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Prepare your arrival in the United States

Unless you hold a Canadian passport or Bermuda, you must complete an immigration form before arriving in the United States. There is a blank I-94 form for Visa or Green Card holders, and a green I-94W form for those benefiting from the Visa Waiver Program. Most travelers arrive by air and immigration services have replaced the I-94W with the electronic authorization system known as ESTA. Arriving by air no longer requires filling out a form but asking for an ESTA.

Immigration does not require a hard copy of your ESTA, and the system was designed to facilitate and speed up the migration check. However we strongly recommend that you keep a copy of your ESTA with your travel documents (passport, tickets, reservations …) in the event of a problem when entering the country.

The old forms are used mainly for land entries. Migration services have set up a system using ESTA to exchange information with airlines. This allows you to have your file in hand before your arrival and during your stay. In other words your airline warned them of your visit.

After landing in the United States, before retrieving your bags or leaving the airport, you will have to have a short interview with an immigration officer. The goal is to determine if you have a valid reason to visit the country. In general it is a formality that takes less than a minute.

If during the interview the officer considers your reason as suspicious you can be brought to a private place for additional questions. You should be aware that the officer has the right to inspect your belongings, including your papers, diaries, computer, phone, etc. Make sure you DO NOT have anything that suggests that you have the ” Intention to stay beyond the time allowed by your visa or to carry out activities that are not authorized by your visa (including seeking permanent residence).

We advise you to be very careful and clear when you answer. Migration officers take seriously any reference to a national security risk, without any trace of a sense of humor. A misunderstanding can lead you to in-depth interrogation and even to forced repatriation accompanied by a ban on your stay.

Upon arrival, if you are not a resident, you must indicate where you will be staying during your stay. You need a full address, including street name and number, a hotel or university name is not enough. Although obtaining an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program does not require an address, you must provide an ESTA on arrival. Be sure to have an address before you leave.

As soon as your migratory interview is completed the officer will stamp your passport and allow you to enter the United States. An ESTA allows you to stay up to 90 days from the date on the stamp. If you are entering an I-94 form, it is very important to keep the part that the officer gives you and that you will need when you leave the United States.

Pass the customs

Each time a traveler enters a country (even his own) they must pass the customs. Upon your entry into the United States you must complete a customs declaration. This form is known as the 6059B, blue-colored and rectangular-shaped stretched. Usually, you will receive this form during your flight to the US or during check-in before boarding. All travelers must complete this form, including citizens, residents, visitors and visa holders.

Below is an image of the form.

The front of the customs form solicits your personal information, including your passport number and flight details.

Below you must answer 6 questions. Some of these issues deal with heavily monitored items such as food, merchandise, and money (for example, it is prohibited to enter the United States with more than $ 10,000 USD in cash without declaring it). On the reverse side you must list the objects mentioned on the front of the form. You can mention if you bring gifts or souvenirs for friends, tobacco, alcohol, currency, etc … This section to a limited space, do not hesitate to fill several forms if necessary.

After the border control officer has allowed you to enter the United States you can go and retrieve your suitcases and head to a new control area. This is where you hand over your customs declaration to the agent, usually it will immediately tell you to proceed to the exit. Some travelers are randomly subjected to an additional inspection of their bags or sent to the agents responsible for receiving tax payments if the declared goods so require.

An additional inspection can be done manually (you have to open your suitcases) or an X-ray machine (similar to the machines that scan your cabin baggage at the security check before approaching the plane).

If the traveler’s answers to the questions seem suspicious it can be taken to a private area for a more invasive inspection.

Do not forget that some countries are under UN sanctions and goods produced in these countries can not enter the United States. The list currently includes Syria, Iran, Cuba and North Korea.

A traveler can not come into possession of meat or uncooked fruits and vegetables. You can however bring packets of biscuits, breads and pastries in general.

More generally, your food must be in vacuum packs.

If you plan to visit US territories (US Virgin Islands, Guam, etc.) remember that you will have to pass the customs on your return to the mainland.

You will pass the migration control to your point of entry (a procedure known as progressive authorization) but generally you will recover your luggage at your final destination and will pass the customs check.

In other words, if you arrive in Philadelphia and your final destination is New Orleans, you will pass the migratory check in Philadelphia but will collect your luggage in New Orleans and pass through the customs. In order to be sure of where you will collect your luggage, check with your airline.