than the emigration checks when you leave.

As for the Mexican checks: Illegal immigration from the US to Mexico is not a major problem for Mexico, so I would expect the Mexican immigration checks to be rather light; same for the Mexican emigration checks when you return to the US, as per the above.

The checks are definitely not the same. Driving from USA to MEX, there often hadn’t been any check at all. No stop, no passport check, no conversation — it was like driving through an electronic toll booth, where you slow down to 10 or 15 mph.

It’s a completely different story in the other direction, however.

Border regions are special regions in Mexico. Unless you get a random red light while crossing into a border region, there’s no check at all. At km 20 is where things really start to get checked. Except Baja Norte and Sonora, where tourism moves km 20 away from certain corridors.

It’s similar to anywhere. On a plane, you are given a card stating the limits and asking if you exceed them, plus basic information. On arrival, you give the card to an agent, show your passport, pick up luggage and press a random signal which determines if your luggage is examined in detail. On the way out, it is like any other place.

I’ve driven twice to Cabo and when I did there were no extra checks beyond the border except for the military checkpoints looking for drug runners. They did not check our passports, they just asked us a few questions to confirm we were turistas.

I haven’t been down Baja way in decades, but before that there was a permanent checkpoint between Tijuana and Encinada. We always got waved through except when we had surfboards. Then they would check ID. I have no idea why.

Vacationing in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten you cross the French/Dutch border as you drive all the time without having to stop/slow down. If you take the ferry over to Anguilla, a ten minute ride, you go through a real customs inspection going and returning.

Yeah, the border guard coming back from Tijuana was the most relaxed border guard I’ve ever seen. I’m in the line for non-US citizens, and he looks at my Canadian passport and says, “Canada? You’re at the wrong border, buddy!”

I did confuse him a bit trying to declare a bottle of tequila, though. He wondered why I showed it too him, and I said, “Hell, going back to Canada, the booze is all they really care about!”

Yeah, because you have to go through Baja California Norte to get there (Baja California Sur). It’s a special region; no action at km 20. Same thing going to Pto. Peñasco, San Carlos, etc., in Sonora.

Free movement between the two parts of the island is a very old arrangement between France and the Netherlands that goes back to 1648 (link). It far predates the Schengen area (to which the two territories do not belong, but their metropolitan countries do).

I’ve twice driven in caravans down to an orphanage in Ensenada, with an SUV-load of gifts and supplies. We went right across the border but then pulled into this rest area just past it, where we had to get out and claim the goods we were bringing (this involved a cursory inspection of the car) and paid some nominal tax. I don’t really recall why we got routed over there - ISTM that we could have just kept driving but it may have been because the nuns who ran the orphanage were honest, to a point (there’s no way that the real value of the stuff was calculated or taxed). The taxing seemed fairly random - I maybe paid $40 for my load.

Coming back is an entirely different story, but I had a global entry card and the BP actually gave me a little grief about also having my passport with me. Once I got to him it was fast, but there was some scrutiny, but the annoyance was the 5-6 hours in line on a Saturday evening, not the actual check.

I’m not your buddy, friend!

There’s a way for someone coming from the San Diego area to fly in/out of the Tijuana Airport. It’s called the Cross Border Express. It’s a bridge across the border directly connected to the airport terminal. Not many people seem to be aware of this.

Anyone have experience with the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge?

In all of the bridges between Juarez and El Paso, going from Texas to Mexico, nobody checks your passport.

There is a customs checkpoint on the Mexican side of the bridge, where you press a button and either get a green light and go straight through, or a red one, and then you stop, but it is customs, not immigration.