Angry at Customs Agents

April 2, 2013

in Airport Stories

I have flown abroad many times and have repeatedly noticed that the US customs agents are by far the most unfriendly and rude.

I recently returned to the US from Barcelona via Montreal. In Montreal, we had to change planes and were thus required to go through customs. We had no problem getting through the Canadian customs. However, it took us 45 minutes to get through US customs, mostly because only two (and at times only one) agents were actually working. I saw two agents engaged in a personal conversation and three agents walking around with their hands in their pockets. The one agent who was actually manning the “passport booth” did not offer a greeting since he too was involved in a personal conversation with another agent who was lounging in the booth with him. He did finally look up long enough to tell me that I could have bypassed the long line and gotten into the US citizen’s line (which was not marked).

Our tax dollars at work…? I can only imagine how badly our country is portrayed to foreigners entering the US thanks to our unfriendly, rude and lazy customs agents.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

latj2000 April 3, 2013 at 3:48 am

Too true – I had an US customs agent YELL at me – without even a hello – because I didn't know I had to fill in two different forms. I only had one to give him, and he scolded me like a headmaster. Jerk.


mrsjamiecbaker April 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

I've left and reentered the United States twice in my life. The best experience was when I went on a Carnival cruise (amazing experience all around!) but the other was flying to and from Venezuela with my family. My pre-911 experience was smooth, although a bit scary when entering Venezuela once we left the airport and had our car and luggage searched.
My family has come and gone from the States many times and they have reported that their experiences with our customs agents have steadily declined. Unfortunately, this seems to be a trend all over, from airports to fast food to retailers to insurance agents. Instead of pasting on a fake smile (or better yet, a real one) and putting the customer first, people act as though the person they are serving is annoying them with their presence.
My family DID notice an improvement once they obtained dual citizenship and were considered part of the country, which is great for them but reflects very poorly on us. :-\


aspqrz April 5, 2013 at 6:27 am

Every time I have flown to the US, as a non-citizen, the Immigration and Customs agents have been fine … they're not my friends, and I don't expect them to treat me as one of theirs, or use the always false seeming "have a nice day" that seems to be ubiquitous in the US, but they were always professional. Some of the time the queues were quite long (longer for non US citizens, of course, as is only expected), but they processed people as quickly as they could. I've only been stopped by Customs Agents twice, both randomly – the first time they asked me to open my bag and did a cursory visual search and the second they only asked a couple of questions about the contents of my luggage before waving me through.

If you want useless Immigration and Customs agents, visit Australia! There's at least a 50:50 chance of getting caught in massive queues … and there's not always a special line for us Aussies, either, so you can (and do!) get caught behind someone with a complex passport or immigration issue and wait … and wait … and wait … then you have to run the gauntlet of Customs, and they're much the same. If you get flagged, there's about a 50:50 chance of them being surly and unhelpful … or efficient and professional. Luck of the draw … but it's generally a pleasure to go through someone else's Border (even Russia was friendlier!) than it is to come back home (or even *leave*).

I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder.


Gregg April 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm

This story is noted in the blog, The Sanity of a Mad Woman, owned by Jamie Baker (she also posted one of the comments above). Her piece, which discusses the importance of providing good customer service, can be read here: Can I Help You?.


Stories April 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Better than going to countries like Indian where they pestered you for gifts.


Mike April 16, 2013 at 6:08 am

I travel internationally frequently. Although I have encountered the occasional rude CBP agent (just like the occasional rude server, occasional rude flight attendant, etc.), for the most part I've found them to be professional and courteous!


Joe April 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Flying back from St Croix to Miami, (both US territory/State) I was surprised to note that we had to not only go through security, but also full customs inspection/interview.

Nice lady in the only open line was scooting my family through quickly with only a question or two and a friendly smile.

Suddenly, a new agent opened a parallel line, and barked out 'next". First things she asked me was the usual where did you stay, was it business or pleasure, etc. Looking at my US driver license she said in a pretty harsh tone "this does NOT tell me where you were born".

I had carefully read the required documents for travel to and from US Virgin islands, and for US citizens, ONLY a valid license is required. I told her that I did have my passport with me.
She demanded to see that as well, and then barked out " this is not a valid passport"

I have only had it a year, so I knew it was good til 2022. WTF? I did not know what to make of her glaring at me, but in a few seconds she then said, "you didn't sign it, so it's not valid".

I dutifully signed the passport, and she grudgingly gave the license and passport back to me. Then we started playing 20 questions, ending up with "do you have any seafood or native shells from ST Croix."

I did have one shell I picked up on a beach, which I hadn't though would be an issue, so I told her about it. She got even more frustrated when I was trying to find the shell in my carry on, and finally just waved me through.

I am still trying to guess whether the whole thing was an act to get me nervous, or whether she was just tired of dealing with older white guys from the mainland who were just there for beach and snorkeling.

Can't be easy being a customs person, but what if I didn't have my passport ready? They also confiscated my 1.5 inch long mini-leatherman, in spite of me telling security that the hartford TSA agents had no issues with it.

Word to the wise for Virigin Island travelers: Don't assume that anything you read on the TSA website will be honored, and carry your passport.


qaminante May 8, 2013 at 8:25 am

Just for the record, this is NOT about Customs, but about IMMIGRATION (passport) controls. "Customs controls" relate to goods, whether imported comemercially or by travellers – which is why Customs red and green channels are always placed after baggage collection, so as to cover all items passengers are carrying with them. Immigration controls persons, and is located before baggage claim area. It is possible for border guards to combine both funcions but this is never the case at major airports, and I can't understand why people confuse the two. You would think they would notice the signs!


Krista May 24, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Moroccan agents are grumpy, move slowly as they are looking all around them, and barely say anything.


@RhovanionGirl February 5, 2014 at 2:07 pm

I've actually found that my home Country of Canada has some of the most unfriendly agents. Not rude, just not that friendly. I've gone through Dutch, African, French, Italian and American airports and they're always at least given me a smile. The guy I dealt with in Amsterdam got down-right talkative when he looked at my passport and saw I had a dutch surname. Whenever I return home I get a grimace, lack of eye contact and short, curt words.


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