Traveling overseas is a thrill. Going through customs at the other end of a long flight - not so much. Unfortunately, those line-ups aren’t going away anytime soon, and increased security can mean an even longer wait to get out of that claustrophobic holding tank. If the thought of going through customs fills you with dread, we’ve got a few tips that should make “anything to declare?” feel a little more welcoming.
- Just Say “No”
Saying “no” to the declaration question is a huge winner when it comes to getting through customs with the least amount of hassle. That means, however, that you have to be extra-careful about what you’re bringing with you. If you’re entering the United States, you have to declare all food products. Some may be admissible, but it will depend on where you bought the items and what diseases they might be carrying. Meat, milk and eggs are generally prohibited, even if they’re fully cooked or cured. If you want to avoid any hassle, don’t bring in anything edible – even if you bought it at the airport or lifted a pack of peanuts from the plane.
- Keep Moving
Dawdling off the plane and letting everyone else rush ahead isn’t going to help. Passengers from several different planes all end up in the same customs line-up so there’s rarely any such thing as waiting for things to clear-up. The sooner you get in line, the sooner you’ll get through, so keep moving once you disembark to stay with your group.
- Consider Global Entry
If you’re a US citizen and a frequent traveler, you might want to think about applying for the Global Entry program. It’s a way to fast-track through customs, pre-screening you for entry. Upon arrival, you’ll go to a kiosk that will scan both your passport and fingerprints. Complete a customs declaration and you’re done. It can take awhile to become a Global Entry member as there’s a stringent screening process, but once you’re in you’ll be able to breeze through customs in minutes. If you’re traveling between Canada and the US, check out the Nexus program to speed across the border whether you’re traveling by land, sea or air.
- Know Your Limits
When you travel abroad, you can usually bring back items up to a maximum value without having to pay duty. That maximum varies depending on where you live. In the US, it’s around $800 while in Canada the maximum changes based on how long you’ve been out of the country. Find out how much you can bring back before you leave home and keep your receipts to avoid the hassle of paying duty or arguing about how much a shawl costs in a North African Souk.
- Duty Free Isn’t All Free
Stuff you buy in duty free stores is usually cheap because there’s no duty applied to the item at the point of purchase. That means it’s “duty free” where you bought it, but that doesn’t make it duty free when you get home. If the value of those goods exceeds your personal limit, you’ll have to pay. And while we’re on the subject, remember that almost all countries have strict limits on the amount of alcohol and tobacco you can bring into the country. You can pick up the cheap bottle of rum or the must-have cut-rate liqueur – but probably not both.
- Prohibited Items
If you really want a nightmare journey through customs, try bringing in a bottle of absinthe or anything made out of dog fur. Those are just two things on a long list of prohibited goods, so if you’re shopping for anything weird on your overseas adventure, you might want to check the restricted list before you come home.
The bottom line on going through customs is that it can be stressful, time consuming and plain boring. Everyone’s just disembarked from a long flight in a tiny seat and like you, they all want to get some fresh air. It can be hard to stay positive when there’s so much grumpy going around, but just keep reminding yourself that this too shall pass. Stick to your spending limits, don’t carry more than $10,000 in cash, and ditch anything you can put into your mouth. And remember to take deep breaths. Easy.
Wait, there’s one more thing. When the flight attendant brings around the customs forms before the plane lands, be sure to fill them in right away. Always carry a pen in your bag and have all your documents ready to present to the border officials when you land.
OK, now you’re good to go.