Customs and immigration – your experiences

Customs and immigration – your experiences

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By Pyrrha Monk
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You’ve been sitting for the last few hours in a cramped chair next to (or rather half under) someone else’s child, you’re tired and you can’t sleep because the child’s feet are digging in to your side. But at least you’re starting your holiday. We all know the feeling – you’re exhausted from travel but kept going by the excitement of exploring somewhere new. But first you have to get out of the airport, and that can either be a very effortless and welcoming process, or the longest hours of your life.

We asked Rough Guides’ friends and followers where, in their opinion, the customs and immigration officials make a great beginning to your trip, and where they make you want to get the next flight home.

Many of you agreed that there’s an element of pot-luck, and Lucy Kane on Facebook said it depends on “how grumpy the immigration officers feel that day”. That said, it seems there was a clear winner for worst experience: the USA. Bloid Introvabile (aka Eve Li) mentioned on Facebook that American homeland security “manage to upset you even when you have a visa to enter their country on your passport”, while Hendrik Buyle revealed on our community page that he once queued for two hours to get in to the USA – not a great start to a holiday – and @TheMiserableTwo said on Twitter that their officers “flicked through my passport lots of times [and] questioned why I had so many stamps”.

The general feeling was well summed up by Michael Huxley on our community page, who wrote “they seem to adopt the position that everyone is a terrorist until proven innocent, and even then they begrudge that”. New York‘s airports received an honorable mention. Sean Connelly said on Facebook that his experience was “terrifying” and Lee Walkley said “New York are the worst. So unhelpful and arrogant”. Apparently long queues are deterring visitors to the USA, but would you be put off returning because of it?

The UK also came under fire, deemed several times as unwelcoming and slow. David Talbot on Facebook said the UK is “a total pain, even as a British citizen returning home” and several people said it ties with USA in hostility, with Manchester airport cited as particularly bad.

If those are the destinations you need spend the flight mentally preparing for, where are the places that will wave you through into their country with a smile?

Belize and Canada came out on top. On Facebook, Mike C said that “Belize were awesome” and Steve Liebert said the Belize Immigrations were “very nice and helpful” and on Twitter @GavinEmmet said “Crossing into Belize from Guatemala with a Mexican car was definitely interesting, but customs folk were great”. And similarly Canada seems to have just got it right, for no particular reason: Gaz Rees, on our Facebook page, said that “the best were the Canadian guys and gals at the Detroit/Windsor crossing. They were awesome”.

The one place people couldn’t agree on, however, is Australia. Amanda Wellgreen, on Facebook, said Australian customs and immigration officials are “pretty rude, especially in Sydney” and Smakruk said Australia has the most suspicious customs officers. Yet there are also a lot of fans of the Australian way. Simon Cox insisted that “Australian and New Zealand officials are generally the best”, Time of My Life said that Australia “by far has the most friendly immigration” and @LesBarouders agreed. But Greg W. Smith said on Facebook “Australian Immigration officials have generally been friendly, while their Customs colleagues are much less so” – so maybe that sorts out the dispute.

What do you think? Let us know below.