Requests made by merchants to municipal police to prevent extortion against tourists seem to have had no effect.
With the arrival of young spring breakers, complaints of police abuse and extortion skyrocketed.
One of them circulated among residents of Quintas del Mar where the victims were staying.
Witnesses report that three young Americans from Carson, California, were walking quietly along Benito Juárez Boulevard in the downtown area.
Suddenly, they were intercepted by municipal patrol cars in the middle of the tourist area.
For no apparent reason, they approached them and after an exchange of words, they extorted 500 dollars to let them go, according to the same affected residents of Quintas del Mar.
The complainants pointed out that there was no justification for having stopped them and less to extort money from them since the young people only walked down the street.
They regretted that due to events of this type, the image of Rosarito as a safe tourist destination is falling again and it is projected as an insecure city where corruption prevails, which can affect the tourism sector.
“The word is spreading about what can happen to American tourists, that they can be extorted for nothing and that the police authorities themselves can rob them,” said María, a resident of Quintas del Mar, who once sued the Mayor Araceli Brown Figueredo to force the Municipal Police and eradicate police abuse and extortion against tourists.
Tijuana police corruption has been a serious problem for decades.
It is not uncommon for a Tijuana police officer to stop tourists and demand that they pay a bribe or ‘mordida’ in Spanish. This can happen while you’re driving around town or simply walking down the street.
In this guide, I outline Tijuana police corruption and explain how it works. I’ll also share some tips to help you avoid paying a bribe if you do get stopped by a corrupt police officer while visiting Tijuana. Finally, I’ll explain how you can reduce your chances of getting stopped in the first place.
You can’t completely avoid falling victim to corrupt police in Tijuana but you can reduce the risk by taking some simple precautions and knowing what to do if you get stopped. If you’re prepared and know what to expect and how to behave, the police interaction will go much smoother. You might save some money too. This guide focuses on Tijuana but much of the info applies to Rosarito and Ensenada as well.
How Tijuana Police Corruption Works
Tijuana police corruption exists in a number of forms. As a tourist, the most common form of police corruption you’re likely to encounter is an officer stopping you and soliciting a bribe.
Basically, a corrupt officer will pull you over while driving or stop you on the street, accuse you of committing a crime, then tell you that you need to pay a fine (bribe) in cash. This can happen pretty much anywhere in the city at any time of day.
In this section, I’ll outline exactly what to expect during a police stop in Tijuana including how the police may stop you, reasons an officer might stop you, and what happens during a police stop.
Getting Stopped By the Police in Tijuana While Driving or Walking Around
The police interaction in Tijuana can begin in a number of ways. If you’re driving, the officer will perform a standard traffic stop. They will turn on the lights and possibly the siren on their cop car and pull you over, just like any other traffic stop.
Sometimes the police set up roadblocks and stop everyone who passes. Sometimes they perform random inspections. This is common on highways. Occasionally, an officer may stand by your parked car and wait until you return.
When you’re stopped, the officer usually asks to see your passport, FMM tourist permit or visa, car registration, and your driver’s license. They’ll also tell you why you were stopped.
If you’re walking down the street, the officer may approach you on foot and tell you to stop. If they’re driving, they could roll down their window and motion for you to come to talk to them.
Officers sometimes stand on a street corner and perform random searches. This happens in touristy areas such as Zona Centro and Zona Norte. A particularly bold officer may grab you by the arm and forcefully demand that you stop walking and follow them to their cop car.
After stopping you, the officer will tell you why you were stopped. They may demand to see your passport and visa or FMM visitor’s permit. They may also insist on patting you down or searching your pockets, backpack, purse, or wallet.
Reasons A Tijuana Police Officer Might Stop You
Tijuana police can pull you over for a wide range of reasons. You can get stopped by a corrupt officer even if you did absolutely nothing wrong. The officer will simply make up a reason for stopping you. They will usually tell you that that you committed a serious crime and that you’re in big trouble. Of course, you can also get stopped legitimately if you committed a violation.
