Before you board the flight, make sure you have everything in place.  Check for your visa, ensure that your passport is not expired, get your ticket booking confirmation, check in online (where possible), take a print of your boarding pass, get enough cash in change (like $1 bills, quarters, and travelers checks (if this is your first time)).

Airport security, luggage restrictions and what you can and cannot take on a flight have been changing frequently these days and if you are not alert – you could face unnecessary inconvenience.

Travelling to USA (first time or otherwise):

Photo by: ba1969

  1. 1205741_27111092Documents: You should always carry all your documents in a convenient laptop bag or a backpack.  This is THE most important piece of luggage that you will not check-in or otherwise lose sight of.  Keep the boarding pass, passport, visa documentation and the completed port of entry document (this will be given to you in the flight) handy.  By handy I mean accessible yet safe. If you cannot find a luggage cabin closer to you on the flight, keep the bag with documents with you (under the seat or tucked in the pouch in front of you).  It is important that you do not club your carryon luggage and documents in one bag as you may not be able to fit in carryon luggage under the seat and as we mentioned earlier – you should not lose sight of your documents bag – and it is important that you keep these separate. Photo by: ba1969
  2. Ticket:  Someone may try to buy tickets separately to save money.  For example, if you are flying from India to US, you may have been told that booking ticket to London (or wherever your changeover is) and London to US separately will save you money (and this is in some cases true).  However, what happens if your India to London flight gets delayed?  Since you did not book all of it together – if you miss your London to US flight, you will have to shell out money to buy another ticket.  Same thing holds true for local flights.  If your ticket is not booked from origin to destination the local flights may charge you extra for your luggage. Given the risks and costs associated, we always recommend you book your flight from origin to destination through one airline/booking agent.
  3. Luggage: The airline and the class in which you fly will determine your luggage restrictions. If you fly economy, most airliners have restricted the baggage to 1 check in, 1 carry on and 1 laptop bag.  For women, they can carry one purse in addition.  Each of these bags again have weight restrictions.  Most airlines allow 23 kgs (51 pounds) for check in, 8 kgs for carry on and most airlines do not check your laptop bag weight but some do (like Air India).  Check with the airline that you booked your ticket with in advance so that you can plan your packing.
  4. What to take?:  There are strict restrictions on what you can and cannot take on a flight to US.  You cannot take seeds, plants, raw meat, hazardous material or anything that could be construed as hazardous and items that are specifically prohibited.  You can, however, take fried seeds, plant based food, pickled meat, clothes, cosmetic items and host of other items.  Remember that most of these items can only be checked in.  If you pack them in carry on you could be asked to throw them away at the security checking.  Safe measure is always to keep clothes, electronic items (camera/phone/laptop) and documents in your carry on and laptop bags and everything else in checked in bag.
  5. Port of entry: After you land in US, you will be directed to the port of entry.  This is where you are asked few questions by the Immigration officer about your visit, where you are going to live in the US, how long do you intend to stay in US, nature of your business, what kind of work you do, how long have you been doing this work (if you are on work visa), how did you find out about the university (if you are on student visa) etc., There are no set questions and the immigration officer can ask you anything that relates to your visit, being prepared for at least above questions will help you be confident.  Verify before leaving the counter that your Form I94 as well as Customs form are stamped.
  6. Customs: After you have been cleared to enter into the US by the immigration officer, you will head straight to collect your luggage after which you will be going through customs.  Hand over the completed (and stamped) customs form to the officer and answer any questions you are asked.   Standard questions at the customs include:      Are you carrying any plant or animal products?
    Are you carrying any illegal or prohibited items?Purpose of visit to the US.
    Your final destination etc.,

    Sometimes customs officer may open your bags and inspect them, sometimes they don’t. Make sure you do NOT carry anything that is not allowed to avoid stressful situations.

  7. Shuttle/cab/public transportation to your destination:  Almost all major airports in USA have ‘help desks’.  Always take the airport approved cabs or shuttles.  If you want to use the public transportation, ask the help desk personnel.  If you do not know where the helpdesk is located, ask any flight counter personnel and they will help you.  There are clear signs all over the airports to the ground transportation too.  http://www.yellowcabusa.com/findataxi.php is a good source as well for cab services.
  8. CashAlways carry enough cash in small denominations ($1, $5, $10, $20).  You should always carry some quarters too in case you have to call someone at the airport (if it is your first time).  First timers should carry travelers checks as they are safe mode of carrying cash to a new place.   Please note that if you carry more than $10000 in total value to US, you may have to declare it on your customs form.