“To save, load before crossing”: Americans who travel to Mexico to buy cheaper gasoline

“To save, load before crossing.”

The message, accompanied by the dollar symbol, the drawing of a pump hose and the American flag, is ubiquitous at gas stations in Tijuana, in northern Mexico.

But there are others: “Here it is! Cheaper than in the USA. Service and quality”, they say.

They appeal to Mexicans who every day go to the other side of the border, to the Californian city of San Diego or its surroundings, to work.

And, increasingly, Americans making the trip south exclusively for the price of gasoline.

“I cross precisely to fill the fuel tank,” Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro, California Chamber of Commerce, tells BBC Mundo.

He lives in south San Diego, just a few miles from the line that divides Mexico from the United States.

“tank full in Tijuana it costs me about US$40, while in San Diego I pay more than US$120“.

Record prices in California, subsidies in Mexico

For months in the US the price of gasoline, as in many parts of the world, has not stopped rising.

From January 2021 to this year it increased by 40%, according to data from the US Department of Labor.

But the beginning of the invasion of Russia – the world’s third largest producer of crude oil – in Ukraine just over a month ago caused the price to skyrocket. And since then he breaks records.

Gas prices in Los Angeles on March 8.

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The price of fuel had been rising for some time, but with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it skyrocketed.

The national average cost of a gallon (3.78 liters) reached US$4.33 this month, the highest in 14 years, according to data from the American Automobile Association (AAA).

The figure pales when compared to the price in Californiawhich, due to a combination of high taxes and environmental laws, is the highest in the country.

This Wednesday was paid on average at gas stations in the state $5.91 per gallon, compared to the national average price of $4.24.

On Mexicothe story is different.

The government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised to maintain the prices under control by granting subsidies to the sector.

Woman putting gas in her car in California.

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California has the most expensive gasoline in the country.

Since March, it has waived charging the Special Tax on Products and Services (IEPS) —the tax that is paid for the production and sale or import of gasoline— and the Ministry of Finance authorized an additional fiscal stimulus.

“The state must not neglect its social responsibility, and it is here to protect the people,” the president said at a press conference in the middle of the month. “It is not about leaving everything in the hands of the market”.

At the time, he recommended to his American counterpart, Joe Biden, to establish a maximum price for fuel.

Increase in clientele

“What I know is that in Mexico from January 3 to the beginning of last week, regular gasoline rose by one peso and 35 cents a gallon, which comes to about US$0.10 cents,” he tells the BBC. World Alejandro Borja Robles. “In California in a week it already goes up to US$0.70.”

Robles is the president of the Specialized Group of Gas Stationers of the National Chamber of Commerce (Canaco) in Tijuana.

And what the 266 service stations that your group represents are talking about, they notice in their sales.

“At some gas stations they see the increase between 3 and 6 in the morning. They are people who live in Tijuana and go to the other side of the border to work. And now fill the tank, not the 200 pesos just to cross, ”he clarifies.

Poster at the Chevron gas station on Agua Caliente Boulevard, in the Cacho neighborhood of Tijuana.

Manuel Noctis
Poster that invites you to “charge before crossing” at the Chevron gas station on Agua Caliente Boulevard, in the Cacho neighborhood of Tijuana.

“But on weekends Premium (91 octane) sales go up and you see more trucks with California plates.”

It is a new landscape. “For years it was the other way around,” says Robles.

It was not uncommon for Mexicans living near the border to drive north to fill up their tanks.

The trend reached greater expression in 2017, with the increase in prices that followed the deregulation of the oil industry.

Gas station in Tijuana.

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Hundreds of Mexicans then went to refuel at service stations in Calexico, a Californian city that borders Mexicali, the northernmost city in Mexico.

“A 6% increase in sales”

Patricia Saharagui, public relations manager for the Rendichicas gas station chain, estimates that her stores near the border have experienced a 6% increase in sales in the last month.

They have 39 service stations in the state of Baja California, 32 of them in Tijuana. And 75 in the country and 90% of its workers are women.

They sell a gallon of regular gasoline at an average of US$3.88 and Premium at US$4.12. And they have placed promotional posters that read: “Your ally to save on both sides.”

“The savings from shopping in Tijuana is considerable, up to US$50-60 depending on the type of car”, he tells BBC Mundo.

Gas station of the Rendichicas chain, located on Second Street, in the Central Zone of Tijuana.

Manuel Noctis
“Your ally to save on both sides,” says the sign of this gas station of the Rendichicas chain, located on Second Street, in the Central Zone of Tijuana.

“To the point where there are Californians crossing specifically to load (the fuel tank). Now it pays for them to stand in line for three hours” at the border crossing to enter the US.

“The best of both sides”

It is something that Julio Vaquero does not rule out.

A San Diego resident, he shared a video on TikTok in which he was seen refueling his Honda Civic in Tijuana for $40. “800 pesos. Full tank”, they said.

A week later, he paid $70 to fill up the tank in California.

He lives 20 minutes by car from Tijuana and usually goes every month, although if prices continue to rise, he will start taking weekly trips for gasoline, he tells the BBC.

Price of gasoline in Mexico.

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“That’s the good thing about living in a binational regionexplains Jason Wells of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.

It refers to the citizens of both sides who cross the border every day, to work, attend school, visit family, go to the doctor, shopping or sightseeing. And now, to put gasoline in their vehicles.

“For us, crossing the border is like crossing the street. We get the best of each side, we live the best of both worlds.”

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