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Going through Customs & Immigration/Passport Control

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Hello. I've never flown overseas & don't know what to expect, but need to book several flights with layovers, etc. Can you confirm some info I've gathered from other sources, let me know what's incorrect, &/or answer some questions for me PLEASE.

-"Customs" is usually quick & easy to get through (sometimes something that can be bypassed if have "nothing to declare"). It's also often used as an all-purpose term for Customs AND "Immigration Control"/"Passport Control."

-"Immigration Control"/"Passport Control" is the place that can have long lines, looks over your passports, & may ask LOTS of questions...taking up to an HOUR to pass through.

Background for my questions:

I'm flying from the U.S. to Iceland (with layover in US), then to Ireland (with layover in London), then back to the U.S. (with layover in US). This info helps me know how much time I need before, between, & after flights, so as not to miss flights and in booking the rental cars.

Questions:

-Do you always go through Customs & Immigration EVERY time you land in a new country? -- (One source seemed to say that in Europe you only go through at the 1st stop, then don't have to when travelling to other European countries...another source seemed to say you only deal with Customs & Immigration in the countries of your FINAL destination, not where you have layovers (with my example, in Iceland and Ireland, but not in London).

-As stated in the parenthesis above, do you only deal with Customs & Immigration in the country of your FINAL destination (not at layovers)?

-Is ONE HOUR plenty of time to plan for passing through Immigration/Passport Control in a typically SLOW process? -- (I do realize it could possibly take only minutes or as much as several hours; I just need to make sure my layovers are PLENTY long enough).

THANKS for your input.

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    Hmmm...if layover means spending the night then I hope not. I haven't booked any flights yet since I hope to get more info 1st. Maybe they are connections, probably...places where I'll have to stay for 2-12 hours before my 2nd flight. None of my destinations have non-stops. Really hoping I don't have to stay the night anywhere, but some of my options are for the night.

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    You're asking for principles, when what you seem to need is hard information about what'll happen to you. But you're not giving us enough information about your plans to advise you on your particular circumstances.

    Let's try with most of the principles, though:

    1. Rules about immigration control apply differently to different nationalities. Britain, for example, often puts passport control officers into foreign airports, and/or at the aircraft door in London. If your citizenship requires you to get a visa just to transit Britain, even if you're not going through immigration, and you haven't got that visa, you'll be stopped at the foreign airport - or taken straight into detention in Britain - before you get to passport control. This rule does not currently affect people travelling on US passports.

    2. All of the following assumes you've got a through booking on one ticket. If you're booking different bits of the journey separately, you usually have to go through immigration, collect your bags and check in with the new airline. You may also have to change airports. At London, connecting from Icelandair to Ryanair needs at least six, and preferably nine, hours. A similar connection at Glasgow, however, can be very, very, much faster.

    2. Within Europe (including Iceland) there's no Customs inspection. You choose your entry channel, and 99.999% of the time go through unmolested. Don't try smuggling anythikng serious: bags are checked before being delivered to carousels, and if you've packed cocaine it'll probably have been detected.

    3. Bags are checked through to your final destination if your airline is prepared to do that. You don't see them till then.

    4. Passports are checked when you enter a Common Travel Area from outside, unless you're merely transitting and stay airside to travel outside the Common Travel Area. Western Europe has two Common Travel Areas: UK/Ireland/other British Isles constitute one: most of the rest (including Iceland) constitute the other.

    5. On a US-Iceland-UK-Ireland journey where you just change planes, your bags will be checked through to Ireland if the airline is set up for that. I don't think that's actually possible, because of the way airlines deal with each other. But if it is, you'd go through immigration at London, take what's virtually a domestic flight to Ireland, usually get your passport looked at (but no more) by Irish officials, collect your bags and exit through the green channel.


    6. On a direct Ireland-US journey you go through US immigration in Ireland, then connect in the US as if you were arriving on a domestic flight. This is not the case if you connect via Iceland.

