Smart preparation can help Indian students smoothly navigate the port of entry procedures on arrival at U.S. airports.
All international travelers to the United States must complete certain port of entry procedures for safety and security. The right preparation can make the process fast and simple. Photograph by Donna Burton/Courtesy CBP
Your enrollment is confirmed, you’ve chosen your classes and your visa is in hand. But what happens after you get off the plane and prepare to formally enter the United States?
For safety and security, the American government has established a set of port of entry procedures that visitors must go through upon arrival in the United States. The process is nearly always simple and speedy—and the right preparation can help make sure you pass through the airport with minimal delay.
This article provides information from port of entry experts at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Attaché Office in the U.S. Embassy to India on how to make your entry into the United States as smooth as possible.
Prepare, gather and backup your documents
For Indian students entering the United States, important documents include a valid passport, the F-1 student visa, and an approved Form I-20 A-B. It’s always a good idea to have both paper and digital copies of these documents as backup, in case something gets lost or stolen. But make sure to have the originals easily on hand when you arrive.
Supporting documents can also be helpful. These can include the school admissions letter, point of contact information for your school and financial documentation that shows you’re able to support yourself while in the United States.
Make sure all documents are organized and stored somewhere safe while you’re in transit. Once you land and it’s your turn to approach a CBP officer, have your documents either in your hand or are quickly accessible.
Be mindful of what you pack
Certain types of food products and medications may be prohibited from entry in the United States. Getting caught with any such items can result in confiscation, delays and other problems. So make sure to do your homework before packing your bags.
The experts encourage all Indian students to visit the CBP website’s Bringing Food Into the United States and Know Before You Visit sections to learn about what items to bring and what to leave at home.
Relax and follow instructions
The idea of navigating port of entry procedures may seem intimidating, especially for first-time travelers. If you’re anxious, try to focus on taking some deep breaths, staying relaxed and following instructions.
Avoid being over-friendly, talking too much, sharing documentation not requested, or doing anything else that may distract the CBP officer. Any such behaviors can slow down your admission into the United States.
Tell the truth
Anyone who works with port of entry procedures will tell you that lying to CBP officers, about any matter and for any reason, is a bad idea.
This includes Customs Declaration forms that all travelers, students included, are required to complete prior to arrival. These documents ask visitors to declare any items they are bringing into the country. Make sure to fill out the forms truthfully, as any items you misrepresent or fail to mention can result in penalties, delays and other issues.
Remember that the vast majority of conversations with CBP officers are very short, simple and straightforward. Stay calm and answer all questions truthfully and you’ll be done in no time.
Be ready for quick passage, but stay flexible
Under normal circumstances, port of entry procedures take only a few minutes from approaching the CBP officer to exiting the airport with your bags in hand. But always be prepared, in case things take longer.
If multiple international flights arrive at the same time, immigration and customs lines could run long. Similarly, if there’s a problem with the documentation or items you’re bringing into the country, you may also run into delays.
Regardless of what happens, cooperate and stay flexible. CBP officials are always working to get you on your way as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.