Making Customs Easy. Easier?

My suitcase was ruined while returning from a 2011 trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was fine at customs, but the insanely long line meant my husband and I missed our flight and had to spend the night in Houston. TSA wouldn’t return our bags and instead destroyed mine.

I came across an interesting article in the Washington Post this morning: Going through Customs: How to make reentering the U.S. a lot more pleasant. It’s long (four pages) but a good read for anyone about to travel internationally, full of useful and slightly ridiculous information.

I mean, if you’re trying to smuggle something, a clear plastic bag is probably not the way to go about it. And reading about some of the food people have tried to bring into the U.S. kind of turned my stomach.

However, my husband and I didn’t even think to declare the pasta we bought in Italy last summer and, sure enough, that was the suitcase that didn’t show up on the turnstile at BWI. It arrived in the middle of the night, pasta intact.

I also probably wouldn’t have known that if I buy a snakeskin purse or shoes, I have to declare my purchase as wildlife. (Not that I can afford real snakeskin at the moment….)  Certain types of snakeskin (and fur) are OK, as long as you declare it and as long as the animal who was the original owner isn’t on the Endangered Species List.

In addition, I learned that I should leave my walrus-tusk ivory-bead necklace at home if I travel internationally. It’s an antique, bought by my great-uncle for my great-grandmother while he was stationed in Alaska with the Coast Guard, apparently that doesn’t matter. Customs could still confiscate it. I actually have no idea whether walrus ivory is banned (African elephant ivory is, but warthog and hippo ivory are OK, apparently.), but I don’t think I want to risk it. Oh well, it’s not like I wear it that often anyway.

And a word to the wise: Working dogs at customs have sensitive noses. Journalist Andrea Sachs reports that one of the beagles at Dulles smelled the banana she’d eaten in the car. Similarly, an old apple almost got my friend and I in trouble in Cancun. She had had an apple in her bag (which she had eaten) and one of the Mexican working dogs came right over and sat down next to her.

All in all, I’ve been quite lucky going through customs. Except for the lines. The lines are bad. I’ve missed multiple connection flights thanks to the lines at customs.

Note to U.S. Customs and Borders Protection: You should really do something about the lines.

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This entry was posted in Air Travel, Great Travel Writing, Horror Stories, Random Travel Thoughts, USA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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