Getting through international customs and immigration efficiently

MEGAN PINCKNEY | 3/15/2018, 4:36 p.m.
Getting through customs and immigration while traveling abroad can often seem overwhelming, especially if you’re traveling to a place far ...

Getting through customs and immigration while traveling abroad can often seem overwhelming, especially if you’re traveling to a place far away or a place where English isn’t the primary language. The good thing is, like most things, if you prepare ahead of time you can help ensure the process carries on as efficiently as possible. Preparing for an international flight isn’t challenging in the least bit, but it does take effort by the traveler well before and during an international flight. Not all international airports’ immigration and customs security are set up the same way, but if you follow these standard guidelines, you’ll be prepared for any airport.

You should start preparing for your international flight well before the day of takeoff. Once you’ve booked a flight into an international airport, you should take the time to look at your arrival airport’s map. Plan what you will do from the moment you land until you’re in some mode of transportation headed to your first destination in that city (your hotel, for instance). You won’t have an idea of your actual arrival gate until maybe a day or two before your flight takes off, but you can still determine a path from the gate area to the ground transportation area. Making a mental note will help ensure a smooth travel experience (reviewing the map the day of your flight also isn’t a bad idea).

Another way you can expedite your travel process through an international airport before the day of your flight is by determining if any visas will be needed to enter the country you’re traveling to. If so, purchase them ahead of time—if possible. That will not only keep you away from surprises but also keep you on schedule and on budget.

You should also determine where you plan to leave your car while you are traveling internationally before the day of your flight. Many airports have long-term parking options with significantly cheaper daily rates. Also, there are often third-party parking services around large airports with other rate options and affordable car services (such as Uber) that can help you avoid parking all together. Be sure to check your departure airport’s parking map to help you make those decisions.

On the day of your flight, several hours beforehand, there are a few things you should do. First, check the status of your flights. I know it sounds so simple, but there’s no need to start the process at the airport on a bad foot if you could have been warned about it before you left your house. Second, be sure to check in online for your flights within 24 hours of takeoff. That will ensure you have a seat on your flight and could make arriving at the airport for departure a lot smoother. Third, be sure to place all necessary documents, such as your passports and proof of visa purchase/money for visa) in a place that is easily accessible. That will not only ensure that you have these things before you arrive at the airport but also make finding them easy so you aren’t the reason the line is moving slowly. Fourth, before you leave your house, make sure you have packed all of your stuff in appropriate-sized suitcases that follow the guidelines for all of your flights. Also be sure the weight of your suitcases (both carry-on and checked bags) follows the advertised guidelines. International airlines are usually much stricter about the dimensions and weight of your suitcases. Also, their dimensions are usually smaller than those of American airlines, so do not just assume it will be OK. Standing in a line just to be told your luggage doesn’t meet requirements would be stressful for any passenger. Try avoiding it all together.