I'm a New Zealand citizen and I might soon be visiting to the US on short notice for business. I've heard that the US have started to frequently search cellphones. I'm not very comfortable handing over my phone and lock code to US customs - as well as copying the contents of the phone (including passwords, giving them unlimited access to all of my accounts) if it's out of my sight they could install extra software or hardware.

But obviously, a cellphone is a must when traveling overseas. Would it be a reasonable idea to get a second, cheap cellphone just for this trip?

Or am I being excessively paranoid? I've never been to or through the US before, only heard the horror stories.

I'll also be bringing a company laptop, but I'm not too concerned about this since I've deliberately avoided storing personal data or credentials on it, and it's a US company.

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    Your definition of frequently probably isn’t the same as mine. One of the articles you linked to says it happens less than 0.01% of the time. However, there’s probably a bias if you’re a middle-eastern male between the ages of 18 and 40 or something like that (or you do have such apparent origin).
    – jcaron
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 8:25
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    I travelled four weeks in the USA in 2013, without any functioning mobile phone. It is not "obviously a must". You can do without.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 11:28
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    Another risk to factor in is that a "clean" device may invite extra scrutiny - the perverse "what do you have to hide?" mentality.
    – pseudon
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 15:21
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    You are being mislead by purposely hysterical fake news.
    – DTRT
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 18:01
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    @gerrit If my employer asked me to do a four week business trip without access to 3G, I would not give an accommodating answer.
    – Calchas
    Commented Mar 24, 2018 at 0:36

1 Answer 1


If the CBP feels the need, they will either read through your mail and other apps manually on the device, or dump the device using something like one of these Cellebrite devices. You can see a CBP documentary where this is used on youtube: enter image description here

I've entered the US dozens if not hundreds of times and nobody has ever asked to look at my phones, but who knows how likely it will be for you. You can of course take precautions such as wiping and reloading your phone, implementing pair-locking on an iphone, etc., but it's all down to your risk appetite whether you wish to do this.

  • 1
    Pair-locking was an interesting read. One must assume that TLAs (US or their foreign equivalent) are aware of this and that they will be able to tell whether a device is pair-locked upon inspection. Don't you think it's riskier to bear a pair-locked device (without its unlocking pair) than a clean phone? A pair-locked phone is pretty much like encrypted storage: "you must be carrying something there that interests us" and even worse, you can't give up the key to unlock it.
    – mrbolichi
    Commented Feb 23 at 15:10

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