Here are a few tips when clearing customs and navigating international airports.
Border Control: Border Controls are measures taken by a country to monitor or regulate its borders. So yes, when you fly into a country you are still crossing into their borders. Border controls are put in place to control the movement of people, animals and goods into as well as out of a country.
Immigration: Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker. Immigration authorities normally check for appropriate documentation, verify that a person is entitled to enter the country, apprehend people wanted by domestic or international arrest warrants, and impede the entry of people deemed dangerous to the country.
Customs: Customs is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting tariffs and for controlling the flow of goods, including animals, transports, personal, and hazardous items, into and out of a country. Each country has its own laws and regulations for the import and export of goods into and out of a country, which its customs authority enforces. The import or export of some goods may be restricted or forbidden. In most countries, customs are attained through government agreements and international laws. A customs duty is a tariff or tax on the importation or exportation of goods. Commercial goods not yet cleared through customs are held in a customs area, often called a bonded store, until processed. At airports, customs functions as the point of no return for all passengers; once passengers have cleared customs, they cannot go back.
Security: Airport security refers to the techniques and methods used in an attempt to protect passengers, staff and planes which use the airports from accidental/malicious harm, crime and other threats. Airport security attempts to prevent any threats or potentially dangerous situations from arising or entering the country. If airport security does succeed then the chances of any dangerous situation, illegal items or threats entering into an aircraft, country or airport are greatly reduced. As such, airport security serves several purposes: To protect the airport and country from any threatening events, to reassure the traveling public that they are safe and to protect the country and their people.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA): The TSA is a U.S. government entity that screens travelers to ensure safe travel on modes of transportation in the country, especially airplanes. The TSA is based in all U.S. airports, where agents require passengers to pass through a variety of safety checks, including bag screenings and body scanners, on the way to the gate.
TSA Precheck: TSA Precheck allows passengers a quicker journey through security. You’re not required to take off your shoes or remove liquids and laptops from your luggage. TSA Precheck members typically go through a designated security line that is shorter than the regular lines. Most airports and airlines accept TSA Precheck, but it is not always offered for those traveling internationally or out of an international airport terminal. Check the TSA website for a full list of places where TSA Precheck is accepted and to see how to apply.
Global Entry: Global Entry helps travelers skip the queues at U.S. Customs by using automated kiosks, where you present your passport and then quickly head toward baggage claim. The kiosks use photo and fingerprint identification. Schedule an application appointment online through the CBP website. A few other programs similar to Global Entry let passengers bypass U.S. Customs more quickly. These include NEXUS, which is a paid prescreening program, and SENTRI, which allows for expedited clearance in designated lanes.
Airport arrival recommendations:
- 1.5-2 hours prior for domestic flights (Traveling between U.S. or European countries)
- 3 hours prior for International flights
Clearing Customs Best Practices
- Always have your passport and vaccine cards* ready.
- Have your phones put away and even turned off
- Remove any hats, sunglasses or anything covering your face.
- Do not gift wrap presents as you may have to unwrap them.
Most commonly asked customs questions
- What is the purpose of your trip?
- How long do you intend to stay?
- Where will you be staying?
- What is your occupation?
- Do you have anything to declare? (fruits, vegetables, etc.)
Bringing Things Home in Your Luggage
You are allowed to take home $800 worth of items per person duty-free in your luggage, once every 30 days (family members can combine their individual $800 exemptions on a joint declaration). The next $1,000 is taxed at a flat 3 percent. After that, you pay the individual item’s duty rate. You can also bring in duty-free a liter of alcohol (slightly more than a standard-size bottle of wine; you must be at least 21), 200 cigarettes, and up to 100 non-Cuban cigars. Household effects intended for personal use, such as tableware and linens, are also duty-free.
Shipping Things Home
From Europe, you can mail one package per day to yourself in the US, worth up to $200 duty-free (mark it “personal purchases”). If you mail an item home valued at $250, you pay duty on the full $250, not $50. When you fill out the customs form, keep it simple and include the item’s value (contents: clothing, books, souvenirs, poster, value $100). For alcohol, perfume containing alcohol, and tobacco valued at more than $5, you will pay a duty. You can also mail home all the “American Goods Returned” you like (e.g., clothes you packed but no longer need) with no customs concerns — but note that these goods really must be American (not Bohemian crystal or a German cuckoo clock), or you’ll be charged a duty. If it’s a gift for someone else, they are liable for customs fees if it’s worth more than $100 (mark it “unsolicited gift”). *Please note, some states do not allow you to ship alcohol into the state, this should be checked prior to attempting to ship to avoid any issues.
Please check here for items that are prohibited.
If you are flying from the UK to another country in the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales) you will not go through passport control on arrival. All UK airports have three arrivals routes:
- Flights from other UK airports: you bypass immigration and customs
- Flights from Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man: you bypass immigration but do go through customs
- Flights from anywhere else: you go through both immigration and customs
If you’re arriving in the UK from outside the EU, you can bring in certain goods free of duty subject to these limits:
- 1 liter of spirits
- 200 cigarettes
- Max of £390 worth of perfume/souvenirs
- You have €10,000 or more (or equivalent) in cash
- You think that you may have banned or restricted goods