The basics are simple: Fill out your paperwork before you get off the plane, book a seat that'll let you get out of your plane quickly and then head straight for the customs agent without bathroom detours.
To some degree, customs lines are inevitable. After all, every time a plane full of people arrives, it takes a little while to process all that luggage. You'll also have to go through customs if you're traveling across international borders. Still, that doesn't mean you have to suffer; there's a lot you can do to get yourself toward the front of the line and speed your way through the actual customs encounter.
1. Travel Light
Guess what: The less time you spend juggling your bags, the faster you can get through the customs line. With that said, there's one item you should never be without: a pen for filling out your customs form on the plane. Somehow there are never enough pens to go around.
Do you see someone struggling to manage all their bags on the way through security? As hard as it can be to watch them having a hard time, you should never transport someone else's bag through customs. You never know what they might be carrying that they'd like to escape responsibility for. If you just can't stand to watch the mayhem, offer to rent them a luggage cart – but rest assured that your Good Samaritan obligations end there.
2. Ditch the Food
Many restrictions exist for transporting fresh products like fruit, vegetables or meat across international lines; your trip through customs will usually go faster if you ditch the food entirely. Still, even if the food you have is legal, failing to declare it can net you some hefty fines. Therefore, honesty is always the best policy.
3. Track Your Spending
Each country allows you to transport a certain dollar amount of purchases across the border without paying "duty" – basically, a tax levied on purchases made or gifts received while you're abroad. Keep your receipts, or track how much you've spent at the very least. This way, you can prove whether you fall under the duty limit or how much you may be over the limit.
4. Avoid Farms
Customs won't deny you re-entry to the country if you've visited a farm, but you may lose some time in customs while they clean your footwear to make sure you're not accidentally bringing any biological contaminants into the country. However, customs people don't clean your boots for the fun of it. Invasive species and illnesses like foot and mouth disease are very real hazards. If you have visited any farms, admit it and accept the possible delay.
5. Put Your Phone Away
Want to have an up-close-and-personal visit with a customs agent? Just whip out a camera and start taking pictures; it'll get their attention quickly. If you'd rather have a quick and hassle-free experience, leave your phone and cameras tucked away until you're all the way through customs.
6. Apply for Global Entry
If you want to make everyone else in the customs line turn green with envy, consider applying for the Global Entry program. You'll have to pay $100 and give your fingerprints, and not every airport supports the Global Entry program. Nevertheless, if you're accepted into the program and traveling through a major airport, your trip through customs boils down to a quick stop at an automated kiosk to confirm your identity and make any necessary declarations. The NEXUS and SENTRI programs, also offered by the Department of Homeland Security, offer similar benefits.
7. Check Your Baggage Requirements with Your Airline
If your flight into the United States doesn't take you directly to your final destination, then you might have to retrieve your checked bags after passing through immigration and before going through customs. After that, you'll need to recheck the bags again before you catch your connecting flight. Check with your airline beforehand to find out whether you'll have to retrieve and recheck your bags or not.
8. Know Where You're Staying
Be prepared to tell officials where you're staying in the country you're visiting. They may ask you to provide the address of your hotel, so keep a copy of your reservation on hand. Sometimes they also ask you for proof of your departure ticket and date, so those copies need to stay in your carry-on bag as well.
Some travelers take being first in the customs line very seriously. It's true that if there's a long walk to customs, moving quickly can get you out ahead of the pack. Still, there's no need to turn a trip through customs into a race or a competition. No matter where you end up in line, we guarantee that the experience will be more pleasant if you relax and enjoy the experience. If you're concerned about making tight connections, having Allianz Travel Insurance can give you extra peace of mind.