Customs is often the broad term used for the entire process of entering a new country. Customs and immigration are easily confused so let’s distinguish the two before moving on.
Customs role is to control items from entering a country. They are usually involved in searching for drugs, counterfeits, and different types of smuggling. They also play a role in collecting taxes on taxable items when entering a country. You usually see these officials after passport control where you must decide if you have anything to declare or not. Most of the time you hand them a piece of paper and move right on by.
Immigration is responsible for ensuring people enter the country legally. This is basically passport control and this is where you will encounter immigration. They check travel documents looking for anything suspicious along with asking a few questions.
There is a clear distinction between the two. You will encounter immigration first where your passport is checked followed by customs you have the opportunity to declare good.
Tips on How to Move Through Customs and Immigration Quickly
- Don’t use your cell phone
- Don’t take any pictures
- Have your documents ready
- Keep yours answers to the officer brief and to the point
- Fill out all of your forms on the plane before you land
- Don’t declare anything if you don’t need to and avoid inspection
These tips are important to keep everyone moving as fast as possible but if you are at the back of the line if won’t make much a difference. When your entire plane has to go through the same process you want to be at the front of the line.
How to Get to the Front of the Immigration Line
This starts before you even get on the plane when you book your flight.
First, see what kind of plane you are flying and use Seat Guru to find the best seats. I created a walk-through on that here. You will want to get a seat close to the door where you will deplane. If you are flying on a large plane there are often 2 doors, one in first and one in economy so you can get close to this door even in economy. Even if they unload the plane from the door in first you will still be closer if you get as far forward as possible.
If your seat is not available use Expert Flyer to create seat alerts. They will notify if your seat becomes available to get as close the perfect seat as possible. See my post on how to do that here.
And if you can’t get to to the front of the plane to get off first then you have two options left. Move quickly down the long walkways on the way to passport control. Trust me, you can pass a lot of slow travelers and often times it is a long walk.
Another option is to enroll in the Trusted Traveler Program and skip passport control all together. This process is automated and you don’t have to wait in those long lines. Learn about how it works here.