At the first USA airport, travelers must complete a USA entry interview with an immigration officer. It doesn’t matter if they are traveling on a visa or a ESTA travel registration. In the vast majority of cases, the interview concludes with an entry permit. In the discussion below, you will find authentic experiences and insights from readers about the immigration interview process.
Your Experience With the USA Immigration Interview
I am very grateful for any experience you have had with the USA entrance interview. Feel free to post them in the comments below the article, just be sure to include the airport and when the interview took place.
For information about the interview process, questions to ask, and other advice, see immigration control in the USA.
The reader comments below have not been edited; the text does not reflect the opinion of the site operator. 😊
Thomas, November 3, 2022
“Hi, I’ve traveled to the USA countless times (estimated 20 times). The entrance interview varies from airport to airport. Advice to all: If you have no illicit intentions and plan to do in the USA what you declared on your ESTA, they will always let you in.
To the travelers who have poor English or are deterred by a language barrier: don’t worry about it. Asians with no knowledge of the language visit relatives there, for example, and they pass too. Sometimes customs officials will joke with you, give you travel tips, or even ask you about your work and family.
The people they select for additional inspection are chosen based on criteria like the last country visited or some internal risk characteristics. If you meet these, you are unlucky. But even that can be managed.
I also have an unpleasant personal experience with entering the USA. I was crossing the border from Canada back into the USA. We traveled a beautiful back country road that ended with a crossing into the USA. The customs or ICE officer asked me what I was doing there. I started telling him what else I wanted to see in the USA (we were flying home from NYC in a few days), but he was asking why I was at that particular place.
I told him I wanted to enter the USA. He asked why I wasn’t driving on the highway. I told him the truth, that I was taking pictures of the scenery and covered bridges, and that if it was a problem for me to cross the border here, I would go wherever he directed. That annoyed him enough that we spent another half hour there. Throughout a very uncomfortable interrogation, it is important to remain calm and answer truthfully. In the end, he confiscated my bread and butter, where we still had peppers to snack on (not to be transported), and we could continue.
It was unpleasant but did not deter me from traveling. The customs officer technically did nothing wrong. He was likely a local, so he saw me as a foreigner as a potential threat. I wish everyone the best of luck with people.”
Roman, June 2, 2021
“June 2019, flight from Prague to Chicago, ESTA, 89-day stay.
Off the plane, I was directed to a traditional counter where they took my fingerprints.
A couple of quick questions and all was okay. However, the clerk was unable to take a print of my right thumb, and after about 6 minutes of trying, he muttered, ‘What the hell is wrong with you, man?’ and told me to step aside and wait. I still don’t know if it was a prearranged drill, or if he really couldn’t take a print. After a few minutes, an officer approached, and I was taken to a side room where about 30 other people were waiting.
I, being a white guy from Kladno, was pretty scared. After an hour of waiting (no one said anything to me), I took out my phone to inform my friend that I might not make the connecting flight. However, 10 seconds after pulling out the phone, a policeman warned me to put the phone away immediately, stating that phone use was not allowed there.
After another hour, an officer came in, took me to a side office, and started a roughly 15-minute interview with the standard questions.
He asked about my travel plans, occupation back in the Czech Republic, who paid for my trip, where I would be staying, how much money I had, and how much was on my card. Then he asked me to unlock my phone and leave it with him. Another 15 minutes later, the same round of questions (I guess he was trying to catch me in a lie). Finally, my phone was returned to me with the words ‘Remember, no jobs in the USA, only tourism’. Then I was dismissed. After that, a nice lady was waiting for me with spare tickets. In the end, everything was great. But I don’t think I’ll go via Chicago next time, just to be safe.”
Tonda, February 20, 2020
“I’ll share my February 2020 interview experience at LAX. After arriving and standing in line for about 30 minutes, we got to the kiosks (second time on ESTA).
After filling out the CBP info, taking a picture, and getting fingerprinted, it printed out our passes and we had another 30-minute wait in line. At the end of it, there were only three workers. Observing the lengthy process with the people in front of me, I was a bit worried.
When our turn came, we went three at a time. I just handed him three passes, three tickets from the kiosk. He looked at them for about 10 seconds, didn’t ask us any questions, put stamps on the tickets (he didn’t put any in the passports and kept the tickets), and wished us a nice holiday. It was surprisingly straightforward. So, again, all was OK.”
Jirka, August 30, 2019
“I was in New York last December with my wife and daughter for 5 days. The immigration interview took place at JFK and was over before I could even process that it was an immigration interview. There was already an airport worker at the entrance to a hall who was constantly directing, dividing, hurrying, guiding, … ensuring there was no congestion.
