Tips for Getting Through Customs Quickly

Passport control at Ataturk Airport
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As your overseas adventure draws to a close and you travel home, you will be asked to fill out a customs declaration form, the first step in completing your Customs and Border Protection passport inspection and interview with a customs officer. (If you are driving across an international border, you will not be asked to fill out the form, but you will have to tell a customs officer what you bought while you were out of the country.)

When you arrive at Passport Control or an international border, a Customs and Border Protection officer will review your declaration form, examine your passport, and ask you about your trip and about the items you are bringing back with you. If you plan ahead, you can help make the customs inspection process flow smoothly.

As of Feb. 6, 2020, the Department of Homeland Security barred New York residents from applying for or renewing their Global Entry. Current enrollees in the Trusted Traveler Program are still eligible to use Global Entry.

Use Mobile Passport Control

Mobile Passport Control is a free app run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that can shave hours off your wait. U.S. and Candian citizens simply input their passport information, answer a short questionnaire about recent travel, and take a selfie. There's no pre-approval required and Mobile Passport lines can often be shorter than Global Entry lines. It's currently available at 27 U.S. airports and four seaports. And after the Department of Homeland Security barred New York residents from applying for Global Entry,

Keep Your Packing List

The first step in determining which items to declare is to make a list of all the things you brought with you from home. A packing list will not only help you organize your suitcase at the beginning of your trip, but it will also assist you when the time to fill out your customs declaration form arrives.

Know the Rules

Each country has different customs regulations. Take time to read these rules before your trip begins so that you know which items you cannot bring back. The governments of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, for example, all provide customs information for travelers on their websites.

Register Valuable Items

You can register high-value items, such as cameras, laptop computers, and watches, with your country's customs agency before you travel. Taking this step will help provide Customs and Border Protection officers with proof of ownership of these items and save you time and trouble when you return home.

Save Receipts

Bring an envelope or zip-top plastic bag with you for receipt storage. Any time you buy something during your travels, tuck the receipt into your envelope or bag. When the time comes for you to fill out your customs declaration form, you will have a handy record of your purchases.

Avoid Farms and Agricultural Stations While Traveling

Customs officers are charged with preventing agricultural pests from entering the country. Any traveler who has visited a farm or agricultural station may be subject to additional screening, disinfection of shoes, and other precautionary measures. If possible, skip the goat farm tour and save yourself time and trouble when you go through customs.

Leave Food Items Behind

Trying new foods is part of the fun of international travel. However, many countries restrict imports of fruits, vegetables, and meat products. Eat the food you bought on your trip before you head to the airport.

Pack Carefully for Your Return Trip

If possible, pack all the items you purchased on your trip in just one or two places. This will make it easy for you to find them if the customs officer asks to see them. Of course, you should never place valuable items in your checked baggage. Instead, pack them in your carry-on bag so that you can keep them with you at all times.

Declare Everything

You must declare all items you are bringing back with you from your travels, whether you bought them for yourself, as gifts or for resale. This includes purchases in duty-free and tax-free shops. You must also declare any items you were given or bequeathed. Alterations, such as tailoring, and repairs to items you took with you on your trip must also be declared. Customs officers may confiscate items you brought back with you but did not declare, and you may be subject to a fine if you deliberately attempt to bring restricted items into your home country. You will have to pay customs duty and taxes on items you bring back with you if their total value exceeds your customs allowance.

The Bottom Line

While going through customs is an unavoidable process, there are things you can do to minimize the time you spend with the customs officer. Going through customs will not be painful, provided you plan ahead and prepare for your customs interview.

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