After a long international flight back to the United States, we can probably guess what you want to do: get home, take a hot shower, and climb into your own bed. Perhaps the first thing you want to do is to go out for that cheeseburger you’ve been craving for the last week, or maybe you just can’t wait to see your kids or your dog. No matter what you most want to do when you get off that plane, we know what you don’t want to do – stand in long lines at the airport arrivals terminal to clear US immigration and customs.
The good news is that if you’re flying home from one of 15 airports in 6 countries, you can pass through US immigration and customs before you board your flight. This process is called “preclearance,” and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is working hard to expand preclearance facilities to airports in additional countries.
Preclearance is not a new program; CBP has operated preclearance facilities outside the US since 1952. At foreign airports with US preclearance facilities, US-bound travelers go through exactly the same entry procedures that are normally conducted at the arrival airport in the US, including passport control, customs, and agriculture inspections. This means that when you arrive in the US, it’s just as if you are getting off a domestic flight – just grab your bags and go!
Preclearance is also the answer to another travel mystery. If you’ve ever wondered why a small regional airport can call itself “international” even though it doesn’t have customs facilities, it is because that airport receives direct flights from international airports that have preclearance facilities.
The benefits of preclearance extend beyond convenience to travelers. It is also a boon to national security, as it is an extra layer of scrutiny to make sure terrorists or other inadmissible people are not allowed to board flights to the US.
Who is Eligible for Preclearance?
Any US-bound traveler who is flying out of an airport with preclearance facilities may use them, whether or not the traveler is a US citizen. It also doesn’t matter which airport will be the port of entry to the US. Approximately 16 million travelers are precleared each year.
Where are Preclearance Facilities Located?
There are currently 15 airports around the world that have preclearance facilities staffed with US CBP officers, located in:
- The Bahamas: Freeport and Nassau
- Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg
- Ireland: Dublin and Shannon
- United Arab Emirates: Abu Dhabi
US Customs and Border Patrol is actively working to establish preclearance checkpoints in more countries, particularly in Europe. Talks are underway to establish facilities in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The UK government is reportedly receptive to the proposal, although no formal plans are in place. The Netherlands is also seriously considering the proposal and is conducting feasibility studies into opening a preclearance facility at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. Schiphol is frequently included on lists of the world’s top 5 airports for its stunning architecture and convenient services, and a US preclearance facility would be the icing on the cake!