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Getting Through Customs Without a Hassle

©istockphoto/anouchka

©istockphoto/anouchka

You’ve been on a plane for hours and just want to get to your destination. The last thing you want to deal with is a search of your luggage at customs. Even if you’re not carrying any contraband or undeclared items, which none of us would ever do, you just don’t want the hassle.

Fill Out the Form
When flying out of the country or returning, you usually will get handed a form to fill out while you’re still on the airplane. This may be for immigration or customs or both. Make sure you fill it out perfectly; they don’t have much of a sense of humor at these agencies and they do not tolerate mistakes. If you have to cross something out, get a new form or you will be sent to the back of the line. Make sure you fill out every line required or you will be sent to the back of the line. Don’t make a joke or you will be sent to the back of the line. As you maybe can tell, you don’t want to get sent to the back of the line; the back of the line can become very far away.

Immigration
Immigration is pretty much a breeze in most places. Why they have separate rooms and lines for Immigration and Customs is something only a bureaucrat could explain. Usually they just check your passport, put it in a reader, maybe ask the reason for your visit then stamp your passport and send you on your way. For some reason Immigration officials all have that same scowl, but don’t worry, they hate everybody.

Green Light/Red Light
Some customs offices have a traffic light setup that requires you to push a button and take your chances. If the light comes up green you move right through; red and you are about to get checked a little harder. My buddy seems to get red lighted every time we go out or enter back into the country. I’m not sure why this happens to him, but these are professionals and he does look a tad bit shady if you ask me.

Why All These Questions?
They always ask if you are carrying any plants, vegetables, or meat, or if you have been around any farm animals. I personally never carry meat when I travel but the farm animal question has me stumped. If I rode in a horse drawn carriage does that count? I had farm fresh eggs and bacon for breakfast, but I’m keeping that to myself. Anyway hopefully you can answer no on all the questions and should fly right through. Yet again, answer them truthfully and seriously, as these guys don’t mess around.

Why I Declare
Custom forms ask if you are carrying more than ten thousand dollars cash. I imagine most people who carry more than ten thousand dollars cash aren’t going to fess up any way. They also want you to list what you have purchased out of the country and are bringing in. This can get tricky if you are trying to cheat. It’s pretty obvious if you’re coming from a place known for the diamond trade and are wearing big shiny rocks, yet declare only a couple t-shirts. If you are legit, admit what you bought; you may pay some tax if it’s an extraordinary amount but the alternative is way worse than just getting sent to the back of the line. Most of us have seen the movie Midnight Express and remember the guy getting busted at customs and sent to a Turkish prison. For some reason people get nervous, even when they are doing nothing wrong. I know I think of it every time I go through customs and I’ve never snuck so much as one piece of meat in, much less a farm animal.

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