Travel tips. Customs and immigration lines are inevitable, whether you are arriving in your bucket list destination or returning home from it. After all, every time a plane full of people arrives, it takes a while to process all that luggage and the passengers aboard.
Still, there’s a lot you can do to speed your way through the immigration and customs process, at home or away.
Before you leave home
Apply for Global Entry. If you want to make everyone else in the customs line turn green with envy, consider applying for the Global Entry program. It costs $100 for five years, and every time I come home overseas I’m reminded that it’s the best $100 I ever spent. Just zip over to one of the kiosks, add your information, including declarations, on the touch screen, and you are done. All but the smallest regional airports in the US support the Global Entry program, and it’s expanding to major overseas destinations, too, including Frankfurt. The NEXUS and SENTRI programs, also offered by the Department of Homeland Security, offer similar benefits.
- Travel tip – Global Entry also makes it easier to register for the TSA “known traveler” program, so you can register for the fast TSA Pre-Check program, and get on security lines where you don’t have to take the laptop or toiletries out of your bag or take off your shoes.
- See Zip through airport security lines like a VIP with TSA Pre-Check
Book a seat as close to the front of the plane as possible. So you can get to the immigration and customs lines before they get too long.
Know the baggage requirements. If your flight out of or into the United States doesn’t take you directly to your final destination, you might have to retrieve your checked bags after passing through immigration, and recheck the bags before you catch your connecting domestic flight, or a flight to a neighboring country. Check with your airline before departure to find out whether you’ll have to retrieve and recheck your bags or not.
Pack light. Besides saving you money for overweight bags or extra bags, the less time you spend juggling your luggage, the faster you can get through the customs line.
- Security tip – As difficult as it can be to watch a fellow traveler having a hard time with too much luggage, never transport someone else’s bag through customs. You never know what they might be carrying that they would like to escape responsibility for. If you just can’t stand to watch the mayhem, offer to rent them a luggage cart, and let your Good Samaritan obligations end there.
Get travel insurance. Along with your credit cards and your passport, never leave home without travel insurance. I have an annual policy, but you can purchase per-trip coverage. Just as with your car insurance and homeowners insurance, there’s no one-size-fits-all travel insurance. Policies range from basic ones that cover missing baggage and missed flights to the those which cover emergency medical evacuation by airplane or helicopter.See ecoXplorer article on the importance of travel insurance
During your trip
Track Your Spending. Each country allows you to transport a certain dollar amount of purchases across the border without paying “duty” – basically, a tax levied on purchases made or gifts received while you’re abroad. Keep your receipts, or track how much you’ve spent at the very least. This way, you can prove whether you fall under the duty limit or how much you may be over the limit.
Avoid Farms. Customs won’t deny you re-entry to the USA, or between countries overseas, if you’ve visited a farm, but you may lose some time in customs while they clean your footwear to make sure you’re not accidentally bringing in any biological contaminants. Customs people don’t clean your boots for the fun of it. Invasive species and illnesses like foot and mouth disease are very real hazards anywhere in the world. If you have visited any farms, admit it and accept the possible delay.
On the plane
Fill out your customs forms. It will save time on line.
- Travel tip – Always pack extra pens. They have a way of disappearing or running empty during your trip.
Ditch the food. Many countries, including the USA, have restrictions on transporting fresh products like fruit, vegetables or meat across international lines. Your trip through customs will usually go faster if you ditch the food entirely, including the snack apple or orange you took from the hotel breakfast buffet to eat on the plane but forgot to (we’ve all done that, including me). Even if the food you have is legal, failing to declare it can result in hefty fines. Therefore, honesty is always the best policy.
Put your phone away. Want to have an up-close-and-personal visit with a customs agent? Just whip out a camera and start taking pictures; it’ll get their attention quickly. If you prefer a quick and hassle-free experience, leave your phone and cameras tucked away until you are all the way through customs.
Know where you are staying. Be prepared to tell officials where you’re staying in the country you’re visiting. They may ask you to provide the address of your hotel, so keep a copy of your reservation or full itineary on hand. Sometimes they also ask you for proof of your departure ticket and date, so those copies should be your carry-on bag as well.
This article was adapted from one by Allianz Travel Insurance.
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