Summer is one of the busiest international travel times in the U.S. and with the start of the travel season this Memorial Day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is offering travelers an update on laws and procedures as well as useful travel tips.
With increasing passenger volumes due to a nine percent increase in travel and tourism since February 2011, CBP says there are things returning U.S. citizens or residents and international visitors can do to help speed their processing.
Trusted Traveler Programs: First and foremost, ensure you have an approved travel document. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires U.S. and Canadian citizens age 16 and older to present a valid, acceptable travel document, such as a passport, a U.S. passport card, a trusted traveler card (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry or FAST/EXPRES), permanent resident card or an enhanced driver’s license that denotes both identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. by land or sea.
U.S. and Canadian citizens under age 16 may present a birth certificate or alternative proof of citizenship when entering by land or sea. All travelers must have a valid passport book for international air travel.
CBP says one of the easiest ways to speed crossing through a land border port is to obtain a radio frequency identification enabled travel document such as a U.S. passport card, border crossing card or permanent resident card issued after 2008, enhanced driver’s license/enhanced identification card or trusted traveler card.
There are dedicated Ready Lanes at more than 20 land border crossing locations throughout the nation, specifically designated for travelers with RFID-enabled cards which will expedite entry and make crossing at a land port of entry more efficient.
The NEXUS and SENTRI programs are also available for frequent border crossers to facilitate faster processing at land ports of entry, CBP says. Pre-approved, low risk travelers can use dedicated lanes to speed through land border crossings, saving time for travelers while freeing up officers to focus on those travelers we know less about and may pose more of a risk.
At U.S. airports, the fastest and easiest way to securely speed through CBP processing is to become a member of Global Entry. This trusted traveler program allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers the ability to by-pass traditional CBP processing and to use self-service kiosks, located at 25 airports in the U.S.
Travelers who use the Global Entry kiosks experience reduced average wait times of 70 percent versus travelers going through traditional passport inspection, and more than 75 percent of travelers using Global Entry are processed in under five minutes.
The program is available to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, Mexican nationals, and Canadian citizens and residents through membership in the NEXUS program. Additionally, citizens of the Netherlands may use the program under a special reciprocal arrangement that links Global Entry with the Dutch Privium program in Amsterdam.
Travel Requirements for Visa Waiver Visitors to the U.S.: All nationals or citizens of the 36 Visa Waiver Program countries are required to have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, prior to boarding when traveling by air or sea to the U.S. under the VWP.
ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, and once approved, generally will be valid for up to two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. Authorizations will be valid for multiple entries into the United States. CBP recommends ESTA applications be submitted as soon as an applicant begins making travel plans.
CBP's Travel Checklist
• Have all the required travel documents for the country you are visiting, as well as identification for re-entry to the United States. Passports are required for air travel. Visit www.travel.state.gov for country-specific information.
• For citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries, make sure that you have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding. For those traveling on a visa, have a completed I-94 form when approaching CBP processing.
• Have a completed Customs Declaration form (6059b) upon reaching CBP processing. Declare everything you are bringing from abroad, even if you bought it in a duty-free shop. Know that things bought abroad for personal use or as gifts may be eligible for duty exemptions. If you are bringing them back for resale, they are not.
• Know the difference between prohibited merchandise (which is forbidden by law to enter the U.S.) and restricted merchandise (items needing special permit to be allowed into the U.S.). For more information, visit the Restricted/Prohibited section of the CBP website.
• Do not attempt to bring fruits, meats, dairy/poultry products and/or firewood into the United States without first checking whether they are permitted. For more information, please visit the Bringing Agricultural Products Into the United States section of the CBP website.
• Build additional time into trips during busy travel seasons and understand that CBP must conduct a thorough inspection of the nearly one million travelers entering the country each day.
• Understand that CBP officers can inspect you and your personal belongings without a warrant. This may include your luggage, vehicle, and personal searches and is meant to enforce our laws as well as protect legitimate travelers.
• Monitor border wait times for various ports of entry. Travelers are encouraged to plan their trips during periods of lighter traffic or to use an alternate, less heavily traveled port of entry. For more information, travelers can find up to date wait time information on the CBP website.
• If you are a frequent international traveler and haven’t already become a member of a trusted traveler program, sign up now. For more information, please visit the Trusted Traveler section of the CBP website.