Getting through US customs can sometimes be tricky business.
From the wait, duty-free, border control interrogation, and connecting flights you will definitely want to have a strategy to get through US customs as easy and pain-free as possible.
I have some expert tips that will get you from the plane to your destination stressless and sweatless.
Storytime ( if you don’t like stories skip straight to the tips): The 1st time I ever had to go through US customs I was coming from Italy and going to Houston Texas but my layover was in Newark New Jersey, MISTAKE NUMERO UNO. I had never gone through customs before and had no idea what I was getting myself into, nor did I think I was getting myself into anything lol. Because I am, what some may call a diva, no clue why, I had a HUGE bag that was checked, naturally it was heavy, I had a carry-on, a purse, as well as some other stuff in my hand. (mistakes number 2 and 3) I had just come back from a 5-week experience in Italy so I had stuff to bring back that I didn’t want to break.
Anyway, my layover between Houston and Newark was about 2:00 hours I believe, thinking that was enough time and normally it would be if I did not check my bag (mistake number 4). Newark is probably one of the biggest AND BUSIEST hubs in America by the way. So I had to go wait for my checked bag to come to the carousel (mind you I was wearing heels (not a mistake actually), sweating and worried at this point because I had never missed a flight and I didn’t want to stay in Newark overnight, get back in line to go through US customs, then had to go recheck my bag, go back through security, and get to my gate.
In the midst of all of this, some airport guy offered to pay for my hotel and take me out to dinner if I ended up being stuck in Newark. I’m sure he was trying to save me because I had the whole damsel in distress thing going on to the 23rd power. It was sad y’all hahaha. But he grabbed my bag and helped me through the line. Even got his connect at security to let me cut in line lol. And he walked me all the way to where I needed to be.
This is where I realized the plane had left. So then I had to go to the customer service lane (mistake number 5) to see when they could put me on another flight. They said not until tomorrow. I called my mom crying and somehow with that mommy magic, I got on another flight at 4 pm lol.
When I tell you I only have to make a half a mistake once! This experience is where these tips are coming from lol
Getting through US Customs 101:
1. Arrive In Your Destination City:
If you can help it. The first time I step foot in America I make sure it is in my destination city no matter where I am coming from. I learned my lesson in 2011 at Newark and have never gone back… except for fort Lauderdale lol but that was poor and short planning on my part. For example, fly from Singapore to Taipei and Taipei to Houston. This will usually only work if you live in or close to a city with an International hub. Mistake number 1 scarred me for life honestly, so always step foot on American soil in my destination city. It is the biggest hassle diversion you will ever have. Thank me later.
2. GET GLOBAL ENTRY
The best 100 bucks you will spend in the next 5 years! If I can’t convince you here check out my post about Global Entry to get your life on the path to righteousness. The biggest way to alleviate the US Customs hassle is to get Global Freaking Entry! The tagline says it all “What are you waiting for?” I mean does it get any shadier than that? LoL Global entry is THE best thing that you could ever have in relation to travel. On my last trip, it still took me an hour and a half to get through the whole process WITH global entry and I skated through customs and did not check a bag. This was solely because of the airport I came through. F U Ft. Lauderdale
3. TSA Precheck
It costs 85 bucks and it lasts 5 years as well. With Global Entry you get a to go through a specially designated customs line and then with the included benefit of TSA Precheck you get to cruise through security with all of your clothes on and everything still in your bags. Even if you’re not a global flier, paying for TSA precheck will be probably the greatest thing that you ever do for yourself when you travel. I know you’ve seen those people just gliding through security and you’re like, if only I didn’t have to stand behind these people who seem to not know how to get through security. If I were you I would just happily give up the extra 15 and get the whole global entry package.
4. The Entry Airport Is CRUCIAL! Look Before You Book!
I am oh so serious. Late flights have more to do with the airport than the airline (Spirit airlines excluded—they just suck). For example, Dulles is the absolute worst airport, in my opinion, to have to go through US customs. The way the civil engineers laid this airport out is atrocious and nowhere near conducive to catching a connecting flight. Newark sucks as well but mainly because it is always so busy! So just do yourself a solid and check on the airport reputations as well.