Within about 10 minutes, I found myself in front of a uniformed official who asked me how much money I had, how long I was going to stay, where I was staying, and if it was my first time. At the end, he asked me to put my fingers on the scanner and my face to the scanner. That was all. Five minutes later, we were sitting in an Uber and another 40 minutes later, we were checking into an AirBnB in Bushwick.”
René, June 24, 2019
“Hello, we flew from Vienna to LA on May 27, 2019, for a three-week road trip in the parks. We didn’t fill out the customs declaration form on the plane. At the airport, there are kiosks where you scan your passport, take fingerprints, and snap a photo. You have to answer a few Yes/No questions (I wish I could remember what they asked …).
However, there were about five of them. If you are a married couple, you can use one kiosk (the organizer at the kiosks even encourages this directly). Although there were three of us, my friend had to use a separate kiosk. Passports and fingerprints are scanned separately for each person. If you encounter a problem, there is helpful assistance available. A slip is printed from the kiosk and presented to the immigration officer. Then the couple reunited.
The officer takes fingerprints and photos again. All he asked us about was our plans in the USA. We then proceeded to the suitcase check (x-ray) and were asked if we had food (mainly meat and vegetables). He showed us pictures to check if we were carrying any. He didn’t mention dried items (like candy bars, chocolates, etc) at all. Oh, and they wanted to see our ESTA at the airport in Vienna when we were checking in our luggage.”
Jirka, May 24, 2018
“Before my trip to the USA, I read numerous articles and discussions. I was quite worried about the interview, etc. However, I returned yesterday and I must say, my worries were unnecessary.
Generally, I was pleasantly surprised by the willingness of people in the USA to help, and the politeness of everyone we encountered, including road drivers. The same applies to immigration officials; we faced no problems. I was slightly surprised that he wanted a printed accommodation certificate. I happened to have one, but I don’t think it’s obligatory. Therefore, I recommend printing it out, unless you already know where you’re going to stay.
I showed them the first accommodation I had booked through Airbnb since I arranged the rest while I was in the USA. Then, they asked to see my cash, credit card, took a photo, scanned my finger, and that was it. From the moment we got off the plane to when we were finished, it only took about 10 minutes. We might have been lucky that another plane wasn’t just arriving – it was a little after 2 pm though, so I was quite surprised that no one was there. Everyone, enjoy your holiday and don’t worry … no one is going to be harsh with you.
PS: My English knowledge is quite basic, and it was mostly not a problem. If a more complicated matter arose, my daughter would step in to help.”
Tomas, May 19, 2018
“I recently immigrated to LA with my wife: First, a small paper form was handed to us by the staff while we were still in the arrivals hallway, which we filled out together.
Then, everyone was directed to an electronic kiosk with a screen (everyone fills in individually – a few yes-no questions, automatic photo, fingerprints) – a ticket of sorts is printed out (for both of us with a big cross), then we had to wait in line for about 1.5 hours (an incredible number of Asians everywhere), then we proceeded to immigration. The officer was quite relaxed, he wanted to see the paper form and the ticket and asked a few questions – where we were going, where we would be staying the first night, what our professions were and how much cash we had, and then took another photo and fingerprints.
He marked the ticket and we handed it to another official just before the exit after collecting our bags.”
Ivana, May 18, 2018
“Hello, I have a very recent experience. My friend and I approached the immigration officer at JFK in NYC together and no one even attempted to stop us. There was a group of about five people in front of us and they were also walking together (they weren’t family), so I guess it depends on the officer. My friend doesn’t speak English and I only speak a little. Essentially, they didn’t ask for anything. He just asked when we would be returning and gave us a stamp valid for 90 days.”
Lucie, April 8, 2018
“In 2015, I visited the USA for the first time and flew to New York via JFK. The interview went smoothly; the officer attended to my boyfriend and me at the same time, but I had to convince him because only family members or spouses are allowed together.
In 2017, we traveled to LA with six people. My boyfriend and I were initially frightened by the ticket machine because the others had a cross over their photo and we didn’t (or was it the other way around? I can’t quite remember). My partner and I went together for the check-in, where they asked us the usual questions – why we were there, how long we would stay, where we would be going. Thankfully, I had printed out the documents from the hotels, the car, and the return ticket, which I presented to the officer right away and we were out in no time :)
So far, no one has questioned me about my job or employment. We are flying again in a few days, this time to Chicago, and I hope the journey will be smooth once again.”