Saturday, May 11, 2013

Airport Series - Immigration

1. Packing
2. Getting to the Airport
3. Checking In Luggage
4. TSA Security Screening
5. Boarding Gate
6. Immigration

The relevance of this post obviously depends on if you're leaving your country or not. But my family never keeps our passports clean for very long, so we're big advocates of visiting other cultures across the globe.

So after you've somehow managed to survive your multi-hour flight with your dear parents, now you're approaching your final destination and ready to use your legs/stroller again. In general, the process will break down as follows:

A. Get Off the Plane
B. Go Through Immigration
C. Collect Your Baggage
D. Go Through Customs
E. Find a Taxi / Rental Car

Now that you know what to expect, here's some tips.

Get Off the Plane
  • Start packing up your things when you're still in the air and before the "Fasten Seat Belt" light turns on as you're descending. You want to keep your hands free and your lap clear so you can get your things quickly.
  • Be patient. Everyone was on the same long flight as you and wants to get off quickly too. Some people, however, have connecting flights they need to run to, so let them get off the plane first and then wait your turn. You'll have plenty of opportunity to pass people on the long walk to Immigration.
  • Don't forget your gate-checked stroller!

Go Through Immigration
  • Surprisingly, this is no cake walk - even if you're a well-heeled American traveler. In some countries (like Canada and Israel), they're very very strict and try to make you nervous even if you have no reason to be.
  • Immigration officers will ask you the typical questions like "Why are you visiting? How long are you staying? Are you traveling for business?" The main things they're looking for are suspicious reasons (no set departure date), if you're going to look for work in their country (no job), if you're coming to use their free healthcare or give birth (pregnant women), etc.
  • Hopefully you've checked weeks before if you need a Visa to enter the country (i.e., Australia, Argentina, Vietnam, Russia, India). But fortunately, if you're on the flight, you're probably fine because the airlines won't let you on board if you don't show them your visa. 
  • But don't rely on the airline to make sure, because if you're flying from Chile to Argentina, the Chilean airline may not know that Americans need a Visa to get into Argentina.
  • However, many countries don't require a visa for Americans (i.e., Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, European Union) or will allow you to get the visa when you land (i.e., Turkey, Chile)
  • If you're not sure, check online at Delta Airlines' Visa Center.

Collect Your Baggage
  • I don't know for sure, but I assume the bags get re-scanned once they get to the destination airport for security reasons. They usually arrive on the baggage carousel just after the first passengers clear Immigration.
  • Get a baggage cart. You're still a long way from getting out of there.
  • Many international flights will have people coming back home to their native country so expect a lot of people with massive checked bags and oversized packages.

Go Through Customs
  • Now that you have your bags, the destination country wants to see if you're trying to sneak in anything.
  • Sometimes they're looking for illegal things (drugs, guns, excessive cash) but sometimes they're also looking for food/animals/plants that may disrupt their local ecosystem if there were any bacteria or insects that may have hitched a ride on your favorite food.
  • Not everyone will be asked to have their bags searched. It's supposedly luck of the draw (1 out of ever 3-4 people), but hard to imagine that some people aren't visually profiled over others.

Find a Taxi / Rental Car
  • Before you even get on the plane, you should get a rough idea of how to get to your hotel. Most hotels will have a DIRECTIONS section on their webpage with driving or public transportation information.
  • If you're taking a taxi, there are websites like that will give you estimates of what the ride should cost.
  • But before you leave the airport, you should get some cash in local currency. Depending on where you go, you may not be able to use your credit card and, believe it or not, not every country takes US Dollars. 
  • My parents always go to an ATM from a bank they've heard of (even though I prefer the ATM machines with pink or purple colors). The ATM option is almost always better than converting your money at a currency exchange place. And if you have a Charles Schwab checking account, they will reimburse your ATM fees every month.
  • Where possible, use a prepaid taxi service they have at the airport. First, it removes the possibility of your driver taking you the LONG way to boost his fare. Also, it allows you to use your credit card and conserve your local currency for when you really need it (like the taxi ride back to the airport when you're leaving).


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  2. @ Joni Rana, thanks for the kind words.