Immigration and Customs - which country is better?

Discussion created by 0504traveller on Sep 20, 2014
Latest reply on Apr 22, 2016 by jerryl

We have all been travelling and seen the best and worst of airports, and have commented on all our experiences.  What about immigration and customs --- which country is better?  And which country needs to be avoided (if you can!)

I define better as being nice, efficient and quick, and overall a decent experience --- but you can define it how you want.  here is my top 3 good and bad...interested to hear your opinion (and i know some of this does depend on your visa and passport, but asking generally overall demeanor of immigration process)

The Good

1) New Zealand - the immigration and customs staff here are very nice and pleasant.  They ask you questions but not in a mean way. They are efficient and do their job but also remember that they are the first ambassador to their country so they are pleasant.  A decent experience.

2) U.K. - the reason I put the U.K. here is because one instance stands out in my mind.  I was standing in line at immigration and the line was going -- not quickly but not slowly either.  As i was in line I noticed signs that were up all over the place indicating that a threat had been made within the U.K. so the officers were on high alert.  Given that notice, I expected more security and more of a 'panic/high security/lockdown' environment akin to what I would find in the U.S. --- except that was not the case.  Everyone was calm and collected and all the officers seemed pleasant and efficient.  The officer that I got was smiling, joking, and very cheerful and was extremely pleasant.  I was very shocked, given the environment, the officers demeanor but it was a pleasant shock and started my UK visit on the right (and smiling) foot.

3) UAE - depending on your visa, you are allowed a 30-day visa on arrival when you enter the UAE.  I am on the list to get a voa and every time I have entered, the lines move quickly, there are many officers manning the desks, the staff are usually efficient, and the entire process takes no more than 15 minutes total!

The middle:

1) Australia - going through the lines is slow and painful and not efficient at all.  If there are 4 officers on duty, 3 of them will be assigned for the Australian/New Zealand passengers while 1 will be for all other passengers; completely inefficient.  Also, they are not the most pleasant people in the world.  Given all this, why put them in the middle?  Because if you have an updated passport that has the electronic signature on it (and you have been pre-approved for the visa), you can use the 'e-gates' and just have the passport and your face scanned and you are cleared to go through.  It takes about 5 minutes! (just note that if you wear glasses in your passport picture, then wear glasses when it does the scanning otherwise it wont match up --- no matter what the officer standing there says!)

The 'need improvement'

1) Morocco - as soon as we existed the plane at Casablanca International Airport, all the Moroccans ran to the immigration line.  It was really interesting but I was a bit taken back as to why they were running --- i later found out why.  There really was no designated line as people just got in to whatever line looked the shortest or where the rest of the family was.  There was a lot of pushing, shoving, and yelling amongst the crowds.  The immigration officers all looked very young and scared of the crowds, and were extremely inefficient.  Only after the main head of the immigration officers came out to control the lines was there any resemblance of order; and even then it was a faint resemblance.

2) Hong Kong - the reason I put HKG in here is because of the delays.  HKG has a lot of people coming through the airport and a lot of people are exiting so the lines are very long --- really really long.  They do have many counters open and lots of immigration officers working, but they were not efficient nor were they pleasant.  It was a slow moving line that got to me to a unhappy and unsmiling face --- not the best way to start my HKG experience

3) U.S. = I am sure everyone has their own stories about their experiences going through U.S. immigration.  A couple of years ago, a U.S. Business Council group came out and said that the immigration officers need to improve as 'passengers and customers of the U.S. were getting a bad first impression of the country' and thus was ruining the brand image of the U.S.  The reason I put the U.S. on the list is mostly due to their demeanor ---the immigration officers I have encountered (and not passing judgement on all immigration officers) but the ones that I have met have been rough, some disrespectful, and unpleasant.  I have yet to meet a smiling or pleasant U.S. immigration officer (i am sure they are out there, i just haven't met them or heard of anyone else meeting them either).  In the U.S. you are supposedly innocent until proven guilty, but the immigration officers make you feel guilty and you have to prove your innocence!  It has always been an unpleasant and disheartening experience.   On a more pleasant note, some of the lines during transit in U.S. airports are more efficient than the lines waiting to exist (but the officers have the same demeanor).

4) Saudi Arabia -- going through immigration and customs at Jeddah airport is a shear cluster-f*%k!  When I went, there were 5 international flights landing at the same time -- and each flight has about 150 individuals on it so we are talking over 750 individuals that are going through the immigration line.  Women only need to have their passport stamped so they go through somewhat quickly (by quickly I mean it takes them an hour or two to fight through the one line that is handling women).  Men need to be fingerprinted and scanned so all the men are crowded into 5 lines waiting for 2 immigration officers --- yes for over 500 people there are only 2 immigration officers who are the most inefficient officers I have seen.  It takes them 30-45 minutes to process one individual and then they would take a 30 minute break.  SERIOUSLY!!!!!  After waiting in line for 5 hours and being pushed, shoved, sneezed upon, having sweat being dripped over you, and being elbowed I gave up on the lines and the fighting crowds as we have moved NOWHERE in 5 hours.  Just then a foreign-only line had opened up for the incoming Lufthansa flight so I jumped into that line, which took another 1 hour.  Overall it took over 5 hours to clear immigration and customs, and talking to the passengers around me that was quick.  Some people had been waiting 8-10 hours to clear immigration.  It was seriously a bad experience and something I do not wish to repeat!

That was my lismt --- let me know your good and 'need improvements'.  And let me know if you agree or disagree with my list

Happy and safe travels