If the officer pulled you over while driving, they will accuse you of committing a traffic violation. For example, they may claim that you were speeding, that you ran a red light, or that you made an illegal turn. They could tell you that you were driving without a seat belt or using your phone while driving. They could wait by your parked car and tell you that you parked illegally. In some cases, they could also accuse you of a more serious crime like driving under the influence. They may accuse you of carrying an illegal substance in your car and search your car for contraband.
If you’re stopped while walking down the street, the officer could accuse you of public intoxication. They could accuse you of jaywalking or trespassing. They could accuse you of possessing an illegal substance and insist on searching you. Alternatively, they could also accuse you of being in the country illegally and ask to see your passport and visa or visitor’s permit.
You could also be stopped simply because you’re a tourist. Corrupt Tijuana police officers tend to target tourists. They do this for several reasons. First, they know that tourists are more likely to be carrying large amounts of cash. It’s also easier for them to intimidate tourists because tourists don’t know the laws or their rights in Mexico. Many tourists don’t know the language either. All of this makes it easier for a corrupt police officer to take advantage of tourists than locals.
An officer could also stop you for a crime that you did commit, like a traffic violation. For example, maybe you were speeding or maybe you made an illegal u-turn. Maybe you were caught texting while driving. The police could take that as an opportunity to solicit a bribe from you.
An officer could also stop you while walking around intoxicated. Many tourists come to Tijuana and drink too much. After stopping you, the officer may tell you that you committed a major violation and that you need to pay a big fine.
What Happens During a Police Stop in Tijuana?
The officer usually begins the interaction acting professionally. If you’re pulled over while driving, they’ll ask to see your driver’s license, registration, and possibly proof of Mexican auto insurance. If you’re stopped on foot, they may ask to see your passport and visa or FMM visitor’s permit. They will also tell you why they stopped you.
Oftentimes, the officer will tell you that the crime you committed is very serious. Even if you were stopped for something minor like running a stop sign, parking illegally, or jaywalking. This is done to scare you into believing that you’re really in trouble with the law.
At this point, the interaction can go a couple of different ways. If the officer is corrupt, they will imply that you can settle the matter there and then by paying a fine in cash. Some officers may just tell you an amount to pay to make the problem go away. In other words, they will ask you to pay a bribe.
Usually, the officer will be discreet about this. After all, they are committing a crime and risking their job by soliciting a bribe.
If you act hesitant, the officer may try to convince you that paying the fine in cash is legitimate. They could pretend to make a phone call to a superior or write your address down and tell you that you’ll receive a receipt in the mail. This is a lie.
A bold officer may simply demand that you hand over your wallet. They will take what they think is reasonable (usually most, but not all, of your cash).
If you refuse to pay the bribe, the officer will begin threatening you. They may tell you that you committed a serious crime and threaten you with a big fine (hundreds or thousands of dollars). They may tell you that you have to come down to the police station with them and threaten you with jail time. Sometimes they will tell you that you will have to spend the night in jail. If you were pulled over while driving, they may threaten to impound your car. They could also refuse to give you back your passport, driver’s license, or car registration. Basically, they will threaten to escalate the situation in order to scare you.
In most cases, the officer is bluffing to try to get you to pay. If there are two cops, they may do a good cop bad cop shtick. One will make threats and the other will try to convince you to pay to make things easier on yourself.
If you continue to refuse to pay a bribe, the officer will usually give you a written citation or simply let you go. This is the optimal outcome. They could also take you to the police station to pay your fine in person if you committed a crime.
In rare cases, an officer could get physical. They could push you up against a wall or their police car and pat you down and search you or your vehicle. They could take your wallet from your pocket against your will. In some cases, they may handcuff you and put you in the police car. This is done to intimidate you.
If the officer is not corrupt and you were stopped for a legitimate reason, they will give you a written citation or ask you to pay your fine by credit card. They may just give you a warning if you’re lucky. I will outline how to pay a ticket in Tijuana later on in this guide.
How Much Money Does a Corrupt Tijuana Police Officer Demand for a Bribe?
