I’ve done customs right, and I’ve done it wrong. Wrong is no fun for anyone. So here’s my quick guide to “right”
- Look like your ID
Remove your hat, glasses, or anything else on your head before or as you approach The Agent. If you’ve changed your look substantially, have another government-issued photo ID or two handy so they can get a wider perspective on you.
- Do not initiate anything
Answer the questions asked, then shut the hell up. Here you want to be as forgettably ordinary as possible. Don’t lead with funny. You may reply with humor or ask questions ONLY if The Agent has opened the space first.
- Keep it simple
If there is something that you can present in more than one way, stick to the most brief, comprehensible, & common answer. Your goal here is to sound like just another [fill-in-the-blank]. You’re not the droid they’re looking for.
- Know where you’re staying
The Agent will want a physical address (without you powering up any devices). Couchsurfers beware! Just jot down the address of a hostel in that city beforehand, you don’t have to stay there. This is mostly so the government can track you down in the event that someone on the plane had ebola or swine flu or something.
- Have your documents printed
Paper folded is fine, paper crumpled is okay, electronic is bad-bad-bad! No documents means no entry.
- Look professional
My A/B testing in western countries has proven (to me) that a suit coat or something vaguely business-ish actually does help make things go faster.
- Be & look confident
When there are only a handful of people in front of you in line, that’s the time to wipe off any sweat, breathe deep, & think of something inspiringly awesome! You are so cool.
- Engage your authentic, preemptive smile
Okay, this is your director talking: “You’re happy! Not too happy, but grateful to be nearing the end of this leg of the protagonist’s journey, and honestly glad to be arriving to the country you are now entering. The agent is simply a helpful formality to make your entry official. By the way, the role of Customs Agent will played by a seasoned character actor today, a true professional. Alright, ready? …and action!”