8 Ways to Quickly Get Through Customs

Most, if not all, of us have heard customs stories where travelers get held up or are made to wait for hours to get through the customs process. None of us want to go through this, but to minimize your chances of an issue, you’ll need some insider information. If you want to quickly breeze through customs, you’re in the right place. We’ll share how to get through customs faster in eight steps.  

1. Get Your Forms Ready in Advance 

When it comes to getting through customs faster, preparation is key. At some point during the customs process, you will be asked to provide the necessary documentation, whether it be a customs declaration or some type of immigration form. For instance, if you’re returning to the U.S. after an international trip, you’ll have to complete the CBP Declaration Form 6059B, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.   

Keep in mind that other countries have their own regulations regarding customs documentation. So, it’s crucial to review your destination country’s website to find out which forms you’ll need to complete. 

Regardless of the required forms, be sure to have them completed before you step foot into that customs line. Sometimes, you’ll be able to get your forms completed online – that’s even better. Either way, having all your ducks in a row will reduce your chances of being held up in customs.   

2. Have a Pleasant Disposition 

It’s easy to get out of character during the customs process. You’re dealing with one or more things at any moment – exhaustion from the trip, impatience from the long wait, annoyance with the laundry list of questions, or the anxiety of someone going through your things. It may not be the most pleasant experience.  
But if you lose your composure, you could be dealing with further delays or even be taken into custody. Do yourself a favor and keep a pleasant disposition for your own good.   



3. Get Rid of Prohibited Items Before Getting in Line  

Before you even think about going to customs, offload any prohibited items. The official list of prohibited items varies based on the country, but here are a few items that are restricted in the U.S. as imports or exports:  

  • Absinthe 
  • Soil (without a permit)  
  • Fruits and vegetables  
  • Fish and wildlife  
  • Certain meat products  
  • Illegal drugs 
  • Undeclared medications 

If you’re found to have a prohibited item in your possession, several things could happen, including detainment, long waits, fines, and confiscation of the item(s).  

4. Get in the Customs and Immigration Line Quickly 

You’re not the only one on your flight who needs to go through customs. When you get off the aircraft, you and other passengers will be making a beeline to customs. And the quicker you get there, the closer you'll be to the front of the line. So, unless you absolutely need to, try not to stop for a rest, go for a quick bite, or even stop for a bathroom break. Go straight to the customs and immigration line. Doing so will drastically shorten your wait. 

Here are a few other things you can do to get to customs quicker:  

  • Sit near the front of the plane. You’ll be one of the first to be deplaned.  
  • Have your travel documents in hand so you won’t have to waste time rummaging through your bags.   
  • Research the airport’s layout before landing to find out where the customs line will be. This can be useful for airports that don’t have very clear signs.  

5. Be Direct in Your Answers to Customs Officers 

At some point during the customs process, you’ll be asked questions. Here are some of the most common ones to expect:  

  1. What is the purpose of your trip?  
  2. How long will you be staying? 
  3. Where will you be staying?  
  4. Do you have anything to declare?  
  5. What do you do for work?  

The biggest tip to keep in mind is to be specific and honest. For instance, if you’re asked about the purpose of your trip, “chilling out” probably wouldn’t be the best answer. Vague answers like these can slow the process down, as they could prompt customs officers to ask additional questions for clarification or to quell suspicions.   

6. Keep a Paper Trail  

Will you need to pay duty on purchases you’ve made or gifts you’ve received during your trip? Getting to the answer can take time if you haven’t kept a proper paper trail. To expedite the process, keep all your receipts during your trip and have them ready during the customs process.  

7. Skip the Farm 

We’ve got nothing against animals or crops, but if you go to the farm abroad, you could be held up in customs. Before letting you through, customs officers will have to clean your shoes to reduce the risk of illnesses and invasive species being brought to the U.S. Not going to a farm abroad will make the customs process go a bit quicker for you.  

8. Leverage Trusted Traveler Programs 

If you take many overseas trips and want to minimize your time in customs, look into trusted traveler programs like SENTRI, TSA PreCheck, or NEXUS. They are all designed to get you through the customs line without a fuss, saving you time and frustration. You’ll need to do some pre-screening to qualify for these programs, but many find the time savings well worth it. To learn more, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.  

Note: Airports have fast-track programs to help you get through customs quicker. Some passengers gain access to them because they fly first class or business class. But other airports let you buy into the program for a fee. Call or search up the airport online to learn about any fast-track programs they may have. 

How Long Customs Takes 

For those who do not know, it usually takes about 15 minutes to get through the customs line on a typical day. But if you are going to a particularly popular airport (or any airport on a busy day), you could be in line for 40 minutes or much longer. And if you are unprepared or in violation of customs regulations, it could be much, much longer. Your best bet is to follow the above tips and prepare for the process.  

So, there you have it – how to get through customs without delay. Though there is no way to ward off every issue, doing all you can to avoid slowing things down yourself can make a huge difference. We hope you found all the information you were looking for, and we wish you a quick and easy customs experience for your next international trip.  


“Know before You Go.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you go#:~:text=Each%20individual%20arriving%20into%20the,the%20Sample%20Customs%20Declaration%20Form. Accessed 9 Apr. 2024.  

Lewis, Charlie. “How to Get through Customs and Immigration as Fast as Possible.” Lifehacker, 13 Sept. 2022, lifehacker.com/how-to-get-through-customs-and-immigration-as-fast-as-p-1849529966.  

“Prohibited and Restricted Items.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/prohibited-and-restricted-items. Accessed 9 Apr. 2024.  
“Trusted Traveler Programs.” U.S. Customs and Border Protection, www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs. Accessed 9 Apr. 2024. 

AXA already looks after millions of people around the world

With our travel insurance we can take great care of you too

Get AXA Travel Insurance and travel worry free!

Travel Assistance Wherever, Whenever

Speak with one of our licensed representatives or our 24/7 multilingual insurance advisors to find the coverage you need for your next trip.