The amount of the bribe varies. It depends on how corrupt the officer is and what crime you’re being accused of.
If the officer accused you of a minor crime, they usually ask for $100. That’s a pretty standard fine. Examples of minor crimes include failing to stop at a stop sign, jaywalking, or parking illegally. Oftentimes, you can negotiate these small bribes down to 500-1000 pesos (around $25-$50). More on negotiation later.
If you were accused of a more serious crime, like drunk driving, speeding, or having illegal drugs in your possession, the officer will ask for a larger bribe. In this case, they may demand that you pay $300-$500.
If you decide to pay the bribe and the officer sees that you’re carrying a lot of cash, the price can go up. For example, if the officer asks for $100 but sees that you have $500 in your wallet, they may demand more.
Some corrupt officers demand that you hand over your wallet and take what they want. In this case, they’ll take most of your cash. If you have $400 in your wallet, they may take $350. They may leave you with a bit of cash to get back across the border.
The officer usually won’t take all of your money. This is probably to leave some plausible deniability. If you still have some cash in your wallet, you can’t easily prove that a police officer robbed you. I imagine they also want you to have enough cash to get home safely. They don’t want tourists getting physically harmed in Tijuana. After all, that’s bad for business.
What if I Don’t Carry any Cash or Only Carry a Small Amount of Cash?
The officer could escort you to an ATM and demand that you withdraw money for them. This is rare but it is not unheard of. In this case, the officer may demand that you withdraw $300-$500. They could also take your debit card or credit card and demand that you give them your PIN so they can withdraw the money themselves. If you’re lucky, they’ll just let you go.
To prevent this, it’s a good idea to reduce your daily withdrawal limit on your credit and debit cards when you visit Tijuana. You can do this by calling your credit card company or bank. For example, you may want to reduce the withdrawal limit from $1000 to $200. This prevents a corrupt officer from draining your account.
What to Do When You Get Pulled Over by Corrupt Police in Tijuana
If a police officer pulls you over in Tijuana, try your best to remain calm. While talking to the officer, speak as respectfully as you possibly can. Call the officer señor. Be polite. Never raise your voice or show any signs of aggression, frustration, or anger while talking to a police officer in Tijuana.
You want to avoid escalating the situation. Never give the officer a reason to arrest you or use force against you. Remember, the officer just wants money. They don’t want to fight with you. They also don’t want to arrest you and have to do a bunch of paperwork.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that the police officer has all of the power in this situation. You don’t have as many rights or freedoms in Mexico as you do back home. The officer can ruin your day if they want to.
While talking to the officer, try to take note of their badge number and their name. Also, try to note the number on their police car or the license plate number. You’ll also want to remember the time, date, and location of the stop. This information could come in handy later on if the situation escalates. More on that later.
During the stop, try to avoid handing the officer your passport. If they have your passport, they can try to extort money from you by refusing to give it back to you. If they ask for identification, hand them your driver’s license instead. Alternatively, try handing them a copy of your passport. This won’t always work. Sometimes they will insist on seeing your original passport. In this case, you’ll have to hand it over. They have the right to look at your passport.
While talking to the officer, be patient. Act like you have all of the time in the world. Never act like you’re in a hurry or tell the officer you have somewhere you need to be. If you behave like you’re in a rush and you’ll do anything to get out of there, the officer will be more likely to solicit a bribe. The price might also go up because they know you’ll be more likely to pay in order to get out of there.
In some cases, it can be helpful to stall as much as you can. For example, you could pull out a map and ask the officer for directions. If you’re a talkative person, you could start telling the officer about your trip and how much you love Tijuana. This can distract the officer. If you’re able to stall long enough, the officer may become bored or annoyed with you and let you go. If you get lucky and the officer is a somewhat decent person, they may even become friendly. You may be able to talk your way out of the situation.
Another useful tip is to play dumb. Pretend that you don’t speak any Spanish or that you understand very little Spanish. Ask the officer to repeat themselves multiple times. Use poor grammar while speaking. If the officer asks for money, pretend that you don’t understand what they’re talking about. If the officer can’t explain what they want, they may get frustrated with you and let you go.
