Master the CBP Officer Interview – What Will He Ask?

Petr Novák

The USA entry interview with a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer is mandatory for all foreign nationals. It doesn’t matter whether they entered the country on an ESTA or a visa. The interview usually takes no more than five minutes, and it is conducted at the first USA airport where you land. In this article, you’ll learn how the interview works and the questions the immigration officer typically asks.

Immigration check in the USA | © Petr Novák

Table of Contents
  1. Basic Advice for the USA Entry Interview
  2. What the USA Immigration Officer Asks
  3. What Happens After the USA Entrance Interview
  4. Frequently Asked Questions About the USA Immigration Interview

Basic Advice for the USA Entry Interview

The entry interview is conducted at the first airport in the USA before the customs check. For instance, if you’re flying the Paris – New York – Dallas route, you’ll be interviewed in New York.

The interview is designed to prevent individuals suspected of intending to work illegally in the USA or engage in other activities that the USA government disapproves of from entering the country. The basic rule of immigration interviewing is: Tell the truth.

You might spend dozens of minutes waiting for an immigration interview. You can find out the actual length of the line at Customs and Border Protection. You can help yourself get to the front of the queue by asking for a seat at the front of the plane when you check in. At some airports, you can choose the interviewer, while at others, one is assigned to you.

Approach the officer with a smile on your face and be friendly. Nervousness is unnecessary and could raise suspicions. There’s really no need to be stressed. The interview usually takes place in a fairly relaxed atmosphere. For example, I was once asked by an immigration officer, with an apparently serious face, if I was going to catch Pokémons in the USA.

Hand the officer a passport and a completed customs form filled out on the plane.

What the USA Immigration Officer Asks

The questions asked during the USA entry interview are typically the same. It’s not an interrogation; the officer merely needs to determine the purpose of your travel to the United States. Respond in English:

1️⃣ What Is the Purpose of Your Trip?

I am a tourist, I want to travel around the United States.

2️⃣ Where Will You Stay in the USA?

I have booked a room at a Travelodge Hollywood motel.

3️⃣ Do You Know Anyone in the USA, Do You Have Any Relatives Here?

I don’t have any relatives here and I don’t know anyone in the USA.

4️⃣ What Is Your Occupation?

I am a sales representative for ABC in Paris. We sell sportswear.

5️⃣ When Are You Going Back to France, Have You Bought a Return Ticket?

I have a return ticket, I leave next Saturday.

6️⃣ How Much Money Do You Have with You, Do You Have a Credit Card with You?

I have $100 in cash and much more in my bank account.

7️⃣ How Many Times Have You Been in the USA?

Several times, I’ve been to New York, Los Angeles, and Hawaii.

8️⃣ What Are Your Plans for the USA?

I’m planning a road trip to San Francisco. I’m mainly interested in the national parks.

What Happens After the USA Entrance Interview

After the officer asks a series of questions, they will take your picture and fingerprint you. If everything is in order, the officer will stamp your passport with an entry stamp and you can proceed to pick up your bags. Individuals under suspicion are either taken for a more thorough interview (Secondary Inspection) or are flown home immediately.

If you’re not flying to the USA on a visa, ensure you complete the ESTA registration promptly.

Frequently Asked Questions About the USA Immigration Interview

I am traveling to the USA with my family/friends. Can we attend the immigration interview together?

Request the officer to interview you at the same time. This is typically not a problem.

At which airport will the immigration interview for the USA take place?

The interview is always conducted at the first airport in the USA. If you are flying from London to San Diego via Los Angeles, the interview will take place in Los Angeles.

Do I have to go through an entry interview in the USA if I’m just changing planes at the airport?

Yes. Even if you are merely transferring to another flight in the USA, you must go through the interview.

I don’t speak English. How should I handle the USA entrance interview?

Don’t worry, many people face this situation. The proven advice is: Seek assistance from someone who speaks English and jot down the answers to the questions together. Include a note stating that you don’t speak English, print the paper, and present it to the immigration officer at the interview. And at the very least, learn to say hello in English. :-)

What is the minimum time I need to allow for a transfer if I have a USA immigration interview?

The time varies depending on the size of the airport, the need to change terminals, and the length of the immigration line. The minimum time at a smaller airport is around 1 hour. However, at a large airport, where you might wait in line and change terminals, even 2 hours may not be sufficient. Your transfer can be expedited if you travel with only hand luggage.

If I don’t pass the interview and they send me back home, who pays for the ticket?

The airline you flew with to the USA covers your return ticket to your point of departure. Therefore, some airlines employ a security agent to conduct pre-interviews at high-risk airports. This practice is common, for example, in Amsterdam.

If you are denied entry into the USA, you won’t be entitled to a refund for your ticket, accommodation, or other expenses.

Do I have to show a printed ESTA-approved registration at immigration?

No, the immigration officer can see your status in the system. However, some airlines require an approved ESTA. I recommend taking a screenshot of your registration number, emailing it to yourself, and saving it to your phone.

I don’t have a return ticket from the USA back home. Will this matter during the immigration interview?

It does not automatically mean you will be denied entry into the USA. However, be prepared to answer questions about when and how you plan to return home.

Discussion (4)

Hi, Peter,

first of all, thank you very much for all your answers! I’ll be studying in Washington for six months and I’m planning a layover in NY (JFK, 8 hour wait). Do you know where immigration control takes place? Already in NY or when in Washington and possibly how long it takes. I will have a student visa.

I have a second layover option with a 3 hour wait, I would choose that if I can’t leave the airport, but I’m thinking at least a peek at NY would be great.

I’ve never been to the USA so I don’t know how it works. Thanks!


Hey, John,

The interview takes place as you leave the airport to enter U.S. soil. If you want to go to New York for eight hours (not much, but at least something), be prepared that the checkpoint itself will take about 5-10 minutes. The other issue is the line for it, which is impossible to estimate.

Once you enter the US for the first time, you’ll get a permit and then you’re free to move around (i.e. even into Washington).


Hey, Peter and everybody,
my cousin and I would like to go to the USA for at least half a year, maximum a year, to learn the language, to work there (to do almost any job), to travel and most importantly to experience a good time and something new, to gain experience… Unfortunately, we are no longer students, so we can’t do it through Work & Travel. Do you have any experience with a work visa? We don’t want to go cheap and we know we won’t just get it… (I know, you’re telling yourself that we can experience adventure everywhere else that doesn’t require a visa, but if you’ve been there, I think you get the idea:) Or don’t know how else to get there legally?
Thank you in advance for your reply and have a nice day :)


Hey, Nicole,
there are quite a few programs for non-students offered by various student organizations. Try looking into it and maybe you’ll find one – the advantage is that they do most of the formalities for you.

I wish it works out for you! :)


Contribute with Your Question or Personal Experience

Add a comment

Please read the article and preceding comments before posing any questions. I personally review all new comments and promptly remove any advertisements, spam, or offensive content.

Save on Car Rentals in the USA