The Fastest Way Through Customs Is With Your Phone
A sign for the Mobile Passport app at Chicago's O'Hare Airport
What if we told you there is a way (a completely free way) to bypass the lines at immigration and customs when re-entering the U.S. at select airports—and all you needed was your smartphone?
The secret is no secret at all, but a downloadable app available to both iPhone and Android users via theApple App Store and Google Play Store that allows users to enter their passport and travel information, submit it electronically, and generate a receipt to show at customs and immigration checkpoints. It's calledMobile Passport and its technology eliminates the need for traditional forms and line waits. The catch is...there is no catch. The app, launched in 2014 by Airside Mobile and Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) in partnerships with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), is free to download and free to use. Entirely separate from the paid Global Entry program, Mobile Passport boasts a speed and ease that has Global Entry users eating its dust.
For now, use of the Mobile Passport app is limited to U.S. citizens holding a valid U.S. passport, as well as Canadian citizens with a valid Canadian passport. Five airports are currently a part of the program: Atlanta (ATL), Miami (MIA), Seattle (SEA), Chicago (ORD), and San Francisco (SFO). The goal is to have at least 20 airports accepting the app over the next year.
Once the app is on your phone, there's nothing left to do until your plane lands back on U.S. soil at one of the participating airports. When you turn off "airplane mode," open the app, complete the steps, and you'll have your immigration and customs clearance ready before even stepping off the aircraft. The profile includes the traveler’s name, gender, date of birth, and country of citizenship. According to CBP, the process is simple (a claim we can vouch for): travelers complete the “New Trip” section by selecting their arrival airport and airline, take a selfie, and answer a series of custom declaration questions. Once the traveler submits the form through the app, the traveler will receive an "electronic receipt with an Encrypted Quick Response (QR) code," which expires four hours after issuance. Travelers then bring their passport and mobile device with their digital bar-coded receipt to a CBP officer to finalize their inspection and be welcomed back into the United States. Voilà.