These tips won’t work every time but there is no harm in trying them. Worst case, you waste some time and annoy the officer a bit.
What to Do if a Corrupt Tijuana Police Officer Insists That You Pay a Bribe
If a corrupt Tijuana police officer insists that you pay a bribe and won’t let you go, there are a number of ways to deal with the situation. Your best option depends on a number of factors including how the officer’s behavior, the crime you’re being accused of, your level of comfort with this type of situation, and how well you speak Spanish.
Some officers are more aggressive than others. Some people handle this type of situation better than others. Everyone also has a different philosophy about best how to handle police corruption and bribery. Some people prefer to pay and get it over with while others avoid paying bribes at all costs.
You should always at least try to get out of paying a bribe to a corrupt police officer, even if you’re uncomfortable with the situation. Paying a bribe supports a corrupt system and promotes future corruption.
In this section, I’ll outline three ways to respond when getting stopped by a corrupt police officer in Tijuana.
1. Insist that the officer issues you a written citation
If the officer is trying to make you pay a fine in cash, politely decline and insist that they give you a written citation instead. This way, you know that the fine is legitimate and that the money isn’t going into the officer’s pocket. It’s on the books. You also know that you’re paying the appropriate fine for the crime.
You may have to delay and ask several times before the officer agrees to issue you a paper ticket. In most cases, the officer will eventually give in.
Insisting on a written citation is always the safest and least expensive option when you encounter a corrupt police officer in Tijuana.
You can pay the fine in person at the police station or by mail. Sometimes you can pay the fine there and then with a credit card or debit card. I’ll explain exactly how to pay a ticket in Tijuana later on in this guide.
2. Insist that the officer takes you to the police station to pay the fine
If the officer refuses to give you a written citation and continues to demand that you pay a fine in cash, try telling the officer that you want to go to the police station to pay. If they agree, you will follow the officer to the police station in your car.
The officer won’t want to do this because it’s a hassle. Sometimes they don’t have time to drive you to the police station. At this point, they may let you go if you’re lucky. Alternatively, they could issue you a written citation instead. In some cases, they tell you to follow them to the police station, where you can pay the fine in person.
If you were stopped on foot and the officer won’t give you a written citation, you can insist on going to the police station. In this case, the officer will probably put you in the back of the police car and drive you there.
You’ll want to avoid this situation. Getting put into a police car and getting driven to the police station in Tijuana would be a pretty intimidating experience. Nobody wants to ride in the back of a police car. Especially in a foreign country.
Also, keep in mind that going to the police station is a hassle. You’ll have to go out of your way and waste time waiting around to pay the fine. You’ll want to avoid this if possible. Of course, going to the police station is better than giving money to a corrupt police officer.
3. Negotiate and Pay the Bribe
If you get stopped for a minor infraction such as parking illegally or not wearing your seat belt, the officer may tell you that they will let you go for $100. This is a common amount for a bribe in Tijuana. You can often negotiate down to 500-1000 pesos ($25-$50). Once you come to an agreement, you can pay the officer and they’ll send you on your way.
When you pay, try not to let the officer see how much cash you have on you. They could ask for more if they see that you have hundreds of dollars in your wallet.
Paying the bribe is the fastest and easiest solution because it is the officer’s desired outcome. The only thing a corrupt police officer really wants from you is money. If you’re willing to pay, the interaction will go smoothly and quickly.
Many tourists feel intimidated by the Tijuana police, which is understandable. These guys are aggressive, authoritative, and sometimes scary. Tourists often pay the bribe to get the whole ordeal over with.
By paying the bribe, you avoid any escalation. The officer won’t get aggressive. They won’t threaten to take you to the police station or detain you. They won’t threaten to impound your car. In some cases, paying the bribe is the safest option as well. A particularly corrupt and angry officer could get violent.
