We have all been travelling and seen the best and worst of airports, and have commented on all our experiences. What about immigration and customs --- which country is better? And which country needs to be avoided (if you can!)
I define better as being nice, efficient and quick, and overall a decent experience --- but you can define it how you want. here is my top 3 good and bad...interested to hear your opinion (and i know some of this does depend on your visa and passport, but asking generally overall demeanor of immigration process)
1) New Zealand - the immigration and customs staff here are very nice and pleasant. They ask you questions but not in a mean way. They are efficient and do their job but also remember that they are the first ambassador to their country so they are pleasant. A decent experience.
2) U.K. - the reason I put the U.K. here is because one instance stands out in my mind. I was standing in line at immigration and the line was going -- not quickly but not slowly either. As i was in line I noticed signs that were up all over the place indicating that a threat had been made within the U.K. so the officers were on high alert. Given that notice, I expected more security and more of a 'panic/high security/lockdown' environment akin to what I would find in the U.S. --- except that was not the case. Everyone was calm and collected and all the officers seemed pleasant and efficient. The officer that I got was smiling, joking, and very cheerful and was extremely pleasant. I was very shocked, given the environment, the officers demeanor but it was a pleasant shock and started my UK visit on the right (and smiling) foot.
3) UAE - depending on your visa, you are allowed a 30-day visa on arrival when you enter the UAE. I am on the list to get a voa and every time I have entered, the lines move quickly, there are many officers manning the desks, the staff are usually efficient, and the entire process takes no more than 15 minutes total!
1) Australia - going through the lines is slow and painful and not efficient at all. If there are 4 officers on duty, 3 of them will be assigned for the Australian/New Zealand passengers while 1 will be for all other passengers; completely inefficient. Also, they are not the most pleasant people in the world. Given all this, why put them in the middle? Because if you have an updated passport that has the electronic signature on it (and you have been pre-approved for the visa), you can use the 'e-gates' and just have the passport and your face scanned and you are cleared to go through. It takes about 5 minutes! (just note that if you wear glasses in your passport picture, then wear glasses when it does the scanning otherwise it wont match up --- no matter what the officer standing there says!)
The 'need improvement'
1) Morocco - as soon as we existed the plane at Casablanca International Airport, all the Moroccans ran to the immigration line. It was really interesting but I was a bit taken back as to why they were running --- i later found out why. There really was no designated line as people just got in to whatever line looked the shortest or where the rest of the family was. There was a lot of pushing, shoving, and yelling amongst the crowds. The immigration officers all looked very young and scared of the crowds, and were extremely inefficient. Only after the main head of the immigration officers came out to control the lines was there any resemblance of order; and even then it was a faint resemblance.
2) Hong Kong - the reason I put HKG in here is because of the delays. HKG has a lot of people coming through the airport and a lot of people are exiting so the lines are very long --- really really long. They do have many counters open and lots of immigration officers working, but they were not efficient nor were they pleasant. It was a slow moving line that got to me to a unhappy and unsmiling face --- not the best way to start my HKG experience
3) U.S. = I am sure everyone has their own stories about their experiences going through U.S. immigration. A couple of years ago, a U.S. Business Council group came out and said that the immigration officers need to improve as 'passengers and customers of the U.S. were getting a bad first impression of the country' and thus was ruining the brand image of the U.S. The reason I put the U.S. on the list is mostly due to their demeanor ---the immigration officers I have encountered (and not passing judgement on all immigration officers) but the ones that I have met have been rough, some disrespectful, and unpleasant. I have yet to meet a smiling or pleasant U.S. immigration officer (i am sure they are out there, i just haven't met them or heard of anyone else meeting them either). In the U.S. you are supposedly innocent until proven guilty, but the immigration officers make you feel guilty and you have to prove your innocence! It has always been an unpleasant and disheartening experience. On a more pleasant note, some of the lines during transit in U.S. airports are more efficient than the lines waiting to exist (but the officers have the same demeanor).
