A Guide to Passing Though Immigration Efficiently

While racial discrimination is illegal in 21st century, the color of your passport(s) still has a lot to do with how you get treated at immigration and customs. For me, I have a passport from a 2nd (or 3rd) world country so I deal a lot with immigration agents and immigration laws. Human brains like to take the shortest routes, which means we generalize and profile people; so do immigration agents. While it is unfortunate, you can use it as your advantage instead of letting it beat you. Here are some tips that I’ve learned from my international travel to pass immigration fast and effectively:

1. Dress Appropriately

Arriving from a 10+ hour flight, you're tired and you want to get to your hotel ASAP. I get it. Do yourself a favor and make yourself look presentable before you land to minimize your time spent with the agent. Why? It takes 3 seconds to make a first impression and a whole 6 minutes to change it, so preparing for the first 3 seconds can save you a lot of time and trouble. You don't need to wear a suit, but please don't wear pajamas like Ben from One Mile at a Time either. Wear long sleeves to cover your tattoo(s) if you need to. The last thing you want is to be sent to secondary inspection because the agent thinks you are affiliated with a gang. 

2. Have Sufficient Documents with You

Print out your flight and hotel reservation. If you're invited by someone, bring the invitation letter with you too. Provide just enough evidence to the agent if you are asked, no more, no less. Many people get into trouble when they provide too much information.

Also, if you are seeking to enter the country using one of the uncommon routes, prepare your document to back it up. Many agents don't even fully know the rules and policies, so it is essential for you to have it ready to show them. I usually carry a folder with clearly labeled tabs to store my documents. You want to be able to get the exact document when you need it instead of having to go through a pile of paper. 

3. Have Your Document Ready

Prefill all the forms and have your paperwork out ready while in the air. The last thing you want is to irritate everyone by making them wait for you to fill out the form. Most airlines have the form on hand and will pass them out; if not just ask. Also, bring a pen. I’ve lost count how many times people ask me to borrow my pen at immigration. 

4. Run Walk Fast

Once you exit the plane, walk as fast as you can to immigration. For non-citizens, it means you could clear immigration and customs in 5 minutes instead of waiting in line for an hour. An excellent benefit of flying premium cabin is that you get to deplane first. While you can't control planes arriving, you can, however, control when you want to arrive. Early morning or late nights are usually the best time to arrive and you would never see me arriving to ORD in the afternoon. 

5. Speak Calmly

Research shows that a smile is contagious, so don't forget to show off your whitened teeth thanks to the DYI strip that you got from Wal-Mart:-P. When talking to the agent, speak calmly and clearly. It shows that you are confident in what you're talking about and you aren't trying to hide anything.

6. Get Your Story Straight

You may be asked some common questions such as: how long will you be staying? Where are you staying? etc. Know your story well and be consistent. As soon as you change your story, you're almost guaranteed to go to secondary inspection.

7. Watch Your Body Language

The easiest way to describe this is to act normally. Look into the agent's eyes. Don't avoid it. Don't stomp your feet. Don't be shaky. Agents look for abnormal behaviors to identify if you are lying or not.

Readers, what are you tips to pass immigration fast and easy?



rocky October 24, 2012 at 01:17 pm

My tip: Global Entry! easy enterance to the USA and TSA precheck :) Also i'm guilty of wearing my PJs on long flights! Or at least scub bottoms and a t-shirt

@rocky: I do have TSA precheck but I'm not eligible (yet) for global entry :(

These are great points, we had business class tickets coming from Philippines, my wife stopped to take pictures and she ended up last in line at immigration. While we missed spending time in DFW Admirals club, we were glad to both be in the US.

PolishKnight October 26, 2012 at 11:03 am

"While racial discrimination is illegal in 21st century"

Nonsense. Google up the terms "affirmative action", "racial preferences", and "white privilege."

@PolishKnight: My focus is on immigration laws that affect travel