Before you set out on any international flight, make sure you have reviewed the entry procedures for the destination country and for your return to the United States. Becoming familiar with the regulations, organizing the required paperwork, and planning ahead ultimately will save you time and help eliminate noncompliance penalties.
AOPA's Pilot Information Center has the resources you need to help you get through U.S. Customs without hassle in its "International Flying and Alaska" section.
It is imperative that you follow Customs regulations precisely. Do not leave your aircraft after landing at a U.S.-approved Customs airport of entry - an inspector will meet you to give further directions.
The penalties for noncompliance are stiff - a $5,000 minimum fine for the first violation and a $10,000 minimum for the second. Customs can even seize your aircraft. Common violations include failure to notify Customs of your arrival, failure to obtain landing rights, and failure to provide the required documents.
To avoid these fines, make sure you and your passengers have proof of citizenship and that you have the original aircraft documents (no copies or temporary certificates).
Call Customs to give them your planned port of entry along with the time period you should be arriving, and ask them about the procedures you need to follow upon arrival. If your arrival is going to be delayed by more than 10 minutes, notify Customs of the change. You can have flight service or air traffic control call Customs, but have them reply back to you with the Customs agent's badge number or name as confirmation.
But even if you plan properly and follow the rules exactly, you still could face some unexpected hassles. If you do have an unsatisfactory experience with Customs, e-mail AOPA's Pilot Information Center or call 800/USA-AOPA. This allows AOPA to pass on information to help other members avoid the same problems.
September 22, 2005