The border city of Tijuana is famously known as the "Gateway to Mexico" and is the largest city in the state of Baja California. Over 300,000 people cross by foot or car every day into Tijuana from the San Ysidro point of entry in the United States. Due to its close proximity to the United States, it is estimated around 50,000 Americans live in the city, making it one of the largest foreign communities in Mexico.
The city has built its reputation on being a boisterous town that is popular with U.S. college students who take advantage of Mexico's drinking laws (the minimum age is 18) and also with U.S. military personnel. Tijuana has also suffered it fair share of drug-related crimes and was the base for the notorious Arellano Felix cartel, which despite some high profile arrests continues to operate there today. It is also seen as a major port of entry to the United States for human trafficking.
However, despite Tijuana's "Sin City" status, there is a thriving contemporary arts scene. Notable examples are the electronic collective Nortec and alternative singer Julieta Venegas. The Tijuana Cultural Center is the show piece of the city boasting about a million visitors a year, that makes it the most important cultural center in Baja California.
The population of Tijuana has grown radically since the rise of maquiladora factories, or assembly plants, in the area. At its peak in 2001 there were around 820 of these factories, but today that figure is closer to 550. Like many assembly plants in Central and Latin America, Tijuana has lost out competition to the Far East, notably China, where manual labor is considerably much cheaper.
According to the latest census figures, Tijuana's has 1,286,187 inhabitants. A significant amount of that figure crosses the border daily to work in the United States. Apart from the large number of Americans living in Tijuana, the city also has substantial Asian and Central American populations.
The city has a main bus station in the eastern part of the city. There is also a small terminal downtown which serves a few Mexican bus lines and U.S.-based Greyhound Lines and Crucero USA. Another small depot is near the border, with frequent service to Ensenada.
From the U.S. side, San Ysidro is the southern terminus of San Diego's municipal bus and trolley systems, providing public transportation to and from the Mexican border with Tijuana. The newly-rebuilt San Ysidro trolley station is located directly next to the U.S. Customs facility.
If you are a U.S. citizen living in Tijuana, you would be advised to apply for a Sentri Fast Pass card, which is issued by U.S. Customs and which drastically reduces cross-border commute times. Within Tijuana, commutes can be horrible, especially for those driving into downtown from the east side of the city. Forty minutes to go seven or eight miles is not uncommon.
Cost of Living
Based on a U.S. dollar exchange rate of 11.50 pesos, the cost of living in Tijuana for an expat varies from US$7,525 (high-end salary) to US$3,409 (low-end salary) a month. These figures are based on expenditure on housing, food, education, transportation, clothing, recreation, health, furniture, appliances and personal use. The average rent in Tijuana is around US$700 a month. Compared to San Diego, rent is 65 to 75 percent cheaper in Tijuana.
A big feature of living in Mexico is that domestic help is relatively cheap compared to countries in the Western world. In Tijuana, it's common to pay around US$25 to a person (usually a lady) who will come and clean your apartment, iron clothes and, if you're willing to pay a bit extra, do some cooking as well.
Internet access is readily available with dial-up offered by many providers; cable internet is provided by Cablemas, the local cable company, and costs about US$35 a month for most channels.
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