How to Preclear Immigration Before Flying to the US

Jul 11, 2019

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We all know the feeling: Stepping off a long-haul flight, tired, dazed and the last thing that’s wanted is filling out forms and lengthy immigration and customs queues.

Whilst that’s the reality for most when it comes to international travel — and particularly when heading to the US — there are ways of making the journey a bit easier and saving time and stress upon landing.

The single best thing to do for those who regularly travel to the US is sign up for Global Entry, which has saved me hours over my many trips to the US.

But even then, wouldn’t it be nice to arrive in the US and walk off the plane as if it had been a domestic flight? No passport checks and no queues.

Well, it’s possible — and there are a number of reasons why it can actually be quite attractive.

Preclearance of US immigration is possible from 15 locations in six countries around the world, including Dublin (DUB) and Shannon (SNN) in Ireland, Abu Dhabi (AUH) in the UAE and a number of airports in Canada. That means that US Customs and Border Protection staff are based in those locations and allow passengers to clear immigration before even stepping on board the aircraft.

Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

A well-known example is the British Airways business-class-only flight between London City (LCY) and New York (JFK), which stops in Shannon largely to get more fuel to make the journey against the jetstream to JFK. To mitigate the 45-minute stop, passengers are able to clear US immigration at Shannon and thus arrive into JFK as if they stepped off a domestic flight.

That BA service does not pick up passengers in Shannon (it doesn’t have the rights to do so), but anyone else flying from Shannon or Dublin also preclears US immigration before boarding their respective flight.

Whilst there may well be the same queues as you’ve seen at US airport entry points (the process and staff are exactly the same), it is arguably less stressful doing so before a long-haul flight.

I utilised preclearance recently when flying from Dublin to the US. Checking in at the American Airlines desk, I was given a notice, advising passengers that they need to expect up to an hour of queuing at the US immigration desks and thus should proceed to the US preclearance area no later than 90 minutes before the departure of their flight.

Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)
Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

Once through main security, it was a short walk to a boarding pass checkpoint and another luggage security check before entering the immigration hall.

Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

I experienced queues, but it didn’t look like it would take an hour. Given I have Global Entry, I was through in mere minutes.

Once I arrived in Chicago, I  walked off the plane into the departures area as if it had been a domestic flight — and was thus also be able to book a 90-minute connection. At most US airports, a 90-minute international to domestic connection is not possible, given the time it can take to clear immigration.

Combine the ability to preclear in Ireland with the fact that fares from Ireland to the US can often be much cheaper and that Aer Lingus offers good connections from UK regional airports to the US via Dublin, and suddenly that stopover in Ireland may make a whole lot of sense.

Featured photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy.

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