Going Through U.S. Customs: What to Expect

We’ve been taking it back to the basics lately. First we talked about how to obtain a US Passport, then we discussed the difference between that and a travel visa, and we’ve also dissected worldwide gratuity customs here and here. Some of these topics are second nature to travel junkies, but we understand that not everyone is hopping on a plane every other week, so it only makes sense to break down a few fundamentals. These elements may come in handy for your upcoming journey.

If you’ve never traveled internationally – specifically by air – you’ve never experienced the joy of a United States Customs Service security inspection. Sometimes you’ll breeze right through, and other times it’s a scrupulous pain in the neck. Here’s what to expect.

  • On your flight, an attendant will provide a declaration form. If you’re bringing anything¬†back from your trip, it must be declared – souvenirs included. Officials have the authority to confiscate any undeclared items, so be thorough! Check here for a list of prohibited and restricted items. Non-US citizens will also need to complete an immigration document, and all paperwork should be filled out and ready by the time you arrive. This applies even if you have a connecting flight to catch.
  • Once you touchdown and de-board, there will be separate lines for US Citizens and International travelers. Have your passport and the aforementioned documentation ready to present to the customs officer. He or she will review and validate the details and then send you on¬†your way to baggage claim.
  • After you’ve retrieved your luggage, you’ll head to the customs security check, and this is where things get exciting. If you’re declaring any plants or produce, an Agriculture inspection may take a while. We recommend leaving the exotic fruit where you found it (or better yet, eat it while you’re there!). Depending on the time of year, this area can get very busy. Pack a load of patience, and it’ll be over before you know it.

As a rule of thumb, it’s always good to inquire about the customs regulations at your international destination, before booking your trip. Each country has their own set of ordinances, so check and see what you’re allowed to bring.

Also, always carry a photocopy of your passport. You never think you’ll be the one to lose your ID, until you’re the one to lose your ID.

If any of you seasoned wanderers have other tips, feel free to share in the comments!

Happy travels!

*Photo via Graphic Leftovers

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