Anything to declare, the customs official said. ´Two pounds of uncut heroin and a manual of pornographic art,´ Mark answered. All Americans are comedians the inspector thought as he waived Parker through.¨
Leon Uris, Exodus
Issues with Immigration and Customs Officials
The above quote was from a book written over fifty years ago. Do not attempt to use humor with customs, security, or immigration officials.
Realize that these agents have a lot of power. They can (and occasionally will) make you answer a lot of personal questions to determine if you are eligible to enter the country. You have little or no recourse if you feel that these questions are obtrusive or unnecessary.
I had this happen once when I tried to enter Canada in Montreal. The officials suspected that I wanted to overstay my legally permitted six months in Canada. They grilled me for almost an hour about my life. It was one of the worst hours of my life. I felt like I was in a Kafkaesque trial and almost decided to go home instead of entering Canada. Still to this day, I fear going through Canadian Immigration and Customs. (Note: Both Canadian Immigration and Customs Officials inexplicably grilled me).
Typical Immigration Issues
- On most flights you will have to go through immigration at the Port of Entry. (immigration reviews your passport and visas to check that you are allowed into the country). The Port of Entry is another name for the first airport when you land in another country. (In the European Union, the port of entry is your first stop anywhere in the European Union. In other words, if you are flying from New York to Palermo and have a stop in Paris, your port of entry is Paris).
You will have to go through immigration even if you are connecting on the way to another country. In other words, you will go through both US and Canadian customs if you fly from Cancun to Montreal via any city in the USA.
One notable exception: if you are flying from Canada to the US, you probably will go through US immigration in Canada and will not have to go through immigration in the USA. (This is because most airports in Canada have an agreement with the US ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to provide US immigration services at most ports of entry in Canada).
- Look and act like a respectable businessperson whenever passing through immigration. You will avoid attention if you look clean and dress like a businessperson. (Chinos and polo-type shirts are suitable for men). Also, when the immigration form asks what you do for a living, pick a common profession that does not arouse much suspicion. I always say that I am a teacher or businessman. (I had a friend twenty years ago who put down that she was an attorney when she tried to enter Peru. The immigration officials harassed her because they had recently had problems with a group of American attorneys involved with drug smugglers).
Typical Customs Issues
- While there are some exceptions, you will also have through customs upon arrival at the Port of Entry even when you are making a connection. To go through customs, pick up your baggage, then pass through customs or exit the airport. (Usually all you do is walk by the officials. They will stop you for further inspection at their discretion. Officials normally only stop me when I am coming from a country with poor relations with the US). If you are making a connecting flight, redeposit your luggage on the other side of customs. (Remember just after passing through customs to pack any liquids or metal item bought in duty free into your bags. Otherwise, when you will pass through security these items will be confiscated).
- To avoid problems, I would suggest that you eat, or throw away, any food or water that you got on the plane or at the departure airport before going through customs. I would also suggest that you do not bring on the flight any non-commercially wrapped foodstuffs.
A Final Note
While I have not had the chance to use it myself, I would recommend that Fifty-Plus Nomads consider using fast passes to ease their way through US Security, Immigration, and Customs.