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Immigration and Customs

Whenever you travel from one country to another, you must go through the immigration process. Each country has its immigration inspection process. For most passengers, this  is a simple process that takes only a few minutes.

What to do when you arrive at the airport

After you deplane, you’ll enter the immigration area, where arriving passengers are split into separate lines. (These can be long if many international flights arrive simultaneously.) Be sure to enter the line for non-immigrant visitors.

  • Do stay calm and relaxed as you wait your turn.
  • Do not use any electronics in the immigration area. (No taking photos, use of cell phone to talk or text, etc.) Use of electronics in the immigration area can result in confiscation.

The immigration inspection

1. Document review

When it is your turn for inspection, an airport official will ask to see these documents:

  • Passport
  • Visa
  • Green card
  • Disembarkation card (provided to you during flight; you will complete before landing)
  • Immunization documentation
  • Letters of confirmation or support, etc.

2. Standard questions

The airport officials will ask you a set of standard questions, such as:

  • What is the nature of your visit?
  • How long do you plan to stay in the country? 
  • Where will you live during your stay?

3. Fingerprints and photos

Some countries require fingerprints and/or photos of every individual entering the the country. Officials will take fingerprints or photos if required.

4. Approval

Once you are approved, the official will stamp your passport and grant you admission into the country. The length of your authorized stay will depend on local visa rules/tourist stay policies.

5. Second-level inspection

Some passengers may be selected for a second level of inspection. Reasons for this may include random checks or questions about documentation. The inspection may take place in a separate room, and passengers undergoing such inspection may or may not be approved to enter the country, based on inspection results.

Second-level inspections could be conducted in the same queue (line) or in a separate room to aid in a conversation and to keep the queues moving for other passengers. The timeframe of these inspections can vary greatly. Passengers that are part of second-level inspections could be granted regular admission into the country once inspection is complete. However, if the incorrect or inadequate documentation is provided, passengers can be denied approval to enter country. Passengers are sent back to their original location on the next available flight.

Going through customs

Each country and airport will have different requirements and procedures for declaring items. For specific customs guidelines, research online restrictions for your host country and for the airport of entry.

Before you de-plane

During your flight, an attendant will distribute a Customs Declaration Form (in addition the disembarkation card you completed for immigration). You should complete this form before landing. 

The form will ask questions such as:

  • Your flight number
  • Your flight’s point of exit and entry
  • What goods you are bringing into the country (the form may list prohibited items).

You must declare:

  •  Any goods you are bringing into the country that may be restricted.
  • Return trip to U.S.: Any goods you purchased in the host country.

After clearing immigration

After clearing immigration and collecting your baggage, your next step will be clearing the customs area before you are allowed to leave the airport. As with the immigration process, most passengers find that clearing customs takes only takes a few minutes.

Each country has its own regulations regarding the import and export of goods into and out of the country.

Customs is the authority of each country that is responsible for controlling the flow of goods into and out of the country, including:

  • Animals
  • Transports
  • Foods
  • Personal effects
  • Hazardous items
  • Soil/sand/dirt (generally prohibited because it can introduce non-native organisms; you may be asked to clean your shoes, etc.)

Your luggage may or may not be inspected. If you are found to possess restricted items, you may be required to pay duty and/or fines, or to relinquish the items.  It is important to declare items as required on the Customs Declaration Form.

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More about customs

Various goods are restricted or forbidden to be exported and/or imported, depending on the country. To learn more , see

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