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Travel

Travelling Through Customs Around the World

I have done a fair amount of travelling abroad over the last few years, primarily in Latin America. Entering different countries is always an interesting experience. Customs can be daunting because there is always that chance that some obscure law or item you did not know you needed to declare will stop you from entering the country. For example, bringing Chilean wine in your suitcase when entering the U.S. while you are under 21. Just act casual.

Here is a list of my experiences entering various countries:

Mexico

Pretty casual. I do not remember too much. It was the end of a long day of flying from Minnesota, that included a seven hour layover in Atlanta. I filled out the slip of paper they gave me that asked basic questions of why I was there and where I would be staying. After I got off the plane it was simple to get out of the airport. Coming back to the U.S. was more of a procedure; they took more time to inspect the bags, asked more questions, etc. Returning the U.S. is always more of a hassle because customs are more in-depth. Being a white girl with a Midwestern accent probably helps the process be a lot less difficult for me, than it would be for someone else.

Chile

Basically the same experience as Mexico, easy to travel by plane. Reentering the country by bus after I visited Argentina halfway through my trip was another story. I had to take a bus over the Andes mountains, and stopped at the border, got out of the bus, and had my bag run through a scanner. It was lengthy, and the higher altitude was colder than I prepared for. There was a bit of an ordeal with a police dog that drew attention toward my backpack, but it turns out he just wanted some peanut butter that had opened in my bag. The border patrol agents thought the situation was funnier than I did.

Argentina

Taking the bus into Argentina was a nearly identical experience to returning to Chile. It was a little less intense in that instead of using fancy equipment to run my bag through a machine like at airport security, the border agents just opened my bag and searched through it. There was not a dog that time.

Cuba

Flying into Cuba was by far the easiest customs experience I have ever had. They handed out the little papers with entering the country questions on the plane, but upon arrival nobody seemed overly concerned about them. As we exited the baggage claim area, no one collected the questionnaire. My boyfriend did not fill one out, because they said if we were together I could vouch for him. Their only real concern was if we were sick and bringing disease into the country–but we weren’t. Everyone was very amicable and relaxed.

Bahamas

We went straight from Cuba to the Bahamas. They had the usual bag searching that you would expect from customs, but the customs agents were pretty friendly. Returning to the U.S. after the Bahamas was frustrating. This was my first time ever being randomly selected for a search. My boyfriend, who is black, has been randomly searched many times. I wonder why that is… They were very suspicious of us and asked many questions while they rifled through our luggage for what felt like a very long time. Everything turned out fine, but we were tired and wanted to go home.

Every country is a slightly different experience when you go there, yet for the most part customs are comprised of the same elements. They make sure your passport is good, have you fill out a little slip of paper, and make sure you are not bringing anything illegal into the country.

What’s your craziest customs story?

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I am a writer, actor, translator, and social activist.

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