More than 1 million travelers pass through U.S. customs each day at airports, cruise ports or border crossings. The process is usually straightforward, especially for travelers who research the rules for entry. However, it does require paperwork and preparation, and can be stressful for people who have medical concerns or do not travel frequently.
Below are some helpful tips for U.S. citizens and international travelers. Entry into the United States is controlled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB). You can find more detailed information for different categories of travelers, including U.S. citizens, exchange students, Canadian and Mexican citizens, and international on the CPB website.
- Know if visas are required. It may seem obvious, but some travelers don’t think to ask if the country they plan to visit requires a visa for entry. In addition to visas, some countries require travelers to provide proof of immunizations. Travelers should check the rules for the country they plan to visit several weeks before traveling. In most cases, tourist visas require approval from an embassy or consulate of that country.The same advice applies for visitors who live outside the United States. Travelers whose home countries are part of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization program may not need a visa if they plan to stay in the Unites States less than 90 days. However, they will still need a passport from their home country. For a complete list of ESTA countries, click here.
- Learn the rules for food. Food restrictions are designed to prevent the transmission of diseases to domestic plants and animals from food brought into the United States from other countries. For that reason, all food products must be declared to customs officials. There are limits on fruits, meats and other products brought into the United States in suitcases or other bags, and some will receive close examination.
- Document the need for medicines and any medical supplies. Prescription medicines should be carried in their original containers, and patients should only travel with enough supply for their personal use. According to CBP, a good rule of thumb is to bring no more than a 90-day supply of any prescription medicine. Travelers who require medical supplies such as needles or oxygen tanks should also carry prescriptions for those items and contact the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to see if there are other rules for bringing those items on commercial aircraft.
- Watch your money. Travelers can bring any amount of currency (or travelers’ checks) that they want into the United States. However, they will be required to fill out additional forms, and face additional questions if they are traveling with $10,000 or more.
- Be prepared to fill out a customs form. The U.S. Customs Declaration form requires travelers to supply flight and passport information, and to report the total value of any items purchased outside the United States. Failure to declare items can lead to fines or penalties.
- Check wait times. Travelers can check estimated wait times at various points of entry through a link on the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website.
- Learn more about Automated Passport Control. This free program can expedite the customs process for eligible travelers, including U.S. and Canadian residents. These self-serve kiosks are available at some larger airports in the United States and Canada.
People who are not residents or citizen of the United States may receive more scrutiny from CBP agents. These travelers should expect to present a passport, customs declaration form and visa, if required. They should also expect to be fingerprinted and have their photograph taken for identity verification purposes. After picking up checked baggage, a CBP officer will ask to see their customs declaration forms and may ask to check their baggage.
How a Medical Escort Can Help
For elderly travelers, those who have underlying medical conditions, or those who don’t speak English, the customs process can create anxiety. SentinelMED offers medical escorts who can accompany travelers and help them navigate the complexities of long-distance travel. In addition, SentinelMED provides domestic and international medical transport and medical repatriation services for travelers who have more serious or complicated medical concerns.
These services can benefit travelers who suffer a serious injury or illness while far from home, as well as older adults who need assistance when traveling to visit loved ones in the United States. The SentinelMED team can arrange door-to-door transportation so these travelers can make the journey in safety and comfort.
The SentinelMED team understands the complexity of delivering exceptional care to patients who need assistance during travel. Please contact us to learn more about the services that SentinelMED offers or its staff.