long customs lines

Airports Known for Long Customs Lines

If you’re planning to travel abroad this year, you’ve got a lot of planning and excitement to look forward to. If it’s your first trip overseas, ensuring you’ve got the proper travel documents in hand and ready to go is the first step. Of course planning your itinerary and packing for your excursion can’t be too far down on your to-do-list. It doesn’t matter where you’re headed; from tropical destinations to chilly European getaways and even your perfect cruise vacation, chances are pretty good you’re bound to come home with a few extra goodies for yourself and friends or family. Regardless of whether you’re coming home with gifts or goods from your international trip, you’ll be required to go through customs. Long customs lines can put a damper on your return trip. Having your paperwork in order and knowing what to expect can help ease the process a bit and get you back home even quicker.


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Is there a way to avoid customs?

Whether you’re bringing home a suitcase full of goodies for loved ones, coming home with boxes of trade goods, or returning with the exact items you left the country with, it’s the job of the Department of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to interview, inspect and examine you and your items upon reentry into the U.S. Having your Declaration Form 6059B filled out and ready to go can certainly help speed up the process, but don’t worry if you haven’t gotten that taken care of before you head through customs. A great way to help bypass customs wait times is to become an active Global Entry member. Global Entry is a program that offers expedited clearance for pre-approved travelers upon arrival back in the States – by using their automated kiosks, you can fill out your declaration and hopefully be on your way. In some cases, travelers are still randomly selected to go through a more vigorous customs inspection, but it can certainly speed things up for frequent fliers.

customs wait times

While there’s no way to completely avoid customs, you can help speed through using Global Entry or by simply being more organized.

Should I expect long customs lines when flying back in the U.S.?

Luckily, most long customs lines are still manageable and ultimately not too much of an inconvenience considering the length of your travel already. Of course, “How long is too long to wait for customs?” is a relative question, but on average the wait at customs lines at the busiest U.S. airports was around 20 minutes. That’s only roughly 5 minutes longer than the fastest customs lines at other, equally busy airports.


airports with the longest customs lines

Data Source: milecards.com and U.S. Customs and Border Protection

How can I get through customs quicker?

While we’d all love the ease of walking off the plane and right to the luggage carousel, if we’re coming home from an international trip we should plan on spending at least a few minutes going through customs. If you’re concerned that a long customs line is going to be inconvenient for your return trip, you might consider flying back to the states utilizing an international airport with quicker lines. Here are some tips on speeding up your customs checkpoint upon your return.

  • Fly during fall and winter months – November, December, February and March, tend to have the shortest customs lines, while May, July, August and September tend to have the longest lines.
  • Enroll in Global Entry
  • Check frequently for advisories and wait times with the Customs and Border Patrol online tool
  • Have your declaration forms filled out well in advance
  • Know the rules – make sure you haven’t packed up any restricted or prohibited items to bring home
  • Register your valuables before you leave the states – high value items can be registered before you travel. This helps provide proof of ownership upon reentry
  • Save your receipts from your travels
  • Beware of bringing home produce or meats and avoid visiting farms and agricultural facilities – part of the Customs and Border Patrol is to keep agricultural pests from entering the states


Don’t let the long custom lines deter you from bringing home your magical gifts and fun new items. Just be prepared for your reentry into the states and you’ll be home enjoying your new treasures in no time!

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