Before entry into the United States, all passengers must first clear United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Many people dread this experience, but by following these steps, you will clear customs in no time.
Onboard your flight, you will be given customs and immigration documents. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, then you will need to fill out an I-94 form. If you are a U.S. Citizen, then you do not need this form. All passengers must also complete a customs declaration form. This form is required for both U.S. and Foreign citizens. Make sure to have the required documents completed before you enter the customs and immigration facilities.
When you deplane, follow the signs directing you to international arrivals, immigration and customs. Most often, you will walk through a hallway or go down an escalator to the customs and immigration facilities. In rare circumstances (mostly at smaller, more poorly run airports), you will need to ride a bus.
The first stop is at Passport Control/Immigration. If you are a U.S. Citizen, go to the lanes marked United States Citizens. If you are non-U.S. Citizen, go to the lanes marked Foreign Citizens. If you have another flight to connect with, there are sometimes special lanes for Connecting Passengers.
Give your passport and immigration/customs forms the officer. He/she will look at your passport, scan it, and possibly validate it. He/she will also retain any I-94 forms, and validate and return the customs forms.
After you clear Passport Control, follow the signs to Baggage Claim. Here, you will claim your checked baggage, even if you have another flight to connect with. Check the screens for the carousel number that your flight has been assigned to and wait for your bags to appear.
Once you have claimed your bags, your next stop is at Customs. If you do not have any items to declare, proceed to the green lanes marked “Nothing to Declare”. If you do have items to declare, proceed to the red lanes marked “Goods to Declare”. Here, you will turn in your customs form and if you do not have anything to declare, you will be waved through to the exit.
If you have another flight to connect with, follow the signs marked “Connecting Flights/Connecting Baggage Drop-off” as you leave the customs area. If you are already at your final destination, skip straight to step 8.
- When you get to the connecting baggage carousel, be sure to place any liquids, gels, and aerosols that are over 3 oz, or any other items that are not allowed through TSA security checkpoints in your checked luggage. Check that your baggage tags match your final destination. Place your luggage on the conveyor belt, wheels or handles facing up (the bag itself should be upside down).
- Continue following the signs marked Connecting Flights, and proceed through security to the departures area.
If you are already at your final destination, follow the exit and ground transportation signs. Once you exit the customs and immigration facilities you will be in the International Arrivals area. Here you will meet up with friends and family, or proceed to courtesy shuttles, taxis, rental cars, or other ground transportation.
- Make sure you have all of the required forms completed before you present them to the Passport Control or Customs officer.
- Be nice to the officers. Most likely they will return the favor.
- Do not worry about getting lost. Just follow the signs as there is only one way through these facilities.
- Often times there will be another officer at the very front of the Passport Control line directing you to the next open booth. The booths are also numbered, to help you.
- Photography and cell phone usage is never allowed in U.S Customs and Immigration facilities.
- Once you leave the baggage claim/customs area you may not re-enter, so be sure you have all of your personal belongings with you before you leave for the connecting flights or international arrivals area.
- As always, never make jokes about bombing, terrorism, smuggling, etc.