4) Saudi Arabia -- going through immigration and customs at Jeddah airport is a shear cluster-f*%k! When I went, there were 5 international flights landing at the same time -- and each flight has about 150 individuals on it so we are talking over 750 individuals that are going through the immigration line. Women only need to have their passport stamped so they go through somewhat quickly (by quickly I mean it takes them an hour or two to fight through the one line that is handling women). Men need to be fingerprinted and scanned so all the men are crowded into 5 lines waiting for 2 immigration officers --- yes for over 500 people there are only 2 immigration officers who are the most inefficient officers I have seen. It takes them 30-45 minutes to process one individual and then they would take a 30 minute break. SERIOUSLY!!!!! After waiting in line for 5 hours and being pushed, shoved, sneezed upon, having sweat being dripped over you, and being elbowed I gave up on the lines and the fighting crowds as we have moved NOWHERE in 5 hours. Just then a foreign-only line had opened up for the incoming Lufthansa flight so I jumped into that line, which took another 1 hour. Overall it took over 5 hours to clear immigration and customs, and talking to the passengers around me that was quick. Some people had been waiting 8-10 hours to clear immigration. It was seriously a bad experience and something I do not wish to repeat!
That was my lismt --- let me know your good and 'need improvements'. And let me know if you agree or disagree with my list
Happy and safe travels
Worst experience I ever had was flying into Calgary, Canada. I had just finished a contract in Washington State, and was taking a week or so in Banff. Since I had a computer with me the immigration guy insisted I was there to do work. I said no, he insisted again. I said something about I guess you don't like visitors. He actually threatened to come over the counter! What a moron.
Great list and descriptions, 0504Traveller, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with us! Thus far, I have been very fortunate to have positive Customs experiences when traveling internationally to Europe (France, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Greece), Canada, and Mexico. Entering back into the U.S. probably took the longest out of any of them.
Thanks again for starting this thread! Interested to hear what others have to share.
Thanks for sharing!
I forgot to include one airport in the 'needs improvement'
Budapest, Hungary - this is when Malev was still around (so about 3 years ago) and I was transiting through BUD from Jordan to Paris. Since BUD was the first European country we entered, this is where we did all the security and immigration checks to enter into Europe. About 3-4 flights had landed at the same time so all of us had to go through security first, and then to immigration, clear customs, and then proceed to our next gate. In spite of the large number of passengers, there were only 2 security lines open (extremely inefficient, especially since we were in a small, cramped room!). The officers were not pleasant at all and while waiting in line I saw the following happen:
A mother was going through with her 2 kids, one was about 9 while the other was about 5, so young children. As I said we were in a cramped room so there wasn't a lot of prep time the mother could do for the children. As it was winter time, the kids were bundled up so the mother had to remove the boots and jackets of both children plus her own. The security officers were looking at this situation and barking orders to the mother to hurry up. Other passengers tried to help her, but they were reprimanded by the security officers. Since the demeanor of the officers wasn't pleasant, the children wanted to go through the detector with their mother. The security offers barked a loud and strong no to that. So the oldest child went first and then the mother was about to go through with the 5 year old when the security officer again shouted loudly that the mother cannot go through with the child, they have to go through separately. The child was definitely frightened by this time but the mother managed to calm her child down and coached the 5-year old to go through the security line and wait with their sibling on the other side for their mother.
I understand that security officers need to do their job and they have protocols, but a little compassion and just being pleasant would go a long way.
After we cleared security, we had to got through immigration and there were again only 2 lines, one for schengen passports and one for everyone else; most of the passengers had other passports so the line was extremely long and moved extremely slowly.
Overall it was an inefficient, slow, and overall unpleasant experience. Not the best way to make a first impression
I won't say any country I have visited is better, more the places that have been easier in dealing with the immigration process.
Just want to give two thumbs up for Global Entry. Go to the kiosk, insert your passport, fingers on the sensor, look at the camera, get your slip to hand to the agent at the exit. Avoided huge lines at IAH coming back from the UK. Also for the $100 for the five years, you get TSA Pre with it. Pre would cost $85 by itself.
Global Entry is the ONLY way to travel....even if you don't think you'll ever leave the U.S.A., I would still get it just in case and the Pre-Check time savings, no removing of things combined with less hassle domestically from the TSA Agents well worth it.
We've got to get ours renewed in about 10 months and won't hesitate for a second to get another five years.
