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How does customs work?

Hi! I'm going to Birmingham and I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Despite researching I'm still confused about declaring goods? Or how customs works in general. How does it work? I'm from the US

Posted by
15336 posts

Are you going for professional purposes bringing goods with you or just for tourist purposes?

What is your routing? Are you traveling directly to Birmingham or making a stop at a different airport in the UK?

Normally, after you pick up your luggage, you will have a choice of two "doors" to go through (actually archways.) One Green, one red.

If you have nothing to declare--you are just entering as a tourist and not bringing anything of real value--you just walk through the green archway. If they want to stop you, they will. However, most people don't get stopped.

Before customs, you will go through Passport Contol. As an American, you will be able to use the egates rather than have to talk to someone. This is done at the first airport in the UK in which you arrive.

Posted by
863 posts

If you have nothing to declare--you are just entering as a tourist and not bringing anything of real value--you just walk through the green archway. If they want to stop you, they will. However, most people don't get stopped.

That is exactly correct. Your "declaration" is made by your choice of portals...unless you are carrying items that could be deemed "commercial" goods for resale, or you are carrying items that exceed maximum amounts (like alcohol for your consumption or gifts), you have nothing to declare.

And the percentage of people who get pulled over for a spot check is very low (low single digits), but it does happen, typically when it is someone who is pulling or carrying far more baggage than the typical tourist would have (literally if it looks like you are "moving" to the country).

One tip: if you are traveling with others, say kids, and you are pulling their bags (or using a luggage cart), everyone should be walking together - many years ago, my teenaged kids got out in front of me, and I was pulling and carrying luggage for 3 people, and I got waved over...lesson learned...your group should be together when passing through customs...

Posted by
1822 posts

One thing you can always do is go through the red lane, and tell a customer officer "I am not sure if I have something to declare, can you help me".

I did that first time I flew to Australia, and I had some foodstuff I was not sure about. Unless you are carrying something that is actually illegal (like drugs) you will not get in to trouble if you do that.

Posted by
863 posts

One thing you can always do is go through the red lane, and tell a customer officer "I am not sure if I have something to declare, can you help me".
I did that first time I flew to Australia, and I had some foodstuff I was not sure about. Unless you are carrying something that is actually illegal (like drugs) you will not get in to trouble if you do that.

I would not recommend that entering the US...just sayin', but if you are carrying prohibited food items - even something like a piece of fruit the airline served you - you can expect a big fine $$$...

Posted by
5313 posts

I would not recommend that entering the US...just sayin', but if you are carrying prohibited food items - even something like a piece of fruit the airline served you - you can expect a big fine $$$...

I did that when entering Miami from London. I had some crisps and fruit so I asked the customs officer if it was OK to bring in and he shrugged and said it was fine.

Posted by
335 posts

" would not recommend that entering the US...just sayin', but if you are carrying prohibited food items - even something like a piece of fruit the airline served you - you can expect a big fine $$$..."

Ouch! Yes, in Australia, if you declare it you won't need find, even if its prohibited- they'll just confiscate the item.

Posted by
16470 posts

The problem is not from carrying the prohibited food, but failing to declare it. Back when we had to fill out a Customs Declaration form at the US airport, I always answered “yes” to the question about bringing in food, even if it was just nuts or crisps, which I know are OK. It annoyed my husband no end.

Now, with Global Entry, you don’t ever fill out the form, and they never ask. Just get your photo done and go.

That unfortunate Australian woman was fined, not for having an apple in her bag, but for failing to declare it.