11 Tips For Clearing U.S. Customs

In past Business Flyer posts, we’ve covered topics related to clearing customs. However, those posts were primarily focused on regulations and practices for countries outside the United States. This post looks at U.S. customs, providing a few helpful tips for those operators wanting to get into America. Even if you’re based in the U.S., you may want to read on. Why? Because the rules for entering the U.S. are basically the same whether you’re visiting from the outside or trying to get home again.

Master the Fundamentals

While it may seem obvious, the first tip we’d like to offer is to make sure you know what is required of you for a specific trip. Yes, things like passenger and crew names, passport information, APIS registrations, U.S. Customs Decals and FAA Routing Authorization will be required for every trip. But what happens when someone decides at the last minute to bring a pet? Or, your passengers are envisioning a trip that would require a U.S. Border Overflight Exemption? Or, perhaps the requirements of the trip necessitate a TSA Waiver?

Are you ready for the seemingly small things that can have a big impact on your next flight into the United States? Here are a few tips that we hope will help you answer “yes”:

  1. Pursue Updates Tenaciously—Passport numbers change. Flight crews swap. Departure times are pushed back on a whim. Passengers have passports from more than one country. For many in aviation, especially flight crews, double- and triple-checking details is second nature. It’s the same at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). It’s easier to find and correct informational discrepancies before a trip begins than it is sitting on the ramp after you’ve landed.
  2. Double-Check Hours of Operation—Like the point above, this one also seems like common sense. Yet, many an airplane has waited late at night on the ramp for a customs official who never appears. In some cases (confirm on a case-by-case basis), customs offices can work overtime to meet you on your schedule. But if you don’t make those arrangements ahead of time, you’re working on theirs.
  3. Keep Your Border Overflight Exemptions (BOE) CurrentBOEs are great if you’re traveling into the U.S. from below the 30th parallel. What’s more, they’re pretty wide open in that you can list up to 35 entry airports, all potential crewmembers, every qualified aircraft and (as of the 2013 update) no passengers. And, you can get BOEs for one trip, or for an entire year. But such broad coverage can create a false sense of security. If a crewmember is hired, will you remember to update your BOE? What if your airports of entry change? Perhaps an existing aircraft is sold and/or a new one added to the fleet. Make sure you’re not reminded to update (or renew) your BOE by CPB while sitting on the ramp.
  4. Keep Crew Lists Updated—Updated crew lists have proven to be a CBP sticking point in the past. Illness, trip or aircraft changes, as well as duty time limitations can make for last-minute crew shuffling. Make sure the last-minute changes are updated as well.
  5. Know Passenger Entries and Exits—If you’re not flying your passengers round trip (in and out of the U.S.), be sure you know how they got into the country before trying to take them out. For example, if your passengers entered the U.S. on a commercial airline and you’re taking them back to their home country, CPB will want some extra details to close that loop in their system. Be ready to provide them.
  6. Ask Around/Test Fly—While all CPB points of entry are operating with the same mission and under the same regulations, cultures can vary by location. Some have the capacity to offer overtime for an off hours arrival, some don’t. Some are stricter with their interpretation of the rules than others. Ask around to determine which points of entry might be a better fit with how you operate. And, don’t be afraid to try different points of entry. The one that suits you best may be further off your flight path, but well worth the trip.
  7. Become Familiar with Lead Times—We all like to work ahead when we can and understand that last-minute changes are often unavoidable. Somewhere in between is the lead-time sweet spot, which can range from hours before a flight (like APIS), to months before a flight (BOE and VISA Waiver applications). While they might not always work for you, understanding the operating rhythm of the governing authorities that control your entry in the U.S. will pay dividends later.
  8. Get Telephone Confirmation—Despite all the digital tools at our disposal, a phone call is, in most cases, the easiest insurance policy for your trip. A quick call can help confirm details, get questions asked and/or answered, potentially shorten ramp wait times, build rapport with local handlers, and create an opportunity to troubleshoot your trip.
  9. Know the VISA Waiver Program (VWP)—If you’re from one of the 38 countries eligible for the VWP, then it will save you a lot of time and frustration. Even moreso if you use Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). But you need to watch the details here as well. For example, do all passengers expecting to use the VWP have the recently-required e-Passport? Two-year ESTA authorizations can expire faster than anyone realizes—are all passengers who expect to use them still valid? A quick confirmation prior to each trip is time well spent.
  10. Embrace the TSA Waiver—Aircraft weight, departure/arrival point, aircraft registry, equipment requirements, airspace and other waivers are just some of the myriad factors involved in whether or not your foreign-registered aircraft needs a TSA Waiver. What’s more, the more complex the waiver parameters, the more room there is for error and interpretation. Be sure to double-check yourself, and if there’s any doubt, don’t hesitate to make a phone call (see point above).
  11. Be Flexible—Frankly, we give this advice on nearly every customs-related post. It’s that important to smooth operations. Throw in a bit of common sense, and you’re well on your way to smooth passage into the U.S.

While it may not seem like it at times, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has the same goal you do—safe, verifiable and timely entry into the United States. That’s why most sanctions for not following entry procedures are warnings, and then working together with CBP to fix the problem. However, repeat offenders have faced fines and/or been denied entry into the U.S.

In the end, entering (or re-entering) the United States requires the same steps and attention to detail as most other countries. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Jeppesen’s International Trip Planning Services (ITPS) works with the intricacies of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on behalf of operators just like you every day. Learn more by clicking here or contacting your trusted Customer Service representative directly. Or, you can email customerservice@jeppesen.com or call (800) 553-7750.


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