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Interesting encounters with the customs service

On my recent trip I had two interesting encounters with the customs service, firstly in the USA and then Australia.

Firstly the USA. While it’s not unusual for border protection in the USA to seem to act strangely I think they out did themselves this time. For the first time I was entering the USA via ship and at a territory (US Virgin Islands). This necessitated a face to face meeting with a customs agent on the ship. Nothing overly unusual there but I needed to bring a paper copy of my ESTA and fill out a I94-W form. I had thought the the ESTA had consigned the I94-W to history but it appears not if you are traveling by ship. Also it seems that the customs service doesn’t do mobile data as you need to appear with a paper copy of your ESTA. No idea how they determine that it’s legit but maybe that’s why they need the I94-W too.

Now in theory I’m in the USA and the ship continues its journey to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. You would think that customs in US Virgin Islands was sufficient but it would appear not as now we go through the passport check and the usual photograph and finger print fun and games. At least we do until we’re running late and then it reverts to a simple flash of the passport. Not sure how this is securing the borders, if they thought the finger print and photo was necessary for some but not all foreigners.

Next up Australia. I’ve just returned to Australia via Perth Airport. I have an e-passport so I can use the SmartGate and it looked like it might be quicker, queues for both the kiosks and the agents. Anyway I queued for the kiosk. On inserting my passport it asks if I’ve been to Africa, Caribbean, Central or South America. Well I’ve been to them all on this trip so what next? Well now it presents a list of countries and regions asking if I’ve been to any. Clearly a Yellow Fever test. I scan the list while the system nags me about answering the question. I spot an Argentine province I’ve visited so answer yes. SmartGate tells me I need to seek out the information desk. On obvious sign where that is so I head to the agent line before all the people arriving from Bali or Dubai descend on it. Get to the agent and present my form, passport and immunisation booklet, which he ignores. Only question asked was whether my travel to Brazil (country most time spent in) was business or pleasure. I’m now waved through and the next person wants to know about the food I’m carrying. Clearly they happy with my answer as they notate my card and I proceed to collect the checked bag. Now onto the next queue where I think the positive answer to both the “have I been to Africa, Caribbean, Central or South America” question and the one about “have I been in a wilderness area” would get some further questions. Apparently not as I’ve waved through to the exit unlike the 3 people in front of me. Got to wonder why those questions are there if no action (or even questions) is taken.

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