5. Screenshot The Map Of the Airport
Know where you’re going and or if you need to switch terminals. If you do not have the luxury of landing in your destination city you should make sure you know how to navigate your arrival airport. Know whether you will need to get on the tram to change terminals. You can ask the flight attendant which gate you will be coming in at so you can plan your route. This also helps if you are hungry, like me all the time, or if you need to use the restroom. Remember not all terminals have the same amenities.
6. No Layovers – Straight No Chaser!
I tend not to do layovers and just book straight shots if I can if you can help it. It makes travelling so much more pleasant when you don’t have to do the airport shuffle. So international hubs are golden. If you live on a coast East, West, Third then you have a better chance of getting straight shots overseas. West to Asia, Thrid to Central and South America, and East to Europe and the Middle East.
7. Layover On The Continent You Are Leaving From
I would recommend laying over in the continent that you’re leaving from and then going through US customs in your destination city. Try to go through an International hub. It is easy to find flights when booking and easier to get booked on another flight because of unforeseen issues.
8. Always have a pen
to fill out the declaration form. They don’t pass out pens anymore. Even with Global Entry, I would suggest that you fill out a customs declaration form just in case you happen to come to an airport that does not have global entry kiosks. They’re definitely getting better and you will be covered at International hubs. You just don’t want to get caught in a situation where you have to go to the back of the line and fill out your form.
9. Take A Picture Of Your Passport
And boarding pass. This is so you will have your passport number and flight information on you. Just makes the process of filling out your US customs form seamlessly.
10. Give Yourself Enough Time
You will thank yourself if it is LAX, Houston, Newark, Chicago, AND DULLES (ew)! Especially if you’ve never been to that airport before and especially if you’re in weird places. Give yourself at least 3 hours between your flights because going through US customs is not fun you don’t want to miss your flight. In case you don’t know how the customs process works:
a. you will have to go get your bag you have to go to baggage claim
b. go to passport control
c. then you have to go check your bag again
d. go back through security
e. then go to your gate that may or may not be in the right terminal
f. if not, you have to go to your correct terminal
This whole process can take between 21 minutes to an hour or longer. You can see how this would be a major problem if you have a 45 minute to an hour layover.
Short story: I had a 4-hour layover at Fort Lauderdale – Never again – by the time I went through the process and got to my gate I had 2 and a 1/2 hours until my flight so you need to make sure you allow yourself enough time for issues. Mind you, this was WITH global entry! For those who don’t like math, it took 1.5 hours to get through the customs process.
11. One and Done!
Carry-on’s only do not check a bag! Seriously, if you are going somewhere for less than 2 weeks you can make it with a carryon only and if you must, a personal item. Only using a carry-on drastically reduces the time you have to participate in the US customs cycle. I will never tell anyone to check a bag. You tend to over pack and bring stuff you will never use. Sometimes checking a bag is necessary; often times it is not.
12. Call Customer Service
Don’t stand in the customer service line with all those other suckers! The best and fastest way to get rebooked on another flight if you happen to miss your connection is to call the customer service number on your airlines’ website. If the plane was late, that is usually when you have to beat the rest of the passengers to the front of the line. Just do yourself a favor and avoid the headache. Call them and let them do all the work. You will get booked on the next available flight and get your choice of seat and class or at least be the first person on the standby list. Whereas if you didn’t you just have to hope the people in front of you aren’t going to the same place you are.
13. Look Decent
I mean comb your hair and wipe the drool off your face from your 12-hour flight. Get the blood flowing in your face again. Put some lotion on and look like you have some homeupbringin. This is why I said wearing heels wasn’t a mistake. People treat people better when they look better. Some may disagree and continue to fly in their sweats but dressing well has always worked in my favor. If you run into any problems people are more likely to help you and be nicer to you.
I hope you found this ridiculously helpful.
If you have any tips on getting through customs tell me about them in the comments!
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