Here’s what renewing your US passport while living in Tijuana, Mexico is really like and what to avoid.
Turns out it’s actually faster to renew your US passport in Mexico than it is in the United States, but prepare for the unexpected. I did my due diligence many months before my passport was about to expire. When I called the US Consulate General in Tijuana a representative said you don’t need an appointment since they take walk-ins between 7:30 and 11:30 Monday – Wednesday mornings (except holidays) as long as you’re eligible and have all of your documents prepared. The agent told me that it would probably take two to four weeks to receive my new passport, which is great because renewing a passport in Los Angeles can take anywhere from 5 – 11 weeks, but because of the pandemic, it can take even longer to arrive.
Fill out, print and sign form DS-82
Visit the Passport Navigator to determine if you’re eligible to renew your passport with form DS-82. If you are, use the form filler, then print, sign and bring it along with any other specified documentation when you go to the consulate.
A quick Google search for “fotos de pasaporte cerca de mi” will return plenty of results. I chose Ihl Fotostudio in Zona Rio, because it looked like a small, independent photo studio near me, and had almost 5 stars in Google Maps. There was no line and it only took a few minutes to get quality passport photos for around $180 pesos (about USD $9).
I jumped into an Uber and headed over to Otay where the US Consulate is located. When I arrived, the agent informed me that the window was closed and that they didn’t take walk-ins. I was like, bro, your website literally says you take walk-ins and when I told her I called in advance, she said they hadn’t taken walk-ins since the beginning of the pandemic and she handed me a slip of paper with an email address that I needed to contact for an appointment. Frustrated, I went home and sent an email requesting an appointment and clarification on the situation with walk-ins.
Plan ahead for your walk-in at the US Consulate
Here’s where it gets weird. The response email clearly stated that you don’t need an appointment as long as you meet all the requirements, have all of your documents and, again, triple-confirmed that they do, in fact, take walk-ins. The following week, I grabbed another Uber and went back to the consulate. This time, security informed me that it was a Mexican national holiday so the offices were closed. On the bright side, I finally learned who Benito Juarez was.
Stuff they don’t tell you in advance
The following day, I went back to the US Consulate. As planned, I got there early and only needed to wait in line for a few minutes to get up to the window before heading through security. What they don’t tell you in advance, is you can’t bring a cell phone inside and if you didn’t drive there you have nowhere to leave it. But for $100 pesos (USD $5) you can pay a man outside to store it for you. This felt super scammy.
It’s probably a good idea to only bring the documents you need and nothing else. Security gave me the third degree because I had spare batteries and a few electronic parts in my backpack (which I need for a GoPro and miscellaneous recording gear I usually carry). Seriously, leave it all at home and only bring the required documents so you don’t have to pay the dude outside to “watch” your stuff.
Whatever you do, don’t wear a baseball cap. I’m not a morning person, so I rolled out of bed, threw on a cap, and ran over there only to discover that I had to take it off revealing crazy morning-hat-hair. This was weird to me, since literally every agent working there was wearing a baseball cap, but whatever.
Turns out it’s actually faster to renew your US passport in Mexico than it is in the United States, but prepare for the unexpected.
Once you get through all the minutiae, the process was quick, painless, and everyone was super friendly. I waited for about 15 to 20 minutes before they called my number and proceeded to the window to pay the renewal fees of USD $160 with a credit card which included the optional passport card. The card is only good for land border crossings into Canada and Mexico and not good for international air travel, but it’s especially handy only having to carry a card instead of the passport book every time you cross. Also, since the passport card has RFID, you can shave a few minutes off of your border crossing if the Ready Lanes are open — but don’t confuse the Ready Lanes with SENTRI — you need Global Entry to use the SENTRI lanes.
The final step was walking over to the DHL counter to pay the delivery fee and telling the agent where you want your passport to be sent. Don’t forget to give them your email address. DHL will email you when your passport is ready to be picked up. They can send it to the US Consulate, or a DHL counter closer to you. I chose the DHL counter in Zona Rio because it’s much closer than going all the way back over to the consulate, and I could wear a baseball cap to pick it up!
Make sure you bring efectivo (cash) for the DHL counter inside the Consulate, because they don’t accept cards. I never carry cash, so I had to walk another 15 or 20 minutes to the nearest Soriana Hiper to use a cajero (ATM) and another 15 – 20 minutes in the blazing heat back to the consulate. By now, I was a sweaty, frustrated mess, but it was almost over. The least they could do is install an ATM and some free lockers to accommodate normal people.
Two weeks later (to the day) my passport book arrived at the DHL counter across from CECUT in Zona Rio. The passport card (which looks and feels similar to a driver’s license) took another 3 weeks or so to arrive in a separate delivery.
If you follow these simple steps, you can avoid the mistakes I made and honestly make the process of renewing your US passport inside Mexico faster than it is in the States.
Things to remember
- Do your homework
- Fill out the online form
- Print and sign the form
- Get passport photos taken
- Be prepared and remember to bring all your documents (form DS-82, current passport, passport photos, etc)
- Check the calendar for Mexican public holidays
- Walk-ins are between 7:30 and 11:30 Monday – Wednesday mornings (except holidays) as long as you’re eligible
- Comb your cabello (hair) and don’t wear a damn gorro (cap)
- Don’t bring anything but the required documents with you to the Consulate
- Bring at least $500 pesos (USD $25) to pay DHL and the dude outside to “watch” your stuff if you bring anything else (if you take Uber/DiDi, you’ll need your phone to get home)