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International Travel: Customs and Immigration

By Edited Aug 26, 2016 0 0

The next article in my little mini-series about travel will be about some of the things you can expect upon arriving in a foreign country. If you're new to international travel and haven't seen my other article on things to know before traveling internationally you may want to check it out here on InfoBarrel (just search for "traveling internationally") when you're done with this article.

The first thing you can expect are your arrival forms. These will be given to you either at the airport or on the actual flight to your destination. Typically this is (at least) two forms (and may be more depending on your destination) that includes an Immigration form and a Customs form.

Most forms contain instructions, I suggest you read them. They may indicate for you to fill out the form in all upper case letters and/or to only use a particular color of ink (black, blue, etc.). While most Immigration/Customs officials are lenient and forgiving of foreigners who fail to follow directions you may end up getting kicked out of line to re-file the forms properly if you catch someone on a bad day. I always travel with two pens, one black and one blue just for this reason. Make sure you have these forms completed and ready BEFORE you de-plane if at all possible.

Each individual country may have their own expectations and requirements for arriving international travelers but they all generally make incoming visitors go through the same basic 3 step process. Which goes like this:

Immigration – When you de-plane you'll immediately be taken to Immigration. Incoming travelers will be separated into two groups, arriving National's (people returning to their own country) and arriving Foreigners (anyone not native to the arriving country). You'll present your Passport (with Visa if required) along with your arrival forms (immigration, customs and any other they may have given you). They will verify accurate completion of the required forms, the validity of your passport (and visa if required) and possibly ask you some questions.

Common questions may include, "What is the purpose of your visit?", "How long do you intend to stay?", "Where will you be staying?". These are standard questions that they may or may not ask everyone and being asked does not necessarily indication suspicion – it's all part of the process.

If everything is in order you'll be given an entry stamp in your passport along with your copy of your Immigration form. Keep this with your passport at all times during your stay, it is what demonstrates to local authorities your authorized to be in the country and must be surrendered upon exit. Note the amount of time your allowed to stay and do not stay beyond this!

Luggage Retrieval – Once you've cleared immigration you'll be filed into a standard luggage retrieval area where you'll pick up your luggage. There's really nothing different or unusual about this part of the process except to say that luggage for foreign travelers must enter the country WITH the traveler. Your luggage may not enter the country without you (unless you mailed it or shipped it as post) so if it gets lost or doesn't come through you must deal with this right away. Contact one of the local airline authorities to report this immediately. If your luggage has arrived properly, simply pick it up and proceed to Customs (it should be the only place moving forward you can go).

Customs – Before you even get to Customs you should make sure your customs forms are filled out completely and accurately and that you have identified if there is something you're bringing that requires you to "Declare" it upon arrival. This typically involves food, drugs and/or items that exceed your exemption limit. If in doubt – declare it. Failure to declare something that should have been declared is a serious offence that could result in deportation, fines and/or penalties.

Some Customs authorities will use a red-light/green-light method. This entails having them review your Customs form and pressing a button. This will light a colored light. If the light is green, you'll be waived through and may leave the airport with no further inspection. If the light is red, you will be pulled out of line and inspected. Inspection involves opening your luggage and allowing the authorities to look through every nook and cranny if they so desire.

Some Customs authorities will simply let some people pass and pull others out of line for inspection based entirely on their person discretion. If you do get pulled out of line -

Be expected to explain which items are for your personal consumption and use during your visit as well as which items you are bringing in under exemption. Furthermore, be prepared to provide receipts for everything claimed under exemption and possibly some of the items not claimed under exemption (most certainly medications and food). If they decide that you have insufficient proof or disagree with your assessment you may be required to pay fines, penalties as well as duties and taxes for any overages beyond your allowed exemption.

Note the items you're bringing must be, "consistent with the intent of your visit". It's normal for a tourist to bring an iPod for music and a cell phone for communication. If you show up at their border with 5 iPods and 3 cell phones and expect them to believe they're all for your personal use – forget it. EXPECT to be charged duties and taxes.

Expect your items to be detained and held in custody by the authorities until you pay. Do not argue or fight with authorities over these issues, be humble, apologetic and do as you're told. They have the full power, authority and right to fine you further or even imprison you if you become belligerent or abusive. Remember your manners, you are a guest and you should behave accordingly.

All that being said - please don't let the warnings above scare you! If you prepare ahead of time with the proper documentation, receipts, etc. I can almost guarantee you a smooth and pleasant experience! Preparing ahead of time will demonstrate that you respect their culture and laws by knowing ahead of time what's expected of you and will go a long way towards leniency should you make an unintentional mistake.

Be prepared, have fun and happy traveling!

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