US Customs Pre-Clearance: What you need to know

(Cover photo via atlanticway.com)

Hi everyone! Peru was amazing and I cannot wait to tell all of you about the delicious food and incredible Incan sites that we saw on our trip. But first, have any of you ever experienced U.S. Customs Preclearance? It is only in a few countries in the world and I have been to TWO of them this summer (Aruba and Dublin). It’s ultimately a positive experience, but you need to be prepared. We almost missed our flight home from Aruba because neither of us was aware that the airport had U.S. Customs Preclearance. And of course, we were waiting in line during a shift change, which slowed us down even more (a shift change, seriously!).

Let’s talk about the fast facts of U.S. Customs Preclearance and what you need to know.

  • What is it? The U.S. operates border preclearance facilities staffed and operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. The facilities may include Immigration and Customs, Public Health, and Department of Agriculture inspections before boarding a flight to return to the U.S. Travelers who arrive from an airport with preclearance facilities are considered domestic travelers and will bypass customs (although U.S. Customs and Border Protection has the discretion to re-inspect travelers).
  • Why do we need it? The process is intended to streamline border procedures and reduce congestion at major entry points in the U.S. It can help avoid missed connections due to border delays.
  • Where is it? At the time of this writing, in 15 locations in 6 foreign countries. Preclearance exists at most major Canadian airports, in Bermuda, The Bahamas, Aruba, Ireland (Dublin and Shannon), and the United Arab Emirates (See full list below).
  • What does this mean for you? Your risk of missed connections due to border delays is lowered, but be sure to arrive at your outgoing airport even earlier than usual to avoid missing your outbound flight due to border delays.  I would recommend at least 3 hours. Even in a best case scenario with no lines, it can take a long time to get through all of the steps and to check your bag at the gate and pick it up before going back through customs. Bags are then checked through to the final destination rather than having to pick them up and recheck them upon entry in the U.S. 

FULL LIST OF U.S. BORDER PRECLEARANCE LOCATIONS:

  • Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, Winnipeg
  • Bahamas – Freeport, Nassau
  • Bermuda
  • Aruba
  • Ireland – Shannon, Dublin
  • United Arab Emirates

Other issues: There is some controversy surrounding the addition of preclearance at certain airports. Crankyflier.com has a great summary of the issues here if you are interested.

So tell me, what are your thoughts on U.S. Customs Preclearance? Do you think it is helpful or does it add stress to your return trip? I think it is great as long as you are aware that it is at the airport. We had been warned several times that we would need to go through U.S. Customs Preclearance in Dublin, but neither of us read or heard anything about it being in Aruba. We certainly would have avoided some anxiety and arrived at the airport earlier had we known!

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