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Immigration versus customs - people versus luggage

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There seems to be a lot of confusion among travelers about this. I don't know if this is naivete or just careless wording - but I see frequently see people asking about the time to get through customs.

To be clear, when flying into a country from outside the country (or zone) PEOPLE must go through IMMIGRATION. This is where you show your passport and frequently answer a question or two (purpose of visit, length of visit, etc). There are often lines for Immigration, depending on the number of planes that have just landed. The wait can be from a couple of minutes to an hour or more.

After you have cleared IMMIGRATION you go to pick up your luggage. If you have checked luggage this part of the process can take from a couple of minutes to, again, an hour or more - depending on how many planes have landed at once.

You then take your luggage and go through CUSTOMS. In many places (but not the US) you simply walk through the Green Nothing to Declare lane. So the Customs portion of the process usually takes about 1 minute.

In the US you need to stop and give the agent your Customs Declaration form (that you filled out on the plane). They usually glance at it and wave you through - but pick a small number of people to have their bags examined - usually on the basis of a particular profile. This profile may be way too much luggage (potential illegal immigrant), looking very scruffy and/or shifty (potential carrier of drugs) and VERY expensively dressed and declaring you have bought nothing (trying to avoid paying duty on expensive purchases). There are also a number of sniffer dogs that hang around the luggage carousel - looking for 1) drugs and 2) contraband food (much more common - and it will be seized and destroyed). Unless you are stopped this process rarely takes more than 5 minutes or so.

Perhaps this will clarify all of those people who want to know how long it will take to get out of the airport.

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