Nine Tips That Will Alleviate the Stress of Clearing Customs (Part 1)

A more popular definition of stress is: being put in a position of high expectation and low control. Based on this definition, most international operators are likely to agree that clearing customs is about as stressful as it gets. When customs is the only thing standing between the passenger and the business or leisure that awaits them outside the airport, the pressure is on. Yet, if there’s improper paperwork, technical glitches, a customs agent in a bad mood or any other problem appears, all eyes turn to the flight crew.

But clearing customs doesn’t have to be stressful. A little extra attention in a few key areas of the customs process will help turn one of the more stressful facets of business aviation into one of the smoothest.

Start by Clearing the Confusion

Unfortunately, no one has come up with a cure for the customs agent who is having a bad day. It’s a bit like the common cold, when it appears, there’s nothing you can do but suffer though. However, there are some things you can do make clearing customs easier:

  1. Don’t Underestimate the Power of Proper Documentation—Whether it’s for passengers, crew or cargo, cutting corners to save time on the documentation process will cost you more time in the end. Customs is the first line of defense for people coming into a country, and paperwork is the primary tool agents use to do their job. Don’t give them a reason to stop or doubt you; provide complete and accurate information and make sure everything matches. A customs form that says, “Fred Smith” is not the same as a passport that reads, “Frederick J. Smith.” You can rest assured that customs agents will notice and question.
  2. Start Earlier—Even if you don’t have all the details, starting the customs process with 70 percent of the information is better than waiting until you have 100 percent. Some initial groundwork can be done and, at the very least, the customs authorities know to expect you. The trick is get the remaining 30 percent of the information in as soon as possible (see #1).
  3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate—Whether it be a charter customer, an executive or a high-net worth individual, the person riding in the back of the airplane is the boss. That makes it extremely difficult for flight departments/crews to saddle their passengers with a bunch of questions about paperwork and passport details, as well as procedure and deadline briefings. Remember, most passengers don’t want a delay any more than you do. If they know what’s expected of them beforehand, most will comply. Even though it may not be well received, you should also try to inform the ‘Don’t they know who I am?’ passenger group. The message may not be received, but you’ll always be able to say you tried…especially as they sit fuming at the airport while you attempt to get a new clearance.
  4. Accept That Procedures Vary (a lot!)—Not only does each country do things differently, but each airport may have slightly different procedures for handling customs. Some insist you wait in your airplane—with the doors closed and latched—until the customs agent greets you. Others would prefer you walk into their facility. Some airports have private screening areas for business aviation travelers while others do not. Treating each airport as its own little country, and understanding the unique procedures, will help you sail right through.

Don’t miss Part 2 of our series for additional tips on clearing customs. In the meantime, if you have questions about customs, or any of the complexities of international operations, Jeppesen International Trip Planning Services (ITPS) is here to help. Learn more about Jeppesen ITPS by clicking here or calling (800) 553-7750.

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