Home Guides US Customs Border Protection Information for International Travelers to the United States

US Customs Border Protection Information for International Travelers to the United States

The United States is the most desired destination for travel, employment and immigration due to its various cultural, social and financial attractions.However, as an International traveler or foreign national you must be prepared with border crossing information before you leave home.Since July 2013, US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) has mandated that all International travelers entering the United States by land or sea must have an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

What is U.S. Customs and Border Protection?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is a law enforcement agency in the United States Department of Homeland Security charged with regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. regulations, including trade, customs, and immigration. Its official name is the United States Customs and Border Protection, the abbreviated form is commonly referred to as U.S. Customs.

Travel Documents

All travelers entering the United States must have a valid passport or other accepted document that verifies identity and nationality. The passport must be valid for at least six months after your expected date of departure from the United States. If you are traveling abroad frequently, consider applying for a 10-year U.S. passport card, which can be used to re-enter the country quickly at land borders and sea ports-of-entry.

Visitors from Canada and Mexico are required to present a valid passport when entering the U.S., but they do not need visas to visit as tourists for up to 90 days. Canadians may also use a NEXUS card as proof of identity and citizenship when crossing the border by land or sea.

U.S. citizens should make sure their passports are current and valid for at least six months after arriving in Mexico (or three months if arriving by land). Your passport is one of the most important pieces of identification you’ll carry while traveling abroad; keep it secure at all times, especially when traveling through airports or train stations where pickpockets often operate. If you lose your passport while abroad, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate immediately for help replacing it (usually within 24 hours).

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Exemptions to Documents

If you are a citizen of a country that is exempt from the visa requirement, you will not need to obtain a visa prior to traveling to the United States.

If you are not a citizen of a country that is exempt from the visa requirement and you do not have a valid U.S. visa, then you must apply for one before entering the United States.

However, if you are a citizen of one of the countries listed below, then you may be eligible for an exemption from the visa requirement under Section 212(d)(4) of the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act). Please note that exemptions do not guarantee entry into the United States. You must still present yourself at an official port of entry with all required documentation in order to be considered for admission into the United States.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

ESTA is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) automated web-based system that determines the admissibility of visitors to the United States. ESTA allows CBP to collect information from certain visa-exempt foreign travelers prior to their arrival in the United States.

The information provided by travelers in their ESTA applications is used to determine their eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of 38 countries, most of which are in Europe, to visit the United States without first obtaining a visitor visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.

To apply for an ESTA, you will need your passport number, country of citizenship, current country of residence and where you plan to stay in the U.S., plus answers to some questions about your travel plans while visiting the U.S.. Your application will be approved if it is determined that you do not pose a national security threat and that you meet all eligibility requirements for traveling under the VWP program. If your application is approved, you may use it as many times as necessary throughout your life.

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Travelers Enrolled in Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI are not Required to Apply for a Visa

Travelers enrolled in Global Entry, NEXUS and SENTRI are not required to apply for a visa when traveling from Canada by land or sea. However, these programs do require that an applicant undergo background checks and fingerprinting before enrollment can take place.

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities When Entering the United States

If you are traveling to or from the United States, you may pass through a CBP inspection station. It is important to understand your rights and responsibilities when entering the United States at these stations.

  • CBP Officers Have Certain Authorities

CBP officers have general law enforcement powers in addition to their immigration inspection authorities. These powers include:

The authority to question any person(s), including U.S. citizens, who may be seeking admission into or are present in the United States;

The authority to inspect, search, detain and seize property when at an authorized port of entry or exit;

The authority to conduct criminal investigations regarding violations of federal law that fall within their jurisdiction;

The authority to arrest persons who violate any law of the United States (including state laws) or any order made under it;

The authority to take custody of aliens who are unlawfully present.

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Tourist/Visitor Visas for Certain Foreign Nationals

The United States welcomes millions of foreign visitors each year. If you are visiting the U.S., you will need to know about the different types of visas that may be issued to you, how long they are valid for, and how much they cost. You may also need to apply for a visa if you want to come back to the U.S. after traveling outside of it.

The type of visa you use depends on your reason for travel and whether or not you have a family member in the U.S. A tourist visa is typically issued to people who want to visit family or friends, as well as people traveling for pleasure or business purposes. This type of visa is only good for six months, but it can be extended up to one year if needed by filing Form I-539 with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). The fee for an extension is $290 per person over 16 years old; children under 16 years old are free if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

A visitor visa is typically issued when someone wants to temporarily enter the country but does not intend on working, studying or staying permanently (i.e., applying for citizenship). These visas usually last between six months and one year but can be extended in certain circumstances.


If you plan on traveling to the United States make sure that you comply with the rules and regulations of US Customs. Be prepared by knowing what to expect from both US Customs and your airline when entering the US. Armed with this information you can be successful in crossing the border, and fly out happy for your vacation or business trip.

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