International travelers this year can expect to see some reductions in the usual red tape and general hassles. Some important gains already are in place, and others are coming.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last year that “Beginning in 2015, the United States intends to enter into negotiations in order to expand air preclearance operations to new locations.” That’s great news for U.S. travelers who like to visit foreign countries – and to come back to the U.S. with minimum hassle. The basic idea is simple: Instead of going through U.S. formalities on arrival, CBP places agents and facilities at foreign airports, where you typically have to arrive early and wait around, anyhow, so that when you arrive back in the U.S., you’re treated as a domestic arrival, without any processing at all.
Preclearance originated at Toronto Airport in 1952, and is currently available at 15 airports: Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto/Pearson, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg in Canada, plus Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas, Dublin and Shannon in Ireland, Aruba, Bermuda, and, most recently, Abu Dhabi.
In addition to easing the way for travelers on heavy traffic routes, preclearance allows airlines to fly nonstop from preclearance airports to smaller airports in the U.S. that don’t have their own CBP facilities. Charter airlines have used this feature to offer nonstop flights from Ireland to several small U.S. cities.
As far as I can tell, CBP’s current policy is to seek out any airport with 1) enough traffic to justify establishing and staffing a facility and 2) willingness to foot the full cost. I can think of several airports that might find this a good opportunity:
• London is obviously the key European departure city, and Heathrow the logical airport for preclearance. But the crowding and dispersal of Heathrow’s terminals pose a problem, and I can easily see Stansted as willing to pay to attract transatlantic service.
• Cancun and Cabo are obvious choices in Mexico.
• And preclearance at Toronto/Billy Bishop would make Porter even more attractive to U.S. travelers.
Preclearance is especially welcome by folks who don’t travel to foreign countries often enough to justify joining Global Entry.
Once before, India had announced it would provide tourist visas without the hassle of visiting a consulate or using a visa service, but this year the government says “for real.” On-arrival visas are now available at India’s key international airports to travelers with U.S. and Mexican passports. Apply and pay online (indianvisaonline.gov.in; $60) at least four days before arrival, receive authorization by email, print it and show it on arrival. Your passport should have at least six-month validity beyond your arrival date, and you should show a return or ongoing ticket. This is long overdue.
U.S. trusted travelers who belong to the Global Entry program for “fast track” entry can enroll in EasyPass, the German equivalent. You must first register at an enrollment center, currently available in Terminal 1 at Frankfurt Airport and in Terminal 2 at Munich Airport, with more coming. You need one of the newer electronic U.S. passports, with the imbedded RFID chip, and you must be 18 or older. Once enrolled, when arriving/departing to/from any country outside the Schengen area you can use the EasyPass gates currently available at Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich airports, presumably with more to come. As with Global Entry, EasyPass allows you to bypass the conventional lines, which can get to be very long at busy times.
The U.S. already has similar reciprocity arrangements with Canada, the Netherlands and South Korea for expedited entry into those countries. As with Germany, you have to apply separately; check the Goes enrollment website (www.goes-app.cbp.dhs.gov/main/goes) to enroll.
Enrollment in Global Entry costs $100 for five years, and the other programs assess fees, as well. Obviously, it’s hard to justify for occasional travelers. But if you make foreign trips even just once or twice a year, it looks attractive: In my last two returns to the U.S., I’ve sailed past some pretty long lines in the arrivals area of Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX.