Tips for Taking the Fast Track Through the Mexico Border

Crossing back into the U.S. from Mexico can be an ordeal at times. The process is more stringent than ever before, and some travelers are still experiencing unnecessary delays because of their failure to prepare in advance.

If you're planning to cross the Mexican border to get back into the United States, use these tips to expedite border crossing from Mexico to the U.S.

Have the Necessary Documentation Ready

You should have a valid passport ready to present to immigration officers at the border. It takes six weeks to get a passport, and three weeks and an extra charge for an expedited passport.

If you're traveling ONLY to Mexico (no other countries during the course of your trip), and then returning to the U.S., you can travel using a passport card in lieu of a standard passport. As long as you're traveling by road, this will be enough to get you across the borders in both directions.

Skip the Lines

Unfortunately, travelers who aren't prepared for crossing the Mexico border are a major cause of delays. It is not unusual at busy times, like weekends and holidays, to spend several hours waiting to cross into the USA. Fortunately, there are a few ways to speed up the process.

Trusted Traveler Program (SENTRI)

U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI). Being part of this program allows one to use expedited processing lanes at the Mexico border. The process involves an extensive background check, an in-person interview, and a fee. SENTRI lanes are available at certain border locations in Arizona, California, and Texas.

Ready Lanes

A Ready Lane is a lane dedicated for U.S. travelers with identification that contains a radio frequency identification chip (RFID). Having an RFID means the border agent won't need to type in your personal details at the checkpoint — speeding up the process considerably. Ready Lanes are available at designated Arizona, California, and Texas borders.

Use the Fast Lanes to Cross the Border

The Fast Lane was designed to make it easier for U.S./Canadian citizens to cross the border after obtaining medical services in Mexico. It is a single-use pass. The fast lane can be purchased at places where medical services are provided, such as doctor, surgeon, or dentist. Some hotels and restaurants offer fast passes to cross the border, but you may have to pay for them. Find fast lanes at some Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas.

Prepare for Customs

Make sure you don't have any banned items with you, including firearms, drugs, certain animals, Cuban products and other items not allowed by U.S. Customs. There is also a list of prohibited foods and agricultural products to be aware of that include: include vegetables, meat and dairy items. Some meats and seafood are allowed, but not pork or meat from protected species. You can check the list of prohibited items at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

Hand holding U.S. passport

You should declare any gifts or produce you bought in Mexico on your return to the U.S. You are allowed to import certain restricted products in limited amounts:

You should declare any prescription drugs obtained in Mexico, and make sure they are not prohibited.

If you're prepared with the necessary documentation and declare your purchased goods, your return to the United States should be faster and relatively painless.