June 07, 2019

Visiting the U.S: What to Expect at Customs

GCW Blog Visiting the U.S.

If you’re coming to the United States as an immigrant or traveling with or without a visa, one of the first places you’ll stop will be at the U.S Customs and Border Protection check-in point. At Customs, you’ll be greeted by an officer who will verify that you are authorized to be in the United States of America. Here are a few things that you can expect during your customs encounter.

Be Prepared for Questions

There are many questions you may have to answer. Remaining polite and calm, and answering to the best of your ability will ensure respect.

  • Why are you visiting the United States? Your answer must match your visa (or the legal requirements for admitting people without a visa). If, for example, you have a visitor visa but say that you’re coming to find a job, you’ll be put on the next flight or bus home. Your answer must also show that you don’t plan to violate any U.S. laws.
  • Where will you be staying? The officer wants to know that you have clear plans for what you will be doing in the United States. If you have not previously arranged places to stay, the officer might question whether you should be allowed in.
  • Who will you be visiting? Again, the officer is looking to see that you have clear, and legal, plans during your trip.
  • How long will you be staying? The officer wants to know that you don’t plan to stay longer than you should. Even if your visa says “multiple entry” or “one year,” you may not be allowed to remain for that length of time; the I-94 arrival/departure record that’s created for you (if you’re arriving by land, with some exceptions, such as Canadian tourists) will tell you the date by which you must leave.
  • How much money are you bringing? The officer wants to know that you will be able to cover your expenses in the United States.
  • Have you visited the United States before, and if so, did you remain longer than you were supposed to? If you have previously stayed in the United States for six months longer than you were allowed, you may not be eligible to come to the United States again without special permission (unless you’ve waited outside the United States for at least three years). If your overstay lasted a full year, you may be expected to remain outside the U.S. for ten years before trying to return.
  • How often do you come to the United States? The officer is looking to see whether you are using a tourist visa as a way of living permanently in the United States, in which case you’ll be accused of misusing your visa and be denied entry.

Know Your Rights

Foreign nationals attempting to come to the United States, either temporarily or permanently, have very few rights during the application and screening process. You cannot have a lawyer represent you when you attempt to enter the U.S., nor are you allowed to call one if problems occur during your interrogation. Your bags can be searched without your permission, and CBP officials can ask you almost any question.

Only in rare cases, such as if you fear persecution in your home country and are seeking protection (asylum), will you be allowed to appear before an immigration judge to prove that you should be allowed into the United States.

Be Prepared for a Luggage Search

The border official may also check your suitcases and personal possessions, so:

  • Make sure nothing that you bring appears to contradict your visa status.
  • Do not bring illegal or questionable items.

Need More Information?

Contact a GCW Lawyers office to learn more about traveling to the United States and the Customs process.