A Mexican visa is unnecessary for tourists in the “border zone,” which includes Tijuana, if the visit is for less than 72 hours. Children traveling with only one parent must have written permission to travel from the absent parent. To return to the United States by air, travelers of all ages must use a passport book. Those 16 or over who are returning by land or sea may use a passport book, passport card, state enhanced driver's license, or trusted traveler card. An enhanced driver license uses the same security technology as a passport. A trusted traveler card requires an application and lengthy background check.
The passport card is a popular choice for frequent travelers to Tijuana, Mexico. The card is less expensive than the passport book and fits conveniently into a typical wallet. Passport cards are valid for reentry to the U.S. by land and sea travel to and from Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Passport books cost more and are bulkier, but allow travel to all countries and reentry by air travel into the United States.
Before the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, travelers to Tijuana, Mexico and other border zone locations needed only driver's licenses for identification. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was developed as part of the Terrorism Prevention Act to enhance border protection, and was phased in over several years. As of June 1, 2009, all of the relevant passport requirements have been implemented.
In August 2009, first-time passport books cost $100 for travelers 16 and over age and $85 for children. Passport cards cost $45 for those 16 and over and $35 for children under 16. Passport cards are not necessary for minors under age 16 that travel to Mexico by land or sea with their parents, as a birth certificate will suffice. Those under age 19 that travel by land or sea as part of an officially recognized group may also use a birth certificate as documentation.
Land or sea travelers to Tijuana, Mexico might opt for the less expensive and easily carried passport card, but if their plans change or there is an emergency, they will not be able to return to the U. S. by air. Only a passport book may be used for air travel. For peace of mine, some travelers choose to carry both types of passport. In August 2009, the passport card costs only $20 for adults and $10 for children under 16 who already have passport books.
Under the REAL ID Act of 2005, enhanced driver's licenses or passports are necessary to board domestic flights, enter federal buildings and access nuclear power plants. As of April 2, 2008, implementation of the REAL ID Act was postponed indefinitely. Since the rules change regularly, many travelers to Tijuana, Mexico and other border locations simply apply for a regular passport book--a clear and unambiguous ID for all purposes.