    7. On a direct, one-booking, journey airlines won't sell you a ticket for an impossible connection. If you're tacking your own arrangements together, you need to calculate the WHOLE connection time, including immigration, ba collection, new checkin and transfer time between airports or terminals.

    8. These are just some of the principles. You'll get real help from this site if you ask a straight question, though, since the outline you've given implies your journey's a great deal more vulnerable to added complications than you seem to realise.

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    I remember from another thread that you are considering buying each leg of this trip as a separate ticket. That would complicate matters much more, as flanneruk mentions in his Point 2 above.

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    You need to post an itinerary if you want help as this is all to vague and you don't quite understand some of the terms you are using. List starting airport and cities you plan to actually spend the night including number of nights in the cities.

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    Thanks to all for the help, with a special Thank you to Flanneruk for so much help & info. Boy what a tangled web we fly.

    I should apologize for calling all the "connections" "layovers." I previously thought of all time between flights as a layover (not the actual vacation though), but apparently a layover is just when you're staying overnight.

    The trip:

    1-U.S. to (U.S. connection) to Iceland vacation...

    2-Iceland to (London Heathrow connection) to Ireland vacation...

    3-Ireland to (U.S. connection) to U.S. home.

    From what Flanneruk said, it sounds like I'll deal with Immigration in Iceland, again in London (because a new Common Travel Area), have a passport lookover in Ireland, and then deal with them in Ireland regarding entering U.S.. Sound right?

    The reason why I ask is because there are serious advantages to my booking each flight seperately: I save $1,000 overall (buying 2 tickets), I only fly for 3 days (instead of 4), less impact on work. But there are serious disadvantages too, which you all know & Flanneruk correctly pointed out that I just barely know (waiting for luggage, rechecking luggage, repassing security, etc). Bottom line is if I know how much time to safely put at connections, I might be able to pull off the 2-ticket option (i.e. 1 ticket to New York, another from NY to Iceland, etc)

    Questions:

    -Can anyone give a good general amount of time it would take to get through Immigration (let's say 2 or 3 flights have arrived at the same time, so might take awhile...)? I'm guessing 1 hour.

    -Why does Flanneruk kindly say it takes 6-9 hrs to connect between Icelandair & Ryanair? (paragraph 2 above). Because they're at 2 different airports? And why is Glasgow faster?

    -No, I won't be smuggling cocaine/etc...but I do have a strange hobby of collecting sand from around the world (am into Geology; all my international sand is collected by others)...Does anybody foresee a problem getting enough sand to fill 1/2 a Coca-Cola can through Customs or airport security? (I'll probably just have to call them; might mail it).

    Thanks again for you help.

  • Report Abuse

    You're still asking vague, ill-informed, questions of principle when all you really need to understand are a couple of simple practicalities

    1. The only connection you're making is the London one. If Icelandair issue a KEF-DUB ticket, it's their job to ensure the ticket's do-able, and their partner airline's (presumably bmi) to rebook you if the incoming Icelandair's late. . THat's all. We can all go on forever about recent experiences at LHR, but they're all history, You won't need more than 60-90 minutes plane to plane if the bags are through-checked (all flights to and from both Iceland and Dublin at LHR use the same terminal)- and Icelandair will tell you how much you need in your case

    2. Of course you don't need to preclear a tin of sand. If it's really something else, it'll get sniffed out. If it's just sand, our Customs officials have many beter things to do with their time (ie, my money) than waste it on answering such an absurd question.


    Which said, I LOVE the idea of an airport where just 3 international flights arrive at once. Do such places really still exist?

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    "flanneruk on Jun 23, 09 at 12:04 AM

    You're still asking vague, ill-informed, questions of principle when all you really need to understand are a couple of simple practicalities

    1. The only connection you're making is the London one. If Icelandair issue a KEF-DUB ticket, it's their job to ensure the ticket's do-able, and their partner airline's (presumably bmi) to rebook you if the incoming Icelandair's late. . THat's all. We can all go on forever about recent experiences at LHR, but they're all history, You won't need more than 60-90 minutes plane to plane if the bags are through-checked (all flights to and from both Iceland and Dublin at LHR use the same terminal)- and Icelandair will tell you how much you need in your case

    2. Of course you don't need to preclear a tin of sand. If it's really something else, it'll get sniffed out. If it's just sand, our Customs officials have many beter things to do with their time (ie, my money) than waste it on answering such an absurd question.


    Which said, I LOVE the idea of an airport where just 3 international flights arrive at once. Do such places really still exist?"





    Are you an idiot? Judging by your answers and LACK of answers...yes.

    Are you a windbag that gets on the internet and spouts a bunch of insults to a persons questions and never actually answers their questions...yes.

    Are you one of those internet warriors that insults people from your little room but would never talk to me like you are now if face to face...I'd take that bet.

    I'm no longer interested in your poor judgment, but I'll waste a wee bit more time on you:

    -You still don't get it...I'm considering buying 1 ticket from KEF to anywhere on the way to DUB since there are no non-stops available. Then 1 ticket from that place to DUB. INSTEAD of a ticket from KEF to DUB. That's why I said so much about saving $ and flight time. Guess you missed that in your pursuit to just talk.

    -You ignored my question as to whether I was correct or not regarding if I have to deal with Immigration in Iceland and/or London and/or Ireland. (I'll go elsewhere for the answer at this point).

    -You ignored my question regarding an average lengthy time to pass through Immigration, as a consideration in how far apart I might book flight 1 and flight 2. It's not complicated...Questions that could have run through your head: Have I ever passed through Immigration? What's the average length of time it has taken to pass through? What's the longest it's taken for me to pass through? Hmm...I guess I'll say the average time is A, but tell him it COULD take as long as B. Very easy to answer.

    -You ignored my question regarding a 6-9 hr connection from Icelandair to Ryanair. And re: Glasgow.

    -There are some places in the world where it's illegal to take sand, so it doesn't hurt to ask. And there are some touchy security places & issues. I'm not so arrogant as to pretend I know everything, foolish enough to assume, or fearful enough to just ask, even though I know I'm putting my head on the chopping block for arrogant keyboard warriors like yourself.

    -And the idea of 3 Intl flights coming in at once is only an arbitrary one, one hardly worth ridiculing. I got it from another post in this forum in the context of a forum member taking a long time to pass through Immigration because there were 3 flights having arrived at once. And it just so happens that during my potential arrival in Iceland at 6:45 am, there are also flights arriving at 6:20am and 6:30am. It's just a number...it's the point behind the number that matters, the point was that my example is supposed to take time to get through Immigration...aren't you smart enough to figure that out? Did you even read what I said?

    Please don't waste any more of my time with your so-called answers.

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    Flanneruk posts much good info here about air travel to and through UK and rest of EU. I've used the advice he's given here before. (Thank you.) Once again, he is providing good info. :)

    To the OP: Between this thread and the other you have going here about booking flights, it has been very difficult trying to figure out what your trip even is. It was only in your post last night that you revealed clearly that Iceland is not just for changing planes, but that you will be spending part of your vacation there. Much of this back-and-forth could have been eliminated if you had been more clear from the beginning.

    As others have suggested to you in your other thread, booking this itinerary through a travel agent might be your best bet.

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    Let me see if I can try to help.

    You are flying from somewhere US to Iceland via New York. Correct? Once you land in Iceland you are staying for a vacation. So, the amount of time it takes to clear Immigration and Customs in Iceland is somewhat immaterial as you are not trying to rush to another flight. However, just to help you out, I can say that I have often done it in about an hour. It is an easy airport. I believe all flights from the US to Iceland arrive in the morning. They then connect to flights to other places in Europe.

    Now, after you have traveled around Iceland for a while you are trying to get to Dublin. You are thinking of getting there via Glasgow. If you are doing this all on the same airline then you would not go through immigration in Glasgow and everything will be checked through. If you are buying two separate tickets, Iceland to Glasgow, Glasgow to Dublin, then you will need to get your bags in Glasgow and check them on the next flight. Still no need to go through immigration and customs but a bit of time to claim your bag and take it to the next airlines kiosk to be checked to the next flight.

    Assume 60-90 minutes to clear all the customs/immigration stuff at your destination airports. It may take longer and has for some people and it may be really quick. It is one of those there is no real way of knowing questions. However, with 60-90 you should be safe.

    I don't know of a place where it is illigal to bring sand but I am sure a quick check on any country's consular web sites would help you out. They will let you know if there is any items they do not wish to be brought into the country much better than the road warriors here.

    Good luck.

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    I agree with Jeff. Flanner put a lot more effort into his answer than you have to your questions most of which don't make much sense.

    No one can predict how long it will take you on any given day to clear immigration at any give airport. Five planes could land and only have one agent to process everyone. There can be strikes. There is no way of knowing.

    I seriously doubt you can book cheaper flights in this manner. Iceland Air always has an offer for a stopover in Iceland at a bargain which might be the cheapest flight option. You need to get on a few of the search engines and take a look at multi-city options. Or find the bargain r/t fare on a regular airline and then another r/t to complete your itinerary on a budget airline. I still don't find this to be a savings usually when I consider the hassle and loss of time it usually involves (changing airports/long layovers). It's not worth it to me to waste my vacation time with inconvenient flights.

    It seems price is being your only consideration which must mean you have oodles of time on your vacation. Otherwise, you would care about getting there at the best price with the most efficient use of your time.

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    Now, after you have traveled around Iceland for a while you are trying to get to Dublin. You are thinking of getting there via Glasgow. If you are doing this all on the same airline then you would not go through immigration in Glasgow and everything will be checked through. If you are buying two separate tickets, Iceland to Glasgow, Glasgow to Dublin, then you will need to get your bags in Glasgow and check them on the next flight. Still no need to go through immigration and customs but a bit of time to claim your bag and take it to the next airlines kiosk to be checked to the next flight.

    Actually you would go through immigration in either case. As flanner mentioned UK and Ireland are both in the Common Travel Area.

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    QuietTraveler,
    No need to be rude! Flanner has provided very useful info to the forums and to you as well, given the vague and unclear desciptions of your travels.

    If you have separate tickets for each leg, you will have to pick up luggage and clear immigration at the end of each leg. So if US to Iceland is one ticket, you have to go thru immigration and get luggage, which you have to do anyway since you are visiting Iceland.

    If Iceland to London is a separate ticket from London to Dublin, you will have to go thru immigration and pick up and recheck luggage in London. You will also have to change from teh arrivals to the departures section of the airport to check in and recheck your luggage. If you are going thru LHR, it takes a lot of time, min 60 mins for immigration/luggage but up to 2 hrs. This does NOT include the transfer time. Even LGW can take a lot of time.
    Since you are originating in US, I'm assuming you hold a US passport. The non-EU lines can be enormous and slow.
    Check-in requires a min amount of time before departure. Many airlines say you must check in at least 1 hr before departure for EU-EU flights (your UK-DUB flight) if you have luggage. If you miss this deadline, you will NOT be allowed to board the flight. If you are flying Ryan Air, they are VERY strict on the cut-ff. You must have the boarding pass in hand and checked in (with your luggage) before the deadline. If not, you will have to buy a new ticket at walk-up prices and pay all the fees associated with walk-up at RyanAir (very $$$).

    You will need min 3 hrs from time of arrival to departure if you are using the same airport. If using a different airport for arrival and departure, add min of 3 hrs.

    If you are looking for info, you need to give enough info for people to give you relevant answers. No need to insult if YOU have NOT provided enough info.

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    You also have to account for possible flight delays. LHR and LGW can have lots flights coming in at same time and be quite delayed. On separate tickets, if you miss your check-in deadline, no help from either airline. SO extra time must be taken into account for the connection time.

    BTW, a layover is the time in between connecting flights (same ticket). It does NOT have to be overnight. If you miss a flight because of inadequate layover time, the airline must take care of you. This does NOT apply to you with separate tickets.

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    I think if you want more accurate information, you should not be coy about your itinerary. If you specify exactly what airports you will be passing through, people will be able to give accurate information, which of course may lead you to change your itinerary and repose your inquiry.

    I think you should consider not only customs, and immigration control, but also security, as that may also cause some delay.

    First, if you are taking a flight from your local airport that will stop at a hub and then taking an international flight, your airline will probably want to check your passport before your initial boarding. You will also have to pass through security. At the hub, you may or may not have to pass through security again, depending on the way the airport is set up, and you will also probably have to show your passport again. I can't think of a US airport where you have to pass through customs when departing the country, although I'm under the impression that if TSA finds something when doing their security search (like $150,000 cash), they would hold you and notify someone from customs.

    Usually, you don't have to pass through customs or passport controls when transiting a county (catching a flight to another country) as you don't actually enter the country you are transiting, but I suppose there can be exceptions. Europe has aligned itself into zones, and there is little, if any, examination for immigration or customs when you pass between two countries in the same zone. You go through immigration control when you first enter a country in the zone (and customs, too, but it is almost always a formality), then go through immigration control when you leave the zone (often from another country) and customs, but again it is a formality and you probably won't even notice it. You pass through security again before boarding a flight to the US.

    On your return to the US, you will fly into an airport that has customs and immigration control capability (once, years ago, we flew into a smaller airport, and had to stand around while the customs and immigration people came from home to check us). You will have to pick up your luggage, and pass through immigration control, and then customs. There may very well be delays at immigration control as they have a secret list and if your name, or a similar name, is on their list, you will get a personal interview. Then at customs, you present a list of what you have acquired overseas, and they can either wave you through, or subject you to a special inquiry if you have listed something like, for example, agricultural products. Many people have written here that they brought something that should be dutied, such as more than two liters of wine, but were passed through without incident. I don't know if this was because they didn't list the goods on the form and were lucky, or because they listed them and the agents were just to busy to bother with what they viewed as a trivial matter. Once you have cleared customs with your luggage, you return it to the airline and catch your next flight.

    As an example, we recently flew from Cleveland to Newark to Rome, took trains to Switzerland, and flew from Geneva to Newark to Cleveland. We had to show our passports at departure at Cleveland, and pass through Security. At Newark, because our flight landed at a terminal that put us outside the sterile zone, we had to pass through security again, and show our passports at the gate. We never saw our checked luggage until we arrived in Rome. At Rome we picked a nothing to declare line, showed our passports, and were through in no time. In passing from Italy to Switzerland, we never had to show our passports or go through customs (even though Switzerland is not, at least to my knowledge, a member of the Schengen zone. At Geneva, we had to show our passports and go through security, but had no dealings with customs (some countries rebate some of the VAT on departure, and I think customs handles this, but we are frugal and never spend enough to quality for the rebate). On arrival at Newark, we had to pick up our luggage and go through immigration control (since someone with a name like mine is on their list, I got my usual personal interview, which took almost half an hour). We then were waved through customs (it was very crowded and I doubt they even read our form), returned our luggage to the airline (they have a return facility right there), and got on our plane to Cleveland. I had bought round trip (actually open-jawed) tickets from one airline and their allowed connection times were adequate in every instance, even with my customary delay in immigration control). So that is how it worked at those specific airports a few weeks ago. Other airports may work differently, and procedures can change at any time, so there are no warranties. I do try and buy a single reservation for the entire airline portion of the trip, as I like the comfort of knowing that is something happens, the airline will feel some responsibility for making it right.

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