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Customs And Immigration: How to Answer Questions At The Airport When You Arrive in the US

February 02, 2023

Upon your arrival in the US, your first point of contact at the airport will be with an officer from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The primary role of CBP is to prevent anyone from entering the US illegally, entering to work illegally, or bringing anything prohibited or harmful into the country. 

A CBP officer will ask questions to verify your documents, check your bags, and determine whether you qualify to enter the US.

If you refuse to answer questions from your CBP officer, you may be denied entry into the country. If officials find your answers or behavior suspicious, you may be asked to undergo a secondary inspection. 

It’s important to be at ease and polite as you speak with a CBP official even if they appear unfriendly. Remember that all visa holders are asked questions upon entry into the US, and you are not being singled out for any reason. 

Although customs officers can ask various questions, they will generally stick to a straightforward set that is easy to answer. 

The most common questions a CBP officer will likely ask you are listed below. 

Common questions asked by CBP Officers during customs clearance

What is your date of birth?

‘When were you born,’ or ‘what is your date of birth’ are other common questions your CBP officer may ask. 

It’s a straightforward question that should be easy for you to answer. However, if you hesitate or provide a date that does not match the one on your passport, it will raise suspicion. 

You will likely have to undergo a secondary security inspection in a separate area. 

Do you have anything to declare?

A CBP officer will generally ask passengers if they have anything to declare. In other words, they are questioning whether you are carrying any items prohibited from being brought into the US.

Before departing for the airport, ensure you thoroughly examine the list of banned or restricted items. 

You can see a complete list of prohibited and restricted items here. 

Where have you flown from?

Customs officials ask this question to determine if you are flying from a high-risk country. They also want to confirm that your answer matches the information stated on your travel documents.

When responding to this question, be specific and provide the city and country you departed from. For example, your response may be: ‘Paris, France.’

Where are you staying?

When asked where you are staying, CBP officials expect you to be specific, so be sure you know your accommodation’s address.

A customs officer may also request that you write this address on your immigration card. If you haven’t found a permanent residence yet, provide the address of the hotel you plan to stay in while you get settled.

What is your occupation?

The purpose of this question is to check that the sum of money in your bank account aligns with the salary of your occupation.  

You may have a more significant amount of money in your account for various reasons. Officials are more interested in how you respond to this question than the question itself. They may treat it as suspicious behavior if you seem nervous or unsure of yourself. 

Uncommon questions asked by customs officials at the airport 

Did you pack your own bags?

Occasionally, travelers are asked whether they packed their own bags. 

If your bag was packed by someone such as your spouse, carer, or parent, it’s essential that you be honest with the customs official and say, ‘No, I didn’t pack my bag; my wife did.’

This question is asked to ensure you know all the contents of your luggage. Officials want to ensure that no illegal items were placed in your bag without your knowledge. 

If you answer that you did not pack your own bag, you’ll likely get taken aside to be interviewed further and have your bags searched and scanned. 

How much money do you have on you?

There is no legal limit to the amount of money you can carry into the US on your person – be it by cash, money order, or traveler’s checks. However, if you are bringing a sum over the value of $10,000 with you, it must be declared

Upon arrival, if required, you’ll need to accurately and honestly complete Form 6059B and FinCEN 105. Failure to do so can lead to heavy fines and the confiscation of funds. 

To determine that you have declared all the money you are carrying, your customs officer may ask you to confirm the sum you have on you to see if the figure matches the one you have written down on your forms. 

On the other hand, if you enter with very little money on you and very little money in your bank account or with no credit cards, there is suspicion that you are coming to the US to work illegally and this is another reason to deny you entry. How will you support yourself in such an expensive country if you come with a small amount of money to pay for your expenses for the duration of your stay in the US?

Do you have knowledge about X law in the US?

In certain situations, you may be asked during customs clearance if you are aware of specific rules or laws that exist in the US. 

In the country you are traveling from, it may not be mandatory to follow specific regulations that exist in the US.

Although this is not a standard question, examining American laws and rules before your departure can be helpful to ensure you are prepared to answer.

What else to expect at the airport during customs and immigration

In addition to CBP questioning, there are several other protocols you may have to go through upon your arrival in the US. These include: 

Luggage search

When you arrive in the US, you must get your luggage and bring it with you through CBP. 

Not everyone will undergo a luggage check, but there is a possibility that officials will search through your suitcase and other personal belongings.

Ensure that you are not carrying any illegal items in your luggage, such as firearms, specific fruits and vegetables, animal products, cultural artifacts, etc.

If you carry any prohibited or restricted items, you will jeopardize your entry into the US.

Luggage checks are often random, so do not be alarmed if your suitcase gets searched. 

Medical screening

If you are traveling from a country with high levels of infectious disease, you may have to undergo a medical screening upon your arrival in the US.

This screening will take place at a health station set up at the airport to screen travelers. 

As diseases can begin to spread in just a few days, medical screenings can slow down the spread or prevent diseases from entering the US.

Secondary security inspection

A secondary inspection allows officials to ask you additional questions in a separate location without causing delays for other arriving passengers.

If you undergo a secondary screening, you will be granted entry into the US once officials have finished and are satisfied with their interview and inspection.

However, if it’s uncovered that you provided false information or documentation, you will be denied entry into the country. You’ll be returned to your original location on the next available flight.

If you are an immigrant entering the US for the first time as a green card holder, or lawful permanent resident, you will automatically undergo secondary inspection. This is a routine procedure, and there is no need to be worried.

Officials are not permitted to select you for further questioning based on your race, religion, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.

We hope you now understand better what you can expect upon your arrival in the US. If you need help with the visa application process or your travel overseas, our team of professionals would love to help. 

At Meimaris Law, we have over 25 years of experience dealing with immigration Law. We can help make your journey towards receiving a US visa as straightforward and stress-free as possible. 

Get in touch today for a free consultation with our team and discuss how we can help you.

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