To stamp or not to stamp
January 9, 2012 10:20 AM   Subscribe

US passport / stamp filter: What is the policy for stamping US passports upon arrival back in the US? I've had inconsistent experiences with this.

I am a US citizen with a US passport.

Until I went to college, I'd only ever flown internationally out of LAX (mostly to East Asia, but once to Europe). My US passport was never stamped upon entry via Immigration in LAX.

However, in college when I returned twice from Europe and re-entered the US at JFK, I was stamped both times. It surprised me the first time because, based on my experience at LAX, I always thought that US citizens weren't stamped upon entry back in.

I'm flying O'Hare - Heathrow round trip in two months and was idly wondering if I'd be stamped upon return to the US in Chicago. By no means is this a question of actual import (I clearly don't have any worries about entering the US), but I'm just curious why this is the way it is. My sample size is small; I know this probably just boils down to "airport policy," but I'm curious if anyone knows why this might differ from airport to airport.
posted by andrewesque to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't know the policy, but I've been stamped on re-entry into O'Hare.
posted by hwyengr at 10:23 AM on January 9, 2012

There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. Stamped at JFK and IAD, not at SFO.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:27 AM on January 9, 2012

In the past 8 years, I have left & re-entered the US a dozen or so times by air. At every airport upon reentry, I have received a stamp.
posted by knile at 10:27 AM on January 9, 2012

I've done a fair amount of international travel in and out of DFW, LAX, ORD, LGA, etc. and it seems totally random here and everywhere else whether and when you get stamped, which can be a problem if you're, say, flying into China, out to Thailand and back in if the Thai official doesn't stamp you. You can ask to be stamped, they'll ask a few more questions (especially, it seems, if you have a giant sword in your bag) and stamp it for you.
posted by cmoj at 10:28 AM on January 9, 2012

I don't think there's a consistent practice. At least not in my experience. The only consistent thing has been the inconsistency of getting stamped. And, not just in the US, but elsewhere.
posted by dfriedman at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2012

Best answer: I work in immigration law, so I see lots and lots of passports, albeit rarely US ones. As far as I can tell, the policy for stamping passports is "Eh. Whatever." Sometimes they stamp it. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes they stamp it with a dried-out old stamp pad, so you can see that the stamp was put there but you can't read anything. Sometimes they stamp it adjacent to the most recent previous stamp. Sometimes they stamp it on some random page. There are probably rules, but I'm certain they're not enforced.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2012

you know what, I don't think I've ever been stamped upon arrival in the US. most of my traveling is in Latin America, and I usually enter & exit via Dallas, Houston or Miami (from CA).
posted by changeling at 10:30 AM on January 9, 2012

I've flown back into the US several times and only got a stamp twice. Both times at Ohare. And both times after being randomly flagged to have them rummage through my luggage. LAX,MIA,DFW (where I'd fly into most often),IAH,SAT,AUS never bothered me or stamped my passport.
posted by birdherder at 10:31 AM on January 9, 2012

I agree that it's random chance. If you want a stamp you can ask the agent and they usually oblidge.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:37 AM on January 9, 2012

Is the lack of stamping of US Passports by US custom agents due to machine readable passports? Hence, they have a record that you re-entered into the country in the computer, they don't need you carrying around proof of that record in a little book that you carry.
posted by mmascolino at 10:41 AM on January 9, 2012

I fly to Europe about five times a year and in the past five years I've only had my passport stamped upon re-entry four times, once in 2007, twice in 2008 and once, randomly, this past September. I fly through Boston, normally, and they usually stamp my custom's declaration, not my passport.
posted by lydhre at 10:41 AM on January 9, 2012

Nthing the "no rhyme or reason" explanation. Years ago (over 8) I asked the immigration officer in Boston about this (mainly because I was a bit peeved that I didn't get a stamp) and he told me you don't have to be stamped on re-entry.

PHL and ORD seem to stamp pretty consistently.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2012

Just came back via LAX last week and we all got stamped.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2012

Yeah, I fly into the US 2-4 times a year and never get stamped. I'm looking at my renewed passport (issued in May 2011) right now and it has no US stamps despite me going there twice since then. This is San Francisco entry.

Looking at my old passport I found 2 stamps when I entered in Philadelphia.
posted by vacapinta at 10:47 AM on January 9, 2012

Response by poster: Ah well, so much for my suspicions that a Highly Top-Secret Passport Stamping Protocol was at play. Sigh. I do always get stamped on my customs forms no matter when I'm entering.

(@mmascolino: this is an interesting idea, although my experience is actually the opposite: I was never stamped at LAX as a kid on my old-school "photo-taped-in" passport, but was stamped both times at JFK on my machine-readable.)
posted by andrewesque at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2012

I'm 5/5 on my current passport on incoming stamps through JFK. (Those are my only international flights on this passport.)
posted by smackfu at 11:06 AM on January 9, 2012

I don't think I've ever had my (US) passport stamped upon my return to the US (mostly entering via Boston Logan airport, plus I think Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth).
posted by mskyle at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2012

I have 7 round-trips to Asia on my current passport and nary a single US re-entry stamp to be found. I've typically flown into LAX or SFO.
I remember on my old passport I asked them a couple of times to stamp my re-entry, and they obliged without any issues.
posted by scrambles at 12:12 PM on January 9, 2012

I ask to have my stamped as I need to provide proof of exiting Ireland where I have an extended stay visa. if I do not ask it usually is not stamped.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:08 PM on January 9, 2012

I was stamped upon return to LAX from Mexico over Thanksgiving, and stamped by US Customs upon leaving Halifax, NS.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:47 PM on January 9, 2012

I've been in and out of Europe since 2003 and I've been stamped every time! (US passport holder here.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:17 AM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: @easy, lucky, free Re Halifax: I'd assume that's essentially the same as getting stamped into the United States in a US airport, since the US has set up customs and immigration at the Canadian airport (preclearance) so it effectively serves as a US port of entry. Aside from that, I don't think either the US or Canada has any sort of exit immigration or stamping procedure.
posted by andrewesque at 5:50 AM on January 10, 2012

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