There are a couple of major drawbacks to paying a bribe. First, it supports a corrupt system. If everyone pays, the corruption will continue. Paying a bribe also increases your chances of getting stopped again by another corrupt officer. These officers often communicate with one another. I’ll talk more about this later. Of course, there is also the principal of the matter. Nobody wants to be forced to pay a bribe.
4. Call to Report the Corrupt Police Officer
If the officer refuses to give you a written citation or take you to the police station and you refuse to pay a bribe, you may be able to call for help. Ideally, you’ll want to speak to someone in the office of the Sindicatura Del Gobierno Municipal. This is the internal affairs department of the Tijuana police.
You can contact the Sindicatura by calling Tijuana’s Citizen Attention Line at 072. Alternatively, you can also call the office of the Sindicatura directly at 664-973-7065. You can also email the office at Quejas@sindicatura.gob.mx.
The office of the Sindicatura is located at Blvd. Independencia 1350, Zona Urbana Rio Tijuana, 22320 Tijuana, B.C.
Alternatively, you could report the corrupt officer to the State Secretariat of Tourism of Baja California. To do this, call Tijuana’s Tourist Assistance Hotline at 078.
This number will connect you to an English-speaking person. You could also email your complaint to the tourist assistance email at. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some travelers recommend that you tell the officer that you’re going to call the Sindicatura and file a complaint if they won’t let you go. This may deter the officer from forcing you to pay a bribe. Instead, they may give you a written citation. If you’re lucky, the officer will just let you go.
The problem with making a call during a police stop or threatening to file a complaint after is that it will anger the officer. By calling the Citizen Attention Line, Tourist Assistance Hotline, or Sindicatura, you’re basically telling the officer that they’re not doing a good job and that you’re going to tell their boss and get them in trouble.
As you could imagine, this can be risky. It will anger the officer. They may decide to double down and take their anger out on you. Whether or not calling to report the officer or threatening to is an appropriate response really depends on the circumstances and how the officer is behaving. In some situations, the officer may tell you not to make any calls. They could even demand that you hand over your phone.
In most cases, you’re better off waiting until the interaction is over before calling to report the incident. When you call, make sure you have some information about the officer such as their name, badge number, or the license plate or identification number of the car they were driving. You’ll also want to take note of the time, date, and location of the incident.
If you ended up having to pay a bribe, chances are you won’t get your money back when you call to report a corrupt officer. You should still call. Tijuana is trying to crack down on police corruption. If they receive enough reports about the same officer, they may be disciplined or let go.
Tip: Consider taping the Sindicatura’s phone number to your driver’s license or car dashboard
Some frequent Tijuana travelers recommend that you write the words ‘Sindicatura Del Gobierno Municipal’ along with their phone number on a piece of paper and tape it to your driver’s license or in a visible place on the dashboard of your vehicle.
The idea is that the officer will see that you know who to call if they try anything illegal, like asking for a bribe. The hope is that the officer will either let you go or give you a written citation instead of trying to solicit a bribe or committing any other crime.
I have read about this method on two Baja travel forums but have never tried it. Some travelers report success with this method but others warn against it.
Personally, I recommend against this because it could anger the officer and put you in a worse position. The officer could see the note and take it as a threat. You can read more about this method here and here.
Why You Should Never Pay a Bribe a Corrupt Police Officer in Tijuana
It may seem easier to simply give the officer what they want. For most travelers, an extra $50-$100 isn’t a big deal. By paying a bribe, you lower your risk by avoiding confrontation with the officer. You don’t risk angering the officer or making the officer escalate the situation. Paying a bribe saves time too. You don’t have to disrupt your day by going to the police station and waiting around.
There are a number of drawbacks to paying a bribe. Most importantly, paying a bribe supports a corrupt system. If you pay, you are partially responsible for perpetuating corruption. If the officer is able to get money out of one tourist, they’ll surely try it again and again. The system will continue to be corrupt forever. Future tourists will continue to get stopped and hassled for no reason by corrupt officers. You might fall victim again during a future trip. Nothing will change.
