How not to get detained at customs
August 11, 2009 8:35 AM Subscribe
At what point during the customs process did they decide I was a "red flag" and how do I avoid it happening again?
posted by nostrich to Travel & Transportation (65 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm travelling to the US in the next couple of weeks -- to Indianapolis, probably via Ohio, if it matters -- and I'd like to know how I can avoid being detained at customs again, and what I should say if I am.
Last time I was in the US -- which was less than 3 months ago, which I understand may be a red flag in itself -- I was asked to get my luggage and "go to that room" after trying to get through at customs. I don't remember the details very clearly, but this is how I think it went down:
The guy at the desk asked what the purpose of my visit was, and I told him I was visiting my girlfriend (mistake #1, I suspect). Then we went through the usual hoohah of taking my fingerprints and so on. He asked how long I intended to stay, and I told him 3 months. He said I can't stay longer than 90 days, I told him I knew that and would not. He also asked how much money I had with me, and I told him $200, which probably didn't help. He asked some other questions, but I don't remember them. That was when I was asked to collect my luggage and go to a side room he pointed me to.
The guy in there was very brisk and unfriendly and immediately took to a thorough search of my luggage, and lots of questions about the purpose of my visit, the majority of which I don't recall. I do remember that he asked for the phone number of my girlfriend and called her to corroborate my story. He was very concerned that we were planning to marry while I was in the country. We both assured him we had no intention of doing so. Eventually, I was allowed to pass through -- having re-packed my luggage myself, of course.
Ridiculously, at one point, he alse noted that I seemed nervous and asked why. As if being detained at customs wasn't enough to make a person nervous!
I later noticed a label in my luggage that informed me that it had been searched at some point before reaching customs, too. I'm guessing because my computer (a Mac Mini) was inside. So I'm wondering if that showed up on their system at customs and was a contributing factor.
The circumstances this time will be largely the same. I will have more money -- closer to $700 -- for one. But this time, my purpose _is_ to get married, and then return home to apply for a K-3 visa. I will also be travelling with largely the same luggage.
I'm assuming my luggage was what prompted the difficult questions, and my wrong answers that prompted the eventual detaining. If I'm right, I'm almost certain I'll at least be questioned again. So what should I say if I am?
Honesty is usually the best policy. But telling customs I'm here to marry my girlfriend is almost definitely a bad idea, right?
At the moment, I'm thinking the best course is to say I'm merely visiting a friend, and leave out all the romantic stuff. Why do I have my computer? I'm a geek, I can't go 3 months without my computer, sir!
But is lying to customs like this likely to get me in trouble somewhere down the line? Can they check up on this stuff? And more importantly, will it affect my chances of being granted a visa?