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When arriving in some countries you must fill out an arrival form at customs and immigration. You may also be asked some questions by customs agents.

In some countries one question is whether or not you packed your own bags.

  • Must everybody always answer "yes" to this question. Do I have to pack all of my own stuff?
  • Is it illegal to carry anything somebody else packed?
  • Or is it OK to say "no" about items I didn't pack and then those items get handled by a separate procedure?

I'm asking this generically rather than about a single country on purpose. If you can provide evidence that at least two countries behave differently then give that as an answer and I will ask a new question about one specific country.


As an epilogue, I was partly wondering in the case of if you were travelling as an air courier, but then I realized I didn't even know if that existed anymore so I asked two independent questions.

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I've never met with that. I've met with unbelievable stupid questions such as the address where you want to stay (while we were backpacking). But if someone asks if I've packed my own bags, I've understood if I've packed them myself, or someone else packed them for me, it has nothing to do if I'm carrying my things or not. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Sep 8 '13 at 6:48
    
I did a bit of a search and some people are saying this question has disappeared in USA but persists in other places. I also read that sometimes you are asked verbally at customs, rather than it being on the form. –  hippietrail Sep 8 '13 at 10:14
    
I didn't intend this question to about giving the blunt answer "no" and nothing but "no". I'll change the wording slightly to be about replying in the negative. –  hippietrail Sep 8 '13 at 11:02
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Once, my flight was full and the airline wanted to drive me to another airport to get on another flight to my destination city. I agreed to this after I checked my bags. The driver took my bags out of checked baggage in airport A and put them in the trunk. At airport B, I rechecked them in. At 2nd checkin, I was asked (1) if anyone handled my bags since I packed them (2) if my baggage had been out of my control since packing. –  emory Sep 9 '13 at 1:02
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As others already have said it is probably due to the risk of smuggling something aboard that shouldn't be there, i.e. drugs, bombs et.c. if someone else have packed your bags or if you left them unattended. A co-worker flew with El Al (the Israeli national airline) and when he was asked if he packed everything himself he said "no" and the follow up question was "do you know what it contains?" was also answered with "no, it's a gift". They were a bit nervous by then and he had to explain it was giving him by a trusted friend and not a random stranger. –  S Vilcans Sep 9 '13 at 7:56

5 Answers 5

While I've never seen this on a customs form, or been asked this at customs, it used to be super popular at checkin. I never lie, so this would happen:

Did you pack your bags yourself? Yes.

And then

Have the bags been out of your sight or control since you packed them? Yes, I left them at the hotel bag drop all day, or the conference bag drop all day, or they were in the trunk of the cab all the way to the airport.

Nothing ever happened to me from saying Yes that way. In fact, the question got way more complicated after a while (Have these bags been out of your sight and control in a public place or somewhere unsupervised?) before they just stopped asking it.

I have seen, on Border Security, that this question gets asked in by customs and immigration in secondary inspection. (Secondary is not the booths you line up to show your passport, but the room off to the side that only a few passengers are sent to.) Once they've decided to look through your bags, they may ask, in a super bored "just a routine question" voice: "Is this your bag? Did you pack it yourself? Are you aware of all its contents?" Then when they find something, people often say "What is that? I didn't put that in there!" and the agents are like "you told me you packed your own bag. Were you lying? Who packed this bag?" - it seems like it's a strategy to either forestall the "I didn't put that there" defense or to get you upset enough that you will tell them who you're carrying contraband for. I don't get the feeling it's a screening question, it's a question they ask once they decide to search you.

If someone asks "did you pack this bag yourself" do not EVER just say "No". Say "my girlfriend put all the clothes in for both of us" or "my mother is really good at filling suitcases so she put everything in after I chose what I was taking" or "the two of us did the packing". Just saying No sounds to the customs guy like "this guy I met a while ago stopped off with a full suitcase I never bothered looking in" and you might guess that's not a smart thing to do.

Don't lie though. There is nothing wrong with carrying something for somebody else if you know what it is and it's legal to carry. There is a ton wrong with lying even if the thing you're lying about isn't wrong. And these people, their whole job is spotting that you're lying. Don't even bother.