Another drawback to paying a bribe is that it can make you a target for more corruption. After you pay a bribe, the corrupt office may call their corrupt friend and tell them that you pay bribes. After paying a bribe, it’s not uncommon to get stopped again 10 minutes later by another corrupt officer. This is common on roads with multiple police checkpoints. One officer radios down to the next and you end up getting hassled at every stop along the way.
There is also the principal of the matter. Nobody wants to be forced to pay a bribe. It makes you feel weak and helpless. Paying a bribe to a corrupt officer means you fell victim to a crime. Fighting a corrupt system and winning feels great.
Technically, paying a bribe is also illegal. In theory, you could be charged for committing the crime of bribery. This is highly unlikely to happen if the officer was the one who asked for the bribe but it is possible. You should never offer to pay a bribe for this reason.
Where Are You Most Likely to Experience Police Corruption in Tijuana?
You’re most likely to experience police corruption in Tijuana’s touristy areas. The main tourist zones in Tijuana include Zona Centro (downtown), Zona Norte (the red light district), Zona Rio (the business district), and Playas de Tijuana (the neighborhood by the beach). Each of these tourist zones has a main street with a large police presence.
The areas around the border crossings are also heavily policed because they are frequented by tourists who are entering and leaving Mexico. Over 50 million people cross the border between Tijuana and San Diego per year. This leaves plenty of opportunity for police corruption.
Police Corruption in Zona Centro
In Zona Centro, the main street is Avenida Revolucion. This is Tijuana’s most famous tourist street. Here, you’ll find dozens of bars, clubs, breweries, restaurants, and souvenir shops. This area is heavily policed. You are likely to encounter police corruption here.
Police Corruption in Zona Norte (the red light district)
The main tourist street in Zona Norte is Calle Coahuila. Here, you’ll find a number of bars and strip clubs. This area probably has the highest police presence of any area in the city. This is due to the seedy nature of the area. Lots of crime happens here. This is the area where you are most likely to encounter a corrupt officer.
Police Corruption in Zona Rio
The main tourist street in Zona Rio is called Paseo de los Héroes. Along this street, you’ll find Tijuana’s largest shopping plaza, Plaza Rio, the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT) as well as a number of hospitals, banks, skyscrapers, and residential buildings. This is an upscale area with fewer tourists. Police corruption exists here but it’s less common. You’re more likely to be pulled over while driving here than getting stopped on foot.
Police Corruption in Playas de Tijuana
The main street in Playas de Tijuana is called Paseo Ensenada. Here, you’ll find the beach, a boardwalk, the Monumental Bullring, Plaza Coronado, and many residential buildings and hotels. This area is more laid back. Police corruption is less common here.
Police Corruption a the Border
The areas surrounding the border crossings also have a heavy police presence. Especially during the day when there are lots of tourists entering and leaving. Police patrol these areas looking for traffic violations and tourists they can target. Fake police scams are known to happen here as well. More on that later.
You won’t encounter any corruption at the actual border crossing. The immigration and customs officials are honest.
Why is Police Corruption More Common in Tourist Areas of Tijuana?
There are two reasons that police corruption is more common in Tijuana’s tourist areas. The first reason is that there is simply a higher concentration of police officers in these areas. You’re more likely to have a police encounter in areas where there are more police. These officers are stationed in these areas to deter violent crime and to keep tourists safe. Unfortunately, they sometimes hassle tourists for bribes.
While walking down Avenida Revolucion in Zona Centro or Calle Coahuila in Zona Norte, you’ll see a constant stream of police cars driving by. You’ll also encounter officers standing on street corners patrolling the streets.
You can’t walk a block without seeing police in these parts of the city. You’re more likely to get stopped by a corrupt officer in these places because there are so many police around. If you wander around enough in Tijuana, a corrupt officer will find you.
The second reason that you’re more likely to experience police corruption in the tourist areas is because corrupt Tijuana police target tourists. Corrupt officers go to these areas to find an easy target to solicit a bribe from.
