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Airport Customs and Immigration – What are They and What You Need to Know

Airports around the world usually have customs and immigration sections in their establishments. These are required for travellers that arrive in and depart from international countries. If you need to travel to a country in any part of the world, you will basically be required to pass through the customs and immigration section at airports.

In this blog post, we will take a detailed look at what are customs and immigration at an airport, and its significance toward travellers.

What are Customs and Immigration?

Customs and immigration are a combination of two segments at airports that are crucial to international travellers, in particular.


Customs is generally defined as the belongings that travellers carry with them when flying to international destinations. This may also include any merchandise that you purchase at the airport’s retail stores.

When you shop for merchandise at airports, you will often come across “duty-free stores”. These stores sell you goods that exempt you from paying additional taxes or fees. However, there are also stores that may sell goods for which you may be required to pay taxes, called custom duty (or custom fees). Also, you can only purchase goods in less quantity and for personal use only because airports restrict the quantity of goods you can bring along when entering the border. You may also purchase souvenirs at these duty-free stores which you can gift to someone.

For example, items such as tobacco, alcohol etc. cannot be purchased in large quantities and may also include customs duty.


Immigration, on the other hand, refers to the process where persons (travellers) enter an international country either for a temporary visit or for seeking a permanent stay, or even on returning home from abroad.

Basically, airports also act as the first point of entry between countries that share a common border, for example, the U.S. and Canada or the U.S. and Mexico. So, when you travel to an international destination, say, from any U.S. state to a city in Canada, you must go through the customs and immigration checkpoint before you are granted entry to the country. Likewise, if you are travelling from the Middle East or Asia to destinations in the U.S. or Europe, you will be required to go through the airport’s customs and immigration process.

The aviation industry uses a few additional terms in relation with customs an immigration. For example, in the United States, international airports usually refer to their immigration section as “border control” or “passport control”. Thus, when you arrive at the airport, you will need to go through inspection here.

How Customs and Immigration Process Work at Airports

The process for undergoing customs and immigration checks at airports bordering countries are sort of strict. In a lot of international airports, the authorities makes immigration inspection a mandatory process, where it may even involve international travellers to be personally interviewed by an immigration officer before approving their passports. At times, certain passengers may also be required to carry necessary documents that are checked at the airport.

You will often find the airport’s customs office located right after the baggage claim area. Sometimes, it may happen that if you are carrying special items, you must declare the items at the custom office, as per their policy. However, failing to do so could have you held back or have your items confiscated by the customs officer in-charge.

Now, the procedure for going through customs and immigration check may vary from one airport to another. For instance, some airports may require travellers to go through the procedure before boarding the flights, while other airports may carry out the procedure after the arrival of the flight.

Fill and Submit Customs Declaration Form

While on your flight, your flight attendant will distribute a Customs Declaration Form. Most forms may even ask the point of exit and entry of your flight, your flight number, what goods you may be bringing into the country. Other than that forms might also list prohibited items for the respective country.

Given below are a few steps that you will need to carry out in order to fill and submit your Customs Declaration Form while on flight.

1. Fill all the required details in the Customs Declaration Form while on the flight.

2. If you need assistance, you can ask your flight attendant or travelling companions to help you with the questions as needed.

3. Declare any items you have with you that might have restrictions, and/or items you purchased in-country when returning to your home country.

4. Present your declaration form to a customs official.

5. Custom officials may or may not inspect your luggage. If they do check your bags and find restricted items, you may be asked to pay duty and/or fines. This is why it is critical to declare items as asked and required.

Each country and airport will have varying processes and requirements for customs and rules around the declaration of items. Review the specific country and airport of entry for specific customs guidelines.

Declaration of Items at Customs

There is a possibility that when you arrive at or depart from the airport, the customs officers on duty will ask you if you have anything to declare with regard to items that you carry.

The declaration from you include the following:

  • Items which you purchased at the airport’s duty-free store.
  • Items which you purchased, whether it is for your personal use or you intend to give it to someone else as a gift/souvenir.
  • Items which you received from someone as a gift/souvenir.
  • Items which you may have inherited during your trip.
  • Other items that fall in the category of food products, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Items which you brought along from the departure city to your arriving destination, either for personal use or to sell/trade.

It is important that you declare to the customs officers of the items you are carrying. If, however, you accidentally forget or intentionally fail to declare items that you are carrying, this may often lead to penalties. On the other hand, if you carry something that is prohibited, that item(s) will certainly be confiscated, and chances are, you may end up having to pay hefty fines too.

Aside from the items that you are allowed to carry when entering an international destination, for the list of items which are prohibited to carry, you can refer to the airport’s travel policy on its website.


It is important that you carry all the necessary documents and allowed items (and in less quantity) when travelling to an international destination. Doing so, you should not have any trouble going through customs and immigration inspection process at the airport.

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