Crossing the US-Mexican border with NEXUS

A couple days ago I crossed the US-Mexican pedestrian border through the San Ysidro crossing, between San Diego and Tijuana.

Going to Mexico is a simple task, and at the pedestrian crossing, doesn’t require any document check. All you do is follow the signs and walk past the border, with nary a guard. Whole process takes maybe 5 minutes.

Coming back to the United States is the hard part. If you take the regular pedestrian crossing, you can easily be waiting 4+ hours to cross the border. When we were there, the line was at least a kilometre long!

If you have NEXUS, you’re also enrolled in Global Entry (GE). GE allows you to use the SENTRI lane, which is similar to NEXUS. GE members, and therefore NEXUS members, are entitled to use the SENTRI crossing when returning to the United States. When using the SENTRI lane, our border crossing time cut down from 4 or so hours to a mere 15 minutes.

When you get to the border, you’ll see a very long line of people waiting for the regular crossing. Unfortunately, there’s no separate SENTRI lane until you get close to the border, so you’ll have to walk through the crowd, saying “SENTRI! SENTRI!” Eventually you’ll come up to a big metal gate, one entry for the regular pedestrians, and the other for SENTRI members. Show your NEXUS card to the guard, and you’ll be granted SENTRI lane access.

A note of warning: others, including my partner, experienced an issue where their NEXUS card became deactivated at the border, and were sent to secondary screening. We’ve used NEXUS dozens of times, including on this trip getting to San Diego. My partner’s card was marked as unactivated, and he was sent to secondary. Once released, we went online, and sure enough, his NEXUS card was in need of activation (we’ve logged in online a number of times before). It seems like there’s a glitch at the border where your NEXUS card can become deactivated. The immigration officials at secondary had no idea why this happened. Apparently, they used to be able to re-activate the card on the spot, but no longer have that ability. If this happens, you’ll have to re-activate your card online afterwards.

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