U.S. Customs has gone digital. For years, I think the Immigration process was a hassle for anyone. In example, filling out the Declaration Form itself was one hot mess. I remembered, on several of my flights having to scramble in my bag to find a pen. That, alone was a problem. Sometimes, I didn’t have a pen with me therefore, I would have to ask a flight attendant to borrow one or embarrassingly ask my seat neighbor. If, that’s not enough, there’s also the point of having to take out my passport, find my flight itinerary and finally, actually filling out the form. Then, all of those items would have to be put back in my bag. In addition, there was also standing in line at customs, waiting longer than necessary to be called and be interviewed about my whereabouts. All in all, the whole thing was an ordeal and thankfully, someone decided it was finally enough. Upon my arrival on my recent trip from Mexico, I was surprised by the new changes of the U.S. Customs’ Immigration process. They’ve streamlined the process now from the minute your plane lands to exiting the airport. This was explained on the television while my plane was descending in the air. Apparently, there are two different sections of navigating incoming traffic at the airport (nothing new) for International flight arrivals. You either fall under APC (new) or the Global Entry (new). Here are the differences:
What It Is
APC (Automated Passport Control) line are for citizens and visitors. It is an automated machine that identifies you through scanning your passport. It will then prompt a series of step by step questions with a final black and white photo capture and a print out at the end of the process. The questions asked are the same information that you would’ve had to fill out on the Immigration Declaration Form. In the past, these forms were passed on the plane to each passengers that had to be filled out prior to going through customs. Immigration is now phasing out these printed forms and replacing it with the automated kiosk machines (APC). The intended goal was to cut the amount of wait time for citizens and visitors alike. Now, why did we not think about this before?
The kiosk machines were released a couple of years ago. It used to be that they only had a few of them available at LAX but, this time I saw that they’ve increased the amount of the kiosks on the floor. My experience using the machine was pretty good. I thought it was easy to navigate through the questions and I didn’t encounter any difficulties at all. Although, I’ve read some instances like this one where, the machine could potentially flag you for attempting too many times in re-doing your information. Definitely, do not do this! Be prepared with all of your information when you’re logged in to the machine than, going back and forth with it.
What’s the other line?
Global Entry line are for current members and/or those who wants to sign up. It is a pre-approved service for low risk travelers allowing them an expedited clearance upon arriving to the U.S. It requires a 1 time non refundable fee of $100 (good for 5 years) with a background check and a one on one interview with an Immigration officer. The process for this option are detailed here. Keep in mind that there’s a 3-5 months wait to schedule an interview with an Immigration Officer or they allow you to do the interview after arriving from an International trip at a Global Entry Enrollment Center only if, you’ve already signed up for the program and have been approved for an interview. This sounds great! I can’t wait to sign up!
What it means for the future?
I think, eventually, this digital transformation process through customs will become epidemic around the world (if, it’s not already there). They’ve done a great job in definitely moving you through the lines at LAX and out the door. I also feel that the agents seem happier and open when they greet you. Obviously, safety is their top priority and I’m sure they have the best in the industry working on the floor. Therefore, I wouldn’t doubt for a second that they won’t hesitate to do what’s necessary when and or if they feel a threat right off the bat. I think this is a good investment for all of us and I’m glad my tax money is going somewhere useful 🙂
Have you experienced the automated kiosk at LAX? Thoughts?