What's the current state of laptops through customs returning to the US?
November 20, 2014 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Going on a loooong boat trip on one of the cruise lines in a few months. What's the current deal for taking my electronics through the inspections? [Previously from 2009]

Laptops? Cell phones? Should I just leave everything home? Not worried about what's on it, just annoyed at the whole idea but I also want to spend time sipping mai-tais and writing, taking it as a working vacation.

Should I hit the antique shops for a manual typewriter instead?
posted by Buttons Bellbottom to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Nobody cares what's on* your electronics. If the NSA had a problem with you, they would take care of it through other channels.

*Except possibly physically - your bag handle might get swabbed for explosives residue.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:52 AM on November 20, 2014

I've come in and out of the US (Caribbean and transatlantic travel) several times over the past five years. Security cares about your electronics (just like domestic US travel), customs does not - unless you buy and claim a new toy while you're overseas, you should be fine.
posted by ersatzkat at 9:52 AM on November 20, 2014

Best answer: I can't really help you with this specifically - I've carried my electronics through customs many times but have never been flagged for a secondary search yet (luck + boring profile, maybe?).

But one (ok, two) obvious piece(s) of advice:

(1) Make sure - like, SURE - that you have at least two working backups of your entire digital life before you travel with it. Preferably, one in an offline USB disk at home, and one through an online service or a reliable server that's not at home. (BTW, this is standard advice for *everyone* - it's not whether you'll need backups, it's just a question of when? And the answer is, at the worst possible, most inconvenient, time.)

(2) Sign up for and use cloud services for everything you might do while on travel. Even the shittiest dial-up-quality connection will be enough to sync your written output to DropBox. Travel photos are a bit more bandwidth intensive, but doable - as long as you're not shooting extensive HD video, most places on the beaten track will have enough connectivity to put everything in the cloud. Worst case, mail home copies of your new stuff on a USB stick before heading home.

And then, what does it matter even if your laptop is held for secondary inspection? Yeah, you'll be out the effort and inconvenience of getting a (temporary?) replacement, but no long term harm.

Relatedly, the availability of such cloud services has seriously reduced the utility of border inspections of laptops for contraband. Everyone who might want to carry questionable stuff is already encrypting, cloud hosting, using removable storage, whatever. So I'd guess that the border inspections have also correspondingly tailed off, unless your profile sets off giant honking klaxons or something. (But like I said, no recent personal experience either way.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:03 AM on November 20, 2014

Response by poster: There is no reason I can think of for any three letter agencies to be especially interested in me or aware of me other than the normal amount the IRS usually pays to standard issue tax payers.

So take a new Chromebook cloud it all and take the time to upload when we park at the dock. Wanted one anyway.

posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 10:08 AM on November 20, 2014

I've been thorough US customs & immigration many times as a US citizen, and I've never once had to go through a customs inspection. No one seemed to care about electronics except to yell at you to turn your cell phone off in the immigration hall.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'd only add that if you have anything you wouldn't want a three letter agency reading, encrypt it. Border agents can and will dig through your laptop if they take an interest in you for some reason.
posted by empath at 10:32 AM on November 20, 2014

Make damn sure your electronics can power up. I've been asked to boot laptops and cellphones, presumably to show they aren't just carrying cases for drugs (because the metal will help block scans).
posted by IAmBroom at 11:59 AM on November 20, 2014

You mention a Chromebook. I haven't used one before, but my impression is that they're meant to be used with an always-on internet connection. Internet connections tend to be slow and expensive on cruise ships, from what I've heard. Be sure to do your homework on whether the device will work equally well in off-line mode.
posted by mvd at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2014

I was in four countries in the last month (Netherlands, UAE, India, US) and only the US had any interest - wanted to see my laptop turn (literally just the green light when the agent pressed power) on at security. Phone, ipad, router, etc were ignored. Have fun!
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 2:59 PM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was on a total of 9 flights into, within and out of the US in the last 3 weeks. At no point did anybody take any interest in any of my electronics, required anything to be turned on etc beyond take your laptop out of your hand luggage and put it in the tray separately.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:44 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Getting hold of Scandinavian almond potatoes — or...   |   Preventing good old-fashioned crime Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.