Global Entry is wonderful, but as I found out recently, there are international airports in the U.S. who excel at mucking it up. SAN is one of them. One - very small baggage claim carousel, so beware if you happen to arrive in country at the same time as a BA 747 with about a dozen and a half crew and 300+ passengers. You will sail to the front of the customs line and through the customs kiosk, only to wait 30 + minutes while hundreds of passengers claim their bags, get in the slow line for baggage customs, and are gone before your bags even show up on the turnstile. Way to go SAN (and their TSA isn't much any better). Lesson learned; fly from somewhere else. IAHFLYR, would say, lesson learned, don't check a bag, lol. Ya, rub it in, my friend.
To be honest no immigration hall really stands out apart from Copenhagen and Prague, where whenever I've visited I've made it through immigration in less than 10 mins.
Another one I remember is Orlando airport, where despite some of the lengthiest queues I've ever seen in any immigration hall we were out within well less than an hour and were dealt with by a smiling and friendly officer.
Finally, and for all the wrong reasons, Philadelphia, US, when travelling with a party of students, all aged 17 or 18. There were 30 students in all, 10 of which were of Asian descent. After experiencing the most dreadfully long queue, 8 of the students, all of whom held United Kingdom passports and had their ESTAs, were stopped and directed to a separate room for additional questioning. All those chosen were of Asian descent and were scared by the entire procedure which took another hour to complete. Ironically, the white caucasian student with an Iranian surname, and an Iranian stamp in her passport wasn't selected for this process and passed straight through...
the best experience I had was a few years ago flying into Brazil at the time when there was a P contest with visa waiver and Brazil was not on the list so they routed US citizens to a different line to have finger prints taken . What was great is I was the only one so got thru the line in five minutes
These days, one of the best is Bangkok. **IF** you flew in business or first. In that case you get a Premier coupon and don't have to wait in the long immigration lines. I've never been in line more than 5 minutes in the Premier lines.
Jakarta Indonesia can be bad if you don't know that you have to first go pay the aiport tax before you can get through. You can end up in line, get sent back, then start all over again.
Kuwait City has some long lines, but they move fairly quickly.
Someone above mentioned Morocco. If you come in by ferry from Spain they do the Immigration for you on the boat so you don't wait in line at all.
Global Entry is the best $100 investment both for the Pre Check as well as the GE at airports.
Iceland is great for entering the Schengen zone.
While not bad, it seems that I get the 3rd degree on land crossings into Canada although very polite about it.
Best is land crossing into Mexico, never seen anyone stopped!
Land crossings back into the US from Mexico or Canada are fine but it would be nice if they would show a little personality.
Preclearance in Aruba is a cluster with the families but the immigration officers all seem to love their jobs and are friendly. Perhaps having to be stationed in Aruba helps with this!
I was rather impressed upon my arrival at SJC in Mexico recently. The line was long, but moved remarkably fast and the agents were very, very polite and professional. I thought we might be harassed over what we brought, but no. The same kudos upon exit, although a little too aggressively hostile about my taking pictures of the AS theme plane that I was lucky to fly on. They did not like that one bit, which I found amusing, because in the U.S., no one cares when I go all snapoholic on the tarmac.
I would say the best experience is at Inceon, South Korea, very efficient.
I am not expecting customs officers crossing either way between Canada and USA to be friendly, They have a job to do and I am glad they take it seriously. My strangest, was crossing at Port Huron, and being second in line when all **** broke loose. Within a couple of seconds, the car (south central state tag) in front of me was surrounded and a lady was pulled out. Turns out she had a gun in the glove compartment. She was explaining "I didn't know" as she was taken away and her car was towed.
My scariest crossing was into the former soviet union at Vilnius in the LSSR.
The worst in 25 years - Japan. The guy went through every item in my suitcase and touched everything. He went into my back pack that was in my suitcase and my toiletries bag. He asked what I did in Hong Kong and didn't accept sightseeing. Upon finishing, he said, if I was a tourist, where was my tour book. I told him that I was taking tours. When he finally finished, I was left with repacking and trying to organize my stuff on that table. Horrible treatment. I talked to a military guy at my hotel and he said he noticed that they were really going through everyone's bags in the same way. I guess that is why they have so many customs guys lined up. I don't intend to return to Japan.
The last couple of times coming home through SFO they had installed the automated passport readers in kiosks for everyone. When they work, they're great.
Big emphasis on the word "when". It can be chaos. For instance my wife has a Green Card. You have to make sure you align it in a specific direction against a specific border or it keeps rejecting it.