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Well it could be "oh that one a good friend of mine asked me to bring". Or is this something to avoid no matter how good the friend is? –  hippietrail Sep 8 '13 at 11:01
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@hippietrail: that sounds like it will result in more questioning, possibly to the point where you miss the plane. (E.g. if they try to contact that friend to corroborate that story). Remember, the security staff doesn't care if you miss your plane, but they do care if they miss something fishy. Better safe than sorry from their side. –  MSalters Sep 8 '13 at 16:37
    
@MSalters in fact, the more agitated you appear to make that flight, the more likely they are to detain you further in my experience... –  jwenting Sep 9 '13 at 13:13

That question is common when you're checking in to a flight, because they're worried about bombs being smuggled on board. (The Hindawi affair is the most notorious case of this actually happening.) The question is asked by airline check-in staff, not Immigration/Customs. If you do answer "No", the bag will be thoroughly searched, but you're free to proceed once they conclude it's harmless. Here's a thread on PPRuNe about this.

That said, I've never heard of it being asked at Immigration (they couldn't care less what's in your bags), and neither can I imagine Customs at the destination asking, unless you've already aroused some serious suspicion, they're about to open your bag, and they're giving you a last chance to blame someone else for the 5 kg of heroin they're about to find strapped to your suitcase lining.

Can we name names here and state the countries that supposedly ask this?

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I could be confused about when this is asked. I'm sure I've worried over it in the past. Maybe I got it from movies and documentaries about drug smugglers where they are asked this right before the get in trouble? It could be I've been asked it at customs when they are about to search my luggage anyway, which happens to me maybe %5 to %10 of the time - twice on my last trip, not yet on this trip. –  hippietrail Sep 8 '13 at 12:05
    
not just bombs, but any contraband. If you didn't pack your own bags, you're far more likely to be singled out for additional screening and may end up missing your flight. And yes, I've had it asked at places ranging from the entrance of a terminal building (in some places that's the first check of your bags) to the pre-boarding check (where a final check is done, and bags sometimes are ordered removed from the flight for opening). –  jwenting Sep 9 '13 at 13:09

I've said "no" in the past. I've been on a guys' trip to the Canary Islands, and was carrying some boots for one of the others guys, didn't even think about it until I saw the form. However, I simply answered honestly, they questioned my response, I explained, and they were fine with it. Didn't even ask to see the boots.

So no, you don't have to pack all your own stuff, and it's not illegal to carry something for someone else, however, the more you do this, the more risk there is of 'unknown items' being onboard the flight (from the airline's / TSA's perspective) - and for all they know, they could be diseased, drugs, explosives or worse. So odds are good that if you answer 'no', you can expect further questions, and it's smart practice to know exactly what is in your bag, and whether it's legal to transport to your destination.

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If you answer "No" it's generally a big flag to Customs that you are either carrying something you are not supposed to, or that you may be trying to import something. You are responsible for the items you take through Customs.

It's not illegal to carry something somebody else packed, just very un-wise unless you are 100% sure of the contents.

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Well yes that's the assumption but do we have some authoritative sources to draw on or anecdotal evidence of somebody who answered "no"? I'm basically wondering whether it's much different to declaring stuff to customs. In that case we all know it's better to say yes to "Anything to declare" but in this case ... –  hippietrail Sep 8 '13 at 10:47

I have seen it in customs and assumed that it is about smuggling of illegal goods. I seem to recall that people have been carrying bags they received from new acquaintances and they turned out to be full of drugs.

I have always taken this question not literally as 'did you physically put all the things in yourself, by yourself' but more as 'Is this a bag you packed for your self with your stuff, or is this a bag you are carrying for someone (non-travelling) else.'

Also note that usually checkin agents, TSA, customs, immigrations treat a family as a unit, so if 'you' in this case means the family travelling together to me.

I don't think you want to answer no - but you shouldn't be carrying stuff for other people without inspecting and knowing precisely what it is either.

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