What to Expect at Customs and Immigration

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If you’ve never traveled abroad before, passing through customs and immigration can be a little frightening. You’ll have queues to stand in and forms to fill out and present. For most people, however, clearing customs and immigration is a straightforward and easy process.

After you leave the U.S., you’ll have to clear customs and immigration at your destination. In some cases this will require a visa, so be sure to do your research ahead of time and fill out any paperwork you need to obtain a visa well in advance of your trip. While en route, you may also have to fill out a health questionnaire or other documents. An immigration official will inspect your passport and paperwork and may ask you questions about your trip, including why you’re visiting the country and where you plan to stay. Your passport may be stamped at this point, and you may receive information on how long you’re allowed to stay in the country.

Once you clear immigration, you proceed to customs, where you’ll need to declare certain items like fruits, vegetables, and meats. Depending on the country you’re traveling to, regulations can be very strict. For the most part, it’s unlikely that you’ll have much to declare on the outbound leg of your trip, but you should still pay close attention to the declaration form and declare everything you’re required to.

When returning home to the U.S., you complete the same process in reverse, though there are usually fewer forms to fill out and fewer questions to answer from the immigration officer. Customs, however, can be a bit trickier, as you may be required to declare everything you purchased on your trip, from treats bought in a duty-free shop to souvenirs to extra film you bought for your camera. Most American travelers don’t end up paying import duties upon their return, because the value of their purchases does not exceed the personal exemption, which is set at $800 for U.S. residents returning from most foreign countries. However, you will not be allowed to bring back meats, fruits, vegetables, and certain other agricultural products, as they may carry pests.

For more information, see the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at www.cbp.gov.

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