people standing in front of a blue sign
epa04239230 A general view of the UK Border crossing in the new Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, 04 June 2014. The new terminal, expected to handle 20 million passengers, was build at the costs of 2.5 billion British pounds and will be home to 26 airlines. EPA/ANDREW COWIE

Please enjoy this cavity search, courtesy of your big mouth. Find us a person who enjoys going through immigration, and we’ll find you a liar. Even when you know you’ve got nothing to hide- there’s something scary about the serious people in uniform. To make sure you are able to collect another passport stamp, and not become a resident of a detention center- we’ve come up with a handy guide of five things that should never come out of your mouth at immigration…

a passport and boarding pass“Can I Borrow Your Pen”

Flight attendants are amongst the most touchy when it comes to the ole’ “may I borrow your pen”, but they will seem like cuddly teddybears when compared with asking an immigration officer. Maybe they just love their special pen, or maybe they are seriously tired of being asked – but either way you will not end up with a pen, you will end up in the back of the line, and if karma has its way with you, you’ll be sent back to the same officer – after the inevitably long wait, of course.

a man in a suit“Do I Look Like A Terrorist To You?”

It’s never fun feeling berated and interrogated by someone after a long flight, but please, pretty please just don’t give them the “do I look like a terrorist” line. Truth be told – terrorists sadly have many shapes, sizes and backgrounds these days so even though they may get the gist of what you’re saying, they absolutely will NOT find it amusing.

a large group of people in a terminal“Is It Always This Slow”…

We’re all looking to improve in life – but no one loves criticism. Things being slow implies that immigration officers aren’t swift with their jobs, or even worse- that national security isn’t of the utmost importance to you. So yeah, despite everything you’re feeling inside, or the fact that the inefficiency of most immigration operations is staggering (hello, two lanes for 5000 people) just don’t ask them if this painful process is standard. After all, if you’re a frequent traveler- you already know it is. Don’t give them a reason to make your long day of travelers longer.

a man and woman standing next to luggage“I Packed Most Of My Bag, But”…

What’s in the rest then?! Now- lying is not good, but if your mom helped packed your bag, just say you did. But seriously- pack your own bag. This question is designed to instantly separate sketchy travelers from the normal travelers, and anyone who didn’t pack their bag is infinitely more likely to be carrying contraband. For the love of God, please pack your own bag, so you can just say “yes, I packed it myself”. Otherwise, forever enjoy telling the story of that one time you got cavity searched.

a city street with cars parked on it“I Actually Don’t Know Where I’m Staying”…

Truth be told – most of immigration after landing is a formality. If the country was really worried about you, they wouldn’t have let you board the plane in the first place. With that said, there are quite a few things you can say- which will cast doubt on your admissability. Immigration just wants to know that there’s an address they can track you down- if they need to, for whatever reason. Figure out where you’re staying, even if it’s a friends place – get an address. This will avoid significant delays and painful interrogations.

a glass of pink liquid“I Came Here To Party”…

Again, we’re not advocating lying- but you’re just inviting a world of trouble, even if Tiesto is the only reason you came to this particular country. What do party people enjoy? Drugs and alcohol. What do customs prohibit – drugs. Being a “party person” can have you immediately flagged as someone who likely has drug residue on their belongings, which will lead to one of those (really cool actually) little drug test machines with the big beeps, after a swab of all your belongings. Go with “experience city life”, it sounds far more dignified.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Decades ago I was returning from a short business trip through Europe. We arrived back to the USA on a late night arriving flight from ZRH to EWR. I believe it was the last flight of the day and eveybody was yired and cranky.
    The first passenger on the line was asked the purpose of his trip and he explained he was a reporter. He was waived through.
    The next passenger also answered that he was a reporter. The Immigration officer asked if he really was and he admitted that he wasn’t. He was sent to a major search line.
    I was next and when I was asked the purpose of my trip I immediately stated “NOT A REPORTER” . I was quickly waived through!

  2. Many years ago, my Mom and I took our first trip abroad – a 2 month hitchhiking and backpacking journey through England and Scotland. Although we lived in Seattle, we flew out of/into Vancouver, Canada as the plane fare was much cheaper. Friends drove up to Canada to pick us up when we returned. We threw our bulging, dirty backpacks in the trunk of their car and the 4 of us headed for the border. We talked about how we’d be less than honest as to where we’d been – it was very late at night, and we knew if customs found out we were abroad for 2 months, it might cause a delay. Well, at the checkpoint, the immigration agent asked how long we’d been in the city. The 4 of us said, “Oh, just for the day, shopping.” I’m not sure how he knew, but he asked us to open the trunk, and there were our backpacks with UK airline tags. We were told to pull over, my Mom and I were interviewed separately – for quite some time – and, the worst part, they took everything out of our backpacks – dirty clothes and all. It was mortifying. We also got a stern slap on the wrist. I’ll never fib to an immigration agent again.

  3. Partying was never a problem, did this multiple times for weekend trips to Miami or New York.

    What you also should never say is that you are visiting your boyfriend / girlfriend or looking for work.

  4. About 10 years ago I got pulled into secondary at SFO. I Was intending to stay about 5 months at a mates (on a B2 visa) but had my snowboard bag with me and his PS4. They were convinced I was coming to work illegally. 3hr wait and then interviewed by 4 immigration officers. Ended up being refused 5 months but was given 3 months entry. They then told me I could appeal the decision if I wished. Coming to the end of my 90 days I sent off paperwork for a 2 month extension, (which also got refused) but the appeal took 30 days and they then gave me 30 days to leave USA, so I ended up with my 5 months anyway. Managed to dodge the cavity search but was definitely not a good experience. About 12 months later was going to USA again via JFK but travelling with my gf who worked for the UN…went through the diplomatic channel without so much as a look in the eye!

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