The U.S. takes border control very seriously and when you first arrive in the USA you are going to have to follow a sequence of checks to ensure you are abiding by immigration, customs, and agricultural laws.
In this guide, we will be explaining the process of entering the United States of America. Not only will you be asked “What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?” but you will be asked a number of other questions and subjected to various checks. Make sure that you have a pen in your pocket together with your reading glasses.
If you are coming from a Visa Waiver Country you are supposed to have a valid authorization (ESTA) Electronic System for Visa Authorization BEFORE arriving in the U.S. Without one, you will probably be denied boarding at your departure airport, but if you do make it to the U.S. you will be at risk of detention and then being sent back home.
Step 1 – Passport Control.
When you reach passport control you will see various lines. Do not be tempted to choose the smallest line but check which of the three types of line you should be using.
Before entering the line you should already have completed a CBP declaration. In this form, you need to enter the details of where you will be staying so make sure you have that handy. You will also have completed the I-94 Arrival & Departure Form. Always pay attention to these forms and answer all the questions correctly. Just ticking random boxes and putting the wrong information will come back to bite you later.
- US Citizens;
- Lawful permanent Resident of the USA;
- Visitors to the USA.
Make sure you have all your travel documents ready. That includes your passport, completed CBP declaration, and I-94, Tuck the other documentation inside the front cover of your passport ready to hand over to the CBP officer when you get to the front of the line.
When at the front of your line wait for the CBP officer to call you to the counter. When at the counter pass the passport with the documents inside to the officer who will review them and also do some checks on his/her computer. The officer will also ask you some questions about your trip to the U.S.
The questions you will always be asked are:
What is the purpose of your visit to the United States? And How long will you be in the United States?
You may also be asked other questions, like Where are you coming from? Be ready to answer these questions and pay attention to the officer. This is where they will also take your fingerprints (electronically) and take a photograph. You should remove your glasses when they take the picture.
This is where you should also declare food products you may be carrying or items you have purchased outside of the U.S. If you do not declare these things you are likely to get a fine, and they could seize the items.
Once you get your I-94 form back, make sure the officer has clearly entered your departure date correctly. The I-94 will be stapled to your passport and you should make sure you do not lose it, as you are going to need it to leave the U.S.
Step 2 – Baggage Claim & Possibly a Second Inspection.
OK, Passport control is now out of the way. Next, you need to collect your luggage. Follow signs to the baggage collection area and identify which carousel your flight is associated with. When picking your luggage, do not just rely on the fact that the luggage looks like yours, check the ID tag as well. It helps if you find a unique colored baggage strap or unusual luggage tag to make your bag more obvious.
Once you have got all your bags then head towards the next CBP checkpoint. You may be waived through or the officer may direct you towards a secondary inspection unit. If you are one of the “lucky” ones selected for secondary inspection then you should report to that station and follow the officer’s instructions. You will be asked to place your luggage on a table and the officer will inspect it.
Some fruits, vegetables, and meats can be brought into the U.S. You should already have declared if you have any of these. A failure to declare means you could get a fine and the goods seized. You should also have declared any Gifts you have brought to the U.S. If you have more than your personal allowance of any item, you will need to pay duty at the cashier’s desk. You can ask any questions you have there. Do not forget to get a receipt.
Step 3 – The Final Checkpoint.
To exit the international arrivals area you are going to have to show your CBP Declaration form. Once you have shown that you are free to head to the terminal exit.
Hooray, You are now in America!
You can now start to enjoy your trip and make your way to your accommodation. Generally, you will be very safe in America as long as you use your common sense. Don’t hang around dark poorer areas at night. Do not flash lots of money, or wave around expensive electronic devices. The same rules that apply anywhere.
In entering the USA you are entering a country that encompasses most of the continent of North America. There is a lot of space and many things to see and enjoy.
Now all you need to do is get a cab to your destination. Ideally, you will have pre-booked in advance to get the best deal with an airport cab company. But if you have not then check that the vehicle you get into is a genuine cab.
Look for a badge on the driver, a meter, a radio, and a door handle in the back of the vehicle. Many people prefer to take UBER instead of cabs for the added safety measures.
Anyway, once you have selected your vehicle, get in and start your American vacation!
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