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Navigating the Airport

For new and even experienced travelers, navigating the aiport can be complicated and stressful at times. Follow the information below to better prepare yourself for your adventure abroad.

Check-In and Security

Be sure to arrive at the airport at least THREE (3) hours prior to your departure time, as navigating check-in and security can be a lengthy process for international flights.

When you arrive at the airport to check-in, you will need your passport and ticket information. At this stage, your checked luggage will be weighed and set aside with all other baggage for passengers on your flight.

After checking in, you will need to proceed to the TSA security check point. Please note there may be designated areas or lanes for international travelers.

TSA Security Check Point:

When you arrive at the TSA screening area, you will need to first show your boarding pass, passport, and state-issued I.D. to the TSA agent. They will then direct you to proceed to screening. At screening, you will need to remove your shoes, outerwear, jewelry, and make sure your pockets are empty. You will also need to take any electronics and liquids out of your carry-on bag and place them in separate bins for screening.

During the TSA screening process, you may be asked a series of security questions. It is important that you can honestly say that you have packed your own bags, that your bags have not been out of your sight/control, and that no one has asked you to carry any packages or items for them. Your bags will be thoroughly examined and sometimes searched. It is also possible that you may be pulled aside for additional screening. Please note this is often done at random and not targeted at you as an individual. Should this occur, you may request to be screened in a more private area.

If you have TSA PreCheck, your screening process will be faster and more seamless. Those with TSA PreCheck clearance do not need to remove shoes or outwear, nor do they need to separate their electronics and liquids.

Flight Boarding Gate:

After you have cleared the TSA security check point, you can proceed to your departure gate to wait for boarding. If your gate has not yet been assigned, that is normal! There are typically screens located throughout the airport showing both arrival and departure information for flights, including times, status, and gate details. It is also normal for gates to change multiple times prior to the boarding time. Be sure to pay attention to this information as gates may be located far from one another, or on different concourses.

Arrival Abroad

Once you land and de-plane, you will need to proceed to the designated Immigration and Customs check point(s). Each country has different processes for completing these and the order of events may vary.

Remember that admission to a country is entirely at the discretion of the Immigration Officer, who determines the length of stay to be authorized and stamped into your passport. When going through Immigration, you may be asked to show important travel documents (e.g., host institution acceptance letter, arrival certificate, student visa, flight itinerary, etc.). The Immigration Officer will typically ask you about the purpose of your visit and how long you plan to remain in the country. This can be unnerving at times, but is nevertheless routine and required.

After clearing immigration, you will likely collect your luggage and then be required to pass through a Customs inspection. Your bags may be very carefully examined, and you may be detained or asked to pay duties if there are any irregularities or violations of customs regulations. It is also possible you could be waved through with no special attention whatsoever.

Returning to the U.S.

Upon re-entry to the United States, you must declare all items purchased abroad with the Office of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) by completing a Customs declaration form.

It is recommended that you keep all purchase receipts to make the declaring process more efficient. Items you will need to declare should be packed separately, when possible.

What Must Be Declared:

  • Items purchased and being carried upon return to the United States
  • Items received as gifts, such as wedding or birthday presents
  • Items bought in duty-free shops, or on the plane
  • Repairs or alterations to any items taken abroad and then brought back, even if the repairs/alterations were performed free of charge
  • Items brought home for someone else

Duties & Tariffs:

You must state on the Customs declaration form, in U.S. dollars, what you actually paid for each item, including all taxes. If no purchase was involved, in the case of accepting a gift, you should make an estimate of its fair market value in the country where it was received. Customs officials will be on hand at the initial airport at which you arrive to answer any questions.

Additional information regarding Customs and current regulations for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents can be found on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.