Entering the US Border Via an Airport

enter us border airport

When you are entering the USA via an airport or any land or sea border you will be subject to checks from the US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) Service.

Their agents will check your identifying documents, travel authorizations, such as visas or ESTAs, and may ask you a number questions and check your luggage for prohibited items.

It is, of course, obligatory to have the correct visa or visa-waiver, when entering the United States as a foreign national. Since 2009, it’s been possible for citizens of 39 countries to obtain an ESTA authorization via an online ESTA application, which allows multiple short stays in the country for a period of 2 years from the approval date.

If you are entering the US with an ESTA or tourist visa to the USA, you will need to know the procedures to follow to ensure a safe and smooth border crossing. The following guide will explain exactly what to expect going through US customs and how to prepare appropriately.

Immigration Lines and Delays

One of the inconveniences of passing through the United States border at an airport are the lines of travelers waiting to be admitted entry. If the airport is busy or delays are occurring in the processing of visitors into the country then it is possible to expect a wait of up to a couple of hours.

However, it is possible to enter in a more streamlined fashion by joining the U.S. Government Trusted Traveler Program. This allows members to skip the normal queues and receive approval via a designated kiosk found at selected airports (unless traveling with large goods or amounts of currency).

US Customs Questions Normally Asked By CPB Officials

Customs and Border Protection officials may ask you a number of questions when you pass through immigration to enter the USA. These questions will establish your intentions for visiting, your activities during your visit and other details related to your stay in the country. These questions normally include one or more of the following:

  1. Why are you entering the United States?
  2. Where will you be staying during your trip?
  3. Who will you be visiting?
  4. How long will you be staying?
  5. How much money are you bringing in?
  6. Have you visited the US before and have you overstayed a visa before?


Remember, border crossing guards have the final say on whether you are cleared for entry into the United States or not. If they have any suspicions that the answers that you give to these questions are false, or if you refuse to answer them, you could be barred from entering the US even with a valid ESTA or visa.

Random Luggage Searches

It is possible as you pass through the airport from the baggage claim area to the arrivals lounge that you may be asked by a CPB guard to open your luggage for inspection. The official will then check your personal effects for any prohibited or restricted items. Candidates for these checks are selected at random, or at the discretion of the CPB guard.

The restrictions on your personal items can vary from state-to-state, depending on where you are entering the United States from. However, broadly speaking the items carrying restrictions or that are prohibited outright are:

  • Alcoholic beverages (state-dependent)
  • Firearms
  • Flora or faena
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Prohibited wildlife
  • Banned medications
  • Plants and seeds
  • Game and hunting trophies
  • Soil


Be aware that bringing any illegal items into the states can lead to a rejection of entry, a 5-year ban from the States, fines, and even imprisonment. It is also essential that you do not bring items into the country in your personal luggage that could run contrary to your visa or visa-waiver’s restrictions. For example, if you’re entering the US with an ESTA, you should not carry items that would suggest you are seeking employment on US soil or planning to immigrate permanently to the US.

There are numerous considerations to bear in mind when passing through a US border. However,  the one thing that US CPB guards will always want to see on arrival is the correct form of identification and a valid ESTA or visa. If you are intending to travel with an ESTA visa-waiver, it must be approved prior to travel and printed-off and presented on arrival at a US land, sea or air border.

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