They know that tourists are more likely to be carrying large amounts of cash. This makes tourists more profitable targets. They also know that tourists don’t know the local laws or their rights. Tourists often don’t speak Spanish or don’t speak it as well so they can’t easily talk their way out of these situations. All of this makes it easier for corrupt police to get away with soliciting bribes.
While driving, a corrupt police officer could pull you over pretty much anywhere in the city. You’re probably more likely to be pulled over while driving through one of the touristy zones because there are more police patrolling.
Outside of the tourist areas, police seem to be few and far between. There are only around 2500 police officers working in Tijuana, which is about half as many as there should be for a city the size of Tijuana. For this reason, you’re less likely to encounter police when you’re outside of the main tourist areas.
You’re also more likely to be pulled over if you’re driving a vehicle with a U.S. license plate. This indicates to the officer that you’re a tourist. Again, corrupt police seem to target tourists in Tijuana. Police may also be more likely to pull you over if you’re driving a new or high-end vehicle. This signals to the officer that you have money.
How to Avoid Getting Pulled Over by the Police While Driving in Tijuana
The best way to avoid getting pulled over in Tijuana is to obey all traffic laws while you’re driving. You’re less likely to get pulled over if you follow the rules of the road. You don’t want to give a corrupt officer any reason to pull you over.
While driving in Tijuana, always wear your seatbelt. Use your turn signals. Obey traffic signs. Don’t speed. Never use your phone while driving. Don’t make illegal U-turns. Make sure you’re carrying all of your documents including your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration. Even though people drive a bit differently in Mexico, the driving laws are basically the same as in the U.S.
Probably the best way to avoid getting pulled over is to drive a vehicle with Baja California license plates. Corrupt officers target vehicles with U.S. or Canadian plates because they know a tourist is driving. They can pull you over for the smallest infraction or for no reason at all.
For example, I met an ex-pat who was living in Mexico on a temporary import permit and took his car with him when he moved to Mexico. In the first 4 years, he said he was pulled over 8 times.
He then became a permanent resident and imported his car to Mexico. After getting Mexican license plates for his car, he hadn’t been pulled over since. This is just one guy’s story but I do believe that Tijuana police target foreign plated vehicles.
If you’re moving to Tijuana on a temporary resident visa, you may be better off buying a vehicle that is registered in Mexico. For most tourists, the only way to drive a car with Mexican plates is to rent a car in Tijuana. For some trips, this is a good option. Some officers may keep an eye out for rental cars because they know a tourist is driving.
As mentioned earlier, police may also be more likely to pull you over if you’re driving a nice car. If you have the option, drive a beater car to Tijuana and leave your nice car at home. If you decide to rent a car, choose a basic compact car instead of a luxury vehicle. The police will be more likely to leave you alone.
For more info, check out my guide to driving to Tijuana. Here, I cover the border crossing, Mexican auto insurance, driving tips, and more.
Consider Leaving Your Car at Home
To eliminate your risk of getting pulled over by a corrupt officer while driving, simply don’t drive in Tijuana. Walk across the border on foot and take taxis, minibusses, and Ubers around instead.
You can park your car on the U.S. side of the border in San Ysidro or Otay Mesa. you can also take the trolley to the border from downtown San Deigo. If you’re traveling from further away, you can also take the greyhound bus to the border. Once you’re at the border, it’s easy to cross on foot.
Tijuana is easy and affordable to get around without a car. The main tourist areas are walkable. You can even walk from the border to downtown. For more info on getting around Tijuana without a car, check out my guide to taking taxis and Ubers in Tijuana.
Simply not driving in Tijuana greatly reduces your chances of getting stopped by a corrupt police officer. Most instances of police corruption occur during a traffic stop. Getting stopped on foot is slightly less common.
There are other benefits to not driving. For example, you won’t have to buy Mexican auto insurance. You don’t have to deal with the hassles of driving in a foreign country such as poor road quality and crazy traffic. If you intend to travel to mainland Mexico, you won’t have to deal with getting a temporary import permit if you don’t drive.
If you still want to drive, check out my guide to driving in Tijuana.