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7 Things You Should Never Say to An Airport Customs Official

Posted April 9th, 2012
by Staff Writers

If you’re traveling abroad for the first time, you may find the process of going through airport customs somewhat stressful. The line seems endless, the airport customs officials may be curt and intimidating, and there are serious consequences to answering questions incorrectly. You may be detained or denied entry to the country. However, if you keep a few simple things in mind, the process should be seamless. Preparation is key; having the appropriate responses at hand will make your experience far more positive. The following list reveals the seven worst possible things you could say to an airport customs official. If you steer clear of these responses, you will likely be well on your way to enjoying your travels.

  1. You don’t know where you’re staying

    Even if you plan to couch surf, you need to know the exact address of that couch to give to the customs official. Customs officials become highly suspicious if you haven’t booked a place to stay yet. If you’re concerned about it, have the address of a nearby hotel in hand, even if you don’t plan on staying there. They want to make sure that you don’t wind up on the streets. Plus, if you don’t have clear plans for the duration of your stay, you may not be responsible enough to be allowed into that country. Having room and board is a basic necessity; you should know where you plan on resting your head at night long before you exit the plane.

  2. You’re doing something that makes money

    You will have to obtain a work visa if you plan on partaking in any activity that makes you money. Customs officials are very strict about this. If this seems unfair, consider it this way: if you, as a foreigner, enter a country and begin to make money off of some sort of practice that you engage in while you’re in that country, you’re effectively employed in that country. If this happened in the United States, you’d likely feel pretty affronted. The employment rates are already low; would it seem fair if a foreigner was able to come over and get a job without some sort of visa?

  3. You brought back fruit

    Customs officials always ask you if you purchased anything on your trip to bring back with you. If the answer is fruit, you should be aware that this is illegal in most countries. Some other commonly restricted items include medication, plants and seeds, firearms, dog and cat fur, alcohol, automobiles, and ceramic tableware. The reasons for these restrictions vary. Automobiles must meet certain fuel emissions requirements before entering the U.S., for example. Certain items may help carry over disease, other items may contain lead paint, and some items are simply illegal within the country you’re entering. If you’re concerned about bringing a certain item into a country, it’s best to consult the list of prohibited and restricted items for your country of entry.

  4. You’re staying for an indeterminate length

    Customs officials will occasionally ask to see your return ticket so they can verify that you will, in fact, be leaving at some point. This is necessary because it prevents travelers from simply flying into a country on vacation and deciding to stay there. If you haven’t bought your return ticket yet, they may ask for proof of sufficient funds to be able to get said ticket when you’re stay is up. If you are staying for a longer length of time, a visa may be required, which will allow you a set amount of days that you can reside in the country. Beyond that, you will need citizenship to stay an indefinite amount of time. Acquiring extended visas can sometimes be accomplished, but the process is laborious and you may be turned down, so do not plan on it as a failsafe.

  5. That you’re nervous

    Even if the customs official is giving you a hard time, keep your nerves to yourself. Fidgeting and anxious body language will make them suspicious, even if you’re only nervous as a result of feeling interrogated. They will assume that you have a real reason to be nervous, and this could prolong your questioning. In general, standing out at all makes you a target for further questioning, even if this means you have tattoos or you’re dressed nicer than the rest of the travelers around you. Avoid putting your hands in your pocket, excessive sweating, or looking around worriedly. Likewise, using your phone or other recording devices is prohibited in the custom’s area, so if they catch you doing this, you’ll probably be questioned more extensively.

  6. Straying from the topic

    Do not answer a question with a question. Giving a direct, concise answer to any question asked of you is the best way to make it through customs quickly. The customs official is not interested in the intimate details of your travels and he does not want to hear your life story. If you’re visiting the country on a mission to win back your girlfriend who dumped you, a quick “I’m visiting a friend” will suffice. Additionally, never make jokes to the customs official about potentially dangerous behavior. You may think it’s ridiculous that he could suspect you of criminal activity, but joking that you just have a couple of bombs in your luggage will not go over well.

  7. You’ll pay him off

    It should be common sense, but custom’s officials will not take kindly to bribery. Refrain from telling the official that you’ll hand over a 20 dollar bill if he’ll just let you through quickly. Not only will he not accept your bribe, but he’ll probably red flag you and throw you out of the country. You’re not above passing through customs, no matter who you are or how much money you make. The line may be long and the process may be tedious, but it is a necessary precaution. Besides, once you make it through, you can enjoy the rest of your travels and feel a little safer knowing that there is a legitimate security process to entering the country.

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